Well over one billion smartphones were sold across the world in 2014. One of the great things about the rush to upsell the last few remaining feature phone holdouts and break into emerging markets, is that prices are going down. According to IDC, the average selling price declined by more than 12 percent in 2013 to settle at $337, and it fell even further to $314 last year. That makes buying a smartphone outright, without being locked into a two-year contract, a realistic possibility.
Join us as we scour the unlocked and pre-paid deals, and check out what carriers have to offer for $400 or less. These are the best budget smartphones right now.
Microsoft Lumia 640 (starting at $80)
Anyone who likes the look of Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8.1 platform could do worse than the Lumia 640. This is a 4G LTE phone with a 5-inch, 1280 x 720 pixel screen, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor, and 1GB of RAM. You’ll also find 8GB of internal storage that’s expandable and a decent 8-megapixel camera. The downside is the lack of apps on the platform and the lack of polish in the apps that are on offer, but that won’t be a priority for everyone, and it does feature Microsoft’s new personal assistant, Cortana. Read our hands on review here.
Sharp Aquos Crystal ($115)
The bezel-free 5-inch, 720p screen really catches the eye and this is an attractive Android smartphone. It has a 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor and 1.5GB of RAM. There’s 8GB of storage with a microSD card slot for expansion. The main camera is rated at 8-megapixels and there’s a front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera, but both are pretty poor. Read our full review here.
ZTE Grand X Max+ ($170)
In case the long name wasn’t a big enough clue this is a phablet from ZTE with a 6-inch, 720p display. Inside there’s the mid-range 1.2GHz Snapdargon 400 with 2GB of RAM. It also has 16GB of storage with a microSD card slot for expansions. The main camera is 13-megapixels there’s a 5-megapixel selfie cam. It also has a decent-sized 3,200mAh battery and it’s a 4G LTE phone. Read our full review here.
Motorola Moto G, 2015 Edition (starting at $180)
Motorola’s Moto G series represents the very best of the cheapest budget phones. The latest Moto G, which just launched in July 2015, is even more powerful and impressive than the last one. It has a 5-inch, 720p screen, a Qualcomm 410 processor, either 1 or 2GB of RAM, and 8 or 16GB of built-in storage that’s expandable via a MicroSD card. To sweeten the deal, the Moto G boasts IPX 7 waterproofing, so you can drop it in the tub without ruining it, and there are Moto Maker’s customization options. Finally, it comes with 4G LTE and a 2,470mAh battery. Read our hands on review here.
Asus Zenfone 2 (starting at $200)
Here’s an Android 5.0 Lollipop smartphone, with a solid set of specs, that starts at just $200. The entry-level model boasts a 5.5-inch 1080p display, a 64-bit Intel 1.8GHz quad-core processor with 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of storage. It also has a 13-megapixel main camera with 5-megapixel front-facing camera and it supports 4G LTE as well as the latest 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard. You can boost the processor up to 2.3GHz, add another 2GB of RAM, and jump to 64GB of storage for an extra $100. Read our full review here.
HTC Desire 626 (starting at $239)
HTC’s Desire series just got a big update in the form of the Desire 626 and 626S (T-Mobile). Both models sport a 5-inch, HD screen with a 1280 x 720 pixel resolution. A Qualcomm Snapdragon 210 quad-core processor powers the 626, along with 1.5GB of RAM. Depending on which carrier you have, you’ll get an 8-megapixel and 2-megapixel camera combo (626S) or a 8-megapixel and 5-megapixel combo (626). Both versions have slick, plastic unibodies, but come in different colors based on carrier. Read more here.
Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3 5.5 ($250)
This budget brand is trying to make a name for itself in the U.S. and the Idol 3 is its first flagship to land Stateside without carrier branding. Sold unlocked directly from Alcatel, this smartphone packs a real punch for the money. There’s a 5.5-inch 1080p screen, an octa-core processor, stereo front-facing speakers, a 13-megapixel camera, and support for LTE on AT&T and T-Mobile. It also has an 8-megapixel wide-angle selfie cam, and it runs Android 5.0 Lollipop out of the box, with a very minimal UI on top. Storage is 16GB, but there is a MicroSD card slot for expansion. Read more here.
Huawei Ascend Mate 2 ($300)
If you’re after a big screen then the 6.1-inch Mate 2 from Huawei should suffice. The resolution is only 1280 x 720 pixels and the design isn’t very sexy, but the price is right. It has a 1.6GHz quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of storage. You also get a decent 13-megapixel camera and a 5-megapixel front-facing camera. The huge 3,900mAh battery will keep you going all day long and beyond. This is also a 4G LTE phone and it will work on T-Mobile and AT&T in the States. Read our full review here.
It might be worth hanging on to your cash for just a little longer if you really want to secure the best bargain smartphones, because there are a couple of worthy entries for our list that haven’t landed yet. If you can wait a couple of weeks, you should check out these options.
OnePlus 2 (starting at $389)
OnePlus has done it again with the OnePlus 2. It may be a little more expensive than last year’s model, but it also packs in much better specs and offers a refined experience. A 5.5-inch Full HD screen adorns the front of the OnePlus 2, and the back plate comes in several different options, including intriguing wooden options and the classic Sandstone Black. It’s powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 v2.1, which shouldn’t overheat, and 3GB of RAM. The OnePlus 2 has a zippy fingerprint sensor on the front of the device for more security and either 16 or 64GB of storage. A 13-megapixel back camera and 5-megapixel front shooter round out the specs. Read our hands on review here.
Availability: In stock, invite required to purchase
Motorola Moto X Style Pure Edition (starting at $400)
Motorola’s $400 flagship phone may be the most expensive on our list, but it’s worth it. 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 hands on review here.
Availability: Fall 2015