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 second mortgage or sign 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 $350, for others it might mean devices that are under $200. With this in mind, we’ll bring you a total of six devices: three that are under $200, and three that are under $350. This way everyone wins. We’ll also be sure to list a few honorable mentions and encourage our readers to let us know if there’s a phone you think deserves a mention for sporting reasonably solid specs at a rock bottom price.
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. It is also worth mentioning that all devices on this list will be either fully unlocked or prepaid, no contract pricing 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.
Best Android phones under $250
#1 – Motorola Moto G (2nd gen)
The follow-up to the original Moto G holds a lot in common with its predecessor, including its 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 CPU and 1GB of RAM. This time around, however, the display size has jumped up to 5-inches and the camera package has also improved.
The Moto G runs on near-stock Android 4.4, and should get Android 5.0 Lollipop sometime before the year is up. Motorola’s Moto G series proves that low-price doesn’t have to mean low quality, something we’re also seeing with the even cheaper Moto E.
- 5-inch LCD display with 1280 x 720 resolution
- 1.2GHz Qualcomm quad-core Snapdragon 400 CPU
- 1GB of RAM
- 8GB and 16GB storage options, microSD expansion
- 8MP rear cam, 2MP front cam
- 2070 mAh battery
- 141.5 x 70.7 x 11 mm, 149g
- Removable colored backs
- Android 4.4 KitKat (Lollipop update coming down the pipeline)
#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 the first-gen version of its bigger brother, such as its microSD expansion slot and the inclusion of a front-facing speaker, but the second gen Moto G takes these advantages away. Without a front cam and with slightly weaker specs, the Moto G (2nd gen) is 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.
- 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 – Sharp Aquos Crystal
While we typically focus on unlocked phones, every once in a while a prepaid (no contract) device will stick out enough that we feel compelled to mention it in our best cheap phones list, the Sharp Aquos Crystal is such a device. While it is locked down to just Sprint and Boost Mobile, the price is exceptional and the ultra-thin bezels make it stand out from the crowd.
Beyond the stunning bezels, you get a 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400 CPU with 1.5GB RAM, 8GB storage, a 5-inch 720p display, a 2040mAh battery, an 8MP rear cam, 1.2MP front cam and Android 4.4.2 KitKat.
- 5-inch display with 720 x 1280 resolution
- 1.2GHz Qualcomm MSM8926 Snapdragon 400
- 1.5GB of RAM
- 3G/LTE (Sprint network only)
- 8 GB storage with microSD
- 8 MP rear cam
- 2 MP front cam
- 2040 mAh battery
- 131 x 67 x 10 mm, 142g
- Android 4.4 KitKat
Best Android phones under $350
#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 Nexus 5 ships with Android 4.4 KitKat right out of the box and should be making the move to Android 5.0 Lollipop in the near future.
If you want a stock Android experience, the way Google intended it, then there’s no better choice than the Nexus family, and while the Nexus 6 is more powerful, the Nexus 5 is still an extremely capable handset with an excellent price/value ratio.
- 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 (Lollipop coming soon!)
#2 – OnePlus One
While still not the easiest to get a hold of, it’s much easier to get an invite for the OnePlus One than it was just a few months ago. Additionally, OnePlus is slowly introducing “pre-order” windows for the device, and hopefully it is only a matter of time before it is widely available without any hoop jumping required. While it’s no longer a “brand new” device, it’s low pricing (starting at $300) still makes it an absolute winner and recent software updates have eliminated many of the complaint points that some OnePlus One users had to deal with early on.
As for the hardware? The OPO is powered by a 2.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 with 3GB RAM. There’s also storage options of both 16 or 64GB, a 13MP camera, a 3100 mAh battery and Cyanogenmod 11S (based on Android 4.4). The OnePlus One is a solid device, spec wise, and the addition of out-of-the-box Cyanogenmod makes it stand out. At the same time, the OPO is also a desirable device for those that prefer a stock-like Android experience.
- 5.5-inch LTPS IPS with TOL display, 1080p
- 2.5 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801
- 3GB of RAM
- 16/64 GB, no expansion
- 13 MP rear LED flash, Sony Exmor RS sensor, 6p lens, f 2.0, 4K, HDR
- 5MP front, f 2.0, 80 degrees field of view
- 3,100 mAh battery
- GPS, GLONASS, microUSB 2.0, Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.1, NFC
- CyanogenMod 11S based on Android 4.4 Kitkat
- 152.9 x 75.9 x 8.9 mm, 162 grams
- Colors: Silk White/Sandstone Black
For those interested in buying, your best bet is to check out their forums for an invite, or participate in their next pre-order round on November 17th.
#3 – Sony Xperia M2
If you are in love with the Xperia Z look and feel but don’t want to pay the full price for such a device, that Xperia M2 could be the perfect compromise. Starting right around $250, the M2 isn’t an expensive handset, though it’s specs won’t blow anyone away either.
Inside the M2 is a Snapdragon 400 clocked at 1.2 GHz with 1GB RAM, an Adreno 305 GPU and 8 gigs of internal storage and microSD. While this processing package isn’t horrible for the price, the biggest downside will be the 4.8-inch display with its 960×540 resolution.
Still, with reasonably decent specs and full-day battery life (around 5 hour screen on time), the M2 is a solid device for those that want a more premium looking device for under $300 that stands out from the pack.
While the Nexus 5 and OPO are certainly better deals for the money, Sony fans on a budget should still keep these one in mind.
- 4.8-inch display with 540 x 960 resolution
- 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400 CPU
- 1GB RAM
- 8GB storage, microSD
- 8MP rear cam, VGA front cam
- 2300 mAh battery
- 139.7 x 71.1 x 8.6mm, 148 grams
- Android 4.4 KitKat
While these are some of the best budget handsets, the market for affordable devices continues to grow and we are seeing a number of excellent choices, here’s just a few honorable mentions that are worth your consideration:
- Moto G (1st gen): It’s still pretty easy to find the original Moto G, and often times you can get it at some very steep discounts. For those willing to go the prepaid route, the phone is found for a little under $100 through the likes of Verizon and. Boost Typically though, it’s going price is now around the $150 mark unlocked.
- Asus Zenfone 5: Powered by a 1.6GHz Intel Z2560, the Zenfone 5 packs pretty solid specs, including a 720p display. While it never officially launched in the US market, there are plenty of importers on Amazon and elsewhere that sell the device for as little as $170. While not as impressive as the 2nd-gen Moto G, the specs are still very good and the phone will certainly stand out from the crowd.
- Sony Xperia M: There’s something to be said for Sony’s aesthetics, and if you are looking for a premium looking phone without paying premium dollar — the Xperia M might just fit the bill. The phone can be found for as little as $150 and is powered by a dual-core 1GHz Snapdragon S4 Plus with 1GB RAM and 4GB storage with microSD.
We will be adding plenty more to the honorable mention section in the days to come, so please be patient. Also feel free to add suggestions for the list if you so please! What do you think are the best ‘cheap’ phones available for purchase outright (prepaid or unlocked)? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
Now read: Best cheap Android tablets under $200.