Tom's Guide reviews a lot of phones each year, and as the editor responsible for our mobile coverage, I see my fair share of them. And so I'm in a good position to confirm that the past year has been a terrific one for lower-cost midrange phones that still pack in a few premium features.
I'll confess to a certain bias here. As an unreformed cheapskate, the phones that excite me aren't necessarily the latest and greatest flagships but the devices that stretch your dollar further. Sure, it'd be nice to tote around the latest iPhone or a top-of-the-line Samsung flagship, but it's even nicer to have a solid phone and money left over in your wallet. And fortunately for all us, phone makers seem to agree, as they spent most of the past year releasing one low-cost marvel after another.
Not long ago, I declared that it's been a very strong year for phones that balance high-end features with a mid-range price, and nothing's happened since then to change my mind. In fact, things have only gotten better, as year-end sales make it possible to save even more on some of the best cheap phones that I've reviewed this year.
Below, you'll find the phones I've enjoyed using the most in 2023 that you can also get for less than their regular price right now. If you're looking to start the new year with a new handset that doesn't put a dent in your finances, these are the phones to consider.
Google Pixel 7a
My favorite phone of 2023, the Google Pixel 7a does what Google's A Series phones always do — provide a first-rate photo experience in a more affordable phone. The pictures captured by the Pixel 7a hold their own against those produced by much more expensive camera phones, which is why we think Google's midrange offering is the best camera phone under $500.
It's not just the quality of the images that the Pixel 7a captures. The Google-designed Tensor chipset powering the Pixel 7a enables a couple cool editing features like Magic Eraser (remove unwanted objects that are marring your photos) and Photo Unblur (which sharpens the faces of people in previously blurry shots).
You're missing out on some of the more advanced AI features introduced with the more expensive Pixel 8 phones, as those devices use a Tensor G3 chipset. But the Tensor G2 inside the Pixel 7a can still handle tasks like screening phone calls.
Normally $499, the Pixel 7a dropped to $374 during Black Friday sales last month. But you can still pick up the phone for free if you don't mind getting it from a specific carrier.
Verizon currently lets you have the Pixel 7a at no cost when you open a new line of data with an Unlimited Welcome, Unlimited Plus or Unlimited Ultimate plan. The $549 cost of the phone — Verizon charges $50 more than the unlocked version of the Pixel 7a — is refunded to you via bill credits spread out over 36 months.
Google Pixel 7a: was $529 now free @ Verizon
Verizon is removing the cost of a Pixel 7a upgrade for anyone who opens a new line of data with any of its current unlimited plans, which start at $65/month for 2 month of Unlimited Welcome. The $529 cost of the phone is refunded over 36 months via bill credits.
Alternatively, Walmart has the cheapest price on an unlocked Google Pixel 7a, costing you under $400 to pick up. The benefit of this is that you're not locked to any carrier requirements to get the deal, while also giving you the freedom of using it on any wireless carrier.
If 36 months is too long to wait, T-Mobile is offering a similar deal where you can get the Pixel 7a for free when you either add a line or trade-in an eligible device on the company's $75/month Go5G unlimited data plan. In T-Mobile's case, the bill credit is spread out over 24 months.
Samsung Galaxy A54
Just a step or two behind the Pixel 7a in my estimation is the Galaxy A54, Samsung's midrange phone that mirrors many of the features available on the entry-level Galaxy S23 flagship. In fact, the A54 features the same 50MP main camera as the S23, and its shots in low-light were particularly striking.
You're not getting a performance powerhouse, but the Exynos 1380 chipset has enough muscle to handle apps and games that a typical smartphone user might throw at it. You'll also be impressed by the bright display on the Galaxy A54, while the Lime and Violet color options add a fun bit of flair. (You can also opt for Gray or White if your tastes run to the more tried and true.)
Steep savings on the Galaxy A54 aren't as easy to come by as they were earlier, but you still don't have to pay full price for the phone. Right now, Amazon is selling the Galaxy A54 at $374, a $75 savings from its normal $449 price. You'll find an identical discount at Best Buy.
The model on sale at both Amazon and Best Buy is unlocked so you can take it to the phone carrier of your choosing. (Activating the phone with AT&T at Best Buy saves you another $50 on the Galaxy A54.) And the discount is instantaneous, not spread out over bill credits.
Motorola Razr (2023)
The complaint about foldable phones is that as convenient as they may be to tote around, they're also pretty expensive. The Motorola Razr (2023) tackles that complaint by dropping the cost of a foldable phone to $699 and delivering a pretty solid value in return.
The biggest compromise you'll have to make from the $999 Motorola Razr+ is with the exterior cover screen. On the Razr+, you get a 3.6-inch panel that's big enough to run apps without ever having to open up the phone. The standard Motorola Razr reduces that area to a 1.5-inch strip big enough for notifications but that's about it.
Still, I came way impressed with the build quality of the less expensive Razr, and if there's a difference between the cameras on those two Motorola models, it's not $300 worth of difference. You also get a long-lasting battery on the standard Razr, something that's not all that common with foldable phones.
Motorola Razr (2023): was $699 now $499 @ Amazon
The cheapest foldable phone costs even less at Amazon after a $200 discount. You get an expansive 6.9-inch display that folds up easily for a device that fits in any pocket. The cameras perform well, and the phone can go an entire day on a full charge.
Amazon has dropped the price of the Motorola Razr by another $200, so you can pick up one of the best foldable phones of the year for $499. If the only thing standing between you and a foldable flip phone has been the price, now's the time to take a flyer on this new tupe of phone model.
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Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.