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Best prepaid sub-$100 Android smartphones – April 2014

So you’re in the market for some Android-powered goodies, but don’t care coughing up a fortune to score the best of the best. In fact, you only got one little Benjamin to spend. Of course, 100 clams is 100 too much for a host of wickedly fast high-end smartphones, including LG’s G2 or HTC’s 2013 One, as long as signing up to a 24-month carrier agreement is an option.

Top-Cheap-Prepaid-Phones

But what if it isn’t? Well, you could always grab one of the dirt-cheap tablets we recommended a while back. Or, better yet, why compromise when most major carriers stateside have either made the move to prepaid, or are working on it?

The advantages of prepaid plans? Need I even say it? Fine, you’re not bound to a network you may grow tired of, there’s no mandatory contract and, well, no early termination fees. Bottom line, prepaid equals freedom. And affordability.

100 Dollar Bill

Sure, that hundred bucks won’t get you cutting edge performance, quad-core processors or Full HD displays, yet our picks of the best low-cost prepaid smartphones around are poised to come in handy as backup devices for power users or primary handhelds for casual mobile enjoyers. Here they all are, in reverse order of pizazz:

7. Kyocera Hydro Edge – available for $79.99 at Boost Mobile

Why it’s one of the best:

  • Water and dust resistant thanks to IP57 certification
  • It’s surprisingly light for a water-shielded device, tipping the scales at 128 grams
  • Also fairly thin, at 10 mm
  • Packs 1 GB RAM
  • 5 MP rear-facing camera with LED Flash, burst mode, HDR and Panorama

Kyocera Hydro Edge

Why it’s not the best:

  • It might be light and thin, but the overall design doesn’t work in its favor, with massive front bezels and a funky, weird back cover
  • Dated, laggy dual-core 1 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon chip
  • Only 4 GB built-in storage
  • No front cam
  • Tiny 1,600 mAh battery
  • No 4G LTE support

Kyocera_Hydro_Edge_2

Neutral points:

  • 4-inch 800 x 480 pixels resolution display
  • Android 4.1 Jelly Bean with no KitKat update in sight

6. ZTE Awe – $63.99 with Virgin Mobile

Strong suits:

  • It’s the cheapest of the bunch
  • Offers a lot of RAM for its price range: 1 gig
  • 5 MP rear-facing camera with LED flash and 1.2 MP front snapper
  • Dual-core 1.2 GHz Snapdragon S4 Plus (not the zippiest around, but again, considering the price range, it’s quite enthralling)
  • Incredibly light and comfortable to hold (125 grams)

Virgin Mobile Awe

Flaws:

  • No 4G LTE speeds
  • 4 GB storage
  • It’s currently on sale at $64, so it could become pricier any minute
  • Main camera lacks autofocus
  • Skinny 1,650 mAh battery, yet chunky 10 mm thick figure

Virgin_Mobile_Awe_2

Neutral points:

  • 4-inch 480 x 800 display
  • Android 4.1 Jelly Bean with no KitKat in sight

5. ZTE Radiant – $80 with AT&T GoPhone

Strong points:

  • Dual-core 1.4 GHz processor
  • 5 MP rear-facing camera with LED Flash and digital zoom
  • 1 GB RAM

AT&T Radiant

Downsides:

  • Lackluster design, a lot of wasted space on the front between the logos, bezels and capacitive buttons
  • Chunky and bulky, at 147 grams weight and 11 mm waist
  • Modest 1,735 mAh battery
  • No 4G LTE
  • No front-facing camera, rear-facing snapper lacks autofocus

Neutral points:

  • 4-inch 480 x 800 screen
  • Android 4.1 Jelly Bean

4. ZTE Source – $99.98 with Cricket Wireless

Why it’s one of the best:

  • It offers plenty of screen real estate, courtesy of a 4.5-inch TFT panel
  • Supports 4G LTE connectivity
  • It’s handsome in a retro way, despite also wasting a lot of precious space with pointless screen borders
  • 5 MP primary camera with LED Flash, BSI sensor, autofocus and digital zoom
  • 1.2 MP secondary shooter
  • 1 GB RAM
  • Spacious 2,070 mAh battery

ZTE Source

Why it’s not the all-around best:

  • Like Virgin’s Awe, it’s $100 as part of a limited-time promotion, and thus will probably be more expensive soon
  • The display may be large, but it’s very low-quality, as it sports 854 x 480 pixels resolution for a cringe worthy 218 ppi
  • Coverage could be an issue, as Cricket isn’t exactly a leading mobile operator
  • 4 GB on-board storage

ZTE Source-2

Neutral points:

  • 1.2 GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 Plus processor
  • Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean

3. Samsung Galaxy Legend, aka Stellar – $99.99 with Verizon prepaid

Strong suits:

  • Rounded corners and glossy rears may not be upsides for high-enders, but for a low-ender, they’re okay
  • 4G LTE support
  • 1 GB RAM
  • Fantastic battery life, thanks to a 2,100 mAh juicer
  • It is a Samsung and might prove more reliable on the long haul than, say, a ZTE
  • 1.3 MP front-facing cam

Samsung Galaxy Legend

Flaws:

  • 12 mm profile? You’re lucky you carry that gigantic battery around!
  • 3.2 MP rear-facing camera sans Flash
  • 4 GB storage

Galaxy Legend

Neutral points:

  • Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and run-of-the-mill 800 x 480 pixels resolution display

2. Kyocera Hydro XTRM – available for $99.99 at US Cellular

Why it’s the second best:

  • The design of rugged devices isn’t quite everyone’s cup of tea, but who can’t appreciate the benefits of a water and dust-resilient handheld with, wait for it, MIL-STD-810G military certification for resistance to humidity, rain, solar radiation, transport and thermal shock?
  • 4G LTE data capability
  • 5 MP rear camera with LED flash, autofocus and geo-tagging
  • 1.3 MP front snapper
  • Massive 2,000 mAh battery supposedly capable of holding a charge for up to 12 hours in talk time

Hydro XTRM

Why it’s the second best (get it?):

  • Not exactly a looker, due mostly to rugged reinforcements
  • 4 GB storage

Kyocera Hydro XTRM

Neutral points:

  • Same old Android build and 4-inch display
  • Dual-core 1.2 GHz CPU

1. Motorola Moto G – $80 with US Cellular, $99.99 on Verizon and Sprint

Why it’s the best of the best:

  • It’s got by far the highest resolution display of the “magnificent seven” – 1,280 x 720 – plus, it’s huge: 4.5 inches
  • Corning Gorilla Glass 3 protection
  • Remember when I told you $100 can’t possibly buy quad-core power? I lied, the G comes with a quad 1.2 GHz Snapdragon 400 in tow
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • 1 GB RAM
  • 8 GB storage (16 GB versions also available for some extra dough)
  • 2,070 mAh battery
  • 5 MP/1.3 MP cams
  • Bluetooth 4.0

Moto_G

How it could have been better (read downright epic):

  • 4G LTE
  • microSD support
  • A couple of mm shaved off its profile

Moto G-2

Aaand that’s a wrap. We’d love to hear your thoughts on our list, including how we messed it up and who we unjustly snubbed. Let your voices be heard.