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8 powerful smartphones you can buy for $400 or less

Well over a billion smartphones were sold across the world in 2015. One of the great things about the rush to upsell the last smartphone holdouts and break into emerging markets is that prices are going 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. Below are a few of our favorite smartphones to be had on the cheap, whether you’re an Apple aficionado or one who prefers Microsoft’s platform.

Related: AT&T vs. Verizon vs. Sprint vs. T-Mobile: Who has the best individual plan?

$400 or less

Apple iPhone SE ($400+)


Well folks, it happened. An iPhone made it on a “best budget phones” list. The newly released iPhone SE is Apple’s attempt at a more affordable iPhone, and it’s obviously the best choice if you’re more of an iOS fan than an Android lover. The device doesn’t just excel in software, though, it also offers above par hardware. Under the hood you’ll find an A9 processor, which just so happens to be Apple’s flagship chip, coupled with 2GB of RAM and either 16GB or 64GB of storage. The rear-facing camera is 12-megapixels and the front-facing is 1.2-megapixels, a little low, to be sure, but Apple products are known for offering a great image quality despite a low megapixel count. All that is housed in a classic iPhone 5S-style body. Read our full review.

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Motorola Moto X Style Pure Edition ($298+)


Motorola’s $400 flagship phone may be the most expensive on our list, but it’s a great option for those who can spend a bit more. We do recommend waiting until the 2016 Moto X arrives — rumors point to a launch this summer. The Moto X Style delivers all the high-end specs you’d expect to find on a $600+ phone, but for $200 less. The 5.7-inch screen sports a 2,560 x 1,440-pixel resolution, and it’s powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 808 with 3GB of RAM. A 21-megapixel camera sits on the back, and Motorola popped a 5-megapixel cam on the front for selfies. It comes in 16, 32, and 64GB storage options, all of which have a MicroSD card slot. A 3,000mAh battery with fast charging rounds out the specs. You can even design your own phone with Moto Maker. Read our full review.

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OnePlus 3 ($400)

OnePlus 3

For Android enthusiasts, the OnePlus 3 may be the most powerful device you can own at this price point. It touts the same Snapdragon 820 processor that you’d find on top-of-the-line smartphones from Samsung, LG, and HTC, and comes with an all-metal body that makes it feel high-end. For only $400, you get a 5.5-inch display with 1,920 x 1,080-pixel resolution. It also comes comes with a whopping 6GB of RAM, which certainly makes multi-tasking easier and future-proofs the device. Thankfully, OnePlus has also gotten rid of the 16 and 32GB storage options, which means you’re getting a sizable 64GB of internal storage right out of the box. That’s a lot of music and movies. The snippy fingerprint sensor, 16-megapixel rear camera, and 8-megapixel selfie cam are also welcome additions for such an affordable smartphone. Read our full review.

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Alcatel Idol 4S ($400)

Alcatel Idol 4S

High-end is everything the Idol 4S wants to be — and it’s exactly how it feels thanks to a 2.5D curved glass back and front. Alcatel’s latest flagship device may have some oddly-placed buttons, but its specs and price make up for them. The smartphone is actually quite similar to the OnePlus 3, particularly when you consider the fingerprint sensor, 5.5-inch display, 3,000mAh battery, 16-megapixel rear camera, 8-megapixel front cam, and its support for MicroSD cards. But the Alcatel Idol 4S offers higher Quad HD resolution, 3GB of RAM, and 32GB of internal storage. Alcatel has opted for the lower-end Snapdragon 652 processor, unlike the Snapdragon 820 many of its competitors have been deploying, but it should still offer plenty of processing power. The specs are solid for $400, but it’s even more impressive once you consider what you get with it: a VR headset, an Incipio case, and a tempered glass screen protector. Better yet, the pre-order lasts until August 3, which means you can snag this device for a mere $350. Expect our full review soon. Read more.

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ZTE Axon 7 ($400)

ZTE Axon 7 Hands On

ZTE has done it again with the Axon 7. This all-metal device borrows a few specs from its predecessor, the Axon Pro, such as its 5.5-inch AMOLED display and a 2,560 x 1,440-pixel resolution, but it improves on it in almost every other way. You’ll find it powered by a quad-core Snapdragon 820 processor with 4GB RAM and a whopping 64GB internal storage. With MicroSD card support, however, you’ll also be able to upgrade to an additional 128GB of space. The Axon 7’s 3,140mAh battery should last you a day, and ZTE has gotten rid of the dual-camera set up from the Pro and replaced it with a 21-megapixel rear camera and an 8-megapixel selfie one. The company is also touting the phone’s audio capabilities, which capitalizes on two front-facing stereo speakers and Dolby Atmos technology. Sure, it is packed with MiFlavor UI, ZTE’s Android skin, but the latest iteration of the software has been toned down. Plus, you’re getting all of this for a cool $400. Read our hands-on review.

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