Ask LH: Which Cheap Smartphone Should I Buy?

Dear Lifehacker, I've had a smartphone for about four years now, and for quite a while it's stopped being fun. I don't care about apps, beyond the few I regularly use for things like email, basic internet access and Facebook. Any big announcements of new features for smartphones never excite me, because I'm completely satisfied with what they already can do.

When my current contract is up in a couple of months, I plan on buying a new phone outright, then finding a suitable plan. However, I'm not sure what phone to buy. All I want is something affordable that can achieve these basic functions without too much trouble. Any suggestions?

Thanks, Smartphone Fatigued

Dear SF,

With high-end smartphones hogging all the limelight, it can often feel like there are no other options on the market. However, there are actually plenty of mid-tier smartphones skulking in the wings which are perfectly functional and won't break the bank.

Like most other technologies, smartphones tend to depreciate in value quite quickly. If you don't mind owning a slightly older model, you should be able to pick up a big brand Android for a couple of hundred dollars. Some of these phones can even be upgraded to newer versions of Android, which can translate to a smoother, faster experience.

If you'd prefer a brand new smartphone, we'd recommend taking a look at Huawei's latest offerings. Huawei is basically the 'yum cha' of Android manufacturers: it produces an ever-changing smorgasbord of cheap phones that are nevertheless pretty satisfying. It also has slightly unnerving ties to China’s People’s Liberation Army, but this shouldn't really concern you (unless you work for the military or government).

The Kogan Agora is another value-packed option: it costs just $149 and comes with a 5-inch screen and a dual-core Cortex A9 processor running Android 4.0.4.

The main thing to be mindful of when buying a budget smartphone is the touch screen: some are sluggish and unresponsive, which can make everyday use a nightmare. In other words, it's definitely wise to try before you buy. If readers have specific models they'd like to recommend, tell us in the comments.

One other warning: aim for an unlocked phone rather than one tied to a specific carrier. That makes it easier to switch plans, and is also useful if you travel.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    Get a Nexus 4! Best Android smartphone user experience for your buck's worth!

      This thing is an animal.... seriously... I always been an iPhone user and never like any Android phones until Nexus 4, bought 2 one for my wife and myself.... this thing is responsive and FAST. this is what iPhone should be.... 4.7" screen :D and the build quality is awesome too, looks prestige due to glass front and back instead of plastic as other Android phones.

      With Nexus 4, I could see why people leaving iOS to Android. Jelly Bean 4.2 is the bomb.

      Last edited 08/02/13 5:12 pm

        And not to mention this is pure Google phone, so you will get updated first compare to other Android phones from other manufacturer...

    I wouldn't recommend the Sony Ericsson models (I have an Arc S and a Mini Pro) if you wish have Ice-Cream Sandwich (or later). After updating the phone, it becomes rather sluggish and in some models (like my Arc S) can create bugs such as the notification light not working, ever.

    Lumia 620. WP8 has all the "standard smartphone features" very well covered and Nokia's apps (esp. offline navigation) are great.

      yeah WP8 phones are pretty good... just the apps not there yet. They will get there eventually.

      Lumia 620 is so much phone for so little price. $229AUD is the cheapest I have found so far.

        Be wary of the WP market, after 2 years with my WP7 I'm really sick of not being able to interact with my friends due to the lack of a lot of apps (some apps dont have html 5 websites) and recently my bank, which never had an app, has changed their mobile internet ebanking to some rediculous new thing that has elements that just flat out refuse to load on my WP7.

        I'm personally making the switch to nexus devices, but that does not mean I'm hating on wp, I love how WP is setup, just that app marketplace, which I didn't think would really matter that much to me anyway, I guess does. Hopefully it grows bigger in the future and I can come back.

        Last edited 10/02/13 11:36 am

    +1 for the Nokia Lumia 620!
    Also, keep an eye out for the recently leaked Nokia Flame.

    "the ‘yum cha’ of Android manufacturers: it produces an ever-changing smorgasbord of cheap phones that are nevertheless pretty satisfying"

    I dont know about you but there nothing ever changing about yum cha. Unless your merely talking about what your a currently eating changing, which the same for all buffets and so i must implore you to reference all buffets as an equal opportunity buffetist.

    I wouldn't get an Huawei anything. Terrible support and most phones get no upgrade. I bought what they were advertising as one of the most powerful midprice handsets available a couple of years back and its still - 18 months later - running Gingerbread. There's been promise after promise of ICS (not even JB) but they've never delivered.

    Hardware is great for the price - just don't expect them to bring you any updates. On top of this not many of their models get decent enough market penetration to get any of the 'big' third-party ROMS such as Cyanogenmod (some handsets do, most don't).

      Still running gingerbread is hardly indicative of a bad brand.

      My HTC Dream I purchased about 27 months ago never went beyond Gingerbread, and that was a FLAGSHIP phone from HTC. Not to mention probably about 3 times the price of the Huawei you bought.

    The Huawei Sonic is excellent. About $150 unlocked and it feels like it should cost a lot more. It's a year or two old now: just replaced my wife's after it gave into the abuse our kids subject it to. I must admit that I'm waiting for my Nexus 4 to arrive to replace my ageing Huawei Ideos which was good two years ago but definitely struggles now as app developers drop support for 2.2 and below.

      +1 for the Sonic. This was my first foray into smartphone territory. Mine's about the same age and still going strong - I don't need a computer replacement for a phone. Plus, the battery life on this is awesome - I only need to charge it about once per week (Lasts about 5-6 days).
      The only really bad thing I can say about the phone is that the camera is [email protected]

    yum cha.... really... the "tasting of tea", "drink tea" of android manufacturers. really. wouldn't it have been easier to say the buffet of android manufacturers.


    Am I missing something? The OP said "cheap" and you're talking $150 and up? Cheap stops at $100, and yes there are a more than few below that.

    Ok before I get flamed, there's probably not that much choice below $100, but there's enough below $150. I'm considering the G300 which is no toy.

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