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Best pay-as-you-go phone 2023: Save loads with these PAYG handsets

Here’s our pick of the best pay-as-you-go phones, to suit every budget and need

Not making the most of your phone’s minutes, texts, or data usage limits? A pay-as-you-go phone could be the best thing for you. If you’re not taking advantage of what can often be an expensive pay-monthly phone deal, then simply topping up your phone as and when you need to use it could be a more convenient solution.

But with such a wide range of phones to choose from, finding the right pay-as-you-go phone can be a tough task. Do you want a cheap ‘burner’ phone to use in emergencies or at festivals? Or a premium flagship phone with all the bells and whistles?

Luckily, we’ve rounded up the best pay-as-you-go phones for a range of prices and needs. Read on for our pay as you go guide and a comprehensive rundown of the best pay-as-you-go phone for you.

Best pay-as-you-go phone: At a glance

How does Expert Reviews test pay-as-you-go phones?

Pay-as-you-go phones are tested in the same ways that we assess all phones, provided they’re running Android or iOS. For CPU and GPU assessments, we download the Geekbench and GFXBench applications, using the benchmark figures to compare the phones to similarly priced competitors. For the display, we use DisplayCal software and a display colorimeter to measure peak brightness, contrast and black level, as well as how effectively the display reproduces colours across the spectrum.

Battery life tests see the phone set to aeroplane mode and a standardised screen brightness to ensure consistency across the test pool. We then run our standard looping video on the phone until the battery runs down, and finally we boot the handset back up and record the timestamp on the video. A phone’s cameras are tested in a variety of settings, including scenic, indoor and night photography, as well as rapid panning video to assess stabilisation.

How to choose the best pay-as-you-go phone for you

How do pay-as-you-go phones work?

It’s pretty simple, really. Once you purchase your handset, all you need to do is add credit and then you’re free to make calls, text and browse the internet. When your credit runs down, simply top up your phone with more.

Multiple methods of topping up your phone include buying vouchers from shops or doing it online, over the phone or via text message.

Is a pay-as-you-go phone right for me?

It all depends on how much you’re planning to use your phone. Pay monthly contracts can cost anywhere from £15 to £50 and even more, so if you’re not making a lot of calls and texts or using a lot of data then spending so much money probably doesn’t make much sense.

Basically, pay-as-you-go phones let you retain flexibility instead of locking into a set price for years to come.

What are the advantages of pay-as-you-go phones?

They’re great value, with no minimum monthly charges as you would get on a pay-monthly contract. Only using prepaid credit means that you already know what you’ll be spending – so there are no nasty surprises for going over your data allowance. Additionally, no contract means that you aren’t committed to paying a set fee for several years. And finally, pay-as-you-go phones are available to people under the age of 18, unlike pay-monthly phones.

Are there any drawbacks to pay-as-you-go phones?

Potentially the only major drawback is that you’ll have to pay full price for your handset. This means it can potentially be initially expensive if you want to buy a new, top-of-the-range smartphone. Meanwhile, those who use their phones heavily probably won’t be suited to pay-as-you-go phones, with charges likely to go above and beyond a monthly contract if you’re topping up over and over again.

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The best pay-as-you-go phones

1. Alcatel 10.66: Best pay-as-you-go phone under £10

Price: £8 (with £10 top-up) | Buy now from Carphone Warehouse

It’s a basic phone, yes, but a reliable one. Obviously, at this price, you’re not getting a smartphone competitor, but if you’re looking for the basics done well then Alcatel’s 10.66 is a great all-rounder at such a low price.

A long-lasting 400mAh battery promises a standby time of 300 hours and a continuous talk time of 7.5 hours. There’s also a microSD slot that lets you add up to 32GB of storage, so you can pack a lot of tracks into the music player. Elsewhere, there’s Bluetooth, an FM radio and very basic camera for low-quality snaps.

Key specs – Camera: QQVGA (160 × 120); Storage: up to 32GB microSD; Battery: 400mAh; Weight: 63g; Screen: 1.8in, 128 x 160; Dimensions: 108 x 45 x 12.8 mm

Buy now from Carphone Warehouse

2. Xiaomi Redmi Note 9T: Best budget pay-as-you-go smartphone

Price: £179 | Buy now from Amazon

The budget option from the Chinese brand Xiaomi, the Redmi Note 9T has the look and feel of a phone that would set you back much more. It’s the price that really stands out with this phone, being one of the cheapest fully-fledged smartphones on the market.

The large 6.53in 2,340 x 1,080 resolution screen is a bonus, too, and really stands out from the crowd. Another plus point is the battery life, which lasted over 18 hours in our benchmark test. The triple-camera arrangement is also a highlight – we particularly like the macro lens for close-up photography.

The performance also shapes up well against its budget smartphone competitors and it’s one of the cheapest smartphones with 5G connectivity.

Read our full Xiaomi Redmi Note 9T review for more details

Key specs – Camera: 48MP, 2MP (depth), 2MP (macro); Storage: 128GB, up to 256GB microSD; Battery: 5,000mAh; Weight: 199g; Screen: 6.53in, 2,340 x 1,080; Dimensions: 162 x 77 x 9mm

3. Nokia 1.3: Best smartphone under £100

Price: £70 l Buy now from Amazon

Cheap smartphones often get a bit of a bad reputation, but the Nokia 1.3 bucks that trend. Despite costing a good deal less than £100, thus undercutting practically every smartphone on the market, it’s a surprisingly competent little device and a perfect handset for Android first-timers.

It’s well-built, has a nice bright screen and the software caters to its low-powered specifications. The camera is also rather good for the price, and the battery can be removed too. It’s not the fastest phone around – not by a long shot – but where it counts the Nokia 1.3 is a handy companion with guaranteed software upgrades for at least two years.

Read our full Nokia 1.3 review for more details

Key specs – Camera: 8-megapixel; Storage: 16GB; Battery: 3,000mAh; Weight: 155g; Screen: 5.7in, 1,520 x 720; Dimensions: 147 x 71 x 9.4mm

4. Nokia 105 v5: Best throwaway pay-as-you-go phone

Price: £12 (with £10 top-up) | Buy now from Carphone Warehouse

Similarly styled to the Alcatel above, the Nokia 105 v5 also includes several similar features to Nokia’s budget offering. There’s a music player, 1.8in screen and an 800mAh battery – though this sort of low-powered phone will last a long time regardless.

The only stumbling block is that there’s no rear camera to speak of, so you won’t be able to take pictures. Still, the price is obviously the major selling point – where else can you get a phone for this cheap?

Key specs – Camera: N/A; Storage: 4MB; Battery: 800mAh; Weight: 73g; Screen: 1.8in, 120 x 160; Dimensions: 119 x 49 x 14.4mm

Buy now from Carphone Warehouse

5. Apple iPhone SE (2020): Best pay-as-you-go Apple phone

Price: £399 | Buy now from AmazonApple iPhone SE (2020) with grass and flowers

On the face of it, the iPhone SE (2020) might be little more than a warmed-up iPhone 8, but there are many reasons why it’s worth considering. The most important of which is that it’s Apple’s cheapest new iPhone in years.

With prices spiralling ever upwards, it’s refreshing to see a mid-priced iPhone for the masses, and it certainly helps that the iPhone SE performs remarkably in almost every area. It has a great camera, has identical performance as the expensive iPhone 11 Pro Max and the screen is lovely. The only fly in the ointment is battery life, although it’s hardly weak by previous Apple standards.

Read our full iPhone SE (2020) review for more details

Key specs – Camera: 12-megapixel; Storage: 64GB; Battery: 1,821mAh; Weight: 148g; Screen: 4.7in, 1,334 x 750; Dimensions: 67 x 138 x 7.3mm

6. Samsung Galaxy A52 5G: Best premium pay-as-you-go phone

Price: £349 | Buy now from Amazon

The mid-range Samsung Galaxy A52 5G is remarkably good value for money. Perhaps one of the best-priced Samsung phones to date, the Galaxy A52 5G doesn’t scrimp on features, with a quadruple-camera setup (led by a huge 64MP camera), large 6.5in Full HD screen and a swish-looking design.

It isn’t quite as fully-formed as its premium-priced Galaxy stablemates, but at a fraction of the cost, you really can’t grumble too much. if you don’t fancy spending over a thousand pounds on the latest and greatest Samsung phone, and you’re hoping to dip your toes in the wonderful world of 5G, then the Galaxy A52 5G is your best bet.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy A52 5G review for more details

Key specs – Camera: 64MP, 12MP (wide), 5MP (macro) 5MP (depth); Storage: 128GB, up to 1TB microSD; Battery: 4,500mAh; Weight: 189g; Screen: 6.5in, 2,400 x 1,080; Dimensions: 160 x 75 x 8.4mm

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