Latest Phones (2020)

Best Phones Under $500 – 2020 Top 5 Phones

August 20, 20202:15 am By

Searching for the best phones under $500 in 2020? You can stop right here because you just found the top 5 phones under this budget range.

These phones have flagship features that you can only find in the $800 to $1000 price range a few years ago. Unbelievable, right? But before you jump into the top 5 list, I would like to highlight the optimal specs of the best phones under $500. It’s easier to look at the list if you already know the best specs that you are looking for.

Contents (Jump to the sections below)
I. Optimal Specs Rundown of the Best Phones Under $500
II. Top 5 Phones Under $500
III. CPU Benchmark Scores of the Top 5 – Under $500
IV. My Recommendations from the Top 5 Phones Under $500

Optimal Specs Rundown of the Best Phones Under $500


Fastest Chipset in 2020 for Android and iOS


With a budget under $500, you can already own an Android smartphone with Snapdragon 865, a high-end chipset that you can find in $700+ flagship phones in 2020.

Now if you’re not willing to spend $1000+ for a Samsung Galaxy S20 lineup that were released in March 2020, you can find the same Snapdragon 865 chipset of these phones in the Xiaomi Poco F2 Pro.

The Snapdragon 865 chipset is Qualcomm’s fastest and most powerful chipset before the Snapdragon 865+ was announced in the third quarter of 2020.

You should definitely go for a Snapdragon 865 because of the 25% performance boost and better power efficiency improvement in the CPU. The GPU has 25% faster graphics rendering and has more power efficiency.[1] This level of performance will allow you to experience desktop-level gaming in a smartphone with lower power consumption for longer battery life.

If you are new to the variety of chipset brands, you should know that most people prefer a Snapdragon chipset over an Exynos or Mediatek chipset. Snapdragon has a perceived superiority over these two chipset brands even today. There are pieces of evidence to this perception such as performance benchmark scores and battery test results which favor Snapdragon. Trust me, it’s not just me who’s saying it.

For less than $500, you can also own an iPhone with A13 Bionic chipset, Apple’s fastest and most powerful flagship chipset in 2019 up to the 2nd quarter of 2020.

The iPhone SE (2020) 128GB version is less than $500 but it has the same chipset as Apple’s flagship models that were released in September 2019 (e.g. iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max). If you want to save more, the iPhone SE (2020) 64GB version is even less than $400. You will find the iPhone SE (2020) an unusual and great bargain because I did.

As you can see, there’s a very nice trend here for both Apple and Android phone manufacturers where we are finding high-end chipsets in less than $500 phone models, which is great right?

5G Connectivity


You can also own a 5G-capable smartphone with a budget under $500. Snapdragon 865 not only brings supreme performance but will also allow you to connect to 5G networks. Do you know how fast 5G is? The 5G peak download speed of Snapdragon 865 is 7.5 Gbps while the 5G peak upload speed is 3 Gbps.[2] Yeah, it’s crazy fast.

Theoretically, 5G is 50x faster than 4G because the peak download and upload speed of 4G LTE is 150 Mbps. I know what you’re thinking. That’s not the actual 4G speed that you have right now. Is 5G overrated as well?

In a real-world scenario, the download and upload speed will depend on your carrier network. In the U.S. for example, the peak download speed of 5G as of June 2020 is almost 500 Mbps for Verizon and between 41 to 61 Mbps for T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint.[3]

Now let’s compare that to real-life 4G speed that you may be experiencing. As of July 2020, the average 4G download speed is 27.4 Mbps for Verizon, 28.6 Mbps for T-Mobile, and 32.6 Mbps for AT&T as reported by users.[4]

You can see an 18x difference between 5G and 4G download speed for Verizon and almost double for the other two carrier networks. We are not at the peak of 5G speed yet, but you can still expect a lot of 5G speed improvements in the future because of the stiff competition between carrier networks. Also, 5G deployments in various locations are also ongoing so it’s not bad to get your hopes up.

More Unexpected Premium Features


In this budget range, you can own a phone with an IP67 or IP68 rating. IP67 is dust-resistant and water-resistant up to 1 meter for 30 minutes while IP68 is dust-resistant and water-resistant up to 1.5 meters for 30 minutes. If you spill your coffee or tea on your phone, it will still work fine. Just don’t charge it yet until it’s fully dry.

When it comes to camera specs, you can choose to have a quad camera. I personally like the ultra-wide lens of the quad camera because it can capture wider photos of sceneries. For the iPhone SE (2020), even though it has a single camera, it has depth control so you can capture photos by blurring the background and focusing on the subject.

The Optical Image Stabilizer (OIS) feature will allow you to capture clear photos of objects even if it’s moving. If you love recording videos, the OIS feature will let you produce stabilized videos even if your hands are shaky like mine while recording. The stabilized videos are easier to watch and your audience will not feel dizzy while watching it. Also, you can record videos from 4K to 8K resolution.

When it comes to the build and design, you can have a phone with an aluminum frame which is the standard for $800+ flagship phones instead of a cheaper polycarbonate frame. You can also have a “double-glass” design where the front and back are covered by Corning Gorilla Glass 5 or 6. The glass design makes it more classy and protects against damage from drops up to 1.2 meters.

Top 5 Phones Under $500


The list below was sorted based on the release date with the most recently released smartphone on top.

1. Xiaomi Poco F2 Pro (Released: May 2020)


Display: 6.67 inches; 1080 x 2400 pixels (395 PPI); Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors
OS: Android 10, MIUI 11
Storage and RAM: 128GB 6GB RAM; 256GB 8GB RAM
Camera: Quad-camera: (1) 64 MP, f/1.9, 26mm (wide), 1/1.72″, 0.8µm, PDAF, (2) 5 MP, f/2.2, 50mm (telephoto macro), AF, (3) 13 MP, f/2.4, 123˚ (ultrawide), 1.12µm, (4) 2 MP, f/2.4, (depth)
CPU: Qualcomm SM8250 Snapdragon 865 (7 nm+); Octa-core (1×2.84 GHz Kryo 585 & 3×2.42 GHz Kryo 585 & 4×1.80 GHz Kryo 585)
Battery: Non-removable Li-Po 4700 mAh battery
Network: 5G, 4G, 3G
Geekbench Score: 876 (Single-Core); 3,219 (Multi-Core)

Price: USD 429.99 (128GB 6GB RAM)

The Xiaomi Poco F2 Pro has a Snapdragon 865, a high-end chipset found in flagship phones. With this chipset, you will experience a very smooth and consistent performance whatever application or games you are running.

Combined with its 6.67 inches Super AMOLED display, 6GB RAM, and big battery capacity, this is an impressively powerful device that can flawlessly run your games in its highest graphics setting for up to 13 hours.

One of the main concerns if you are a heavy user like a gamer is the increase in the phone temperature if you play for hours which causes the phone to lag. Well, no need to worry about that because the liquid cooling technology of the phone reduces the CPU temperature by up to 14°C.

It is also capable of connecting to 5G networks for super fast downloads of files to your device and streaming of videos on your phone or TV with very high resolution.

Even if you are not a heavy user or a gamer, you will still find the premium design and great camera very appealing. It has an aluminum frame and a front and back glass design that is made from Corning Gorilla Glass 5. The quad camera has a high-resolution main camera, a depth sensor, ultra-wide camera (123°), and a telemacro camera so you can do a lot with your photos. The selfie camera is a pop-up front camera with 20MP resolution to capture your selfie with more details. And you will also be impressed with videos recorded at 8K resolution. However, the camera for photos and videos has no OIS.

Another smart feature that is not new but I personally like is the ambient light sensor. It detects the light of your surroundings and adjusts the brightness of the screen to the appropriate level. It really helps a lot with your eyes because it makes the screen comfortable to look at especially when you already dimmed the lights in your room.

When you received the box, it contains the unit, Power adapter, USB Type-C cable, simple protective cover, user guide, and warranty card. It has no headphones in the box so you need to buy it separately if you don’t have one.

2. Apple iPhone SE 2020 (Released: Apr. 2020)


Display: 4.7 inches; 750 x 1334 pixels (326 PPI); Retina IPS LCD capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors
OS: iOS 13
Storage and RAM: 64GB 3GB RAM; 128GB 3GB RAM; 256GB 3GB RAM
Camera: Single: 12 MP, f/1.8 (wide), PDAF, OIS
CPU: Apple A13 Bionic (7 nm+); Hexa-core (2×2.65 GHz Lightning + 4×1.8 GHz Thunder)
Battery: Non-removable Li-Ion 1821 mAh battery
Network: 4G, 3G
Geekbench Score: 1,331 (Single-Core); 2,864 (Multi-Core)

Price: USD 399 (64GB); USD 449 (128GB)

The iPhone SE 2020 has the Apple A13 Bionic, a high-end flagship chipset that will surprise you in a very good way because the iPhone SE 2020 is a lot cheaper than Apple’s flagship models.

You can look at the Geekbench’s scores in the next section and see why Apple calls this the fastest chipset ever in a smartphone (as of the 2nd quarter of 2020).

Now this phone model is very popular especially because it was released during this time of pandemic when people like us are more careful about spending their money. It’s really the perfect timing.

As you can see, the design is beautiful. It has Apple’s front and back glass protection and an aluminum frame that helps regulate the temperature. Although it uses the traditional IPS LCD Retina display instead of AMOLED, I am not going to complain considering the price. Also, it’s not small like the first generation if you saw that one in 2016 because the display size of the iPhone SE 2020 is the same as the iPhone 8.

The camera is single only but it has depth control so you won’t need a separate depth sensor to produce a blurred background effect. Despite having only a single camera, I have lots of respect for iPhones when it comes to producing quality photos. There’s just a natural-looking color quality in it that you will notice which separates it from the rest.

It also has an IP67 rating. This doesn’t mean that you can swim with it and take photos under the pool or the ocean. The tests are made under laboratory conditions so it’s really designed only to protect it in cases like it got wet under the rain or if you accidentally spilled your drinks over it.

If you’re wondering what’s in the iPhone SE 2020 box, it contains the phone unit, EarPods with Lightning Connector, Lightning to USB Cable, USB Power Adapter, and documentation. You will really find this as a great bargain for a phone under $500.

3. Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite (Released: Feb 2020)


Display: 6.7 inches; 1080 x 2400 pixels (394 PPI); Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors
OS: Android 10, One UI 2
Storage and RAM: 128GB 6GB RAM; 128GB 8GB RAM; 512GB 8GB RAM
Camera: Triple: (1) 48 MP, f/2.0, 26mm (wide), 1/2.0″, 0.8µm, PDAF, Super Steady OIS, (2) 12 MP, f/2.2, 12mm (ultrawide), (3) 5 MP, f/2.4, (macro)
CPU: Qualcomm SM8150 Snapdragon 855 (7 nm); Octa-core (1×2.84 GHz Kryo 485 & 3×2.42 GHz Kryo 485 & 4×1.78 GHz Kryo 485)
Battery: Non-removable Li-Po 4500 mAh battery
Network: 4G, 3G
Geekbench Score: 695 (Single-Core); 2,385 (Multi-Core)

Price: USD 449.99 (128GB 6GB RAM)

If you want a Samsung phone with a high-end chipset in this budget range, the Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite has Snapdragon 855, the chipset of Samsung’s flagship phones that were released in the 1st and 3rd quarter of 2019. It is one of the highlights that you can find in this affordable Samsung phone. The Snapdragon 855 is still very powerful and fast as you can see in the Geekbench scores in the next section.

The large screen which is 6.7 inches to be exact makes it larger than the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 which is only 6.3 inches. This is great if you love larger displays. The Super AMOLED is also perfect for the size. You will definitely want to watch videos using this phone because of the vivid colors and outstanding graphics.

Another highlight is the triple camera where the main camera resolution is 4x the Galaxy S10. It has the OIS feature too if you are looking for it. The ultra-wide lens is capable of capturing your photos at a 123° angle. You can also capture the fine details of small objects using the macro camera. The selfie camera also has a higher resolution than the Galaxy S10. And like the flagship models of Samsung that you see today, this phone prides itself with super steady videos because of the OIS feature.

Another highlight is the battery life. Your 30-minute charge can last all day if you are a typical user. I think this is awesome.

If you look at the back cover, it’s polycarbonate but it doesn’t look cheap. Like the Samsung flagships that were released in 2020, it’s missing the 3.5 mm headphone jack but you can use the USB-C port for earphones.

When you received the box, it comes with the unit, USB-C to USB-C data cable, power adapter, USB-C earphones, and documentation.

4. Samsung Galaxy Note10 Lite (Released: Jan 2020)


Display: 6.7 inches; 1080 x 2400 pixels (394 PPI); Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors
OS: Android 10, One UI 2
Storage and RAM: 128GB 6GB RAM; 128GB 8GB RAM
Camera: Triple: (1) 12 MP, f/1.7, 27mm (wide), 1/2.55″, 1.4µm, Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS, (2) 12 MP, f/2.4, 52mm (telephoto), 1/3.6″, 1.0µm, PDAF, OIS, 2x optical zoom, (3) 12 MP, f/2.2, 12mm (ultrawide)
CPU: Exynos 9810 (10 nm); Octa-core (4×2.7 GHz Mongoose M3 & 4×1.7 GHz Cortex-A55)
Battery: Non-removable Li-Po 4500 mAh battery
Network: 4G, 3G
Geekbench Score: 415 (Single-Core); 1,423 (Multi-Core)

Price: USD 449.99 (128GB 6GB RAM)

The Samsung Galaxy Note10 Lite was designed for you if you love writing or sketching on your notepad and not spending $1000+ on a Galaxy Note20. The S Pen and 6.7 inches display are perfect if you like to write notes, songs, poems, or grocery lists. You can be creative with your drawings and sketches. Can it unleash your undiscovered talents? Maybe? 😆

The Samsung Galaxy Note10 Lite has Exynos 9810, a high-end flagship chipset found in the Galaxy Note9 that was released in August 2018. It’s not one of the fastest flagship chipsets that you can find in 2020, but it’s fast, efficient, and capable. If you are a heavy gamer, you can check out the other phones on the list instead because it will not meet your expectations.

I think the triple camera is awesome. It has OIS for your steady photos and video recording. You can also use the built-in video editing capabilities. The front camera has a 32MP resolution which is great for your detailed selfie or groupie photos.

You can also charge the battery in 1 hour and it can last all day. It still has a 3.5 mm earphone jack if you’re looking for it. You can find many items in the box. It has the unit, extra stylus tips for the S Pen, 25W fast charger, 3.5 mm earphone, and USB-C to USB-C cable.

5. Samsung Galaxy S10+ (Released: Mar 2019)


Display: 6.4 inches; 1440 x 3040 pixels (522 PPI); Dynamic AMOLED capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors
OS: Android 9.0 (Pie), upgradable to Android 10, One UI 2
Storage and RAM: 128GB 8GB RAM; 512GB 8GB RAM; 1TB 12GB RAM
Camera: Triple: (1) 12 MP, f/1.5-2.4, 26mm (wide), 1/2.55″, 1.4µm, Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS, (2) 12 MP, f/2.4, 52mm (telephoto), 1/3.6″, 1.0µm, AF, OIS, 2x optical zoom, (3) 16 MP, f/2.2, 12mm (ultrawide), 1/3.1″, 1.0µm, Super Steady video
CPU: (USA) Qualcomm SM8150 Snapdragon 855 (7 nm) – US/China; Octa-core (1×2.84 GHz Kryo 485 & 3×2.42 GHz Kryo 485 & 4×1.78 GHz Kryo 485)
Battery: Non-removable Li-Ion 4100 mAh battery
Network: 4G, 3G
Geekbench Score: 721 (Single-Core); 2,569 (Multi-Core)

Price: USD 489.99 (128GB 8GB RAM)

The Samsung Galaxy S10+ is still a gaming beast. It has Snapdragon 855, a high-end chipset of Samsung’s 2019 flagship models. It’s fast and powerful and more importantly, you’ll find it cheaper today than it was in 2019.

Most people always go for the newer models. But you should also check the price and the capabilities of the flagships released in the past year when comparing phones in the same price range.

If you’re into premium phones and not too concern about the release date, you can also consider this one. The Galaxy S10+ has an aluminum frame with double glass design. The front and back are protected by Gorilla Glass 6 and Gorilla Glass 5, respectively. It also has an IP68 rating which you will find in most flagship phones today.

The triple camera still screams premium. It has a larger aperture size and OIS so your photos can have excellent quality. It still has the 3.5mm earphone jack which is great if you still own 3.5mm headphones. You will find more accessories than usual in the box that are very useful. It has the unit, fast charger, USB-A to USB-C cable, USB-A to USB-C adapter, microUSB to USB-C adapter, earphones (in-ear), additional headphone eartip sizes, and documentation.

CPU Benchmark Scores of the Top 5 – Under $500


Below are the CPU benchmark scores from Geekbench. If you see a higher score, it means that the CPU is faster. In the Single-Core test, Geekbench runs one stream of instructions per core. The Multi-Core test shows how fast the CPU can perform for applications that take advantage of multiple cores. The scores are the average of ten sample submissions on the Geekbench website.

My Recommendations from the Top 5 Phones Under $500


If you want the most powerful and capable Android phone under $500 in 2020 because you are a heavy user or a gamer, I highly recommend the Xiaomi Poco F2 Pro. The Snapdragon 865 chipset, big display size, very long battery life, and cooling technology of this phone are features that are perfect for your needs. It also has 5G connectivity, flagship design, and an excellent quad camera. It’s also very affordable compared to the flagship models of Samsung and Apple.

The iPhone SE 2020 is spot on if you prefer an iPhone under $500 instead of an Android phone. It is powered by Apple’s flagship chipset, the A13 Bionic, which makes it very worth the price. It also has a flagship build with dust and water resistance. The camera has advanced functionalities that only Apple can deliver. It’s a really great bargain if you come to think of it.

If you prefer a Samsung phone under $500, the Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite is the phone that you should highly consider. It has Snapdragon 855 flagship chipset so it’s very fast and power-efficient. The 6.7″ Super AMOLED display is very suitable if you like a larger screen. It has a big battery capacity and you can charge it really fast. It’s perfect if you want a very fast and powerful Samsung phone without spending more than $1000.

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References:

[1] [2] Snapdragon 865 5G Mobile Platform, Overview
[3] 5G User Experience Report June 2020
[4] Mobile Network Experience Report July 2020

3 thoughts on “Best Phones Under $500 – 2020 Top 5 Phones

  1. Hi

    Is it amazing that the value of smart phones has halved in such a short time and the standards have not come down. It can be difficult to know what phone to buy as there are so many on the market that you do not know which one will suit your needs without being overly expensive. I really appreciate  the time you have taken in coming up with excellent choices. You have come up with a wide range that will appeal for people of different tastes. My question with phones is which one is the more endurance that can take a knock or two?

    Thanks

    Antonio

    1. Hey Antonio,

      Well, there is a 50-ft drop test performed by a Youtuber (EverythingApplePro) for iPhone SE 2020. The result: it survived a 50-ft drop. It did bend slightly, no cracks on the rear glass, and a portion of the front glass separated from the frame leaving a thin gap. But it’s still working.

      Another Youtuber (JerryRigEverything) tested Poco F2 Pro durability and it also passed the test. The test includes a bend test and not so mild knocking of the unit on the table.

      I hope that helped. 🙂

  2. I am actually looking to change my phone and found this article to be super helpful. I travel a lot when I am working and was wondering if you would have any recommendations for best dual sim phones under $500

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