Amazon’s Prime Exclusive phones start at $49.99, but there’s more than meets the eye. The ultimate question is “Is this really a bargain?”

You’d think Amazon’s ill-fated Fire phone would have discouraged the company from selling smartphones altogether, but given just how lucrative this market is, Amazon just doesn’t seem to be able to quit. Back in June of 2016, Amazon announced that it’d be selling the Moto G4 and BLU R1 HD for $50 cheaper exclusively to Prime members. However, there was a big catch. In addition to being a paying Prime member, you would have to endure Amazon’s ads and offers on the lock screen of your Prime Exclusive phone.

Well, perhaps the online retail giant saw enough of success from this strategy: in June, Amazon added five more phones to the Prime Exclusive list. As of September 2017,  Amazon Prime now offers eight phones, retiring a few of its earlier choices. The rules of the game haven’t changed though, so you will still have to deal with pre-installed Amazon apps as well as the company’s presence on your lock screen. But just how bad are these ads?

How bad are these ads?

They’re not that bad.

Though it’s important to point out that these phones do come with Amazon’s own modifications, I think it’s as important to point out that for most users, these advertisements probably won’t be all that bad. Let me explain.

Essentially, Amazon inserts ads in two ways: when you have no personal notifications, the company will use the entire lock screen to promote its content, whether it’s an app, a new best-selling novel, or a Prime-exclusive TV show. As you can see above, it doesn’t look ghastly; in fact, often times, these full-screen ads feature pleasant images and aren’t all that intrusive. The second type appears when you do have personal notifications displayed on the lock screen. Amazon will resort to a simple card-style ad, which blends in with all other notifications – for better or worse.

As for the apps that come pre-loaded on these phones, most of them can be disabled and tucked away, and they don’t actually take up a lot of space.

So with that in mind, are Prime Exclusive phones really the bargain that Amazon makes them to be?

Scenario #1: You are already a Prime member

You should probably take advantage of these deals.

Now, assuming that you are already a paying Prime member and that you are looking for an affordable smartphone, the ultimate factor in deciding whether these discounts are a true bargain or not lies within just how often you use Amazon and how important personal notifications are for you. Sure, you could save up to $80, but it’s important to note that these Prime Exclusive discounts come in the form of an Amazon gift card. Plus, all of them come with a bunch of Amazon apps, and Amazon will push personalized deals and recommendations onto your lock screen.

You could save up to $80, but these Prime exclusive discounts come in the form of an Amazon gift card

Now, this trade-off might not be so much of a trade-off if you satisfy the following:

  1. If you use Amazon Prime services like Prime Movies and Music often
  2. If you shop on Amazon frequently enough to not mind (or even prefer) receiving personalized ads and receiving the discount in the form of an Amazon gift card
  3. If you don’t mind seeing personal notifications mixed in with Amazon’s offers on your lock screen

If this is a somewhat accurate or even a spot-on description of you, great. If not – if the prospect of Amazon’s apps and ads bothers you to no end – you’re probably better off paying those extra $20 to $80 for an ad-free device.

Scenario #2: you are NOT a paying Prime member

Paying for Prime just for a phone makes no sense. 

What if you’re not a Prime member?  This is where things get more interesting.

  1. You are not a Prime member yet, but you would like an affordable phone. You can see yourself using Amazon for books, pantry stuff, electronics, knickknacks, clothes, food, and even groceries in some areas, and you’ve been thinking about joining. Do it – I honestly think it’s worth it. Buy the phone that tickles your fancy, and you can use the Amazon gift card to buy pretty much anything.
  2. You are not a Prime member yet, but you would like an affordable phone. You do not see yourself using Amazon for your shopping needs. This probably is not a bargain for you.

Prime membership in the US costs $99 a year. It’s cheaper for students at $49. Even if you are eligible for the student discount, Prime Exclusive phones probably won’t be a bargain for you. There is only one phone that’s discounted by more than $50 to offset the amount you’d pay for the membership, and it’s the Alcatel Idol 5S. However, not only are you stuck with Amazon’s bloatware and Amazon deals that mean absolutely nothing to you, but you have a gift card that you’ll probably never use. In other words, you’re probably better off spending a few extra dollars or buying a used or refurbished phone at a discounted price.

Bottom line: if you’re not a Prime member, this is a lucrative-looking deal that comes with too much baggage

What are your current options?

If reading through this has you interested in potentially biting the bullet, you might wonder what your options are. Here’s a full list (accurate as of Sep 2017):

  • Alcatel Idol 5S – $199.99
  • Moto G5 Plus – $184.99
  • Nokia 6 – $179.99
  • Moto E4 Plus – $139.99
  • Moto E4 – $99.99
  • Alcatel A50 – $99.99
  • Alcatel A30 Plus – $79.99
  • Alcatel A30 – $59.99

Amazon may have given up on manufacturing its own smartphones, but its ambitious plan to push its software and promote its ever-growing merchandise lives on. Chances are, the company will add even more phones to the list in the near future, tickling the curiosity of many potential (mid-range) smartphone buyers out there. The bottom line is this: if you’re already a Prime member, this may be a chance to save more than just some pocket money. If you’re not a Prime member, this is a lucrative-looking deal that comes with too much baggage.

Are you an Amazon Prime member? Do you think these are good deals despite the lock screen ads? Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment below!

Brian Reigh

Brian Reigh is a part-time contributor focused on Android-related news and features. He has always been passionate about tech, especially mobile.