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Best budget smartphones in SA

Best budget smartphone
Image Credit: TechRadar

Don't be put off by the 'budget' title. These affordable handsets have good build quality, decent performance, competitive cameras and more, all without costing too much.

For this list, our cut-off point is phones with a R6,000 price tag. That doesn't mean all the phones cost that much; some cost less than R2,000. That's because when we review a handset, its price is important in how we rate it. 

Bear in mind, these won't be smartphones that with all the bells and whistles of flagships like the Samsung Galaxy Note 10, iPhone 11 Pro Max, and Huawei Mate 30 Pro but with commendable specs and solid features considering the price.

Some brands do well in the budget phone market, so there may be some TECNO, Vivo and even Doogee phones on this list at any one time, but there are some big brands too.

To help you work your way around all the budget handsets and phone brands around, we've made this list of the best cheap phones you can buy.

Best budget phones at a glance:

  1. Xiaomi Redmi Note9S
  2. Nokia 2.3
  3. TECNO Camon 12
  4. Nokia 4.2
  5. Nokia 3.2
  6. Huawei P Smart (2019)
  7. Huawei P40 Lite

Best budget phones:

Xiaomi Redmi Note9S

Xiaomi Redmi Note9S (Image credit: Xiaomi)

1. Xiaomi Redmi Note9S

Strong all-rounder with no corners cut

Weight: 309g | Dimensions: 165 x 77 x 9mm | OS: Android 9 | Screen size: 6.67-inch | Resolution: 2400 x 1080 FHD+ | CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 720G 2.3GHz, Adreno 618 GPU | RAM: 4/6GB | Storage: 64/128GB | Battery: 5020mAh | Rear camera: 48MP+5MP+2MP | Front camera: 16MP

Great battery life
Big and vibrant display
CPU and GPU performance
Somewhat bulky build
Camera bump

The Redmi Note9S is, quite simply, the most phone you can buy below R6000. With specifications that read like a phone costing far more and build quality rivalling the market leaders it tops our list of affordable phones. The properly massive 6.7 inch screen is a delight with rich colours and a decent FHD+ resolution. The processing power, graphics chip and large 50120mAh battery make this a great gaming phone too.

We're a sucker for this arrangement of the recessed power button which doubles as a fingerprint sensor, and the quad camara, although protruding, is positioned so the phone doesn't rock when you're using it on a flat surface. Then main camera uses a simplified version of the pixel-binning tech used by upmarket phones for less grainy low light photos. There's Gorilla Glass 5 covering front and back, and there's a decent silicone cover in the box.

Our favourite budget phone of the year is, unfortunately, also one of the hardest to find. If it's not readily available from your service provider, you can still buy it online in SA.

FULL REVIEW: Xiaomi Redmi Note9S

Nokia 2.3

Nokia 2.3 (Image credit: Nokia)

2. Nokia 2.3

Legendary build quality continues

Weight: 183g | Dimensions: 158 x 75 x 9 mm | OS: Android 10 | Screen size: 6.2-inch | Resolution: 720 x 1520 | CPU: Mediatek MT6761 | RAM: 2GB | Storage: 32GB | Battery: 4000mAh | Rear camera: 13MP | Front camera: 5MP

Large screen
Tough but stylish design
Android One
Basic cameras
All plastic body

The 2.3 is a very worthy successor to last year's model, the 2.2, which seriously impressed with its large screen, above average camera and excellent build quality. We're pleased that all the same characteristics are abundantly in evidence on the 2.3. This time the body is finished in elegant metallic emerald green over a tough aluminium chassis. The screen is even bigger than before at 6.2 inches, and glossy and sharp enough to pass for a much more upmarket model. Using the clean Android One OS version means regular, early updates too.  

TECNO Camon 12

TECNO Camon 12 (Image credit: TECNO)

3. TECNO Camon 12

Strong start for a newcomer

Weight: N/A | Dimensions: 164 x 76 x 8mm | OS: Android 9 | Screen size: 6.55-inch | Resolution: 720x1600 | CPU: 2 GHz octa-Core | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 64GB | Battery: 4000mAh | Rear camera: 16MP+2MP+5MP | Front camera: 8MP

Thin and light
Decent screen
Cover in box
Limited camera AI
Nuisance software
Intrusive add-ons 

While TECNO is a dominant brand in many African markets is it still staking its claim in South Africa. The Camon 12 is a beautiful design: slim yet sturdy and finished in a few striking two-tone colour schemes. The screen as amongst the best we're seen at this budget end of the market, and we liked the triple camera arrangement which exceeded our expectations in default settings straight out of the box. The flash effect on the selfie cam is a nice touch too. This phone could have ranked higher but for all the profoundly annoying software and nuisance OS settings that needed to be exorcised over the first few days of use.   

Nokia 4.2

Nokia 4.2 (Image credit: Future)

4. Nokia 4.2

The best cheap Nokia phone

Weight: 161g | Dimensions: 149 x 71.3 x 8.4mm | OS: Android 9 | Screen size: 5.71-inch | Resolution: 720 x 1520 | CPU: Snapdragon 439 | RAM: 3GB | Storage: 32/64GB | Battery: 3,000mAh | Rear camera: 13MP + 2MP | Front camera: 8MP

Sharp design
Good-looking UI
Sluggish performance
Underwhelming display

Nokia is known as a great budget smartphone manufacturer, but not all of its phones actually fall below the R6000 threshold we had for this list. The Nokia 4.2 is one such device, and it'll do you well without costing you much.

Sure, its specs are a little on the low side, but that's to be expected in a phone at this price, and there are very few compromises you might notice.

But at its core, the Nokia 4.2 is a standard and conventional Android phone, and at a glance it's not that different from a mid-range or even high-end device with the same design.

Read our full review: Nokia 4.2

Nokia 3.2

Nokia 3.2 (Image credit: Future)

5. Nokia 3.2

Another solid workhorse from the comeback king

Weight: 181g | Dimensions: 159.44 x 76.24 x 8.60mm | OS: Android 10 | Screen size: 6.26-inch | Resolution: 720x1520 | CPU: Snapdragon 429 | RAM: 3GB | Storage: 16/32GB | Battery: 4,000mAh | Rear camera: 13MP | Front camera: 5MP

Big, decent screen
Big battery
Slightly fragile build

Nokia continues its comeback with another impressive budget offering. The Nokia 3.2 feels extremely thin and light in hand so much so that we doubted there was enough space for a whopping 4000mAh battery as claimed , but we felt more convinced when the phone ran for nearly two days, even playing some music and social media video clips in between.

Its extraordianary to have a quality 6.2inch screen at this low price and we even foud the single 13MP rear camera to deliver pretty sharp, colour balanced photos in natural light (less so in low light, obviously, even with a flash).

Almost best thing about Nokia phones is the commitment to rapid Android upgrades, and this phone is now running the latest Android 10.

Read our hands-on review: Nokia 3.2

Huawei P Smart (2019)

6. Huawei P Smart (2019)

The best cheap phone you can buy right now

Weight: 160g | Dimensions: 155.2 x 73.4 x 8mm | OS: Android 9 | Screen size: 6.21-inch | Resolution: 1080 x 2340 | CPU: Kirin 710 | RAM: 3GB | Storage: 32/64GB | Battery: 3,400mAh | Rear camera: 13MP + 2MP | Front camera: 8/16MP

Slick design at great price
Ample storage
Only one speaker
Camera can overly process

The Huawei P Smart 2019 is the best cheap phone you can buy right now, and has been for some time.

It packs a usable camera, plenty of storage and great battery life as well as a screen and design that punch way above their weight.  

There is very little between the Huawei P Smart and the Honor 10 Lite, and they're practically the same device, but the P Smart tops our list with its slightly sharper design.

Read our full review: Huawei P Smart (2019)

Huawei P40 Lite

(Image credit: Huawei)

7. Huawei P40 Lite

Well appointed, but not one for newbies

Weight: 183g | Dimensions: 159 x 76 x 8mm | OS: Android 10 | Screen size: 6.4-inch | Resolution: 1080 x 2310 | CPU: Kirin 810 + ARM Mail G52 GPU | RAM: 6GB | Storage: 128GB | Battery: 4200mAh | Rear camera: 48MP + 8MP wide + 2MP + 2MP TOF | Front camera: 16MP

Compact and sturdy
Superb cameras
No Google services 
Slightly boring design

As the first Huawei product to launch in South Africa without Google services the P40 Lite had a lot to prove. The biggest challenge is getting up and running without Google's Play store. It's a steep learning curve, make no mistake, from tracking down, installing (and often hacking) the core apps you need to be productive to finding replacements for all the Google services you take for granted (Google Maps, Drive, Gmail and more).

But get through that and you'll find a fantastic performer running lean and clean Android beneath it all. 

It feels wonderfully compact for a 6.4" screen format, with generous horsepower for the price, including a whopping 6GB of RAM and the highly regarded Mali G52 graphics chip.  The recessed power button doubles as a fingerprint scanner, something we think works very well indeed. 

It's got five cameras sensors in all, including four on the back, and we got superb results from all them. Certainly the camera AI easily outclassed all rivals at this price. Unsuprisingly, then, this handset also appears on our top camera phones listing, amongst phones costing more than double the price. A 5G model is now also available making this the most affordable 5G phone in South Africa.