Top Five Budget Smartphones For 2016

A phone doesn't have to cost you a whole paycheck, even a good one. Affordable, fully-featured smartphones are popping into the market more and more often, putting previously premium features into lower and lower price ranges.

Smartphone image via Shutterstock

Before we start, we have to decide what is actually classified as 'cheap'. Smartphones in general aren't all that affordable when bought outright (though we will be referring to outright, unlocked pricing in this story) with most costing over $800 and many even reaching over $1000. For the purposes of this story, we've included only phones that are cheaper than $600 Australian, though we have made sure to include a range of prices under this threshold.

Motorola Moto G

Price: $284

The Moto G set the standard for budget smartphones, and continues to hold onto that distinction year after year. It's a sub $300 phone that can boast an IPX7 waterproof rating, a feature that many phones around the $1000 mark have yet to integrate. At its price point it's obviously not the most high-powered smartphone on the market, but its functionality is more than adequate for its price.

The 3rd Gen Moto G features a 13MP rear camera with a colour-balancing dual LED flash and 5 MP front camera. The Gorilla Glass-protected HD display is a sizeable 12.7cm. One drawback is the meagre 16GB internal memory, though that can be expanded with an optional microSD card up to 32GB. The Moto G Is also 4G compatible, though very few smartphones, even the budget ones, aren't these days.

Motorola Moto G
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 with 1.4 GHz quad-core
GPU Adreno 306 with 400 MHz
OS Android Lollipop
RAM 2GB
Camera Front: 5MP, Rear: 13MP
Display 720p HD
Battery 2470 mAh
Connectivity 4G LTE, Dual micro-SIM, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, Micro USB, up to 32 GB microSD card, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
Dimensions 142.1mm x 72.4mm x 6.1-11.6mm
Weight 155g

OnePlus 3

Price: $550

The OnePlus 3 was recently named by our friends over at Gizmodo as 'the best cheap phone you can buy', though it comes with one main drawback — a highly limited availability in Australia. In fact, the OnePlus 3 isn't available at all in Australia, yet.

OnePlus has a great range of budget smartphones, however — from its OnePlus One, to the OnePlus 2 to the even cheaper OnePlus X. But the OnePlus 3 is the most 'premium' of its range, at the best price.

The OnePlus 3 boasts a fully metal construction for a truly premium look and feel, completed by the 15cm 1080p display. It also packs in a whole 6GB of RAM, and running a mod of Android called Oxygen OS, the OnePlus 3 is fully optimised to run nice and smoothly. Its 16MP rear camera can even shoot in RAW, while the front-facing camera boasts an impressive 8MP.

The only drawback to the OnePlus 3 is that its 3000mAh battery can run out in less than a day when overly taxed, though despite this it could easily be a competitor for smartphones that are twice its price.

OnePlus 3
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 820
GPU Adreno 530
OS Oxygen OS
RAM 6GB LPDDR4
Camera Front: 8MP, Rear: 16MP
Display 1080p Full HD
Battery 3,000 mAh (non-removable)
Connectivity 4G LTE (Cat. 6), Dual nano-SIM, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS, USB 2.0 Type-C, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Dimensions 152.7 x 74.7 x 7.35 mm
Weight 158g

Xiaomi Mi5

Price: $425

The $425 Mi5 from Xiaomi sounds too good to be true — and that's because it is. The Xiaomi is a great high-end phone for an incredibly cheap price, but getting your hands on one can be difficult. Without an official Australian importer, it can be hard to find Xiaomi's phones in Australia, though there's usually a way to get your hands on one.

If you do manage to find one, you can expect an impressively powerful phone for the price, built around the same Snapdragon processor as the new LG G5 or Samsung Galaxy 7. The metal and glass body has a premium feel, though the 'pro' version has a 'marble-textured' ceramic finish. $425 will get you the standard 32GB model, going up to $490 for the 64GB model, or $575 for the 125GB Pro model. This one's worth keeping an eye out for.

Xiaomi Mi5
Processor Snapdragon 820 Quad-core Kryo 1.8GHz
GPU Adreno 530 GPU
OS Android 6.0
RAM 3GB
Camera Front: 4MP, Rear: 16MP
Display 1920 x 1080 resolution
Battery 3000mAh (non-removable)
Connectivity 4G dual nano SIM, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS, USB Type-C reversible, Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
Dimensions 144.55 mm x 69.2 mm x 7.25 mm
Weight 129g

Kogan Agora 6

Price: $179

The Kogan Agora 6 is the newest, cheapest phone made by Kogan, and while you're not going to get a stellar phone for $179, it is a smartphone that you can buy for $179. Kogan says that the Agora is a phone that boasts "amazing performance and features normally found in a phone many times the price of the Agora 6", though we've yet to put it through its paces ourselves.

It does have a large, 5 inch HD display which is uncommon in cheaper phones, 2GB RAM and a 1.3 GHz OctaCore processor. Although it only has 16GB of internal storage, it has the option of adding a micro SD card up to 32GB, something some of the more expensive phones on this list offer.

One step up from the Agora 6 is the Agora 6 Plus, a $349 phone that Kogan says is comparable to the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S7. We're not so sure about that, but at its price, it could still be a neat little phone for some.

Kogan Agora 6
Processor Octacore 1.3GHZ (MTK6753)
GPU Octacore 1.3GHZ
OS Android 5.1
RAM 2GB
Camera Front: 5MP, Rear: 8MP
Display HD IPS
Battery 2050 mAh
Connectivity Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, Dual Micro SIM, Micro USB, Micro SD (up to 32GB), Wi-Fi (2.4Ghz a/b/g/n)
Dimensions 142x70x8mm
Weight 134g

iPhone 5s

Price: $469

While Android users have plenty of options when it comes to cheap phones, iOS devotees don't have so many options. All of the iPhones available at retail right now will set you back over $800 when bought outright — but would you buy a phone that's almost three years old? Despite its age, however, the 5s is a good little phone, which some even find preferable to the iPhone 6.

With a 1.7GHz dual-core A7 ARM processor, 1GB of RAM, dual-band 4G/LTE, an 8-megapixel camera with a dual flash and a 1570mAh battery, the specs of the 5s are obviously nothing special these days. However you can pick one up for cheap (at least as far as iPhones go) with new models being sold by Kogan for $469, and refurbished phones going as low as $399.

iPhone 5s
Processor 1.7GHz dual-core A7 ARM
GPU Apple M7
OS iOS 7
RAM 1GB
Camera Front: 1.2MP, Rear: 8MP
Display 640 x 1136 IPS
Battery Li-Po 1440mAh
Connectivity Nano SIM, Bluetooth 4.0 with A2DP, GPS, Lightning to USB, Wi-Fi (802.11 a/b/g/n)
Dimensions 123.8 x 58.6 x 7.6mm
Weight 112g

What are your favourite budget smartphones? Let us know in the comments!


Comments

    I see that broadly, $500 is considered cheap. To me, thats just last years model being sold off, not cheap.

    Cheap needs to be that phone you get for the parents/grandparents, where usability outweighs feature saturation. Nana doesnt need to know how the pre-installed Snapchat app works, she just wants to call the grandkids and maybe use that Facebook thing.

    Or something you get the kids that you dont (really) mind if they lose (even though you do). Something they put in their schoolbag for emergencies, or to be confiscated in class when they keep texting their friends...

    For that, $200 is cheap, not $500.

      totally agree with that. Apple shouldn't even be in this category

      While that's true, it's easy to find a cheap, simple smartphone for grandma or the kids. Pretty much every sub-$200 phone is going to do its job while being light on features.

      That in mind I chose to try and pick out budget friendly phones with plenty of features that may appeal to the more tech-savvy readers of Lifehacker, as they're a little harder to find!

    For a cheap 'smartphone' try the supermarkets.
    I got a ZTE Fit last year for $80. locked to Optus but I found my Amaysim sim card worked in it without having to unlock. Some downsides on the ZTE Fit(camera not great, partitioned memory) but it is a great android phone for <$100.
    Coles:
    http://shop.coles.com.au/online/national/coles-prepaid-zte-4g-chat
    Woolworths:
    https://www.woolworths.com.au/Shop/Search/Products?searchTerm=phone%20mobile

    Can't go wrong with a Nexus 5 for about $400

    $500 isn't cheap in my books either.

    Just got an Oppo F1 (from $179 for Optus locked version) looks good - 3Gb RAM, 13/8 mp cameras, 1080p 5 inch screen with Gorillla Glass 4, 16Gb memory + expansion 256Gb, seems like a bargain so far.

    No love for the LG Stylus DAB+? I have one it has great performance, a recent Android version (Marshmallow) unlike some other cheapies, is a name brand and has one feature no other premium phones have yet matched - digital radio. Now that is niche and there is already a Stylus 2 Plus internationally which would be a better buy but if you can get this one for under $400 somewhere I'd say you are doing really well.

    Please can you do an actual review of the Agora 6, no one has, but they keep going on about it.

    I just got a Xiaomi Redmi 3 Pro a few days ago and it seems pretty damn fantastic. About $250 delivered with the International language ROM and the specs are pretty great for a budget phone, 5" screen, Snapdragon 616 , 3GB ram, 32GB storage with SD card slot, fingerprint sensor, and most importantly to me a ludicrous 4100mAh battery. It's been going great so far, a definite step up from my previous Nexus 5. Be warned though that like most chinese phones it doesn't cover all of the Australian LTE bands. It also only has a 720 screen, but I don't really notice any issues with it and I assume it goes hand in hand with the slower 8 core processor, and massive battery to give the insane battery life I get out of it.

    Last edited 16/06/16 4:03 pm

      Hi gr3i,

      I am wondering how your phone is going, is it as good as you hoped?
      does the battery last a long time, Is the internet roaming great etc?
      Is a 720 screen any smaller than the iPhone?
      What is Australian LTE btw?
      And if all is awesome with the phone where did you purchase it?

      cheers Paradise

    How is a $550 phone classified as "budget" ????????

    Somebody has lost the plot here

      Exchange rate. a 550 today was a 380 phone 2 years ago when the exchange rate was 1AUD=1:10USD

    What a bizarre "category" you guys have come up with under the catch-cry "Budget Smartphones".
    Putting the iPhone 5s aside for the moment (which is in a completely different category for most smartphone shoppers), you have 4 Android phones with prices ranging from $179 to $550, RAM ranging from 2 GB to 6 GB, storage from 16 GB to 64 GB, 720p to 1080p screens, 8 Mp to 16 Mp cameras, and so on.
    They are arguably all "good value" phones in their respective categories, but there would be very few smartphone buyers who would seriously consider these 5 phone as belonging in the same category. If you are enticed by the Kogan it will be for its low price, and the $550 OnePlus 3 will be an impossible dream; conversely, if you are seriously considering the OnePlus 3, the Kogan would be beneath contempt.

    I think you can consider it budget when its under half the cost of the new premium models. And while there seem to be plenty of phones that meet the budget category, to actually use them they suck. I kinda expected to see the nexus 5x in the list.

    Not a low budget phone but the best smart phone ever iPhone SE is same size as 5s but has same processor as the 6s plus and at 829 for 64gb is much cheaper than a 6s plus

    Hi Gr3i, i notice you said the Xiaomi redmi 3pro came with international language rom. Did it come with Google play already installed? Also where did you buy it? I have the Xiaomi redmi note 2 and I'm pretty happy with it. It came with Google play already installed. Thanks Judy.

      @judy Valentine
      I got mine through geek buying but specifically from their HK warehouse. They have phones in warehouses both in mainland China and in HK and it seems that all of these ones are the products without the restrictions meant for the international market. I'm not 100% sure, but if your phone has Google play installed on it then yours has already been flashed to the international rom too

    I recently bought the redmi 3 pro but am having problems charging and switching on. Anybidea if it has a tab on the battery that needs removing?

      @Naoum I didn't notice any thing like that with mine, it just plugged in and started working. I haven't used the Chinese charger and crappy wall socket adapter that came with it though, only ones with an Australian plug that I already had. Hopefully trying a different charger will sort you out, good luck

    ZTE Blade S6 is currently $200 at Officeworks. I bought one last year (when it was a little more expensive) and it's great.

    If "under $500" is the key, some places are selling the Samsung Galaxy S5 for about that much.
    That's the old version, from back when they had expandable memory AND a replaceable battery...

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