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The best cheap smartphone you can buy

On a budget? We found the best smartphones at every price point

best cheap phones zte axon  hands on
Malarie Gokey/Digital Trends

Well over a billion smartphones were sold across the world in 2015. One of the great things about the fierce competition in the smartphone market is that prices are tumbling down. The average selling price declined to less than $300 last year, and it will fall further, according to the IDC. That makes buying a smartphone outright, without being locked into a two-year contract, a realistic possibility for everyone under the sun.

The tricky part is finding the right phone for you, but don’t worry, because we’re here to help. We’ve been testing out the best budget smartphones and this is our short list.

Our pick


Why should you buy this: It’s a true flagship killer with high-end specs, great processing power, and a sharp camera — all wrapped up in a sleek metal package.

Who’s it for: Anyone who wants a great Android phone at a relatively low price

How much will it cost: $400

Why we picked the ZTE Axon 7:

Nothing about the ZTE Axon 7 suggests a budget price. This is a classy piece of tech, sporting an attractive all-metal design with prominent dual speaker grilles flanking a gorgeous 5.5-inch AMOLED screen. It looks and feels expensive and it can compete with some of the best Android phones on performance.

Things don’t get any less impressive when you pop the hood, because there’s a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor with 4GB RAM and a whopping 64GB internal storage inside. There’s also a more expensive 128GB version with a whopping 6GB of RAM, and you get a MicroSD card slot for further expansion in both models.

You won’t be disappointed by the camera, either. It features a 21-megapixel camera sensor with electronic and optical image stabilization. The front-facing camera is rated at 8-megapixels. Both take great pictures and offer manual settings. A 3,140mAh battery ensures that the Axon 7 will get through an average day with juice to spare.

Then there’s the front-facing stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos technology for unrivaled smartphone sound. If you’re looking for the compromise, you’ll be hard pressed to find it. Even ZTE’s MiFavor UI is mercifully close to stock Android and the manufacturer has pushed out Android 7.0 Nougat, the latest and greatest Android version from Google.

One thing to watch out for is that the ZTE Axon 7 is not officially supported on Verizon or Sprint. It is technically capable of working with their networks, and some people report limited success, but your mileage may vary. It’s also slippery, it’s not water resistant, and there’s no wireless charging support, but we’re nitpicking because this is an unparalleled phone for the money.

Our first impressions

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