It’s been just over a year since 5G services were launched in India at the 6th Edition of the India Mobile Congress. While 5G smartphones were scarce back then, data was abundant. The likes of Airtel and Reliance Jio announced 5G trials and beta versions. They gave away free data to test the limits of their 5G networks. There was, however, one key factor that limited the accessibility of 5G in India.
A key factor challenging widespread 5G adoption was the widespread availability, accessibility and affordability of 5G smartphones, says Prabhu Ram, head, Industry Intelligence Group (IIG), Cybermedia Research (CMR), a marketing research and consulting agency.
The free data plans are still ongoing and there are no signs of any paid plans soon. But what has changed in the past few months has been the democratisation of 5G.
It took exactly 10 months for the Indian industry to get here, but just take a look at the common man streaming OTT content -- whether on the metro, in the bus, or at the roadside tea shop -- and you realise just why it makes a huge difference. Access to faster speeds enables buffer-free streaming and much more.
In September 2023, Chinese consumer electronics giant Xiaomi announced the Redmi 12 5G smartphone. At just ₹10,999, the Redmi 12 5G was the most affordable 5G smartphone in the country at that point. 5G smartphones finally reaching the budget smartphone category was a huge milestone for the industry: “Xiaomi certainly contributed, along with competitive offerings from other OEMs, in democratizing 5G,” Ram adds.
According to a report from CyberMedia Research (CMR): “India’s 5G smartphone shipment share rose to 57%, marking a 78% YoY growth”. This also helped the overall smartphone industry to recover from its recent slump.
While 5G will be the driving force in the next few months, even as India looks ahead to 6G, 4G isn’t taking a backseat. “While the pace of 5G is gaining momentum, 4G will likely continue to play a key role in the time ahead, especially in Aspirational India. 5G and 4G will coexist for some time,” Ram says.
With 5G adoption picking up, we take a look at some of the best budget smartphones (in no particular order) for those looking at making the jump.
1. Redmi 12 5G: The Redmi 12 from Xiaomi was the smartphone that kicked off the democratisation of 5G in the country. At a launch price of just ₹10,999, this was the cheapest 5G smartphone. The Redmi 12 5G has a 6.59-inch FHD+ LCD (with a 90Hz refresh rate and 1080x2460 resolution) display. There’s the Snapdragon 4 Gen 2 chipset under the hood, with a maximum of 8GB RAM and 256GB storage. There’s a dual-rear camera setup along with a 5,000mAh battery (with 18W fast charging support). The Redmi 12 5G is available in three colour options - Moonstone Silver, Pastel Blue, and Jade Black.
Available on Amazon, and Xiaomi retail stores; Starting at ₹11,999.
2. Poco M6 Pro: Poco, once a sub-brand of Xiaomi, launched the M6 Pro at just ₹9,999. It’s eerily similar to the Redmi 12 but comes with a dual-tone design that separates it from Xiaomi’s offering. Available on Flipkart; Starting at ₹9,999.
3. Realme Narzo 60 5G: Realme recently launched its cheapest 5G smartphone series in the country. With a starting price of ₹12,999, the Narzo 60x 5G is a good option for those seeking a budget 5G smartphone. The Narzo 60 5G is a slightly better option.
The Narzo 60 has a leather-like back along with a boxy design. It comes with a MediaTek Dimensity 6020 chipset and a 6.43-inch AMOLED display (with a 90Hz refresh rate). In terms of the camera, you get a 64MP main sensor along with a 2MP depth sensor on the back. The phone’s battery capacity is 5,000mAh and there is support for 33W wired charging. It comes in Mars Orange or Cosmic Black colour options
Available on Amazon, Flipkart, and offline stores; Starting at ₹17,999.
4. OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G: OnePlus launched the Nord CE 3 Lite 5G in April this year. It comes with a Snapdragon 659 chipset, 8GB of RAM, 128GB of storage and a 5,000mAh battery. There’s a 6.72-inch display and a triple-camera setup on the back panel. It is powered by OnePlus’ own Oxygen OS (based on Android 13).
Availability: OnePlus’ online and retail stores and offline stores; Starting at ₹19,999.
5. Motorola Moto G84: One of the best options for a 5G smartphone under ₹20,000 is the Moto G84. It’s got a near-stock Android experience and excellent battery life. The Moto G84 has a 6.55-inch OLED display (with a 120Hz refresh rate and 2400x1080 resolution). It’s powered by the Snapdragon 695 processor and comes with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. The smartphone is powered by Android 13 and comes with 5,000mAh battery (with support for 33W wired charging). It has a dual-rear camera setup and three colour options: Viva Magenta, Marshmallow Blue and Midnight Blue.
Available on Flipkart, Motorola.com and offline stores; Starting at ₹19,999.
6. Samsung Galaxy M34: Samsung has consistently been launching smartphones across all price ranges. The Galaxy M34 is their budget 5G offering. It comes with a 6.5-inch Super AMOLED display (with a 120Hz refresh rate and 1000 nits of peak brightness) and Corning Gorilla Glass 5 protection on the front. The smartphone sports a triple rear camera setup with lots of fun modes for shooting. It’s powered by the Exynos 1280 chipset and comes with a maximum of 8GB RAM and 256GB storage. It is powered by a 6,000mAh battery (with 25W fast charging support).
Available on Samsung online and offline stores, Amazon; Starting at ₹16,499.
7. iQOO Z7s 5G: Following the launch of the iQOO Z7, the company launched the iQOO Z7s 5G, a capable budget smartphone. It sports a 6.38-inch FHD+ AMOLED display (with a 90Hz refresh rate).
It’s powered by the Snapdragon 695 chipset, comes with up to 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage and runs on Funtouch OS 13 (based on Android 13). There’s a dual-camera rear setup on the phone with a 4,500mAh battery (with 44W fast charging).
Available on Amazon, Flipkart and offline stores; Starting at ₹16,999.
8. Lava Agni 2 5G: Lava’s Agni 2 5G smartphone comes with a 6.78-inch Full HD+ curved AMOLED screen (with a 120Hz refresh rate and a 2400x1080 resolution. It has a peak brightness of 950 nits. It’s powered by the MediaTek Dimensity 7050 chipset and comes with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. It runs on Android 13. There’s a triple-camera rear setup and an in-display fingerprint sensor. The smartphone is backed by a 4,700mAh battery (along with support for 66W fast charging).
Available on Amazon and offline retailers; Price: Starting price of ₹19,999.
9. Infinix Note 30 5G: A budget smartphone with JBL-powered speakers? Yes, that’s the Infinix Note 30 5G for you. The Infinix Note 30 5G has a 6.78-inch FHD+ display (with a 120Hz refresh rate) and runs on XOS 13 (based on Android 13). It’s powered by the MediaTek Dimensity 6080 chipset with up to 8GB RAM and up to 25GB of storage.
The phone has a 5,000mAh battery (with 45W fast charging support and wired reverse charging). The stereo speaker system is powered by JBL. There’s a triple-camera setup for photography enthusiasts and even a 3.5mm headphone jack. It comes in three colour options - Magic Black, Sunset Gold, and Interstellar Blue.
Available on Flipkart and offline retailers; Starting at ₹14,999.
Sahil Bhalla is a Delhi-based journalist. He posts at @IMSahilBhalla.