OnePlus Nord N300 5G for $230: This almost $200 smartphone has some pretty crazy specs, but naturally, there are a lot of caveats. It’s only available on T-Mobile and T-Mobile Metro, and OnePlus has already delivered the only Android OS update this phone will get (Android 13). At least it gets two years of security updates. Still, there’s a 5G connection, and I’ve used tap-to-pay via Google Pay to get through the New York subway turnstiles without having to pull a transit card out of my wallet. The 5,000-mAh battery cell easily lasts two full days, and I have no qualms with the 6.5-inch 90-Hz LCD screen. Additional benefits include a microSD card slot, a fingerprint sensor, and a headphone jack. Performance is smooth and fast, and my only real complaints are that there is no water resistance rating and the cameras are OK.
I tested Samsung’s Galaxy A23 5G and found its performance to be annoyingly slow, which is not appropriate for a $300 smartphone these days. I also don’t recommend Motorola’s Moto G Play 2023, Moto G Power 2022, and Moto G Pure 2022 because the above phones undercut them in every way and don’t cost more.
The Nokia G400 5G (6/10, WIRED Review) is a good phone, but its software policy isn’t as good as our top-recommended devices above and its performance can be stuttery if you juggle a lot. apps. The Nokia G100 was OK until the display started locking and not accepting touch input. I tried a second unit and ran into the same issue. I also tested the Doogee S89 Pro, a rugged smartphone. While I didn’t run into any glaring errors, it was a pain in the arm to carry and uncomfortable in the hand, too. Sure, there’s a big 12,000-mAh battery, but it doesn’t last as long as I expected. The company has a spotty record with software updates, too.
TCL, Nokia, and Motorola are launching some new phones soon, but we’re confident in our top picks in this guide right now.
Consider Last Year’s Flagship Phones
If none of these phones have the features you want or they aren’t as powerful as you want, your best option is to look for last year’s flagship smartphones, which can be discounted. Sometimes they are easy to find, but manufacturers may stop selling them altogether. Keep in mind that you’ll lose a year of software support, but that’s better than the software support available on cheap phones. The OnePlus 10 Pro, for example, drops below $450.
5G is the next generation network and it is so widespread that you should try to stick to phones that support it. It doesn’t completely replace 4G LTE, so you’ll see it in your status bar while you’re roaming around the country. You can read more about it here, but in short, 5G comes in two major types: sub-6 and millimeter wave (mmWave). The latter is usually only available in flagship phones and allows you to access the fastest speeds, but you will rarely encounter mmWave (think of selected areas in large cities and some areas, such as in stadiums and airports). Sub-6 isn’t quite as fast as 4G LTE, but it has a wider range and is more widely accessible these days. Most of the smartphones we recommend here support sub-6 5G, even the ones under $200.
Check Network Compatibility
If you buy an unlocked phone on this list and try to bring it to one of your wireless carrier’s retail stores, they may tell you that it’s not compatible with the network. Probably so. Just use a paper clip or SIM ejection tool to pop the SIM card out of your current phone, then slide that SIM into your new phone. If it doesn’t work at first, reboot the phone or wait a few hours.
If you need a new SIM, try to order one online from your carrier or see if they will give you a SIM when you activate a line in the store (if you started coverage). Tell them you have a phone. Many times, reps want to sell you a phone; that’s one possible reason they’re bothering you to buy another device at the store.