There was a time, not all that long ago, that in order to own a powerful smartphone you would either need to commit to a two-year contract, or you would be expected to pay as much as $500 – $700. Thankfully, this has changed considerably in the last year or so.
There are now several manufacturers that offer handsets that bring quality specs and yet come at a price that doesn’t require you to take out a mortgage or sign away your life away to a carrier. In this article, we take a look at some of the best low-cost Android phones on the market.
Now, obviously the idea of “low-cost” is somewhat subjective. For some folks it is anything under $400, for others it might mean devices that are under $250. With this in mind, we’ll bring you a total of six devices: three that are under $200, and three that are under $400. This way everyone wins.
As for how we’ll ‘rank’ the phone? Basically we are looking at a number of factors though price/value ratio is probably among one of the highest factors here.
Editors note – we will be updating this list as more devices hit the market. This article reflects things from a US/EU centric perspective.
#1 – Motorola Moto G
Although Motorola’s future might be up in the air, the Motorola Moto G continues to be the company’s best-selling smartphone ever. The handset’s secret to success is actually pretty simple: it brings us solid specs but makes a few sacrifices in order to give us the lowest price possible.
Motorola’s budget handset features a 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 CPU and includes 1GB of RAM. On the downside, the lower cost 8GB and 16GB models do not have microSD or LTE, but it’s still hard to argue when you consider that the device costs under $200. For those that absolutely want 4G LTE and microSD, there’s also a slightly more expensive 4G LTE model for $220.
The Moto G essentially runs on stock Android 4.3 with few modifications, and already has an upgrade available for Android 4.4.2 KitKat. Motorola’s Moto G proves that low-price doesn’t have to mean low quality, something we’re also seeing with the Moto E.
Motorola Moto G Specs
- 4.5-inch LCD display with 1280 x 720 resolution
- 1.2GHz Qualcomm quad-core Snapdragon 400 CPU
- 1GB of RAM
- 4G LTE and microSD ($220 LTE model only)
- 8GB and 16GB storage options
- 5MP rear cam, 1.3MP front cam
- 2070 mAh battery
- 143g weight, 129.9 x 65.9 x 11.6mm
- Removable colored backs
- Android 4.3 Jelly Bean (4.4 KitKat update ready!)
#2 – Motorola Moto E
Yet another phone from Motorola that proves you don’t need to pay top dollar to still get a solid Android experience. The Moto E is far from a power house with its dual-core Snapdragon 200 CPU and a smaller qHD 4.3-inch display, but the phone actually performs rather well, in large part thanks to its clean stock-like Android installation.
The Moto E actually has a few small advantages over its bigger brother, such as its microSD expansion slot and the inclusion of a front-facing speaker.
Without a front cam and with slightly weaker specs, the Moto G is still probably the better deal but if you absolutely are looking for the cheapest phone around, the Moto E provides a $50 savings over the Moto G and yet is still without a doubt one of the best handsets you’ll find for under $250.
Motorola Moto E Specs
- 4.3-inch LCD display with 540×960 (qHD) resolution
- 1.2GHz Qualcomm dual-core Snapdragon 200 CPU
- 1GB of RAM
- 4GB storage with microSD
- 5MP rear cam
- 1980 mAh battery
- 142g weight, 124.38 x 64.8 x 12.3mm
- Removable colored backs
- Android 4.4 KitKat
#3 – Blu Life One Quad Band
There was a time when you would never see Blu on a “top cheap phones” list. While the brand has always offered low price-tags, quality has often been an issue. Thankfully this is something that seems to be improving with time.
Although not nearly as impressive as the Moto G, the Blu Life One is still a solid enough handset with a large 5-inch display, 720p resolution and the advantage of offering microSD. Really the only major downside to the device is the processor, which is a Mediatek SOC.
For who have never heard of Blu, the Florida-based company essentially offers rebranded Chinese OEM devices. On the plus side, Blu does offer a few changes to the software, and includes a warranty. The latter of these points is probably the most important one, as it means you can get a device with extremely aggressive Chinese handset pricing yet with a higher level of customer service than you’d typically get with an imported device.
Blu Life One (Quad Band) Specs
- 5-inch display, 720×1280 resolution
- 1.2 GHz quad-core MTK MT6589
- 1GB RAM
- 16GB storage, microSD
- GPRS: Class 12 (4+1/3+2/2+3/1+4 slots), 32 – 48 kbps
- EDGE: Class 12
- Speed: HSDPA, 42 Mbps; HSUPA, 21 Mbps
- 13MP rear cam, 5MP front cam
- 144 x 73 x 8.9 mm, 145 g
- Android 4.2 Jelly Bean with UI customizations
- Non-removable Li-Po 2500 mAh battery
#1 – LG Google Nexus 5
The LG Nexus 5 is easily the most powerful device on this list, though also one of the most expensive. At $349 for the 16GB model, the Nexus 5 is more mid-ranged price than “entry-level”, though it’s still extremely aggressively priced when pitted against other devices with its spec sheet.
The LG Nexus 5 is powered by a 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 CPU and has 2GB of RAM. The new Nexus also ships with Android 4.4 KitKat right out of the box.
While the KitKat update has started rolling out to several other Nexus (and non-Nexus) devices, the Nexus 5 has the distinction of being the only Android device with Google’s brand new “Google Experience Launcher” out of the box.If you want a stock Android experience, the way Google intended it, then there’s no better choice.
LG Nexus 5 Specs
- 4.96-inch display with 1920 x 1080 resolution
- 2.3GHz Qualcomm quad-core Snapdragon 800 CPU
- 2GB of RAM
- NFC, A-GPS, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, Wireless charging
- 16GB and 32GB storage options
- 8MP rear cam with OIS, 1.3MP front
- 2300 mAh battery
- 130g, 137.84 x 69.7 x 8.59mm
- Android 4.4 KitKat’
#2 – Motorola Moto X
The Motorola Moto X has dropped its price tag considerably since its was first announced last year. While its successor may be just around the corner, the Moto X is still one of the best Android smartphones around, despite its arguably meager specs when compared to many other flagship devices.
The Moto X is powered by a 1.7 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro dual-core, in conjunction with a quad-core Adreno 330 GPU, a natural language processor, and a contextual computing processor. While the Moto X’s specs might not seem bleeding-edge, special features like touchless control and active display make for an excellent Android experience.
The Moto X might not offer a higher-end quad-core Snapdragon CPU, but it will still handle just about everything you throw at it. The device is also extremely comfortable to hold, which is a nice bonus.
Moto X Specs
- 4.7-inch AMOLED display, 720×1280
- 1.7GHz Qualcomm dual-core, part of Motorola X8 computing system
- 2GB RAM
- 16GB storage
- 10MP rear cam, 2MP front cam
- Wireless-N Wi-Fi + Bluetooth 4.0 LE + NFC
- Android 4.4 Kitkat
- 2200 mAh battery
- 5.09 x 2.57 x 0.41 inches, 130g
#3 – Blu Life Pure XL
Once again, Blu makes its way onto the list. If you weren’t impressed by the Life One, perhaps this device will change your tune.
The Pure XL is powered by a 2.2Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 (MSM8274) with an Adreno 330 GPU. Other specs include a 5.5-inch 1080p IPS LCD display, a 16MP rear camera with a 1/2.3” sensor, 8MP front cam, an FM tuner, A-GPS, HSPA+42, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, NFC, Wi-Fi Direct, DLNA, and a 2500 mAh battery. The phone will come in two versions, one with 16GB storage and 2GB of RAM with the other offering 32GB storage and 3GB RAM.
Although not exactly ‘dirt cheap’, at $350 for the 16GB model and $400 for the 32GB version, this is still an extremely aggressively priced device. Going down the spec sheet, you’ll find that the Pure XL nearly meets the Nexus 5 in just about every way. The only major downsides are that the device lacks LTE and carries an older version of Android.
Unless you are really into getting your hands on the largest display possible, you’re probably better off with the Nexus 5, but it’s still nice to have options.
Blu Life Pure XL Specs
- 5.5-inch display, 1080 x 1920 resolution
- 2.2 GHz Qualcomm MSM8274 Snapdragon 800
- 2GB or 3GB RAM
- 16 or 32GB storage
- GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
- HSDPA 850 / 1900 / 2100
- NFC, A-GPS, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0
- 16 MP rear camera, 8MP front camera
- Micro-SIM, Accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass
- 150.6 x 75 x 9.5 mm (5.93 x 2.95 x 0.37 in)
- Android 4.2 Jelly Bean with UI customizations
For now, only the 32GB model is on offer, though the 16GB version is expected to go on sale this June. For more info on the Blu Life Pure XL, click here.
We’ll be updating this piece regularly — especially considering there are quite a few interesting handsets heading our way over the next few months. We also want to give an honorable mention to the OnePlus One, which no doubt will soon be added to this list. The only reason we are holding off is that the phone is currently only available through OnePlus’ invite system.
What do you think are the best ‘cheap’ phones available for purchase outright? Let us know what you think in the comments below.