Best cheap Android smartphones of 2012

August 3, 2012
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    android smartphone shopping

    Back a few months ago, I wrote an article explaining the top reasons why you shouldn’t buy a cheap smartphone. While I still hold true to the principle that you should always go for the highest-end smartphone you can afford, the actual reality is that many people simply can’t even afford to buy a mid-end smartphone (catch a list of the top mid-end smartphones of 2012 here), not to mention a top-end Android smartphone. And then, there’s the category of people that simply don’t want and need the ultimate best in Android smartphones. In these situations, the only remaining choice is to go for a cheap smartphone.

    Judging on the fact that a top-end Android smartphone is generally priced at $600 unlocked, while a mid-end Android smartphone is usually priced at $350-$400, I would say that imposing a $250 upper price tag for a cheap smartphone should be a fair thing to do. If spending around 200 bucks on a smartphone that won’t suck badly is still too much for your budget, my advice is that you go for a refurbished or a second hand smartphone (start with the models in the mid-range list, and then continue with those in this list until you find something you can afford).

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you’ll purchase a cheap Android smartphone that is not on this list, you’ll probably end up regretting your choice. If you still haven’t found anything you can afford, the best thing would be to save some money for a couple of months. In addition, bear in mind that a very cheap but functional feature phone might give you less headaches than a cheap and dysfunctional Android smartphone.

    Before I begin enumerating the top cheap smartphones you can buy in 2012, I must make you aware of the fact that buying a smartphone that was released more than one year ago doesn’t mean you end up with a crappy smartphone. In fact, while conducting the research necessary for writing this post, I’ve come to realize that once you go down the price list, you’ll find that the best cheap smartphones are, in fact, older top-end smartphones.

    Sony Xperia U

    Sony-xperia-U

    Sony’s Xperia U is the cheapest Android smartphone that the Japanese manufacturer has launched as part of its new and visually revamped Xperia NXT line. Although the design might not win everyone’s heart, the fact remains that the Sony Xperia U is probably the device that nears closest to the idea of a perfect cheap smartphone (the only thing that might not ring your bells is the fact that it was launched with Android 2.3 Gingerbread although Ice Cream Sandwich has been available for more than six months), in about the same manner that the Sony Xperia P is an almost perfect mid-range smartphone. Sony is really starting to show its teeth in the mid-range and entry-level markets! Could it be that the next series of Xperia Android smartphones will also bring to light a truly top-end smartphone as well ?

    Sony Xperia U Specs

    Display Size and Resolution: 3.5 inches, 480 x 854 pixels, (280 PPI)
    SoC: STE U8500
    CPU: 1GHz dual-core Cortex A9
    GPU: Mali 400MP
    RAM: 512MB of RAM
    Android version: Android 2.3 Gingerbread (upgradable to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sanwich)
    Internal Storage: 4GB
    SD Card Slot: No
    Primary Camera: 5 MP
    Secondary Camera: VGA
    Battery:
    2G Networks: GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
    3G Networks: HSDPA 900 / 2100 – ST25i
    Dimensions: 112 x 54 x 12 mm
    Weight: 110 g
    Release Date: May 2012

    Advantages

    Best bang for buck ratio
    Dual-core processor
    Very Crisp Display

    Disadvantages

    Quite thick (12mm)
    No SD card slot

    Android Authority Coverage

    Check out our coverage of this phone here.

    LG Optimus 2X

    Many of you might not know this, but the LG Optimus 2X (In some places, the LG Optimus 2X is also known as the LG P990 Star or as the LG P990 Optimus Speed) was the first smartphone ever announced to use a dual-core smartphone. Sure, that happened more than one year and a half ago, meaning that the Optimus 2X is not exactly on par with newer dual-core smartphones, but it’s still a decently powerful smartphone, one that you can buy new and unlocked for around $240. At that price, I’m going to go ahead and claim that the LG Optimus 2X is one hell of a deal, as it is considerably faster than any other smartphone you’ll encounter at this price range. In many ways, it actually tops the Galaxy S2, but on the down side, it looks like it won’t get the ICS update. Considering that the original Galaxy S did not make on this list thanks to a >$300 price tag, there’s only one more thing I can say: Big up LG!

    LG Optimus 2X Specs:

    Display Size and Resolution: 4.0 inches, 480 x 800 pixels (233 PPI)
    SoC: Nvidia Tegra 2
    CPU: 1Ghz dual-core Cortex A9
    GPU: ULP GeForce (first generation)
    RAM: 512MB
    Android version: Android 2.3 Gingerbread
    Internal Storage: 8GB
    SD Card Slot: Yes
    Primary Camera: 8 MP
    Secondary Camera: 1.3 MP
    Battery: 1500 maH
    2G Networks: GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
    3G Networks: HSDPA: 900 / 1700 / 2100
    Dimensions: 123.9 x 63.2 x 10.9 mm
    Weight: 139 g
    Release Date: February 2011

    Advantages

    Dual-core Tegra 2 Processor
    Large, decent display

    Disadvantages

    Some have complained about battery life issues with the LG Optimus 2X

    Not upgradable to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich

    Android Authority Coverage

    Check out our coverage of this phone here.

    LG Optimus Black

    Released just a few months after the LG Optimus 2X, the LG Optimus Black was one of the thinnest Android smartphones at the time of its release. It’s a lot like a thinner and lighter but single-core Optimus 2X version, one that will set you back around $220. If thinness and design is what you seek, the Optimus Black is probably the best cheap Android smartphone you can purchase at the moment. In addition, given that is has the same battery as its dual-core brother, the battery life is significantly improved.

    LG Optimus Black Specs

    Display Size and Resolution: 4.0 inches, 480 x 800 pixels (233 PPI)
    SoC: TI OMAP 3630
    CPU: 1 GHz Single Core Cortex-A8
    GPU: PowerVR SGX530
    RAM: 512 MB RAM
    Android version: Android 2.3 Gingerbread
    Internal Storage: 2 GB
    SD Card Slot: Yes
    Primary Camera: 5 MP
    Secondary Camera: 1.3 MP
    Battery: 1500 mAh
    2G Networks: GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
    3G Networks: HSDPA 900 / 1700 / 2100
    Dimensions: 122 x 64 x 9.2 mm
    Weight: 109 g
    Release Date: May 2011

    Advantages

    Slimmest smartphone in the list, nice design as a result

    Disadvantages

    What it wins in design over the LG Optimus 2X, it loses in specs

    Not upgradable to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sanwdich

    Android Authority Coverage

    Check out our coverage of this phone here.

    Motorola Droid X (Verizon)

    Verizon Motorola Droid X

    As you all know, neither of the GSM smartphones that I’ve listed above can be used on Verizon’s network, as Big Red uses a CDMA network. However, as Verizon is the most popular carrier in the US, chances are that many of you might be interested into a cheap CDMA smartphone.

    The Motorola Droid X might not be as powerful as other smartphones on this list, but it is also the cheapest of them all (you can get it for around $170 from various retailers through Amazon.com). In addition, it is also the cheap smartphone on this list with the biggest display (4.3 inches), although one of the heaviest as well (155 grams). In short, if you’re on the lookout for a decently powerful Android smartphone for Verizon at a very low price, the Droid X is my personal recommendation.

    Verizon Motorola Droid X Specs

    SoC: TI OMAP3630

    CPU: 1 GHz Single Core Cortex-A8
    GPU: PowerVR SGX530
    RAM: 512 MB

    Display Size and Resolution: 4.0 inches, 540 x 960 pixels (275 PPI)

    Android version: Android 2.3 Gingerbread (launched with Android 2.1 FroYo)

    Internal Storage: 6.5 GB
    SD Card Slot: Yes
    Primary Camera: 8 MP
    Secondary Camera: No
    Battery: 1540 mAh
    2G Networks: CDMA 800 / 1900
    3G Networks: CDMA2000 1xEV-DO
    Dimensions: 127.5 x 65.5 x 9.9 mm
    Weight: 155 g

    Release Date: July 2010

    Advantages

    Large display
    Low Price (even when compared against other cheap smartphones)

    Disadvantages

    Heavy for today’s standards
    A few generations old already

    Android Authority Coverage

    Check out our coverage of this phone here.

    HTC Evo 4G (Sprint)

    HTC Evo 4g

    Since we talked about the best cheap smartphone you can use on Verizon’s network, it’s also probably fair to talk about the best cheap smartphone you can use on Sprint’s network. Launched as the first ever 4G smartphone, the HTC Evo 4G was just so good at the time that now, two years after its launch date, it still is a more than decent Android smartphone. Unfortunately, there are a couple of significant drawbacks, such as the fact that it is the heaviest (170 grams) device on our best cheap smartphone list in addition to also being the thickest (13 mm).

    HTC Evo 4G Specs

    Display Size and Resolution: 4.3 inches, 480 x 800 pixels (217 PPI)
    SoC: Qualcomm QSD8650 Snapdragon
    CPU: 1 GHz Single-Core (Scorpion)
    GPU: Adreno 200
    RAM: 512MB
    Android version: Android 2.3 Gingerbread (launched with Android 2.1 Éclair)
    Internal Storage: 8 GB
    SD Card Slot: Yes
    Primary Camera: 8 MP
    Secondary Camera: 1.3 MP
    Battery: 1500 mAh
    2G Networks: CDMA 800 / 1900
    3G Networks: CDMA2000 1xEV-DO
    Dimensions: 122 x 66 x 13 mm
    Weight: 170 g
    Release Date: June 2010

    Advantages

    4G compatible
    Large display

    Disadvantages

    Oldest device on the list
    Thickest and heaviest device listed here

    Android Authority Coverage

    Check out our coverage of this phone here.

    What you should not buy: Samsung Galaxy Mini 2

    Samsung Galaxy Mini 2

    Spoiler: the Samsung Galaxy Mini 2 isn’t actually a smartphone I would recommend, in any circumstances. The only reason I’m including it in this post is to point out the huge differences between a cheap smartphone that blows and the ones listed above. It’s kind of funny (although definitely not in a positive way) to see that the Mini 2 is priced just about the same as the Sony Xperia U, given that the quality difference in all departments is really impressive in favor of the Xperia U. As a matter of fact, all the other smartphones on this list run laps around Samsung’s current entry level offer. The Mini is poorly specced, has a low-quality small display, not to mention it really isn’t a sexy piece of hardware. Out of context, the Mini 2 price tag of $200 (for the unlocked version of course) might not seem all that bad, but the bang for buck ratio is underwhelming when compared against other devices on this list. Here’s exactly what I’m talking about

    Samsung Galaxy Mini 2 Specs

    Display Size and Resolution: 3.27 inches, 320 by 480 pixels (176 PPI)
    SoC: Qualcomm MSM7227
    CPU: 800 MHz, single-core
    GPU: Ardeno 200
    RAM: 512 MB
    Android version: 2.3.6 Gingerbread
    Internal Storage: 4 GB
    SD Card Slot: No
    Primary Camera: 3.15 MP
    Secondary Camera: NO
    Battery: 1300 mAh
    2G Networks: GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
    3G Networks: HSDPA 900 / 2100
    Dimensions: 109.4 x 58.6 x 11.6 mm
    Weight: 105.3 grams
    Release Date: March 2012

    Advantages

    ???

    Disadvantages

    Just read the spec list again, you’ll get it!

    Android Authority Coverage

    Check out our coverage of this phone here.

    Conclusion

    So there you have it, these are the best cheap Android smartphones for 2012. Hopefully, you’ll notice that each one of the smartphones above has at least one strong suit when compared against the other smartphones on the list, as well as the fact that when compared against other entry-level offerings, the smartphones I’ve listed above are at least a couple of levels above in overall specs.

    What’s your favorite cheap smartphone? Did we leave any stone unturned? Do you believe that there is a good cheap smartphone that we’ve omitted? Let us know in the comment section below!

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    Comments

    • http://www.facebook.com/dolphinspeck Maurya Speck

      What do you think of the Android Bionic?

    • http://twitter.com/leche1982 Migs Calleja

      Yikes, someone forgot to do their research on the Optimus 2X…

      http://www.androidauthority.com/its-official-no-android-4-0-ics-update-lg-optimus-2x-104313/

    • http://www.facebook.com/kay.own90 Khairol Helmi Taharim

      If Xperia Sola replace Xperia U,it has no disadvantages..

      • http://my.opera.com/rafaelluik Rafael

        No front camera… :/

    • MasterMuffin

      Mini sucks really much!!!

    • Olumide Oyetoke

      @Mike Andrici: Thanks for this nice article.
      Could you do one for best cheap DUAL-SIM android smartphones? For people like me who are tired of always carrying two phones around. :-)
      I currently use Sony Ericsson J20i Hazel and Nokia 1800.
      I’m planning to get an android phone soon.
      Thanks.

    • Florian Bleu

      And theJiayu G3 ? Less than 200£$ and dual core ! http://jiayug3.com (english) and http://ejiayu.com (in chinesse)

    • ritchy

      No galaxy s advance?!

    • Dan

      Pantech burst?

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