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Affordable, not cheap: 10 best low-cost smartphones (2015 edition)

Posted: , by Victor H.


Affordable, not cheap: 10 best low-cost smartphones (2015 edition)

When it comes to technology, some people just don’t find it reasonable to spend crazy amounts of money on a gadget that gets old in just several years. Yet, those same people still want the full smartphone experience, the camera, the apps, and the speed. Are there any affordable phones that would fit all those criteria?

Affordable without being 'cheap' in an embarassing way

Good news is that with recent launches the answer is a resounding 'yes'. We now have phones that are cheap without being downright ruined by terrible issues - those affordable devices do not lag terribly, they have decent cameras, and some of them even come with a very likable design.

But which ones are they? We've picked the best affordable phones, where affordable does not mean ‘cheap’ in any embarrassing way. Take a look at these best value-for-the-money devices that you can get right now, and let us know which you think is the best low-cost smartphone.

#10: Huawei P8 Lite

Price: $240

The Huawei P8 Lite might not look like a winner, but its utilitarian interface that manages to run smoothly and its solid construction grant it a place in this list. The phone features Huawei's own HiSilicon Kirin 620 system chip with 8 Cortex A53 cores running at up to 1.2GHz and 2GB of RAM, and the phone is officially sold in the United States. The 5" screen with a 720 x 1280 pixel resolution is sufficiently sharp for our taste, but there are two caveats: Android 4.4 on board with no clarity about update plans, and a fairly middling camera.

#9: Samsung Galaxy J5

Price: $180

The Galaxy J5 looks like a phone from the near past of Samsung: plastic and generic-looking when it comes to design. Yet, it's a good budget solution for those who slap a case on their phone and don't care much about looks: it runs TouchWiz powered by the ubiquitous Snapdragon 410 system chip, it's got 1.5GB of RAM, and a decently performing 13-megapixel camera. Unfortunately, it only ships with 8GB of internal storage - definitely insufficient in our books - but you can expand on that via microSD cards of up to 128GB.

#8: Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3

Price: $250

If this is what we can expect from a phone with an MSRP of $250, we’re going to have higher expectations from everyone else going forward. Quite simply, the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 is a testament to what can be achieved by a phone that’s on a budget. A $250 phone with the upper mid-range Snapdragon 615 system chip and with a good, 13-megapixel camera, that OT Idol 3 ticks all the boxes except one - it's not particularly exciting in terms of design. If you don't mind that, this handset offers an overall excellent value for the money.

#7: Lenovo K3 Note

Price: $160

The Lenovo K3 Note is one of the most popular phones in China, but you can also buy it via third-party resellers. The yellow phone (with its lemon-y theme), however, surprises with a great value for the money: it's a 5.5-inch phone with a 1080 x 1920-pixel display that looks sharp, and it comes with 2GB of RAM, which makes multitasking much more manageable. If you want a Chinese phone that is both cheap and from an established brand, the 5.5" K3 Note is one of your best bets at the moment.

#6: Meizu m2 Note

Price: $160

The Meizu m2 Note is quite the impressive package: a 5.5-inch 1080p phone with the mid-range (but very capable) MediaTek MT6753 system chip and 2 gigs of RAM for a surprisingly low price. What really matters is that the m2 Note runs impressively well, all thanks to the FlyMe user interface installed on top of Android 5.1 Lollipop. The phone boasts battery life way above the average for its class, and a 13-megapixel camera that is quick and captures good-looking images.

#5: OnePlus Two

Price: $330

The '2015 flagship killer', the OnePlus Two, is the most affordable phone running on the Snapdragon 810 system chip, and it's got a 5.5-inch display with a 1080 x 1920-pixel resolution, a clean and smooth-running Oxygen skin running atop Android 5, as well as a large battery and a capable camera. All of that comes in a package costing just $330, nearly half the price of other flagships with the same chip. Unfortunately, you need to go through the laborious reservation process at OnePlus to get this phone, but if you don't mind - it's one of the best affordable phablets out there.

#4: Asus Zenfone 2

Price: $199-$299

The Asus Zenfone 2 arrives with a splash: it's one of the best deals on the market, beating phones with similar hardware by a huge margin when ti comes to cost. It comes in a 16GB version with 2GB of RAM for $199 (off contract) and a 64GB model with 4 gigs of RAM for $299 (again, full retail price). We recommend going for the truly beastly 64 gig version which is still half the price of the iPhone and Samsung Galaxies. Both models feature the powerful Intel Atom Z3580 system chip with four cores running at up to 2.3GHz, and it comes with PowerVR G6430 graphics (the iPhone 6 features the slightly higher class, but still compareable PowerVR G6450). The 13-megapixel camera is also a more than decent performer that does especially well with HDR images. Finally, with a great battery life and extremely quick recharging times, the Zenfone 2 is definitely one of the best budget phones money can buy these days.

#3: Xiaomi Redmi Note 2

Price: $210

The Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 is the cheapest phone to come with MediaTek's most powerful system chip: the octa-core Helio X10. The Redmi Note 2 really is a small breakthrough in price as other comparably specced phones cost multiple times more. Yes, the phone is plastic, but that's the one shortcut needed to arrive at that low price. Apart from that, the phone comes in a variety of vivid colors that we've come to expect from the Chinese giant Xiaomi. The Redmi Note 2 is 8.25mm thick, which is thinner than the earlier version (but not as razor-thin as some other phones), and it weighs 5.65oz (160 grams).

#2: Meizu m2

Price: $129.99

The Meizu m2 is a lot of a phone for a very low price. While the official price for this stylish 5 inchers is less than $100 (599 yuan) in China, third-party resellers now offer the phone for $129, which still sounds like quite the steal when compared with even great devices like the Motorola Moto G (2015 Edition). The Meizu m2 checks all bases: a 5" 720p display that actually looks good, a 13-megapixel rear/5-megapixel front camera combo that takes good-looking images and a MediaTek MT6735 SoC. What makes the Meizu m2 really stand out, however, is its clean and extremely smoothly-running Flyme UI running on top of Android 5.1 Lollipop on the M2. The skin has smooth animations and impressive performance (it also comes with the Google Play Store pre-installed internationally), and the device features some neat gestures that boost its functionality.

#1: Motorola Moto G (3rd generation, 2015)

Price: $180-$220

The Motorola Moto G has somewhat surprisingly become the most popular Motorola phone of recent years, and for a good reason - the phone is offered officially in a variety of markets, it carries the venerable Motorola brand (that is now owned by Lenovo), and it has all the right ingredients with a smooth-running, near-stock Android skin and a camera that captures images quickly and with a consistently good quality. The new, 3rd generation of the Moto G now offers protection from water and boasts a much more refined designed with a nice textured back that you can easily swap. Add some signature Moto features that were previously available on higher-end Motorolas only, and the fast and affordable Moto G remains the best affordable phone money can buy right now.

  • Options

posted on 28 Jul 2014, 09:44 29

1. aayupanday (Posts: 566; Member since: 28 Jun 2012)

Xiaomi's Mi3 will top that list... atleast here in India.
Getting SD800 for $230.

posted on 28 Jul 2014, 09:56 12

5. DogeShibe (Posts: 1106; Member since: 10 Jan 2014)

Totally agreed.
SD 800 smokes every other device at that price tag.
Competition is a good thing for consumers.

posted on 28 Jul 2014, 13:10 1

34. wilsong17 (unregistered)

How sweet but does it have lte compatible in the usa

posted on 30 Jul 2014, 23:02 1

69. SeanContra (Posts: 82; Member since: 24 Mar 2014)

I don't know. Can you repeat the question?

posted on 10 Nov 2014, 18:45

82. Liveitup (Posts: 1797; Member since: 07 Jan 2014)

Why do you think it smokes all the other choices?, what stood out that gave it that advantage in terms of affordability and user experience?, just curious.

posted on 18 Aug 2015, 05:37 1

114. neela_akaash (Posts: 840; Member since: 05 Aug 2014)

To all the friends up here Mi3 was released in 2013. No. 1 should be Redmi 2 Prime... super device at $100....

posted on 28 Jul 2014, 10:51 6

10. LetsBeHonest (Posts: 1150; Member since: 04 Jun 2013)

Ur Absolutely right abt that. But not jist xiaomi mi3 also their redmi note and redmi 1s is way better than many they've already listed.

posted on 29 Jul 2014, 02:18 1

65. itsdeepak4u2000 (Posts: 3612; Member since: 03 Nov 2012)

True, the Redmi 1s is at par than Moto G with price tag of Moto E and that Redmi Note it'll scare the local brands like Micromax, Karbonn, Lava, etc. and even Xiaomi's home companies like Huawei, Lenovo, ZTE, etc.

Mi 3 has lesser price than Moto G and specs of Nexus 5 and other big OEM's flagships.

posted on 02 Apr 2015, 02:51

109. coldspring22 (Posts: 164; Member since: 28 Feb 2015)

I use Redmi Note 4G here in US with Tmobile. It's an awesome phone for the price and only thing it lacks is good low light camera performance.

posted on 10 Nov 2014, 23:04 1

93. laughmi (banned) (Posts: 283; Member since: 28 Oct 2014)

Well said. I used Mi3 and it feels like an S4/iPhone6 competitor and screen quality is amazing. I mean no other brand can offer such screen quality even for $400 for sure. If Xiaomi maintains good service in India they can blow away Samsung and others. Also Android One, Huawei Honor Holly should be in this list. This looks like a US list sans Redmi

posted on 11 Nov 2014, 08:29

97. mafiaprinc3 (Posts: 469; Member since: 07 May 2012)

specs for mi3 is awesome for the price but i dont like the design

posted on 18 Aug 2015, 06:38

117. dazed1 (Posts: 88; Member since: 28 Jul 2015)

SD800 is behind 6795, also no 64 bit support, The Xiaomi Mi Note 2 is much better value for ~ 150$ compared to the Mi3, and ANYTHING other on the market.

posted on 18 Aug 2015, 10:45

123. funtikar (Posts: 15; Member since: 05 May 2012)

take a look at the gflops of the SD800 adreno 330 gpu + the very good battery.... only two things I hate about the mi3 the design and the camera... the camera is a pile of shaite

posted on 28 Jul 2014, 09:49 9

2. baldilocks (Posts: 642; Member since: 14 Dec 2008)

The Nexus 5 is still the best bang for the buck out there.

posted on 28 Jul 2014, 10:38 13

8. nexusdude (Posts: 151; Member since: 22 Aug 2013)

Ever heard of One Plus One?

posted on 28 Jul 2014, 10:53 20

11. LetsBeHonest (Posts: 1150; Member since: 04 Jun 2013)

But what's the point when u just can't get one?.! Other than that its a great device.

posted on 28 Jul 2014, 12:25 1

31. Busyboy (unregistered)

Agree, however you can fork in another 50-100$ and get a OPO at OPPO Mart.

posted on 28 Jul 2014, 13:49 1

40. Arte-8800 (banned) (Posts: 4562; Member since: 13 Mar 2014)

Or the much better quality oppo7

posted on 28 Jul 2014, 13:05

33. Jommick (Posts: 221; Member since: 10 Sep 2013)


Thread exists for getting invites.

posted on 28 Jul 2014, 17:28 1

55. marcski07 (Posts: 595; Member since: 25 Apr 2014)

one plus one, one gets the invitation and the device, send it to another one. one + one + one + one, that's why that's their gimmick of promoting their brand. a one person gets the invitation add another one person so he can add another one person. :D

posted on 28 Jul 2014, 12:22 2

27. gaara6775 (Posts: 738; Member since: 20 May 2014)

Yes, we have just HEARD.

posted on 28 Jul 2014, 13:38

39. beedeezy14 (Posts: 14; Member since: 17 Dec 2013)

Damn! I just gave my last invites away. Really great phone.

posted on 28 Jul 2014, 16:51

49. AfterShock (Posts: 3698; Member since: 02 Nov 2012)

No, what's that and where can I go buy one?

posted on 29 Jul 2014, 12:19 1

67. bob_monkeywarts (Posts: 236; Member since: 14 Apr 2014)

So the guy with the username, "nexusdude" says the One Plus One is better then the Nexus? they are both great phones (but you can't get one of them) but still sort of funny.

posted on 11 Nov 2014, 08:35

98. mafiaprinc3 (Posts: 469; Member since: 07 May 2012)

i'm hoping to buy two 64GB sandstone black version when i get some cash and its more easily available for purchase, love that phone,android customization at its best. and they've been good so far in delivering updates to address issues unlike Huawei or Zte

posted on 29 Jul 2014, 04:18

66. boosook (Posts: 1331; Member since: 19 Nov 2012)

Yes, but it has a higher price point.

posted on 10 Nov 2014, 17:38

73. Professor (Posts: 200; Member since: 02 Aug 2013)

I agree... The Nexus 5 still the best phone for the price. I consider it even better than the Motorola G (2014 ver)...

posted on 10 Nov 2014, 19:58

87. Phonedingo (Posts: 359; Member since: 16 Aug 2014)

The g2 smokes that thing.

posted on 28 Jul 2014, 09:51 1

3. marbovo (Posts: 658; Member since: 16 May 2013)

There was a time when the word "cheap" was considered a good thing... whats happening this days?

posted on 28 Jul 2014, 13:15 7

35. tacarat (Posts: 456; Member since: 22 Apr 2013)

Because it got associated with "cheaply made" over "cheaply bought".

posted on 28 Jul 2014, 20:00 2

57. marcski07 (Posts: 595; Member since: 25 Apr 2014)

blame the Chinese, not all the Chinese but the fraud ones. it makes a bad image for china, but also their government, for allowing it rampantly, + the fact they are bullying smaller countries on the disputed waters in south china sea. lol off topic. :D

posted on 28 Jul 2014, 09:52 2

4. realjjj (Posts: 302; Member since: 28 Jan 2014)

lol none of those are even close to having great prices

posted on 28 Jul 2014, 11:19 1

16. elitewolverine (Posts: 3819; Member since: 28 Oct 2013)

Anything under 200 is great.

People forget that s5's etc all cost 600 or more. The nexus is great for the price, and the 1320 too.

posted on 20 Mar 2015, 09:02 1

101. chocowii (Posts: 391; Member since: 30 Jan 2014)

Dont forget Android One devices, but it's availability is limited as it is only available in emerging markets.

posted on 18 Aug 2015, 06:52

118. dazed1 (Posts: 88; Member since: 28 Jul 2015)

Xiaomi is selling for ~ 150$, and has,

5.5' IPS Sharp

6795 monster cpu

2GB ram

32GB storage

IMX 214 sensor with phase detection

Awesome software, with 2 years updates insured

Are you on crack?

posted on 28 Jul 2014, 10:31 5

6. Planterz (Posts: 1705; Member since: 30 Apr 2012)

Most of the phones listed are relatively new, but older devices need to be considered. Always remember to troll (in the deep-sea fishing sense of the word) eBay and Amazon for mid-range devices from a year ago.

For example, for $110 you can get a new LG F6. Dual core 1.2GHz SD S4+, 1GB RAM, 4.5" qHD screen, and LTE connectivity on T-Mo and AT&T bands. Sure, the Moto E is nice for the price, but I'd rather buy this. FF camera, LED flash on the main, bigger screen, and easily swappable battery. Oh, and LTE.

Examples like this exist for pretty much any provider in the US. And such phones should work on GSM networks outside the US. For $240 you can buy a brand new Nexus 4 off eBay, and that phone easily smokes all the phones on this list, for a few bucks more.

NOS midrange phones from a year ago, or even flagships from 2 years ago can be found for pretty cheap, and are often better than the crop of new "affordable" phones. Don't forget the forgotten phones.

posted on 28 Jul 2014, 10:42 3

9. Jason78 (Posts: 203; Member since: 10 Apr 2013)

An excellent strategy and one I personally use. I generally buy a 1 to 1 1/2 year old phone used on Ebay, use it for 3-6 months until something else catches my eye, and then sell it on Ebay for close to what I paid for it.

posted on 28 Jul 2014, 12:24 1

29. WahyuWisnu (Posts: 1001; Member since: 29 May 2014)

I do quite the opposite. In Indonesia, the price of second hand phone is not down by much, and early bird got a discount. So, If buy a brand new, just released phone, I got around 5-15% discount plus times some extra goodies. The downside to this is, I only have a couple of minute trying it when lining up for the early bird line. The upside to this were, if I don't like the phone, I could sell it in 1 months and almost lose no money (because early bird got a discount).

Usually after 3-9 months, I would sell the phone and lost around 10%-25% (depending on brand), and I use a brand new phone again. I consider that as RENTING the phone.

posted on 10 Nov 2014, 18:37

79. corporateJP (Posts: 2431; Member since: 28 Nov 2009)

True story...

posted on 20 Mar 2015, 17:11

107. rnagic (Posts: 127; Member since: 13 Jul 2014)

I've gotten burned a couple times with this technique. Before you buy it now, remember to check the seller history and return policy.

posted on 18 Aug 2015, 11:07

124. RangoX (Posts: 43; Member since: 20 Feb 2015)

In my opinion, any Android with 1 GB RAM is not good unless you're a grandma who uses 2 apps.

posted on 18 Aug 2015, 11:33

126. evilhomer3k (Posts: 5; Member since: 30 Apr 2015)

Generally you can get 6 month old phones in the US pretty cheaply. The S6 right now can be found for $400, the S5 or LG G3 for $200. Between the Moto G or the Galaxy S5 or LG G3 I'll take the S5 or G3 every time. Even the G2 is a better specced phone the the Moto G.

posted on 19 Aug 2015, 03:00

127. Victor.H (Posts: 571; Member since: 27 May 2011)

That's simply not true. The S6 might be found for $550 (at best), more likely for $600, while the S5 costs around $400. Unless you're talking about used phones, though, maybe then you can find them at those prices.

posted on 28 Jul 2014, 11:09 7

13. StraightEdgeNexus (Posts: 3683; Member since: 14 Feb 2014)

Tbh Nokia started the bang for the buck revolution with lumia 520.

posted on 28 Jul 2014, 11:13 5

14. StraightEdgeNexus (Posts: 3683; Member since: 14 Feb 2014)

Please remove that 530 crap, 520 is still a better choice than that pos.

posted on 28 Jul 2014, 11:33

20. Planterz (Posts: 1705; Member since: 30 Apr 2012)

They look pretty similar to me. Slightly better processor but slightly inferior GPU (Adreno 305 vs 302). Less built-in storage on the 530, but both have microSD expansion (I have no idea how WP handles app storage, so I don't know if internal space matters or not).

Both are OK options if one needs a cheap smartphone but doesn't want (or can afford) a big screen or plays graphically intensive games. But there are better Android choices than the 530 for the price (app selection for Android far outstrips WP). The off-contract prices for the 520/521 are tempting for those on an extremely tight budget. I have to admit this, despite being a WP hater, since the Androids at that price are horrible beyond belief, But even for those that are that broke, it's only a couple skipped fast food meals, 6-packs of beer, cans of energy drink, or a pizza delivery away from a far superior device.

posted on 10 Nov 2014, 17:21 1

70. mildorzalost (Posts: 126; Member since: 03 Jun 2014)

530 is faster, open games and apps almost in 1/3 faster

posted on 10 Nov 2014, 19:16 2

84. Venkatramanan (Posts: 302; Member since: 15 Aug 2014)

At this price point no Android device gives better experience. There's no use of having millions of apps in the store if we can't install and use at least 20-30 apps without compromising on the performance. WP gives better and smooth experience with low specd device also.

posted on 10 Nov 2014, 23:29

94. joey_sfb (Posts: 4602; Member since: 29 Mar 2012)

My first hand account with redmi 1s and redmi note say otherwise.

It's a perfect Android experience at rock bottom price. I bought 10 units of redmi s1 for office use and 4 units of redmi note for friend and family members.

posted on 02 Apr 2015, 03:06

111. coldspring22 (Posts: 164; Member since: 28 Feb 2015)

Yes Redmi Note with beefier specs is even better than Redmi 1S or Redmi 2 at just few dollars more. I use it with Tmobile in US and it's been super reliable and smooth.

posted on 28 Jul 2014, 11:24 2

17. jonartpop (Posts: 168; Member since: 25 Oct 2012)

I think Moto G more makes sense than any other low cost devices.

posted on 28 Jul 2014, 11:44

22. justsayit (Posts: 256; Member since: 09 May 2013)

my list
-Nexus 5
-LG G2
-Moto G
-Moto X
-BB Z3
-Oneplus One
-Xperia T2 Ultra
-Desire 816

posted on 28 Jul 2014, 12:09

23. Neo_Huang (Posts: 1067; Member since: 06 Dec 2013)

This list is for ~$200 or less phones. The T2 is ~$400, Nexus ~$300, etc.

posted on 29 Jul 2014, 01:46

64. justsayit (Posts: 256; Member since: 09 May 2013)

atleast all the are close perfect phone right? offer great perform yet didnot cost like high-end phone,to me is affordable
make no sense to spend slightly lower price for a not so good phone right

posted on 10 Nov 2014, 17:52

75. Professor (Posts: 200; Member since: 02 Aug 2013)

My list is even shorter because if it doesn't have LTE capability I don't even consider it worth not even $50.

Affordable: Blu Studio 5.0 LTE ($179)
Best for the price: LG Nexus 5 ($349)
The best: Samsung Note 4

posted on 28 Jul 2014, 12:11 1

24. Neo_Huang (Posts: 1067; Member since: 06 Dec 2013)

Missing the Zenfone 5, Zenfone 6, Nubia Z7 Mini, Redmi, Redmi 1S, Redmi Note, Mi 1, Mi 1S, Mi 2, Mi 2s.

posted on 22 Mar 2015, 07:44

108. lylee73 (Posts: 61; Member since: 18 Mar 2015)

Yeah. Samsung is an absolute crap.

posted on 02 Apr 2015, 03:17

113. coldspring22 (Posts: 164; Member since: 28 Feb 2015)

Yes Redmi Note is easily one of the top budget phones out there at around $160 and with very good hardware and software. There is only one serious short coming with low light camera performance.

posted on 28 Jul 2014, 12:16

25. Totse2k15 (Posts: 368; Member since: 11 Feb 2014)

If you don't talk/text/data much and don't mind 3G, the Moto G Boost Mobile version is one of the best, it is under $100 (Depends on tax). $79.99 sometimes at Target. Flash it to Android 4.4.4 Verizon ROM to use on Page Plus. Great gift for people who do little talk and just want a nice, fair decent specs smartphone.

From my experiences. I owned one.

posted on 28 Jul 2014, 12:16 4

26. WahyuWisnu (Posts: 1001; Member since: 29 May 2014)

PA said that WP is a downside...
#9 Nokia 635
What’s not typical at all is the starting price of just $99.99 off-contract - that’s some 40% cheaper than the practically equally capable Moto G. THE ONLY DOWNSIDE? The Lumia 635 comes with Windows Phone on board, and the platform still lacks some essential apps.

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