There’s never been a better time to buy a cheap Android phone and still get a top quality experience.
It used to be the norm that to get a good phone you’d have to spend a good chunk of change. But while the high end continues to progress at a predictable rate, the mid-tiers have suddenly become where the action is at. It’s easier than ever to get a quality Android smartphone without paying too much for it. We daresay you can call it a “cheap” Android smartphone at this point and not feel bad about it.
For around $250 it’s now possible to get a good phone by any standard. Here’s our roundup of the best you can get right now.
For May 2016 there are no new additions to the list, but we have had a re-think on the order.
Motorola Moto G (2015)
Still one of the best value phones around
- Solid build quality
- No manufacturer bloatware
- MicroSD card slot
- No NFC
- Only a single speaker compared to previous model
- No quickcharge or wireless charging
Motorola is arguably responsible for reinventing the budget phone space when it tore up the rule book with the original Moto G. Now three generations in and it’s no more difficult to recommend to anyone looking for the best on a budget.
The hardware is more than ample for the price and Motorola’s signature software experience of value added to stock Android remains. The camera is improved on its predecessor, Moto Maker allows for some customization on the color schemes and all-in-all the essence of what made this phone great hasn’t gone away. It’s hard to do better at $200. And we’d definitely recommend the 16GB/2GB RAM model. It’s worth the extra.
Nexus 5X (from Project Fi)
A fantastic value if you can go with Project Fi
- Strong camera
- Great fingerprint sensor
- Clean software experience
- Quick updates
- Occasionally sluggish performance
- Weak speaker
- Uninspired hardware
Though the Nexus 5X typically retails for a higher $349 (or $299 frequently via coupons), the way the phone makes this list is its amazingly low price of $199 when purchased through Project Fi. That’s right, if you are using Google’s own Project Fi service, or are willing to give it a try, you can pick up a Nexus 5X for an absolute steal of a price. Going a step further, you can even finance that $199 price over 24 months with no interest.
At that price, you can look past the sometimes-inconsistent performance and lackluster hardware of the Nexus 5X, and instead focus on getting a great software experience, strong camera, one-touch fingerprint sensor, solid screen and continued support directly from Google. We’re already willing to recommend this phone at its usual price, but when you put a $199 tag on it, it’s really worth considering.
And even if you decide Project Fi isn’t for you, you can simply cancel the service without penalty and keep using your Nexus 5X on another carrier.
- Looks fantastic
- Simple, good looking software
- Full HD 1080p display
- Weak camera
- Lacking some important radio bands
- Below average battery life
OnePlus has traditionally gone hunting for the high-end but the OnePlus X is the first time it truly targeted the budget sector coming in at $249. What you get is a mixture of premium design with glass and metal both present encasing internal specs that would have been in flagship class phones not all that long ago.
The glass back makes the OnePlus X a slippery customer but the 1080p display and simple, unbloated software around the front makes up for it. In true OnePlus style you’ll need an invite to get one, but there are also open sales for 48 hours every week where you can buy one without any extra steps.
Huawei Honor 5X
Honor lands Stateside
- Premium design and construction
- Fingerprint scanner
- Good quality display
- EMUI still broken in places
- Sluggish at times
- Launches on Android 5.1
The Honor 5X is a perfect example of where the $200 price point smartphone market is headed. For a remarkably good $199, the first Honor phone to officially launch in the U.S. packs a metal body, decent screen and fingerprint sensor. The hardware certainly feels worthy of a higher price point.
The only drawbacks to the Honor 5X come in the software. Huawei’s EMUI is still an acquired taste with some questionable features and things that still don’t work quite as we might hope. But, there’s a lot of good stuff, too, and some really useful features baked in. And it’ll be available from January 31 in the U.S. with a European launch as yet unknown at the time of writing.
A Cyanogen powered marvel
- Absurdly cheap
- Great performance
- Decent battery life
- Not the strongest camera
- No NFC
- Annoyingly bright LED notification light
The Wileyfox Swift is the British company’s first Android phone and has every right to be taken notice of. It cost’s a ridiculously cheap £129 and packs Moto G matching hardware while undercutting it on price.
The display is nice, the battery life is pretty good, the overall appearance is on point and the software provided by Cyanogen is slick, speedy and bloat free. It’s not available officially outside Europe right now, but it’s absolutely one of the best cheap phones money can buy. And with recent offers dropping the price to just £99, it really is a bargain.
ASUS Zenfone 2
A surprise contender
- Great price
- Long battery life
- Decent camera
- Awkward button placement
- Cheap feeling materials
- Software won’t be to everyone’s taste
ASUS announced the Zenfone 2 at the beginning of 2015 but it would soon become one of the better value for money buys for the budget conscious smartphone buyer. With the cheapest model coming in at $199, for $299 you can get the highest-end variant with some specs that easily outdo even some of the most expensive phones on the market.
It’s not perfect by any means, with software that’s best described as an acquired taste, and some cost cutting in the materials used to build it. But make no mistake, you’re getting a solid phone with long battery life, a decent camera and more besides for not a whole lot of your hard earned.
Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3 5.5
- Use it either way up
- Long battery life
- Full HD 1080p display
- Some added bloatware
- Sluggish while installing apps
- The back cover doesn’t feel all that great
Alcatel OneTouch is another of those smartphone makers that can hold their heads high having made huge strides forward in 2015. The Idol 3 comes in two sizes, but it’s the larger 5.5-inch model that’s most impressive. For $250 you get a great looking 1080p display, a 13MP camera and some pretty hot sounding speakers with JBL audio.
The party piece of the Idol 3 is that you can use it either way up. The speakers on the front are both also earpieces and the phone’s user interface will flip depending which way up you’re holding it. Just remember which end the camera is before snapping a selfie.
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