Smartphones are expensive. It’s an undeniable, incontestable, impossible to fight with fact of life. Like the sky is blue, the grass green and “Breaking Bad’s” Walter White Heisenberg the most badass, evil, diabolic yet charismatic character ever to be featured in a cable TV show.
But is it really an undeniable fact of life? No, not the part about Bryan Cranston’s small-screen persona, but the one about smartphones. Do they really need to be expensive? They don’t, which is as clear as crystal in China or India, where the most popular gadgets are entry-level and mid-rangers, not high-enders.
Meanwhile, in America, just like essentially anywhere else on the Western hemisphere, it’s like you’re invisible if you don’t own the latest and greatest slabs of silicon out and about. The latest, greatest and priciest, most of which go for well north of $600 off-contract.
Well, I’d like to revolt against this way of thinking today and instead of turning the Galaxy Note 3, Sony Xperia Z1, LG G2, etc, etc inside out for the umpteenth time, I’ll recommend you five of the best low to mid-end smartphones around.
Just to be clear, only handhelds released this year have been taken into consideration for this piece, devices available for below 250 bucks outright and that can be found easily in the US sans contractual obligations. Here it goes:
5. Samsung Galaxy Fame
Everything about Fame’s appearance screams modesty, from the outdated rounded corners to the cheap, plasticky chassis, but when you can score the little guy for a measly $170, can you really complain? I think not, more so as the list of features is not quite cringeworthy.
Pretty close, “courtesy” of a 1 GHz processor, 512 MB RAM, 3.5-inch 480 x 320 pix res display and 4 GB of on-board storage, but on the cheerful side of things Android 4.1 Jelly Bean runs the software show, plus you get a decent 5 MP camera slapped on Galaxy Fame’s back and even a secondary front-facing VGA snapper.
4. LG Optimus L5 II
As confusing as it might be to keep tabs of all of LG’s Optimus L-series devices, if you’re on a tight budget you’ll want to remember the L5 II. Visually striking from a mile away, this thing is about as light and slim as entry-level phones come nowadays, tipping the scales at 103 grams and measuring 9.2 mm in thickness.
And that’s all while sporting a fairly spacious 4-inch screen, mind you, which in turn boasts a decent 800 x 480 pixels resolution. So why is it only number four on this list again? Simple, it’s powered by a laggy 1 GHz MediaTek CPU, coupled with 512 MB RAM, plus it packs a sub-par 1,700 mAh battery. Too bad about the Android 4.1 running, eh?
3. Sony Xperia M
Premium design and excellent specs are what make the Xperia M a prime candidate for the low to mid-end throne, but, at least compared to the Optimus L5 II, it’s a tad pricey, costing roughly $250 in an unlocked, SIM-free variation.
Not that it’s not worth it. It is, or close enough, since again, it’s quite the looker, weighing in at 115 grams, measuring 9.3 mm in thickness and rocking a beautiful, industrial, sharp-edged design. Plus, its display is not only spacious (4 inches) and crisp (854 x 480 pixels), but also covered in scratch-resistant glass.
Other features include an outstanding (considering) dual-core Snapdragon S4 Plus CPU, 1 gig of RAM (nice), 5 MP rear camera (meh) and 1,750 mAh battery (meh one more time).
2. LG Optimus F3
I know what you’re thinking. This is no featherweight, weighing a whopping 140 grams while being a 4-incher just like the L5 II and Xperia M. Right, but listen to this: it comes with a 2,460 mAh battery in tow. Whaaaat?
It’s true, the Galaxy S4 barely tops this fellow’s ticker size, while the Galaxy S3 is shamefully and quite clearly trounced. Presumably, F3’s impressive battery life is what’s convinced a number of leading US carriers to pick it up (with prepaid plans), including T-Mobile and Virgin Mobile.
Sadly, the rest of the specs – dual-core 1.2 GHz CPU, 4 GB storage, 5 MP camera – don’t live up to the 2,460 mAh cell, which does however help the pricing bar stay low: $150 via MetroPCS ($100 after rebate), $153 through Virgin.
1. Samsung Galaxy Ace 3
And the winner, ladies and gentlemen, is a phone that’s barely two months old. Available both with 3G only and LTE speeds, as well as in dual-SIM and NFC-enabled variants, I’m afraid you’ll have to make do without all those connectivity options if $250 is all you’re willing to cough up.
But fret not, as even the 3G, non-NFC flavor is pretty awesome, rocking a Galaxy S4-like design, 4-inch 480 x 800 pix res panel, dual-core processor, 1 GB RAM, 5 MP rear-facing camera and, best of all, pre-loaded Android 4.2 Jelly Bean.
And you can bet your asses 4.3 JB and/or 4.4 KitKat are coming soon, knowing Sammy’s history with software updates.
That’s a wrap, dear readers, but as usual, we welcome all the feedback, comments, criticism and praising (especially praising) you’re willing to send our way. Do you agree with the above list? Would you change the order? Add a few names while skipping others? Sound off below.