Best mid-range phones for under $400 in 2021

If you happen to be in a hurry and want to know what we think is the best $400 smartphone currently available, here’s our pick!

The best smartphone for under $400 is…

Apple iPhone SE (2020)

IMG 1536
The iPhone SE (2020) is tiny! It is also our pick for the best smartphone under $400!/ © NextPit

Truth be told, you’d need to spend slightly more than $400 ($449 to be precise) to get hold of the 128GB variant of the Apple iPhone SE. The 64GB variant of the phone can be bought for $399 but we do not recommend buying a $400 phone with 64GB storage in 2021. Anyway, the reasons we chose the Apple iPhone SE 2021 as our pick for the best smartphone for $400 are multiple.

To start with, the device is fairly new having been announced just last year. The hardware is quite modern and the phone gets Apple’s powerful A13 Bionic chip which can handle most tasks you throw at it with aplomb. Thanks to Apple’s tight-knit ecosystem, rest assured, you can use the iPhone SE (2020) for at least the next three years without having to worry about (the lack of) software updates.

The powerful hardware ensures that you get features like 4K video recording, excellent camera capability, and support for wireless charging. Some of the negatives include the dated design, the small size of the phone, and the fact that it ships with a 5W charger.


  1. Editor’s choice: Apple iPhone SE (2020) the best smartphone for less than £400
  2. The best alternative smartphones under $400
    1. Samsung Galaxy A42 5G
    2. Motorola One 5G Ace
    3. Motorola Moto G Stylus 5G
    4. TCL 10 Pro
  3. What to expect from a sub-$400 smartphone?
  4. How NextPit reviews smartphones
  5. Alternatives to purchasing a new smartphone
  6. Upcoming bargains and sales dates
  7. Other best lists

The best alternative smartphones under $400

In case you have read our best lists for $300 and $200 smartphones, you might already be aware of the fact that smartphone buyers in the U.S. pay way more than people in Europe/Asia to get the same features. For the same reason, most of the handsets in this “under $400-list” would typically be found in the “under $300 list in most other markets. Sad, but true!

The only way to get around this problem is to import some of these better-specced, value for money products from platforms like AliExpress and GearBest. However, these devices often come sans warranties, and the software and network support may be sketchy. We generally do not recommend taking this path unless you really know what you’re getting into. Nevertheless, let us now take a look at some of the other options that are officially available in the U.S. for less than $400.

Samsung Galaxy A42 5G

Galaxy A42 5G
The Samsung Galaxy A42 5G is a good option for less than $400 / © Samsung`

Samsung released the Galaxy A42 5G for the US market in November 2020. The phone, as evident from the name, is a 5G capable mid-range handset. The Samsung Galaxy A42 5G comes powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G chipset and is offered in a single variant that gets 4GB of RAM and 128GB storage. Users so get the option to expand the storage further using a microSD card.

The camera setup on the Galaxy A42 5G includes a 48MP primary camera, an 8MP ultrawide camera, and a 2MP depth sensor. While the Super AMOLED display measures 6.6-inches across, it only supports HD+ resolution – something that would be unacceptable in any other smartphone market save the U.S. The Samsung Galaxy A42 5G gets a massive 5,000 mAh battery and it supports 15W fast charging as well.

Motorola One 5G Ace

Motorola Ace
The Motorola One 5G Ace is a 5G capable sub-$400 offering from Motorola worth considering / © Motorola

The Motorola One 5G Ace was officially announced in February 2021 and has been on sale in the US since then. This mid-range smartphone is powered by the 5G-ready Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G SoC and ships with 6GB RAM and two storage options (64GB/128GB). Memory expansion is supported using microSD cards.

The Motorola One 5G Ace is a large phone with a massive 6.7-inch LTPS display with FHD+ resolution. The phone gets triple cameras at the rear with the primary camera using a 48MP sensor. The two other cameras on the phone include an 8MP ultrawide camera and a 2MP depth sensor. The front-facing camera on the Motorola One 5G Ace uses a 16MP sensor.

As expected, the Motorola One 5G Ace houses a large 5,000 mAh battery that can easily power the phone through two days of normal use. The phone ships with a 10W charger but does support 15W fast charging.

Motorola Moto G Stylus 5G

Moto G Stylus 5G
The Motorola Moto G Stylus 5G is among the rare handsets that come with a stylus/ © Motorola

Another Motorola smartphone that makes it to this list is the interesting handset called the Moto G Stylus 5G. This 5G ready device comes powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 480 SoC which happens to be the first 4-series SoC to support 5G.

The phone also offers 6GB RAM and 256GB storage along with support for microSD cards. Like the other Motorola handset in this list, this phone also gets a humungous 6.8-inch display with FHD+ resolution. What makes this display special is the fact that it supports touch input via a stylus. In that way, the Moto G Stylus 5G makes for a versatile handset that supports features like sketching and doodling.

As for the cameras, we’re looking at a triple camera setup in a 48MP + 8MP + 2MB configuration with a 16MP front-facing camera. The battery capacity is 5,000 mAh and the phone ships with a standard 10W charger in the box. 

TCL 10 Pro

TCL 10 Pro
The only (new) smartphone to offer an AMOLED panel under $400 in the US! / © TCL

The TCL 10 Pro is another handset that you should definitely be considering if you have a sub $400 budget. Made by Chinese smartphone maker TCL, this handset comes powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 675 SoC and is offered in a single variant that has 6GB of RAM and 128GB storage. The phone does get a microSD card slot for memory expansion.

Among the reasons you should consider getting this phone is the large 6.4-inch display which is an AMOLED – making it the only smartphone in this list to feature one. The panel also supports FHD+ resolution. The camera setup also looks quite capable thanks to a 64MP main camera, a 16MP ultrawide camera, a 5MP macro camera, and a 2MP depth sensor.

The phone also gets a 4,500 mAh battery that supports 18W fast charging. The phone runs Android 10 at launch with a planned upgrade to Android 11 on the cards.

What to expect from a sub-$400 smartphone?

As mentioned earlier, smartphones price under $400 in the US is still part of the lower mid-range segment. A notable exception is our winner – the Apple iPhone SE (2020). Another thing that came to our notice was that many of the brands that have a good presence in the $200 and $300 are conspicuous by their absence in this segment.

Nokia and OnePlus are glaring examples of these. While Nokia does sell a $400 smartphone with the Nokia 7.2 – that device was released in 2019. OnePlus also chose not to launch the OnePlus Nord in the U.S. which could possibly have been on this list. Samsung also has very few new phones in this price bracket. Motorola, however, is an exception. 

As for the common features we have come to expect on sub $400 devices, it became clear that most of the Android handsets in this segment came powered by either a Snapdragon 7series or 6 series processor. 5G support was a common theme across most Android phones. AMOLED displays are yet to arrive on $400 phones in the US which is a shame. The TCL 10 Pro was an exception, though.

Most handsets in this segment also featured triple or quad cameras at the rear. The additional sensors often tend to be relatively useless, like a low-resolution macro or 3D sensor.

And while we are on the topic of smartphones, just how exactly does NextPit review new smartphones? As an independent news magazine, manufacturers send us new smartphones or respond to our inquiries by providing review units. These are always loaners that are sent back by our editorial team once the review is over, but if the manufacturers do not ask for them, they remain in our office as permanent loans.

Our reviewers (regardless of whether they are employed or freelance) will use the review units just like how the average smartphone user would in everyday life. We make sure that they are our new daily driver handset, inserting our personal SIM card and go around capturing test shots with the camera. Hence as a team, we have managed to agree on the different review criteria that help us with our smartphone “Best Of” lists. To this end, we discussed in advance just which candidates are as well as the preferences of the individual editors.

Only devices that we have already reviewed will receive a clear recommendation. For the sake of fairness, alternatives are also mentioned as we try to keep our “Best Of” lists constantly updated while including any new or missing devices. Do you have any questions about our “Best Of” lists or our review guidelines? Feel free to write in any questions or suggestions that you might have in the comments section.

Refurbished, Sale units, and used smartphones

If removing the protective film for the first time on your new device does not cause you to jump for joy, you can pick up more expensive smartphones from the second-hand or refurbished market. It is particularly advisable to use devices that carry a refurbished guarantee. These are used smartphones that have been checked and refurbished by reputable companies to ensure that they are in tip-top condition. Refurbished devices are particularly exciting to check out when they come with an extended warranty. This is how you protect yourself when picking one up just in case the handset gives up the ghost just a few weeks down the road.

Of course, you do not have this advantage when buying a used smartphone from private owners on platforms such as eBay, eBay classifieds, or other portals. However, used devices can be found for significantly reduced prices here, as there are no additional costs because the middleman has been cut out. With the so-called ‘sale’, you also secure older models that online shops still carry in new condition but which are no longer in production.

Promotions and Sales

Towards the end of the year, each consumer electronics device that you purchase is accompanied by an even greater risk of stumbling upon a cheaper offer just a few weeks down the road. This can be attributed to sales like Black Friday and its associated Black Week, Amazon Prime Day, Singles Day, and Cyber ​​Monday, all of which are discount days in the months of October and November, which are meant to prime the economy before the Christmas shopping frenzy begins. Since smartphones are one of the most popular consumer electronics devices in the market, you should keep your eyes peeled for great deals. You can check out the dates for this year’s sales and promotions in the table below:

Mark these days down in your 2021 calendar:
Event Date
Amazon Prime Day 21 and 22 June 2021
Singles Day 11 November 2021
Black Week 23 to 27 November 2021
Black Friday 27 November 2021
Cyber Monday 30 November 2021

It’s best to keep an eye on our homepage on these days. Because we search for offers in every online shop and manufacturer’s website and assess the offers according to their value. As in this article, you can inform yourself with further test reports and news about the respective devices before buying.

Sign up for a contract with a service provider or an installment plan 

If your old smartphone is completely broken and cannot be used, leaving you in desperate need of an immediate replacement, you can always opt for an installment plan that covers several months of payments. Normally, this is seen in the traditional framework of smartphone contracts, where you obtain a new smartphone for free for a monthly surcharge or for a lower one-time payment. Generally speaking, restrictions of a particular smartphone model to a specific network operator no longer exists today. However, there is still the risk of paying more for the device at the end of the contract compared to buying it outright now.

On the other hand, you also obtain cheaper prices with a monthly financing plan. You pay off the purchase price of the new device across an agreed number of monthly installments sans contract and with 0% interest. Such financing packages are extremely popular, but it also comes with its own risks. For instance, if you lose your new smartphone immediately after buying it or if it breaks, you will still honor the remaining installments for a device that can no longer be used or is limited in functionality. 

Are you not satisfied with the selection of our list of sub-$200 smartphones? Do share your recommendations with us in the comments section below. If the price-performance ratio is not right for you within this price range, perhaps other “Best Of” lists in the following articles might be more your cup of tea:

More “Best Of” lists on NextPit

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