Best smartphones under R1,000 in South Africa

Mobicel, Stylo, and iTel offer the best smartphones for under R1,000 in South Africa, a MyBroadband analysis shows.

We searched for five smartphones with the best specifications in this segment in June 2024 and found a myriad options available from Takealot, Bash, Pep Cellular, and Ackermans Connect.

Takealot is among the best online stores in terms of smartphone range and pricing, while Ackermans, Pep, and TFG-owned Bash focus primarily on the budget market.

The main criteria in our latest assessment was that the smartphones needed to be 4G-capable and released after 2020.

3G connectivity is substantially slower and could make online browsing and app usage unpleasant.

South Africa is also planning to shut down 2G and 3G networks by the end of 2027, effectively rendering any 3G-only devices useless.

Aside from 4G connectivity and model age, we also looked at screen sizes, storage, RAM, and battery size.

Two of the best five options were from Mobicel, a South African brand founded in 2007 by Ridhwan Khan with a focus on providing innovative devices at attractive price points.

Part of Khan’s strategy for the brand was to sell its phones through clothing retailers.

“I challenged retailers to put Mobicel devices in their stores at no cost,” he told IOL in an interview in 2017. “I found a way to minimise their risk and maximise my own potential to thrive.”

Another two of the best budget smartphones were from the lesser-known Stylo brand, not to be confused with LG’s own defunct Stylo line.

There is very little information about this manufacturer online, but the specifications of its devices qualify them for inclusion.

The last phone on our list was an older model from Hisense — the U964.

Hisense’s more recent releases below R1,000 lacked 4G connectivity but had better hardware than the U964 in other departments.

The same was the case for many sub-R1,000 smartphones from Premio and Tecno sibling Itel.

Mobicel founder Ridhwan Khan receiving the EY Southern Africa World Entrepeneur Award in 2018

One thing to be aware of when shopping for budget smartphones is that their precise specifications and design might not be as readily available as higher-end devices.

Aside from the Hisense smartphone, there was no detail available online for the chips in the smartphones.

We also failed to find one photo of the Stylo Comet 4G’s back.

Shoppers should also bear in mind that budget smartphones under R1,000 are often network-locked. This is because many budget smartphones are subsidised by operators.

While the upfront cost is lowered, the operator recoups the losses on the device’s sale through cellular services like airtime, mobile data, voice minutes, and SMS purchases.

A network lock typically applies for a year, after which you will be able to request an unlock code from the network to access other operators’ services.

Below are the five best smartphones in South Africa for under R1,000.

Mobicel iX — R999 (Bash, Pep, Takealot)

Mobicel iX
OS Android 12 Go
Display 6.4-inch HD LCD
Processor Octa-core 1.6GHz
RAM 2GB (+2GB shared memory)
Storage 32GB, microSD card slot
Rear camera 8MP
Front camera 5MP
Cellular 4G
Ports USB-C
SIMs Dual
Battery  4,000mAh
Network locked Telkom-only at Bash and Pep

Mobicel Z4 4G — R999 (Ackermans, Pep)

Insert phone name here
OS Unspecified Android
Display 6.3-inch LCD
Processor Octa-core
RAM 2GB (+2GB shared memory)
Storage 32GB, microSD card slot
Rear camera 8MP
Front camera 5MP
Cellular 4G
Ports Unknown
SIMs Dual, MTN network-locked
Battery  3,000mAh
Network locked MTN-only at Ackermans and Pep

Stylo Comet 4G — R999 (Pep)

Stylo Comet 4G
OS Android 13 Go
Display 6-inch LCD
Processor Unknown
Storage 32GB, microSD
Rear camera 16MP + VGA
Front camera 8MP
Cellular 4G
Ports Unspecified
SIMs Single
Battery  2,800mAh
Network locked MTN-only at Pep

Stylo Inkosi Pro 4G — R999 (Pep)

Stylo Inkosi Pro 4G
OS Unspecified Android
Display 6-inch LCD
Processor Unspecified
Storage 16GB
Rear camera 8MP
Front camera 5MP
Cellular 4G
Ports SUB-C
SIMs Dual
Battery  3,000mAh
Network locked Vodacom-only on Pep

Hisense U964 — R799 (Takealot)

Hisense U964
OS Android 11 Go
Display 5-inch 480 x 854 LCD
Processor Quad-core
Storage 16GB
Rear camera 5MP
Front camera 2MP
Cellular 4G
Ports microUSB
SIMs Dual
Battery  2,000mAh
Network locked Vodacom-only on Takealot

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Best smartphones under R1,000 in South Africa