Affordable, not cheap: 8 best low-cost smartphones (February 2016)


When we speak phones, some people just don't find it reasonable to spend $600+ dollars on a phone that will get old in a matter of a year, if not a few months. Yet, those same people don't want a phone they will struggle living with. They want the full smartphone experience: the camera, the apps, and the speed. 


With technology advancing at a crazy fast pace, the answer is a definite '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 an extremely alluring design.

But which 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 phones you can get right now, in February 2016, and let us know which you think is the best low-cost smartphone.


#8: Huawei P8 Lite


Price: $170

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.


#7: Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 (4.7" | 5.5")


Price: $170 | $180
*compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile, but NOT with Sprint or Verizon

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 $170 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.


#6: Moto G (2nd gen)


Price: $100

The 2014 edition of the Moto G has gone down in price to the incredible $100 and at that price, it's clearly a steal. The weakest point of the 2014 Moto G is its so-so design: this is a plastic phone that is built in a solid manner, but can't brag about being good-looking. Camera is not particularly inspiring, but not bad either.

Let's get back to reality, though: this is a $100 phone and for a $100 phone it's brilliant. Where it does shine is performance and a fairly recent version of Android. The Moto G runs a very clean and well-running skin, has a display that looks very good considering the price and its battery lasts through the day. 


#5: Asus Zenfone 2


Price: $200

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.


#4: honor 5X


Price: $200

Honor, a new name in the United States, is a sub-brand of Chinese Huawei, and it plans to make a big entry to the US market in 2016. It starts with the honor 5x, a 5-inch affordable phone that brings a very good-looking metal body and a fingerprint scanner, two features usually found on much more expensive phones.

It is a 5.5" phone with a Full HD display and it runs on the Snapdragon 615 system chip, which might not be a titan in terms of performance, but it's still decent and we can't complain. The honor 5X comes with a fairly generous 3,000mAh battery as well, which lasts around a day (average for the class). The honor custom user interface on top of Android 5.1 is a bit unusual and does not feel well-polished. At the end of the day, though, it is about value for the money, and those look like non-major issues. And if you're after looks and the fingerprint scanner, this would be a great affordable option.

Note: The honor 5X does support all AT&T 4G LTE bands, but lacks support for T-Mobile's band 12, which means that if you use T-Mobile in particular states and places, you won't get solid 4G LTE connectivity.


#3: Motorola Moto G (2015, 3rd gen)


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.


#2: OnePlus X


Price: $250

OnePlus has made quite the stir with its excessive media presence and annoying invitation system, but one just cannot deny: the OnePlus X - its affordable phone - is a thing of exquisite beauty. A slim and stylish phone with a metal frame and glass front and back, it looks unlike anything in the under-$250 price range.

Now that the OnePlus X is on sale without the need for an invitation, it's easy to recommend: it features a (slightly bluish) 5" 1080p AMOLED display, runs on the super fast Snapdragon 801 system chip, features a clean and mostly well optimized version of Android 5.1, features a very good camera for its class. Battery life is not particularly outstanding and heavy users might not make it through a full day, but for its price, it's easily one of the finest you can buy.

Note: 4G LTE connectivity on the OnePlus X is very limited. In particular, it does not support AT&T's band 17, nor T-Mobile's band 12. For AT&T, lack of band 17 support means that in most markets, you won't get any 4G LTE connectivity, and will have to rely on slower HSPA speeds. For T-Mobile, band 12 is its main band in only some markets, so it really depends on your location - in some places you will get LTE, but in many others you won't be able to use 4G LTE.


#1: LG G Flex 2


Price: $200 - $250

Our top pick for the best affordable phone you can buy at the moment is easily the LG G Flex 2. A top-tier phone from last year, the LG G Flex 2 has dropped surprisingly sharply in price and you can get it for less than $250.

This is not only the cheapest phone to buy running the Snapdragon 810 system chip (keep in mind that this is the first version of the chip that runs a bit hot in games and tougher tasks), but the phone itself can be flexed slightly without breaking and features a self healing back. Everything else about it is above all devices in this class: its performance, its camera, its battery life and the overall experience.

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29 Comments

1. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

Alcatel idol 3 5.5 is powered by a SD 615 not SD400... at least in Canada.

5. Cdowd85

Posts: 17; Member since: Aug 06, 2013

I believe the 4.7" model runs the SD 400. The 5.5" one here also runs the sd615

14. MSi_GS70 unregistered

the worst SD along with 810...

16. NoToFanboys

Posts: 3231; Member since: Oct 03, 2015

Yup, those two are the worst, because the internet says so, everything on the internet is true.

23. p51d007

Posts: 705; Member since: Nov 24, 2013

I've been running a SD400 on my Huawei Ascend Mate2 for around 18 months. Works great!

19. zeeBomb

Posts: 2318; Member since: Aug 14, 2014

Idol 3 5.5 inch is easily top 3...heck would take over the one plus x and pit that 4th behind mxpe and moto g3

2. hurrycanger

Posts: 1766; Member since: Dec 01, 2013

The Flex 2 is worth every penny. I've been using one for half a year and I love it. Just make sure you update it to 5.1, because my unit lagged badly on 5.0.x when I first bought it.

20. zeeBomb

Posts: 2318; Member since: Aug 14, 2014

How's the performance? Any stutters? Battery life? Throttling? Any developers doing ROMs n stuff on it?

3. dazed1

Posts: 805; Member since: Jul 28, 2015

Redmi Note 3 pro?!??! Redm 3? Facepalm.jpg...

29. angelod90

Posts: 12; Member since: Jun 16, 2015

Wondering how it is not here? Unless the list is for US only. Easily one of the most powerful in the budget category

4. jellmoo

Posts: 2628; Member since: Oct 31, 2011

Please, please, please stop recommending the OnePlus X without at least mentioning the LTE compatibility issues a lot of people are likely to experience.

6. GreenMan

Posts: 2698; Member since: Nov 09, 2015

A Snapdragon 810 for 200 Bucks is indeed insane! BTW, I never actually heard much about Atom Processors... Do they run on X86? BTW 64GB Memory and 4 Gigs of RAM sound promising! And lets not forget the fact that intel is an old player in processor game... I've a 2003 IBM with 1.4Ghz Pentium 4 CPU (Most of you are probably too young to recognize it) and that thing still ticks!

17. ibend

Posts: 6747; Member since: Sep 30, 2014

yes, zenfone with atom is running android x86.. it doesnt have any problem running app or game, and it have great GPU

7. TMHKR

Posts: 202; Member since: Dec 08, 2012

G Flex 2 = affordable?! In my country it's over $350!

11. TerryTerius unregistered

Compared to a top-end flagship like the S6 edge+, note 5 or iPhone 6s Plus that is indeed affordable. I would assume that those devices are far more expensive in your country.

8. Coconut00

Posts: 485; Member since: Jan 13, 2015

I love how they recommend phones they gave low ratings on their reviews.

12. TerryTerius unregistered

Depends, according to their rating scale score around seven is supposed to be average.

15. Coconut00

Posts: 485; Member since: Jan 13, 2015

Still, their #2 best affordable smartphone is something they found to be just average in their review.

22. TerryTerius unregistered

Yeah. But I guess that depends on how you're looking at it. If the overall quality of smart phones is increasing, having a phone that is merely good all-around without excelling in any noticeable way would only be average. Whereas something like the S6 family, note 5, v10 or nexus 6p would be a standout. I'm presuming that's the logic they are using.

9. Punchy506

Posts: 129; Member since: Jan 10, 2016

No MXPE, lame

13. jellmoo

Posts: 2628; Member since: Oct 31, 2011

A great device, but it's priced considerably higher than anything else on this list.

10. alexvv

Posts: 165; Member since: Oct 16, 2013

p8 lite runs lollipop and will be updated to marshmallow, get your facts straight

18. ibend

Posts: 6747; Member since: Sep 30, 2014

so you're recommending phone with 6/10 (honor 5X), and 6.5/10 (Huawei P8 Lite) rating? lol best cheap phone should include redmi 3, redmi note 3 (snapdragon version), meizu m1 metal, meizu m2 note, and lenovo k4 note

21. WallStreet

Posts: 256; Member since: Sep 21, 2014

A xiaomi or meizu phone should really make this rank. They're not some cheap brands anymore

24. AZNHA unregistered

my zenfone 2 still in good condition much smoother with monthly updates

25. Joshing4fun

Posts: 1246; Member since: Aug 13, 2010

It's all just last years midrange phones. Kind of a pointless article then.

28. tomn1ce

Posts: 247; Member since: Mar 12, 2012

For those who can't afford the top of the line smartphone this is a good article to point them to or at least mention all these devices if they're looking to buy a good phone for a good price. Besides not everyone need all the bells and whistles that come with a flagship device.

26. martinjhm271

Posts: 45; Member since: Aug 16, 2015

zenfone 2 is the best option

27. AmirBudi

Posts: 88; Member since: Mar 21, 2014

No Samsung ?

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