why you shouldn't by a cheap Android smartphone
As a recent COMscore report suggests, there are lots of people out there who are not craving top-end Android smartphones, aiming for budget-friendly options instead, devices that would allow them access to the basic functions of a mobile phone. But if all you want to do is be able to make calls, text, and maybe perform some limited web browsing, you might be better off with a feature phone instead. Today, you can get an Android phone for as low as $30, and that is without a contract. While the advantage of choosing a cheap Android smartphone is obvious (less moolah spent), throughout the rest of this article, I will point out the main reasons why I believe you should never go for a cheap Android smartphone.

Reason #1: Low quality touchscreens

Most “affordable” (I simply call them cheap) Android smartphones feature poor touchscreen technology. At resolutions south of HVGA (that’s below 480 by 320 pixels), text and images are nothing short of fuzzy. In addition, in the case of cheap Android smartphones, the low-quality touchscreens themselves often have responsiveness problems, not to mention the “dead” pixels, which appear way more often on low-quality smartphones. I can’t stress enough how important a good touchscreen is in order to enjoy an exciting Android experience. If you’re having problems navigating around apps or if the movies and games are not vivid, all the fun is sucked out and you’ll probably get bored (or even annoyed) pretty quickly.


Reason #2: Low Speed Single-Core Processors + Not Enough RAM

Fact: Dual-core processors have been available on high-end smartphones for more than a full year. Better still, quad-core smartphones are bound to be released over the next couple of months (I particularly fancy the HTC One X, but that’s just me being subjective). As the processing power of Android smartphones has increased steadily, more and more apps are designed to work well on multiple cores, while many Android games now take advantage of the advanced GPUs you’ll find in the likes of the Galaxy S2, the Motorola Droid RAZR, or any other high-end Android device of your liking.

Cheap Android smartphones, however, usually come with single-core processors clocked at less than 1GHz and GPUs that are unable to run the most graphically advanced games of today. If you choose to go down the dirt-cheap road, you simply won’t have hardware that is good enough to run the current top apps, not to mention the apps that will be designed to take advantage of the processing power of next year’s best smartphones. If you’re ill-prepared for today, just imagine the setbacks you’ll encounter tomorrow!

Next up, low amounts of RAM can clog up a smartphone to the point where the Android OS will automatically kill apps in the background to open up more RAM for the currently open app, thus effectively disabling one of Android’s main features: multitasking. Cheap Android smartphones come with 512MB of RAM and less. As apps become bigger (Google have recently raised the size limit for Google Play Apps up to 4GB), they are increasingly RAM-hungry, up to the point that 1GB of RAM should become the absolute minimum in about a year or so.

 Reason #3: Low-Quality Build Materials

I’m not going to talk about the way some prefer glass and steel over plastic, as even plastic materials vary in sturdiness. You’ll probably want to hold on to your smartphone for about a couple of years, so there is a big chance you’ll drop it on concrete floors (ouch!), bump it a few times, or even drop it in water during that time. High-end Android smartphones are more resistant to scratches (Gorilla Glass anyone?), and some are even waterproof. Most low-end Android smartphones start squeaking and making all sorts of funny noises, as soon as you drop them the first time. Not to mention the fact that the screen and back plate will be covered in scratches, after just a few months of using the phone.

Reason #4: No Android Updates

You know how smartphone manufacturers are notoriously late in providing Android updates to their top-of-the-line smartphones? Samsung has just recently started rolling out the ICS update to their Samsung Galaxy S2 stable. Do you think their budget-friendly Galaxy Ace will get the Android 4.0 update anytime soon? I think not.

The same goes for any other major smartphone manufacturer: updates are provided to their top smartphones, and even then, they come a lot later than they should. And if your budget Android smartphone won’t be getting the next Android update, the producer will probably point to Reason #2: poor specs. However, unlike me, they’ll be gentle in the way they word it…

Reason #5: Carrier Subsidization

A top-end Android smartphone is usually priced at $200-$250 on a two-year carrier contract. As the price for an unlocked top Android smartphone is usually north of $600, you’ll end up getting yourself a $400 discount.

Take the carrier’s budget friendly smartphone instead (usually priced at $100 or less) and the discount you’ll actually receive will be something less than $200. Obviously, this does not apply when buying unlocked smartphones, but I’m sure most of the readers of this post have a carrier-subsidized smartphone anyway.

So there you have it: these are my top 5 reasons why you shouldn’t by a cheap Android smartphone! Feel free to disagree and drop a comment below!

Mike Andrici
Growing up in my father's PC store, I was surrounded by and developed a passion for technology ever since I was in kindergarten. However, advancements made in the technology world continue to amaze me on a daily basis! I've been writing about the Android OS since back in October 2008, when Google and HTC launched the first Android smartphone ever, the T-Mobile G1 / HTC Dream. Although I'm no company's fanboy, Android is the mobile OS I devoutly support.
  • Kalamagwi

    I’ve just bought the Xperia Arc S, and I’m waiting for the delivery, am I going to regret my decision? seems like the Arc S is a low end smartphone because it has only 512MB of ram

    • Rich

      It is certainly the same amount of RAM that many low-end smartphones have, including my HTC Explorer. n addition, it is single core and has a weak GPU. It is certainly not high-end, and probably barely qualifies as mid-range nowadays. I certainly wouldnt buy one at this point in time with all the new cheap and powerful phones being released over the next month or two.

    • 10825908

      I’ve had my white Xperia arc S running Android 2.3 Gingerbread for 3 months now and while spec-wise, the Galaxy S II was by far a superior phone during that time period, I get the full Android experience and am very happy with it. So yeah, specs don’t accurately translate to real-life performance until the app environment and the OS itself take full advantage of all the leaps in hardware this year, and we see a noticeable improvement in their usability.

      So to answer your question, it really depends on what you consider as low end, the specs or the end-result of the device. And if end-result is what you’re after, the arc S delivers excellently as a droid.

      P.S. I often get positive comments about the aesthetics from anyone with a smartphone, most especially iPhone 4/S users. Non-techies always ask if this is the new iPhone. :/

  • wonshikee

    I can see the differences in performance between my vibrant I use as a PMP and my galaxy nexus. However I also disagree w/ the author in regards to not buying a cheap android phone.

    For instance, Sprint recently did a promo, offering Nexus S 4G for free with a 2 year, the galaxy S series is a solid phone for any casual user.

    However, if you’re talking about the prepaid side – they do have some garbage phones, but then again – people on prepaid tend to care even less. But to say to get a feature phone? That’s just bad advice.

    • straight talk have very decent lower end smart phones and a couple decent mid-level ones as well. You can also buy a simcard from them and use any ATT, Tmobile or unlocked smartphone you want. And unlimited voice/text/data is only $45 a month. People on prepaid get the most for their money, by far.

  • Guest

    How can “carrier subsidization” be a reason to *NOT* buy a $50 phone?

    • Andrew Mills

      Because it’s much of a better reason to buy a $200 phone !

    • Johnathan Billion

      Think about this, The Motorola Citrus for Verizon,
      Full retail price $220
      Subsidized cost Free
      Cancellation if you don’t like the phone after 2 months?
      Not to say that you would be cancelling but that was one of the lowest of the low phones and people ate it up because they were free, and in many cases wanted to return it. If you buy a low end phone for less than $350 subsidation, your being ripped off.

  • stephan aschwanden

    top 5 reasons to buy a cheap android phone:

    cheap smartphones do just about everything

    they cost ways less

    as component prices drop tomorrow’s cheap is going to get better and better fast

    system updates take forever if you are lucky enough to get them, even for the top models

    your most likely getting a 1 year warranty no matter what kind of phone your buying – unless your in the EU – we get 2 here

    so why pay all that extra for an expensive phone

    and you can always buy a screen protector (often adds to the quality of the screen)
    and really an old nokia non android and non touchscreen phone with a stylus pen to illustrate a point – now that is cheap

    • sillybean

      right, the picture is a nokia phone! what does it have to do with cheap android phone?
      I have a cheap sony xperia x8 as a spare phone, i m very very happy with it.

      • Juxxize

        er it’s joke , remember them .

    • afna

      I got my [not so] “cheap” Motorola Charm and the screen is blurry even though my previous O2 had very vivid screen with the same screen resolution & size..

  • I find this article misleading. I paid over $189 for my stupid Tmobile Galaxy S and it was the ONLY one that wasn’t getting And 2.2 upgrades! All the other carriers (AT&T, Sprint and Verizon) got over the air updates for the Galaxy. High price doesn’t always mean you get more.

    • Johnathan Billion

      Not to take anything away from the 4th largest carrier in the U.S. but they have kept the regional carrier price points on plans. This lowers their revenue a ton. Verizon, with its high cost plans, doesn’t make back the subsidation on a high end phone until after a year. Which explains the lack of high end phones with T Mobile (and lack of support). So while your Galaxy S may have been of the top of the line for T Mobile, they can’t afford the same kind of support the other carriers can offer.

      • Slim

        true, but t mobile plans are half the price of verizon and att so consumer savings of $650+ a year for the same cell service sure helps!

        • Straight Talk is $45 a month for unlimited on ATT, Verzon or Sprint. They have decent low end and mid-level smart phones and the choice to buy a $15 sim card and use it in any ATT, Tmobile or unlocked smart phone of your choice, including the iphone.

  • Interesting article, though as Stephan mentioned, there are also 5 reasons, if not more, to buy a cheap android phones rather. :)

  • killersquirel11

    Internal storage is WAY more important than RAM. My LG Axis has all of 200MB of internal storage, so with EVERY SINGLE app that can be installed on the SD installed on the SD card, it STILL complains about having less than 15.25MB free…

  • What can you say about LG Optimus Pro C660 and Lava S12? They are below $100 but have acceptable specs.

  • Slim

    Phones change so quickly that it’s best to buy a reasonably priced, cheaper phone (off contract if at all possible) and hold onto it for 2 yrs til the next great affordable phone comes along. The Samsung Exhibit 2 is $190 and you can get it pre-paid or off-contract with T-Mobile (I have the $60/mo plan with unlimited talk/text and data).

    It all boils down to what you want from your phone and provider. I want good (not great) quality at the cheapest price since I only do the basics with my phone and I don’t max it out with apps. And then I buy a case and screen protector off ebay for $7 and I’m good to go!

    • straight talk is a lot cheaper for unlimited and you they have very decent lower end smart phones and a couple decent mid-level ones as well. You can also buy a simcard from them and use any ATT, Tmobile or unlocked smartphone you want. And unlimited voice/text/data is only $45 a month. People on prepaid get the most for their money, by far.

  • I got rid of my iphone 4 two months ago once my contract was up and bought a ZTE Merit for $99 from Straight Talk. Not sure of the specs overall, but the display is just as nice as my iphone, the touch screen works just as good, voice search/commands works just as good, no discernible difference in lag-time. GPS?-check, Video’s load just as fast, browsing the internet is just as fast. In other words for day to day use I can not tell a difference in my iphone and the merit. Yes, it’s more economically made, not as rugged, but the thing costs $99! I’m sure the specs are way below the iphone’s but probably for 90% that’s not going to matter. What do most people do with their smartphone? make calls, send text, brows the internet and watch a video every know and then. For this it’s as good as any phone I’ve owned. I don’t play games or use a ton of apps, so I’ll leave that to others, but in today’s world discounting cheap smartphones before you actually try them in the real world, is wrongheaded. Making recommendations without trying them in the real world is just irresponsible.

  • buy cheap phones, your phones are made in china…it will eventually outdated and could broken within a year… on a 24mth contract

  • jr 0450

    I have got a sony xperia j and love it!! It is a low range smartphone with not so good internet but what the heck; it has wi-fi enabled so it is free as long as i am in range. Music system is amazing for a phone of that price. It also comes with android ICS out of the box and a jelly bean update ha been promised. Low range smartphones are still good!

  • t-man

    I have a Samsung Galaxy Q and I have unlimited data (edge) I do not worry about going over data limit, and am able to have an android, I am disappointed that I cannot have over a certain number of apps, but it serves me fine on my limited budget.

  • gen randolph flauta

    actually some other cheap android smartphones are already now dual core, qHD display and a 5MP camera. But it’s still true about buying a cheaper android smartphone

  • Me

    Reason #3: Low-Quality Build Materials”
    Ok, so no Samsung phones then.

    • Andrew

      Funny that, Samsung’s poly-carbonate structure is much more durable than ‘solid’ metal or aluminium.

  • boom

    This is an old article, there are already dual core smartphones but the best reason for buying a cheap smartphone is that when the phone becomes obsolete, you can buy a new cheapo smartphone if you are on a budget. The price of two cheap smartphones still lesser than 1 high end smartphone combined. in one word PRACTICALITY

  • jebzwafu

    I have CM Flare for $90 here in the Philippines. 1.2 Dual Core Snapdragon, 4″ IPS Display, 4Gb Memory, 512 Ram, 5mp Rear Cam/VGA Front.Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, Adreno 203 GPU, EDGE / 3G / HSDPA, GPS, A-GPS support… well then, who said cheap android is not a good buy???? think again.. bye.

    • johndanver

      Well, the CM Flare you’re talking about is truly a cheap looking phone and it’s only a rebrand from manufacturer from China. Let’s compare it to my Galaxy SII which is almost a year older regarding the build quality, specs, and durability. As for me I would rather buy a second hand Galaxy SII than buying a brand new CM flare.

  • johndanver

    Well, as for my own understanding, the author is correct about his article. I’m more concerned about what he’s implying to is the re-branded, clone, or the china phones which really looks cheap.

  • Don-one Bruny

    take a look at this one


    and give me a good reason why should not buy a cheap phone

  • Ádám Zovits

    Carrier subsidizing is not equal to discount. You’ll end up paying much more than that few hundred bucks via monthly fees.

    • J.L.

      You have to pay the monthly fees every month on most carriers anyhow, though, so effectively it’s a discount.

      • Ádám Zovits

        Yes, but if you buy a subsidized phone then you have to pay every month even if you switch to another phone or another carrier.

      • Ahmet C.

        What about people who call or use sms very little like me? I only pay for the internet every month and that’s a very little amount. If I were to buy my phone on contract, I would have ended up paying double the amount of it’s actual price and wouldn’t have used the minutes they gave me at all.

        • J.L.

          That’s impossible on major carriers anyway because they don’t let you use a smartphone without a data plan. If you use it anyway, they buy it behind your back.

          • Ahmet C.

            Impossible? Not in my country. Also wehere I live I can buy phones from tech shops as well not just carriers.

  • The writer assumes all people are rich and can easily afford high-end smartphones. I’m happy that cheap phones exist. At least the poor people can experience how it feels to have a smartphone.

  • Iliyan Conev

    HOoo With Samsung and Moitorola even with expoensive phones you never get updated

  • kuncoro

    yeah you’re right

  • moorkaï

    Heya, what about phones like Deovo V5, Haier W910 and Newman N2? Well, okay, the last one tends to have a crappy touchscreen, I admit…but Deovo V5 seems quite sturdy, and it has a HOX chipset!

    Edit: Oh yeah, these not-so-cheap phones tend to break sometimes even more often than those Chinese thingies. Think of Xperia X10 (the infamous microUSB connector that tends to break real easily) and Nokias (I had three of them, a N73, N95 and N95 8GB, they all were poorly built).

  • Anselmo

    The problem with smartphone manufacturers is that they don’t understand budget anymore smartphones, its all about the high end specs. Not everyone has the money to splash out £500 for a phone.

  • Quinlan M

    What a coincidence, my phone is a sub HVGA display, less than 512mb of RAM, and a 1ghz single core CPU (plus Adreno 250). Also, it has a plastic body, but I dropped it down the stairs (accidentally) and it DID NOT EVEN SCRATCH, if you did that with an iPhone it would shatter into 5+ pieces. My phone has no problem with CyanogenMod 9 (which is way better than the stock 2.3.4). I also can stably overclock to 1.5ghz (at the cost of battery life). As for the screen, it works really well and has 5 point multitouch.

    Long story short, my LG C800G (UNLOCKED) cost me $99

    Did I mention it has a SD card slot, and a replaceable battery, and a real (backlit) keyboard. 3 things not present on most high end phones (except maybe the battery)

  • rosette17

    Recently I was REALLY low on money and debts were eating me from all sides! That was UNTIL I decided to make money on the internet. I went to surveymoneymaker dot net, and started filling in surveys for cash, and surely I’ve been far more able to pay my bills! I’m so glad, I did this! – lfuf

  • Juxxize

    i have a cheap tablet that runs ics and i’m not really bothered it won’t get updated, kitkat is far too google focused anyway . but i do wish it had a duel core, more ram and a more responsive touch screen

  • Maarten Dekkers

    I recently got a Samsung S3 and I absolutely love it! 9With temasek CM11) The kids in my classroom all have cheap android phones that are very slow so I’m very happy i got an S3 :)

  • masaya shida

    is $280 android smartphone (xperia sp) cheap?

  • Bootleg Zani

    Now this article can be ignored. Just buy a Moto G.

  • fredphoesh

    Motorola Moto G has made this article completely irrelevant. Astonishing phone for a staggeringly low price… cheap enough to just buy for someone you love, for no reason other than to improve their phone experience.

  • K2

    Cheap and weak touch responsiveness, no longevity, bad service and support etc. Android phones or any phones should only be bought from reputed companies.

  • Daniel A.

    Not all cheap Android smartphone are bad. Ever heard a branded smartphone name Lenovo? Some of the smartphone is cheap, but it got high specification.

  • Tariq Azam

    I totally disagree with this there are some great cheap smartphones out there with good specifications for the price, Mobiistar Vietnamese Smartphones are now available from this site check out Cheap Android Smartphones they are available in the UK and/or worldwide with shipping, great value and great specifications!

  • Tyrone_83

    I’m feeling it right now I should have paid the extra 50 bucks to get the Moto g but I chose the Alcatel One Touch m’pop. I had issues with this POS. Brought it in to get it fixed only for it to stop working again the moment I get home. Alcatel refuses to reply back to me on all of their social media accounts. I been preaching about this phone for quite some time in these comment sections.

    And I sent a message to my carrier and within seconds of me messaging them their Support account on Twitter got back to me. I talked to them and told me I have to wait 3 more months until the pay out option on my account is available. I even googled my phone and other blogs reviews and owners are saying to stay away from their phones.

    9 months with this phone pure torture.

  • Ryan Hardy

    last year
    I was out taking photos with an Android budget smartphone and it suddenly died on me,
    it was a hot evening but I was not long at all!, its CPU burnt out, I got it working again but its CPU was very hot and would no longer charge. sorry i can’t remember what make it was – but it was only about £50