5 Ways Cheap Android Smartphones Beat the Flagships

Bertel King 19-10-2015

Android used to have a budget phone problem.


Customers would try out a cheap, under-powered device that never received updates and conclude from that experience that the entire platform was no good.

But these days you really can get a decent piece of hardware without spending much money. In some ways, owning a cheap Android phone (as long as you pick the right one) has become better than throwing your money at a flagship. Here’s why.

1) Affordability

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Budget phones aren’t going to put nearly as big a dent in your wallet as their far more expensive and luxurious counterparts. You could get a brand new Moto E at launch for around $120. These days you can snag one for half as much. You can pick up several for the cost of a single LG G4.

When an updated model comes along, you can place an order without going in debt. These savings are only magnified if you’re a parent with a teenage child or two who each want their own phone 7 Things My Kids Do Online That I Just Don't Get I have two teenage daughters, and the things they do online make no sense to me. Read More . And you may still end up with cool hardware, like last year’s bezel-less Sharp Aquos Crystal.

2) Better Battery Life

These days, smartphone companies boast about their phone’s ability to make it through a full day of use. That’s fine, but we seem to have forgotten that our mobile phones used to make it through half a week. Apparently once our phones became smarter, they stopped exercising and eating right. They have these powerful brains, but they don’t have the energy to use them.


But here’s the thing — budget phones still tend to get decent battery life. Lower resolution displays don’t have anywhere near the high power requirements of today’s quad-HD screens. Weaker processors can’t offer the power that we find in the top-of-the-line ones, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Plenty of people choose to drive a Prius over a muscle car. Some of us prefer having a Chromebook that can last most of the day Have an Android Device? Chromebooks Are the Perfect Companion Android phones and tablets play really well with Chromebooks -- this is why you'll want both. Read More rather than a desktop replacement that can only last unplugged long enough to make it from one outlet to another.

Power isn’t everything, and if you prioritize having a phone that isn’t close to dying when you’re out at night over being able to frag zombies in full HD, seeing a Snapdragon 410 on a spec sheet instead of the Snapdragon 810 can actually be a plus. You can also pair a weak processor with a ridiculous 5,000mAh battery BLU Studio Energy Review and Giveaway For only $150, the BLU Studio Energy packs a massive 5,000mAH battery that lasts for days - but is it more than just a huge battery? Read More for only $150.

3) Smaller Size

In case you haven’t been paying attention, smartphones are larger than they used to be Phablets Growing In Popularity, Apple Gunning For Switzerland, And More... [Tech News Digest] Also, tweets in space, the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge, cheap Windows tablets, next-generation Minecraft, and Ikea mocks Apple. Read More . Each year we watch as manufactures stretch out their displays by a half an inch or so. In 2009, Motorola and Verizon released the first Droid, a qwerty-device with a 3.7-inch display. In 2013, the Moto X’s display had grown to 4.7 inches, and at the time it was considered a relatively small device. Two years later, the Moto X Pure Edition [Broken URL Removed] now sports a 5.7-inch screen, comparable to the Galaxy Note 5.



Not only that, manufacturers increasingly give their larger phones a more premium feel. If you want the best Nexus phone you can get this holiday season, you will have to spring for the larger Nexus 6P, with its aluminum build and better camera, even if you would prefer the size of the smaller Nexus 5X. Only Sony strives to release a compact device each year that’s roughly on par with its larger alternative.

Apparently bigger is better. I missed the memo, because even though I have longer-than-average fingers, I still prefer smaller phones. They’re easier to use in one hand, I’m less worried about dropping them, and they don’t bulge out of my pockets. These are key aspects I expect from a phone. To me, making smartphones larger makes them worse at being mobile devices.

Fortunately, smaller form factors haven’t gone away, they’re just now the realm of affordable handsets. The Moto X Pure Edition may be a phablet, but the Moto G is nearly an inch smaller, and the cheaper Moto E is relatively tiny these days thanks to its 4.5-inch display.

4) Expandable Memory

Some people don’t particularly care for microSD cards. Others refuse to buy a device that ships without one. Among flagship phones, it’s really a coin toss if any given model will have a microSD slot or not. All of the Galaxy S phones had the option of expandable memory up until this year’s Galaxy S6. The HTC One M7 didn’t have a slot, but the M8 and M9 both launched with one. Nexus devices don’t do slots at all, but Sony devices consistently ship with them.


But when it comes it budget phones, you can almost be certain the device will let you stick in your own microSD card. Granted, this is usually because manufacturers cut costs by sticking only a little bit of memory in cheaper handsets, which limits how many apps you can have installed.

But if you don’t play that many games and mostly just want storage space for music and photos, the microSD slot found in budget handsets won’t let you down. And with microSD cards now reaching up to 200GB, the option of expandable memory will always leave you with the capacity to carry more files than if you were limited to internal storage only.

5) Peace of Mind

You won’t see this on a spec sheet, but there’s a certain degree of comfort that comes from knowing that if you drop your phone in the river while kayaking with friends, it isn’t the end of the world. You’re not going to have to spend a month’s paycheck replacing the device, and you won’t have to start shopping for used handsets Thinking of Buying a Used Smartphone? 6 Things To Consider Don't want to be stuck with a long-term carrier contract or simply can't afford to fork out the full price of a brand new smartphone? Whatever your reasons, the following are a few things that... Read More  either.

You can also pull out your phone in any part of town without attracting attention to your wealth. A thief knows he or she can get decent money selling off your Galaxy S6 Edge, but no one is really going to hand over that much money for an obscure Blu phone that no one knows about (speaking of which, the Blu Vivo Air and Pure XL don’t look half bad).



This peace of mind gives you the freedom to go where you want and do what you want to do without worrying if your phone will hold you back. This is good. Your phone should adapt to your life, not the other way around.

Some Recommendations

So you’re ready to give a low-end to mid-range phone a try? Slow down. Picking up just any Android handset remains risky business. Many budget phones will never see a major software update. Walking into the carrier store and picking the cheapest phone is still likely to leave you with a piece of junk.

The easiest recommendation right now is the 3rd generation Moto G [Broken URL Removed]. At a starting price of $180, you get a smartphone with the size and build-quality to leave people thinking you spent more on it than you did. Though if you want to spend less money or grab something with a smaller size, the cheaper Moto E is the best device you can buy in its price range. Either way, you’re getting a competent product from a well-known mobile brand.

If you want something big and powerful, go for the Asus ZenFone 2 ASUS ZenFone 2 Review and Giveaway As more people are fed up with smartphones that cost well over $600, some manufacturers are taking notice. ASUS brings us the ZenFone 2, a $299 phone with internal specs that easily trump its competitors. Read More . You’re getting a good deal of power too for $200. Making the leap to $300 even gets you 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage!

Want a phone with a bit more personality? The HTC Desire line will give you the look of the HTC One, minus the premium metal build. You still get customization like Sense 6 and BlinkFeed, the manufacturer’s news-centric home screen. The Desire 626 goes for a little more than $200.

And at $180 for the 4.7-inch model or $250 for the 5.5-inch one, the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 isn’t a bad buy either.

Is It Worth It?

Good Android phones continue to get cheaper and cheaper, and even some flagships are coming down in price. Still, phones that are marketed as low-end or mid-range will always come with some tradeoffs. The screen resolution won’t be as high. The speakers may not be as loud. The camera certainly won’t take comparable pictures.

But let’s be honest — many of today’s phones are simply excessive. It’s okay if your pocket computer doesn’t have a leather back, aluminum siding, and a screen that’s made of sapphire. It’s perfectly fine if your phone is small and cheap. Does it do what you need it to do? Perfect.

What are your thoughts on budget Android phones? Have you been pleasantly surprised by one? Do they still leave you feeling disappointed? What about the flagships? Express yourself in the comments below.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. ablequerque
    September 3, 2016 at 10:06 am

    General Mobile 5 Plus is pretty good too.

  2. Anonymous
    February 4, 2016 at 10:47 pm

    Where the flagship phones went wrong is that they are trying to be too much like iPhones by copying the worst features.

    No expandable memory.
    No removable battery.
    Too high price.

    • Paul
      February 18, 2018 at 2:44 am

      iPhones. They call 'em iBricks where I come from. Drop it and oh dear, it's either bricked or bricken. Either way yer stuffed.

  3. Anonymous
    October 27, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    I'm looking for a cheap Android phone that is easy and cheap to replace the screen - for my kids. Most of the newer models from the off-brands are fast, powerful and clear enough for my kids. My biggest problem is broken screens - my kids break them often. Finding cheap, easy to replace 3rd party screens for iPhones and Samsungs is easy. It's much harder to find and then replace the screen on Lenovo, Asus, Akai and other phone models. Anyone have experience?

    • christine
      December 26, 2015 at 9:27 pm

      LG L 34C.It is a good little phone. I got it on amazon for $30.00. i use Tracfone and I am happy with it.

  4. Anonymous
    October 27, 2015 at 3:29 am

    I've bought several low cost phones from Ali-Express in China and everyone has been good value for money whether at the $70 price point to the $200 price point. They all have a slot for 32gb micro SD card, they all have OTG USB, they all have a user replaceable battery and they vary from dual, quad to octa core with display sizes from 4 inches to 7 inch phablets. They all support GSM/WCDMA with dual SIM slots.

    Even a dated 4 year old phone running Version 2 sofware has been recycled for use as a talking book MP3 player for the simple reason MP3 players don't remember where you stopped listening for the night when you turn it on again next evening. I wanted a small MP4 video player but not as big as a 7 inch tablet and low and behold, I found a 7 inch phablet for $43 in China and I can stuff 30+ movies on it for watching in bed without disturbing the wife or on a plane. Sure I could use this phablet as a phone but I'm more than happy with my 5.5 inch octa core phone so its just a cheap 7 inch media player.

    One feature I've never managed to successfully use is GPS on phones and I'd rather use my dedicated GPS which is intuitive to use unlike GPS apps on Android.

  5. Anonymous
    October 20, 2015 at 11:35 pm

    I have a Moto E which I got from Ting on the Sprint network, which just updated to Lollipop over the weekend. Yes, it isn't Marshmallow, on the other hand, I paid less than $100USD for it, and if I turn off WiFi when I am out of range and turn off GPS, I can go for 3 days even under KitKat! I only update with WiFi and do minimal voice or text messaging, mainly checking email and weather during breaks at work.

  6. Anonymous
    October 20, 2015 at 5:07 pm

    Just picked up a ZenFone2 for $400 with: 128GB onboard storage, 4GB RAM, quadcore 2.3GHz Intel x64 proc, uSD slot (up to 128GB), dual-SIM, Android 5.0.

    Trivial to root (<3 XDA). Battery lasts 3 days if I don't play games on it.

  7. Anonymous
    October 20, 2015 at 4:24 pm

    The Moto G is also a strong contender on UK bargain hunting site HotUKdeals.

    Even the real bottom end models are more powerful than the flagships of not that many years ago, my first was a Huawei Y330, and while it's easy to criticize the spec (512MB RAM, 4GB ROM, no selfie cam), it was a good intro, and I got a cheap as chips PAYG upgrade deal on it.
    Out of the 4GB storage, there was no silly app partition, so the entire free storage (about 2GB) could be used for apps - more than on my 8GB TAB with a pitiful 828MB app partition.

    Moving up the Huawei range, that have some decent midrange models (1GB RAM etc.) at low prices.

    There are also potential bargains in strange Chinese names such as Elephone.

    Finally though, I ended up with a pretty decent Sony Xperia Z1 - brand new from Outlet store at a lower price than many were charging for used models - ok, so it's not the latest, but I was pretty much looking for Z1-Z3 as there is not a massive difference - some minor improvements in some areas.

    Size - a compromise - at the same price, had a choice of Z1 or Z1 Compact, and while I was originally favouring the compact, moving on from a Sony C902, after a spell with Android on the Y330, I knew I wanted as much screen real estate as would comfortably fit in hand and pocket - I tend to do more screen use than phone use on it, compared to the painfully small screen of the C902

  8. Anonymous
    October 20, 2015 at 12:04 am

    I love this article. I second everything you said.

    Have you heard about Android One series?
    You can get an Android One device for 80-90 USD. It's been over a year since it was launched. But it received official Marshmallow last week. Isn't it worth mentioning while flagship phones are still waiting in the queue?

    Android One is 4.5 inch IPS screen with 218 PPI , Quad core MT 1.3 Ghz processor, Mali 400 MP2, and 1 GB RAM.
    Dual SIM, dual standby 2G+3G supporting both US and European bands. Proximity, Light, and Accelerometer sensors.
    1700 mAh battery that lasts a day on moderate usage.
    2 MP + 5 MP camera with Flash, the quality is above average (seriously).
    4GB inbuilt memory and SD expansion available.

    All these for 80-90 USD, Brand New Phone.

    Isn't this better than premium phones which use gimmicks to lure people, with features we hardly or never even use?

    People need to maintain their status by flaunting bigger and costlier phones. They shy away from such devices not because of the specs, but the price tag.

    I made the mistake of buying S4 mini in 2013 which didn't even get Lollipop. I won't do such a mistake again in 2016. *Feeling Determined*

    • Chinmay Sarupria
      October 20, 2015 at 12:07 pm

      Your S4 mini didn't got update and my flagship S4 didn't even got KitKat let alone Lollipop. I got 2 S4's one got Lollipop and the other is stuck at Jelly Bean. The only phone in the world that is guaranteed to get update is iPhone.

    • Bertel King
      October 20, 2015 at 1:35 pm

      Ack! How could I have forgotten to mention Android One? I've covered those devices since launch, and I'm glad to see Google working with manufacturers and carriers to make phones affordable.

      Thing is, I live in the US, so I tend to forget about Android One when I'm not writing about it. I've never seen any of the hardware in person. Still, I'm very glad you brought it up.

  9. Anonymous
    October 19, 2015 at 7:47 pm

    Finally, an article not about glorifying flagship phones. I love my LG Ultimate 2 on the Tracfone network. Gives me everything I need in a smart phone: email, maps, podcasts, and camera. I am surprised how good the camera actually does on this, as long as the lighting is good(which is a common Android phone complaint even on flagships). The phone cost me $100 and it included Tracfones one year of service which normally cost $100! So in essence the phone was free. All in all, I don't see anything that I can't do on this phone and the battery under moderate use is about two days. With high use, GPS for example, a day at most. It's only KitKat, and I know I'll never get OS updates, there are some third party ROM's available but have not tried them yet.

  10. Anonymous
    October 19, 2015 at 7:21 pm

    LG's flagship phones do still have proper storage card access. This is as far as I'm aware a feature unique to LG at this point.

    Down sides for inexpensive phones include availability of accessories and replacement parts. This can mean not being able to find a grippy case or a new screen.

    • Bertel King
      October 20, 2015 at 1:39 pm

      You're right, it can be frustrating shopping for accessories for budget phones. Even when options do exist, they aren't necessarily good. I don't usually put cases on my phones, and I'm less inclined to do so with the options available for cheaper devices. That said, I'm much less bummed if I drop a budget phone than an expensive one.

  11. Anonymous
    October 19, 2015 at 6:43 pm

    I used to love my Nexus 4 (~$225)! Now I effs with my 64GB OnePlus One (~$365).

    As a frugal guy, it took me a lot to purchase a OPO, but I had an invite, my Nexus 4 was aging (and I thought, at the time, damaged and no longer in warranty). So I spent the money and don't regret it.

    I could never see myself paying any more than that, though. People are twice that on phones that do the same damn thing and it's blowing my mind.

    • Bertel King
      October 20, 2015 at 1:44 pm

      I paid around $600 for an HTC One M7. It was the first flagship device I ever owned, and I loved it. Then it stopped getting updates, and the thought of spending that much every two years to keep using the newest model was too much. Fortunately the options have improved enough that I don't have to spend a lot of money to keep up with the latest Android updates.

    • Ed
      September 13, 2016 at 8:23 am

      Bertel King why spend "every two years to keep using the newest model " if the one you have still works and does the job? Is it just to have the latest thing? That is exactly what they want you to do.....................

    • Eddie
      September 13, 2016 at 8:25 am

      Bertel King,

      Why do you need to spend "every two years to keep using the newest model " when the model you have works fine and does everything? Is it just to have the latest? That is just what they want you to do..................