This is the best phone under $300 I'd buy now

Back view of OnePlus Nord N20 5G
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The OnePlus Nord N20 5G is in a class by itself. It's a phone that costs less than $300, which is certainly not unusual. But it's a budget phone where you feel like you're more than getting your money's worth.

Believe me, that's a pretty rare feeling.

As a rule, budget phones are serviceable devices that give you the basics without forcing you to splash out a lot of dough. At their very best, a budget phone might excel in one, maybe two areas, but at some point, you're going to have to make more than a few compromises in exchange for that lower price. Nevertheless, with costs rising all around us, I expect interest in the best cheap phones to spike upward these days.

And if you've got a hard limit of $300 on how much you plan on spending, you'd be hard pressed to find a better option than the OnePlus Nord N20. My colleague Jordan Palmer tested the device for our review, and he's got me convinced this is a low-cost phone worth your attention. Here's more on what makes the OnePlus Nord N20 stand out.

What the OnePlus Nord N20 5G gets right

The first thing you'll going to notice with the OnePlus Nord N20 is that $282 price tag. That's not a lot to pay for any smartphone, let alone one with 5G connectivity. Still, low-cost 5G devices aren't as rare as they used to be among the best 5G phones, so the Nord N20 has to do more to stand out.

Back view of OnePlus Nord N20 5G

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

In the case of the Nord N20 5G, OnePlus has put its effort into producing a striking-looking phone. The trouble with a lot of cheap phones is that "cheap" doesn't just describe their price, but their look and feel, too. That is not a complaint you can levy at the OnePlus Nord N20, which looks like it should cost hundreds of dollars more than it actually does.

Credit the Nord N20's flat edges for its premium feel. Yes, OnePlus is using plastic — you're not going to get more expensive materials on a sub-$300 phone — but it's a smooth feel that also creates an eye-catching sparkly effect in the right light. This is not going to be a phone you're embarrassed to take out of your pocket.

The 6.43-inch AMOLED panel is another strong point, as it's very vibrant and, at 567 nits, brighter than both the Pixel 5a and iPhone SE (2022), both of which cost more than the Nord N20 5G. You're going to squint at the screen in direct sunlight, but otherwise, the OnePlus phone has a display you won't struggle to see under normal circumstances. The Snapdragon 695 chipset powering the Nord N20 is solid enough, out-muscling the MediaTek silicon Motorola's been putting into its recent G Series budget devices.

OnePlus Nord N20 5G web browsing

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Battery life is one area where even cheap phones can excel, and the OnePlus Nord N20 5G is no exception. Its posted a time of 11 hours and 20 minutes on our battery test, in which we have phones surf the web continuously over cellular until they run out of power. Any time longer than 11 hours is excellent, even if the Nord N20 5G couldn't quite reach the 11.5-hour mark you need to hit to be among the best phone battery life entries.

As we noted at the outset, you're fortunate if a budget phone ticks one or two boxes when rounding up its relative strengths. The OnePlus Nord N20 can count design, display and battery life among its strengths.

Where the OnePlus Nord N20 5G falls short

You may have noticed we haven't talked cameras yet. That's because it's easily the weakest part of the OnePlus Nord N20 5G. And we're not just talking about the fairly useless monochrome and macro sensors OnePlus has included in an apparent effort to pump up the N20's camera count. Even compared to the output from other camera phones in its price range — not the highest bar to clear — the OnePlus Nord N20 5G comes up short.

Does that matter? If you consider mobile photography one of the chief reasons for carrying around a phone, then yes, you'd be wise to disregard the Nord N20's strong point. But if camera quality doesn't matter that much to you or if you don't mind a lackluster photo or two if it means owning a cheap phone that excels in other areas, then it's easier to justify the Nord N20 as a purchase.

OnePlus Nord N20 5G camera app

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The bigger flaw to my mind is the Nord N20's lackluster software support. The phone ships with Android 11, which has been around since 2020. You'll be able to upgrade to Android 12, but that's it. Forget about Android 13 when that update arrives later this year.

Limiting your phone to the latest version of Android hurts the long-term value of the OnePlus Nord N20 in my opinion, but I'm coming at this from the perspective of a long-time iOS user who can run iOS 15 on a six-year-old iPhone SE. Perhaps Android users — particularly those who shop in the budget space — are more at ese not being able to run the latest and greatest version of Android on their handset. Still, the Nord N20 would have been even more of a bargain, if you were able to count on this year's version of Android coming to your device.

Best cheap phones: Where OnePlus Nord N20 5G fits in

There are better low-cost options out there than the latest OnePlus phone, though it should be noted that they cost more than the $282 you'd pay for the Nord. The iPhone SE is Apple's cheapest 5G device, with a top-of-the-line A15 Bionic chip. Yet, at $429, it requires a little more outlay than the Nord N20. The same goes for the just-announced Pixel 6a, which is shipping July 28 for $499.

A better comparison would be Motorola's Moto G phones, which before the Nord came along, staked their claim as the low-cost phones to beat. The latest versions of the Moto G devices have disappointed, though. My colleague Jordan Palmer panned the Moto G Stylus (2022) while I also felt let down by the Moto G Power (2022) after really digging its predecessors. A switch in silicon has left the latest batch of Moto G phones with laggy performance. (This doesn't include the 2022 version of Moto G Stylus 5G, however, which runs on a more powerful chipset — that review is in progress, and it's more comparable to the iPhone SE and Pixel 5a in terms of price.)

For that reason, I'd turn to the OnePlus Nord N20 5G, even given the flaws I've outlined above. You don't have to pay a lot for OnePlus' cheap handset, and you wind up getting a lot of top features back in return.

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.