You shouldn’t pay that much for a smartphone. There are great smartphones that offer close to the same performance level and features as the flagships, for close to half the price or less.
These are the best cheap smartphones you can buy for around $100, $200, $300, and $400, as of this writing. We’ve tried to focus on relatively new phones as much as possible. But keep in mind that older, used, and refurbished flagships are available at deep discounts.
We’ve also avoided any imports. China-based companies like Xiaomi, LeEco, and Oppo produce inexpensive Android handsets and with high-end specs for overseas markets. These device have an amazing price-to-performance ratio, and most will work on the US GSM networks, AT&T and T-Mobile. But tracking down, buying, and setting up a Chinese import is difficult even for seasoned techies, and horrible customer service is a major potential liability.
A quick note on pricing: it fluctuates. We can only guarantee accurate pricing as of October 2016.
Best Cheap Smartphone for $100 or Less
Good news, there’s a decent smartphone that only costs $100: the ZTE Z Max Pro. This 6-inch phablet has a 1920 x 1080 IPS display with 367 pixels per inch, 2GB RAM, and an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 running at 1.5GHz. It ships with Android 6.0, has a large 3500mAh battery, 32GB storage with microSD expansion, and a 13-megapixel camera. It also has a fingerprint scanner.
Putting that in perspective, this would be a flagship in 2014, and even early 2015. These are phenomenal specs for a $100 device.
Bad news, it’s exclusive to MetroPCS. To be fair, MetroPCS is a solid network, and you’ll experience about the same coverage as any T-Mobile customer (T-Mobile merged with MetroPCS in 2012). It’s cheaper, too. Though, T-Mobile customers get network priority over MetroPCS in congested areas, which means potentially slower performance.
So T-Mobile customers looking to save a few bucks on both service and a smartphone should make the switch. AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon customers need to look no further than Amazon and Motorola for a good $100 handset.
Amazon offers the Moto G4 Play with ads to Prime members for $100. Yes, the ads are annoying, and it’s not as powerful as the ZTE Z Max Pro, but this is a great budget smartphone that costs $150 otherwise. Non-Prime members could sign up for free trial account to snag the discount, if necessary.
Best Cheap Smartphone for $200 or Less
Motorola was one of the first producing quality budget handsets, and it has a strong hold on the market. Its Moto G4 is the best cheap smartphone available for less than $200. It’s $200 unlocked, meaning it works on all the major carriers, and Amazon Prime can snag one with ads for $150.
This 5.5-inch Android smartphone (1920 x 1080, 401 ppi) ships with Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, and features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 octa-core processor with 550MHz Adreno 405 GPU and 2GB RAM. It also has either 16 or 32GB (32GB Moto G4 costs $230) capacity, with a microSD cardslot. It’s water repellent, with a 13-megapixel camera, 3000mAh battery and fast charge. Motorola also offers a bunch of design options, some of which can add to the cost.
On paper, it’s very similar to the ZTE Z Max Pro, but that just serves as further proof the ZTE handset is a great deal.
AT&T and T-Mobile customers should also consider the Honor 5x from Huawei. This $200 smartphone has comparable specs, and a better, all-metal build. It also has a fingerprint sensor.
Best Cheap Smartphone for $300 or Less
Once again, it’s a Moto G4; specifically, the Moto G4 Plus; and even more specifically, the 64GB capacity Moto G4 Plus.
The 16GB Moto G4 Plus is very similar to the G4, with many of the same design options. It has a fingerprint sensor and higher resolution, 16-megapixel camera with a faster, laser autofocus. It costs $250, meaning users are paying $50 more for a slightly better camera and a fingerprint sensor, or $100 more for the same, but without the Amazon ads.
That’s not worth it. The $300 64GB Moto G4 Plus has a higher internal capacity, and double the RAM. Its 4GB RAM matches many current flagships, and the performance is top notch. It’s also compatible on all major carriers.
We considered the OnePlus X, given its impressive spec sheet, but its LTE support is limited. Like others on this list, it’s limited to T-Mobile and AT&T, and it doesn’t support all of those carriers’ LTE bands. Meaning US users might see the OnePlus X throttle down to 3G networks more than other smartphones.
It’s also sold out on the OnePlus website as of this writing. In fact, OnePlus knocked its price down to $200 beforehand, though it’s available on Amazon for $260 and up.
Best Cheap Smartphone for $400 or Less
This is the sweet spot… if you’re an AT&T or T-Mobile customer. You can snag a $400 smartphone offering about 90% of the performance of a $700 or $800 flagship.
The OnePlus 3 is the best cheap smartphone here. This $399 Android handset has a high-end Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chipset with 6GB RAM, and a 16-megapixel camera. It has a 5.5-inch AMOLED display with Gorilla Glass 4 an a 1920 x 1080 resolution (401 ppi). It comes with 64GB capacity, a fingerprint sensor, and USB Type-C with quick charging. This is a powerful and feature-rich device
We also liked the Honor 8, with its dual-camera setup and quality build; the Alcatel Idol 4s, with its stunning display and VR goggles; as well as the ZTE Axon 7, with its all-around excellence. These are just a notch below the OnePlus 3 and are also incredible values for T-Mobile and AT&T customers.
Verizon customers willing to spend eight extra dollars aren’t entirely out of luck. The $408 Moto Z Play Droid is a unique device, supporting modular expansion through Moto Mods. It’s a step below the OnePlus 3 in terms of processing power, but it has the best battery we’ve ever tested, lasting nearly twice as long as its closest competition. It will literally last for days between charges.
Sprint customers should avoid this price point, there’s really nothing here for them, at least in terms of Android. The $408 HTC One A9 isn’t a bad handset, but we’d go with the slightly more powerful Moto G4 Plus and save a few bucks.
Of course, $400 is also the entry point for a relatively new Apple iPhone SE. It’s smaller than an iPhone 6S, lacks 3D Touch, and has an inferior front-facing camera. But it offers the same performance level.