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Best Cheap Smartphones
A Buying Guide to the Best Cheap Smartphones
Shopping for a cheap smartphone is no easy task. There are dozens upon dozens from which to choose, and all seem to linger in the shadow of the latest Apple iPhone, which is decidedly not a budget choice.
Related: Our cell phone fees comparison
With so many manufacturers competing for a place in consumers' pockets and purses, you'll find plenty of models for very reasonable prices if -- and this is a big if -- you're willing to swallow a two-year service contract with the provider offering the cheap smartphone you want.
Our top picks among the best cheap smartphones are the HTC Windows Phone 8X (starting at $50 with Verizon; also available from AT&T and T-Mobile) and the Motorola Droid Razr M (starting at 1 cent with Verizon). Both are high-quality, versatile phones with large, gorgeous displays and excellent performance. We also like the Samsung Galaxy S Blaze 4G (free with T-Mobile) for its excellent battery life and very good overall performance, although reviewers chide it for being a little heavy on the bloatware -- preloaded software or apps that can't easily be deleted. The HTC Evo 4G LTE (starting at $50 with Sprint) wins us over with a large, 4.7-inch display that looks simply gorgeous. If Sprint's limited but expanding 4G LTE network covers your area, the HTC Evo makes an excellent choice. The Kyocera Rise (free with Sprint) is not nearly so impressive, with modest hardware relative to the best cheap smartphones. Reviewers note that the Rise tends to lag at times and the call quality isn't up to par.
We based the starting prices in this guide to cheap smartphones on the assumption that bargain hunters would be willing to sign a new contract (typically two years). That's the surest and often only route to the lowest price or a free phone. The top nationwide cellular service providers -- AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon -- offer inexpensive smartphones plus the data plans you need to get the most out of these devices. Each service provider sells plans at different prices, although you may be required to purchase a specific plan or choose particular options depending on the phone you buy.
More and more cheap smartphones support 4G LTE, the latest and fastest cellular network technology and a welcome advance for multimedia purposes, such as streaming or downloading video. If you're interested in a 4G LTE phone, check with your provider to find out if the service is available in your area. Verizon offers the broadest 4G LTE coverage now, followed by AT&T, while Sprint is still in the early stages. T-Mobile touts an extensive 4G network that approaches LTE speeds, although it's based on a different underlying technology.
There's certainly no shortage of expensive smartphones to ogle, with their faster hardware and superior multimedia capabilities. But the best cheap smartphones are loaded with appealing features -- so many, in fact, that the average consumer looking for a better-than-average phone might feel overwhelmed when assessing the options. Shopping for a phone is made more challenging by carriers' propensity to customize handsets with their own software and feature sets.
The best cheap smartphones are sophisticated devices that essentially function as mini computers and increasingly pull double-duty as media players. Nowadays most cheap smartphones include cameras with resolution as high as 8 megapixels and many also shoot video. One new trend is the inclusion of a smaller, front-facing camera for video chatting in addition to the main camera. Video, photos, and games call for an excellent display, and our top picks include phones with HD screens. The touchscreens on most cheap smartphones range from about 3.5 inches to 4.3 inches. If you're a frequent texter, you'll also want an easy-to-use virtual keyboard and possibly a physical keyboard.
A cheap smartphone packed with features can quickly run dry, especially if you spend lots of time using a 4G network, watching video, or using apps. If you're a heavy user, prepare to measure a phone's battery life in hours rather than days. Most smartphones, regardless of price, need to be charged at least once a day when used heavily. Frugal users can stretch the battery life of the best cheap smartphones to a few days. But what's the fun in that?
Best Cheap Smartphones
HTC Windows Phone 8X
If you're seeking an Android alternative and find this phone for less than $50, jump on it. While the Windows Phone app selection is limited, expert reviewers say the phone itself excels in nearly every way with the exception of its camera, which is still fairly good.Read Full Review and Compare Prices »
Motorola Droid Razr M
It's surprising to find a phone this appealing for this price -- a mere penny. The Motorola Droid Razr M from Verizon may not have an HD display, but the screen still looks gorgeous. This is also a very fast phone with the new "Jelly Bean" version of Android.Read Full Review and Compare Prices »
Good Cheap Smartphones
Samsung Galaxy S Blaze 4G
The Blaze 4G from T-Mobile would be easy to recommend as a top pick but for a few cons. For one, it's loaded with bloatware, or preinstalled apps that users can't easily remove. Still, this is a powerful phone with excellent battery life and call quality.Read Full Review and Compare Prices »
Nokia Lumia 810 Review
Google Nexus 4 Review
Kyocera Rise Review
Samsung Galaxy S Blaze 4G Review
HTC Evo 4G LTE Review
HTC Windows Phone 8X Review
Motorola Droid Razr M Review
Samsung Epic 4G
HTC Droid Incredible 2
BlackBerry Curve 3G
Apple iPhone 3GS 8GB
BlackBerry Bold 9780
T-Mobile myTouch 4G
Motorola Droid 2 Global
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