The 10 Best Cheap Smartphones
10. Motorola Moto E4 Plus
9. LG Q6
8. Alcatel Idol 5S
7. ZTE Blade V8 Pro
6. Nokia 6
5. Asus ZenFone 4 Max
4. Blu R2
3. Apple iPhone SE
2. Huawei Honor 7X
1. Motorola Moto G5 Plus
Beat Back The Bill
It's long been a dirty little secret that when you buy a cell phone along with a calling plan from a given distributor, whether it's Verizon, AT&T, or any of the other big players on the market, the sticker price is rarely what you actually pay for a phone.
Let's say you want a phone that costs $500. You walk into your local wireless provider's brick and mortar location and you see it advertised for only $100 if you get it with a contract. So, you sign up for their data plan, pay the $100 plus any initiation fees, and you walk out on cloud nine.
In the fine print of your contract, however, is the remaining $400 cost of the phone, divided up over the course of two years, which is about $16.67 per month. If your monthly bill is $80, that means $63.33 is going toward your actual wireless bill and its many hidden fees, and the remaining $16.67 is going toward the cost of your phone.
If you forget that you're due for an upgrade after the first two years are up, the phone company doesn't gracefully reduce your bill to $63.33 per month. They keep charging you the $80 until you come in for an upgrade, raising the cost of your phone higher and higher the longer you wait to switch.
That's why it can be so much smarter to get your hands on one of these phones on your own, and then walk into the wireless provider's office with all the power. Each of the companies present on our list go about reducing the cost of their phones in a variety of ways. Sometimes it's a little reduction in speed from a slower processor. Other times it's the camera that takes a hit in the quality department, or the battery life that doesn't quite compare to the more expensive phones on the market.
Whatever the reason for the reduced price, it's important to remember that the tech specs of these so-called cheap smartphones are mostly the same ones for which consumers paid $500 and $600 for just a couple of years ago.
Each smartphone is essentially a little handheld supercomputer. But, for all the technical nuances going into them that might tip your decision in the direction of that phone or the other, picking a cheap smartphone from the options on our list should start with the one thing we started with: connectivity.
I don't mean the interconnected people each of whom has his or her smartphone out and at the ready. I mean the connection your phone makes between its operating system and the system you have on your computer. The days of having to plug a phone into your computer to update music libraries and contacts are fading into history as cloud computing technology gets faster and capable of holding more data. But that doesn't mean the interface between your phone and your computer is any less vital.
You know your computer's interface pretty well. If there's a problem, you can usually figure out what it is, or at least you know who to ask that knows how to fix it. You've also become familiar with the services you use online, regardless of your computer's operating system. That familiarity is priceless when choosing among smartphones.
For example, if you're a Macbook owner and a consummate Gmail user running Google's calendar and spreadsheet programs for work, you might not want a phone that runs Windows. That would be the least connected option. Android interfaces with Google platforms more smoothly than Windows, and it's much friendlier when plugged into a Mac. Conversely, if you do everything Microsoft, from your laptop to your email, using a phone that runs Windows will be second nature to you.
Of course, you want to keep an eye on specs like battery life, camera megapixels, processor speed, and internal storage, making sure you get the highest combination of them all for the best price, but if you can't figure out how to get the thing to sync with your email, all those specs will mean precisely nothing.
A Long Drum Roll
Many years before the iPhone swept into our lives and made us all slightly more alienated from one another while at the same time creating the illusion of greater connectivity, IBM introduced a touchscreen smartphone that had the ability to make calls, send email, and even send faxes. That's right: faxes. After all, this was back in 1993, when fax machines were still a thing.
The phone was called Simon, and 17 years before the introduction of the iPhone it cost a whopping $899. That's just under $1,500 adjusted for inflation in 2016. A little less expensive, and stripped of the ability to make calls, the Palm Pilot came along a few years later and introduced everyone to a more affordable, more complete mobile computing platform that launched an entire industry of personal digital assistants, or PDAs.
Then came the Blackberry devices and Palm's attempt at a phone in the early 2000s, both of which boasted better processing power and the ability to make and take calls, as well as surf the web. They were truly innovative machines that didn't stand a chance against what was coming.
In 2007, the iPhone appeared, and ever since, anyone in the market has only had the iPhone to compare itself to, to look to for the next thing it'd have to integrate into its system lest their company fade into obsolescence. It's a sad tale, in a way, but the makers of these cheap smartphones go about competing with the giant in a way that's more affordable, and in that sense perhaps more charitable, than the megalith.