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 the big carriers have to offer for $300 or less. These are the best budget smartphones right now.
Updated on 6-26-2015 by Simon Hill: Reformatted, updated prices and links, added Asus Zenfone 2 and Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3, and removed HTC Desire 816 and Samsung Galaxy S3.
Asus Zenfone 2
($200 on AT&T and T-Mobile)
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 Asus Zenfone 2 review.
Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3
($250 on AT&T and T-Mobile)
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.
($250 on AT&T and T-Mobile)
At this price, the specs in the OnePlus One are simply unbelievable. It has a 5.5-inch 1080p screen, a 2.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor, 3GB of RAM, and 16GB of storage (there’s a 64GB version, too). The main camera is capable of shooting 4K video and rated at 13 megapixels and there’s a 5-megapixel front-facing camera as well. Instead of stock Android it ran CyanogenMod 11S on release, which was based on Android 4.4 and made the device very customizable. The two companies have since fallen out, so you can choose from Oxygen OS, by OnePlus, or Cyanogen OS 12, which are both based on Android 5.0 Lollipop.
Read our full OnePlus One review.
Huawei Ascend Mate 2
($300 from Huawei)
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 Huawei Ascend Mate 2 review.
ZTE Grand X Max+
($170 at Cricket Wireless)
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 ZTE Grand X Max+ review.