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Cheap ‘n cheerful: Our favorite affordable phones from MWC

With each month, more and more features you’d find in flagship smartphones are trickling down into lower-tiered devices, for a much lower price tag. Some of the cheapest phones around aren’t half bad anymore. At this year’s Mobile World Congress, the largest annual smartphone trade show on Earth, we took some time to poke around, and we found more than a few interesting new budget phones. Many of these phones won’t make their way into the United States, but some might. Here’s a look at some highlights.

GM 5 Plus

What’s not to love about the GM 5 Plus? It’s arguably one of the best looking Android One devices we’ve seen to date, with a metal frame around the phone that comes in a number of colors. Because it’s an Android One device, you’ll get fast updates and Google’s version of Android, which makes it a lot safer than other options. It also packs a Snapdragon 617, Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0, and has relatively top specs to boot. General Mobile says the device will first be available in Turkey, and then will make its way to 15 other countries. On the downside, it will be priced around $300, which is significantly higher than most Android One devices, and it does not have a fingerprint sensor.

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CheetahPhone

Cheetah Mobile has paired with Cubot to make an all-metal 5.5-inch smartphone with a fingerprint sensor costing around 200 euros. What’s the catch? Well, it runs on a heavily-skinned version of Android, with numerous software tweaks that are meant to improve battery life and performance. It certainly looks good, has decent specs for its price point, and Cheetah Mobile says it’s the phone is optimized for its software – bringing about a 38 percent increase in battery life. It will be available in Europe in April.

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HTC Desire 530

Budget phones are beginning to get the same design treatment as flagships, with metal builds and sleek styles, but some manufacturers are opting for a more sporty and fun look; HTC is one of them. The Desire 530 has a splash-paint design on the back that’s unique to every phone built. It has slightly lower specifications than the previously mentioned budget devices, with a 720p screen on a 5-inch screen powered by a modest Snapdragon 210 and 1.5GB of RAM.

There are two other devices in this lineup to keep an eye on as well, the Desire 630 and the Desire 825, which all offer a similar experience with Android 6.0 and Sense 7, but the latter two pack more power than the 530. The 530 will be sold in Europe and Asia, and may be launched in the U.S. in the near future.

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Sony Xperia XA

The Xperia XA is the weakest of Sony’s three Xperia X phones. It packs the same software as its flagship brothers, but has pretty average specs. Its 2,300mAh battery, a MediaTek processor, and a 720p display are pretty standard for budget phones – but the Xperia XA shines in design with incredibly thin bezels and an aluminum body. It even has a detailed manual mode in the camera app, similar to the higher-end Xperia X and Xperia X Performance. We’re not sure where the Xperia XA will launch, and how much it will cost, but it’s certainly an attractive option if you don’t want to shell out for the Xperia X or the X Performance.

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LG Stylus 2

LG Stylus 2

Styluses are back in style, especially after Apple unveiled the Pencil last year. If you’re looking for an affordable stylus experience, you’ll want to look at the Stylus 2 by LG. The G5 may have stolen the show, but it wasn’t the only phone LG brought to the table. The Stylus 2 mimics the G4’s design, but it has a stylus hidden inside it.

It also has a neat feature called Pen Keeper that sends you a notification if you forget to put your stylus back in, so you don’t have to worry about misplacing it. Removing the pen also unlocks Pen Pop, a shortcut menu for apps and widgets compatible with the pen. The phone itself is a 5.7-inch device with a 720p display, and it also packs a 3,000mAh battery and a MicroSD card slot. LG hasn’t revealed pricing or release date information yet, but it’s a phone worth keeping an eye on if you like the Galaxy Note, but hate its high price.

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Wiko uFeel

If you ignore the strange name, French company Wiko offers some interesting features with its budget uFeel smartphone. The 5-inch HD phone has 3GB of RAM, dual-SIM support, and a MicroSD card slot – but what makes it unique is its fingerprint sensor. You can set five different fingerprints to perform set actions, like using your index finger to open the camera when the phone is on standby mode. You can also make apps require fingerprint authentication, if you wanted an extra layer of protection. The fingerprint scanner also acts as a navigation button; Swiping left on it mimics the back button.

Best of all, there’s an Encrypt Box app that lets you store documents, pictures, videos, or music – it requires your fingerprint to access them. So if you have a photo in the gallery app that you don’t want others to see, move it to Encrypt Box and it will vanish behind the vault. The uFeel will cost around 200 euros (about $217), but there’s a “Lite edition” that will go for about 170 euros ($185). It will be available around April in Europe.

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Lumia 650

Windows Phone fans, Microsoft hasn’t abandoned you quite yet. It revealed the Lumia 650 recently, and there are rumors that it could be the last Lumia phone of the year for the company. We can’t verify those claims, but there’s no denying that the 650 is comfortable to hold and well-designed. It’s 0.2mm thinner than the iPhone 6S, and has an aluminum frame, as well as an AMOLED 5-inch display with a 720p resolution. It’s geared toward business-folk, but sadly is too weak to support Continuum, which allows it to act as a desktop OS, as well. It has been available in Europe since February 18, and it’s priced at an affordable $200. It was priced in U.S. dollars, which means it could make its way to the United States at some point.

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Acer Liquid Zest 4G and 3G

Acer’s flagship may be the Liquid Jade 2, but don’t forget about the two Liquid Zest models that will be available in Europe. The 3G model will cost 110 euros ($120), which is pretty good for a 5-inch smartphone with a 720p resolution, a quad-core processor and an 8-megapixel camera. The 4G variant will cost 150 euros ($163), and will have a newer MediaTek processor than the 3G model. Both devices will run Android 6.0 Marshmallow.

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