Have $400 to spend on a new smartphone and not sure which one to choose? We're here to help. In this article, we've listed the best smartphones you can get for $400 or less, from gaming-ready SoCs with 5G, to 120 Hz displays and top-notch cameras. Without further ado, here are our top picks for smartphones under $400.
If you're short on time and just want our top recommendation for a $400 smartphone, glance at the table below. For a more detailed insight into our top picks, continue reading the descriptions below or check out the available reviews before making your decision.
Editor's note: the prices highlighted in this article may vary depending on discounts offered by the manufacturers.
The best smartphones for under $400
In this section, we outline what smartphones under $400 offer in 2023. While mid-range phones provide a decent balance of price and performance, in the US, this price sits between budget models and high-end mid-rangers.
At this price, you might find older devices or ones with lesser specs. Though most have 5G, they may lag in camera, performance, and design compared to the $600 range with newer tech.
- Power and performance: Investing in a sub-$400 device will at least guarantee that the SoC can tackle the most recent games. Here, you should expect SoC's that are at least one to two years old and offer good performance for daily tasks.
- Cameras: In the mid-range, models like the Samsung Galaxy A54 have 50-megapixel main cameras, but don't match the Galaxy S23 Ultra's photo quality. The primary issue in this range is with the cameras, especially "Quad cameras" that use low-quality macro and depth sensors. Unfortunately, the telephoto camera often gets compromised.
- Battery & charging: Batteries in this price range are typically between 4,500 and 5,000 mAh, but charging speeds are subpar. Devices from OnePlus and Xiaomi offer over 60W fast-charging, but they aren't available in the US. Here, 10W to 15W is decent. Wireless charging is rare at this price point.
- Display: In terms of display, we can expect FullHD+ screens with high refresh rates (except for Apple), and OLED displays are getting increasingly popular, with nice color reproduction and impressive contrast levels.
- Age and support: At this price, be wary of devices older than two years due to limited software updates. Most will receive only one or two updates beyond their initial OS. Hence, Android 10 devices will become outdated after receiving Android 14 this year.
- Carrier compatibility: In this price range, not all devices are compatible with every carrier. Many are designed for GSM networks, common outside the US. If you're on a CDMA network like Verizon, ensure compatibility. However, with 4G LTE and 5G, this issue is diminishing.
The Google Pixel 6a is available for purchase since July 21, 2022, but surprisingly the device can be found on Amazon for $399 with 128 GB. Packed with Google's custom Tensor processor for better performance of Machine Learning-based features, the Pixel 6a seems to be the best option for those who want a more compact Google phone in 2023.
In my review of the device, it was already pretty clear that this phone was unbeatable among the smartphones under $400, even though it only offers one internal storage option and a 60 Hz refresh rate. More than that, the 6a is the most cost-effective smartphone out of the entire Pixel 6 series.
When it comes to the camera suite, the Pixel 6a offers a fairly basic module, but it doesn't really lag behind the competition, given that Google's big asset here is in the camera software. So you can be sure that the photos taken with the 6a will bear the Pixel series' stamp of quality.
A friendly tip: Consider checking the Google Pixel 7a (review) prices before making a purchase. The device might be available at a similar price on your preferred e-commerce platform.
As an Apple alternative, we recommend the iPhone SE (2022) without any second thought. Coming two years after the iPhone SE (2020), the new budget iPhone sports a powerful A15-bionic but sees little improvement over the previous device. You get a 12MP camera inside a virtually similar casing to the iPhone SE 2020 (and iPhone 8/7/6s) and IP67 resistance.
- Relevant: iPhone SE 2020 vs iPhone SE 2022
The real upgrade aside from the SoC (and the extra GB of RAM at 4GB) is the 5G connectivity, which makes the device finally capable of enjoying the latest connectivity technology like the rest of the sub-$400 devices you see in this list. We already tested the iPhone SE (2022) and, of course, it is a great solution for anyone looking for an affordable iPhone.
With yearly incremental upgrades, the Galaxy A54 is the 2023 version of one of Samsung's bestsellers, and for good reason. It offers a decent balance between price and performance, and in the past couple of years got a nice boost in the software update policy department, with a promise of four Android upgrades and five years of security updates, which until recently, was better than even Google's.
Its performance is noticeably lower than the Poco F5 and even the Pixel 6a in both games and heavy-processing tasks, but for regular usage, most people won't notice a difference. The Galaxy A54 generally offers less memory than most competing phones, but it is the only model in today's list with microSD storage expansion.
The cameras on the Galaxy A54 are decent, better than the Xiaomi and Motorola phones on this list but still behind the Pixel, with good daylight and night shots, and more usable ultra-wide and macro cameras than the Xiaomi duo.
Overall, the Galaxy A54 doesn't win in the performance, battery, or camera departments, but it also doesn't compromise too much on those categories. And the superior software support means that it will still receive security updates four years from now.
The Edge 40 seems out of place in this list, with an MSRP of $600, but the phone is highly discounted most of the time, with street prices usually below $400. The phone is offered in various splashy colors (but for some reason Motorola opted to lend us the boring black option for the review...) and comes with a nice soft material on the back that feels premium to the touch and helps with the grip.
For those who prefer curved displays, the Edge 40 is one of the few options left in this price range, with a nice and fast screen that refreshes at 144 Hz. Another feature that is exclusive to the Edge on this list is wireless charging, and while the above Redmi phone beats the Motorola in wired charging speeds, the Edge 40 includes a decent 68 W charger that took it to full charge in 46 minutes during nextpit's review.
In the software department, Motorola bumped its software update policy to match Xiaomi's four years of security updates, which although inferior to Samsung and Google, is reasonable for most people. And the Dimensity 8200 should offer good enough performance until then, with a processor that sits roughly mid-way between the very fast Snapdragon on the Poco F5 and the mid-range Dimensity 1080 on the Redmi Note 12 Pro+.
Motorola offers many options in this price range—some might argue too many—but a standout is the Moto G Stylus line. It brings some productivity features of the Galaxy Note family to a broader market.
The G Stylus range is differentiated by 2023 models, available with or without 5G connectivity. The latest model, aptly named Moto G Stylus 5G (2023), is not only impressive on paper but also competitively priced. It includes 6 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage, with an option for microSD card expansion.
However, the camera department might seem underwhelming with its 8 MP ultra-wide camera and a main 50 MP lens. Conversely, the large 6.6-inch LCD screen boasts a swift 120Hz refresh rate, ideal for tasks like note-taking, photo editing, or scrolling on social media.
In conclusion, while the Moto G Stylus 5G might not excel in every category, it offers a balanced set of features and a uniqueness not commonly seen in today's smartphones.
Getting a device with a plan, discounted or free
Financing a device is an affordable way to obtain a new one, as carriers offer incentives to attract and retain customers. Typically, payments are broken into 24 or 36 installments with an eligible plan. Additionally, discounts or even free devices are available when starting a new plan.
Refurbished and used smartphones
If removing the protective film for the first time on your new device does not cause you to jump for joy, you can pick up more expensive smartphones from the second-hand or refurbished market. It is particularly advisable to use devices that carry a refurbished guarantee.
- Buy a refurbished cell phone: Here's what you need to look out for when shopping
Refurbished smartphones are inspected and restored by trusted companies to ensure quality. They're especially appealing when accompanied by an extended warranty, offering protection against potential issues shortly after purchase.
What do you think of this selection? Which models do you think we have forgotten and which deserve to be included? Do you find the advice sections and our testing process useful? What do you think of this new format? We look forward to your feedback!
This article has been updated in November 2023. Old comments have been maintained and may seem out of context.