With back to school season behind us and Black Friday and Cyber Monday a little ways down the road, this may feel like hardly the best time to make a new Android purchase. Yet low-cost gear tends to be fairly attractive all year round in this day and age, and there’s something about “off-season” buying that sends a vibe of, well, the opposite of cheap.
Admit it, going shopping during the holiday frenzy often makes you feel cheap. Small. Like a hamster running in a wheel. It’s almost as if you don’t want to buy anything, but do it anyway, driven by an eerie outside force.
Well, no more. This year, let’s do our mobile shopping early and kick back and relax as “once-in-a-lifetime” promotions set in. Yeah, right, as if we don’t all know most of the discounts are shameless cons.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a relatively inexpensive Android slab with a strong bang for buck and, most of all, 4G LTE support, we got you covered. Not with once-in-a-lifetime bargains, but a number of fair, lucrative deals nevertheless.
Here we go, some of the best, cheapest 4G LTE-enabled smartphones that you can enjoy on at least one major US network (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint or T-Mobile), or two smaller carriers (Virgin Mobile, Boost, etc.).
7. Sony Xperia SP – available for $238.49 in unlocked flavor with US warranty
We’re not going to beat it around the bush. The Xperia SP has its share of flaws. Most prominently, it currently runs Android 4.3 Jelly Bean and, it’s official, it will never move up to KitKat. Also, it’s pretty old, so some of its internals, primarily the dual-core Snapdragon S4 Pro SoC, may feel a little clunky compared to the 2014 competition.
Still, the SP offers all in all above-average specs for its sub-$250 price tag, and the 4.6-inch 720p display in particular is a classic. It almost hasn’t aged a day.
As far as LTE support goes, you should be covered on T-Mobile and AT&T, at the very least.
6. BLU Studio 5.0 LTE – $182.99 in unlocked variant
Never heard of BLU and don’t intend on picking up a handheld from a “no-name” manufacturer? Well, it’s your loss, because BLU Products is actually a US-based company, not some obscure Chinese cloning outfit.
And their 5-inch Studio is the absolute cheapest of our seven budget contenders today. At least in unlocked form. Besides, for the incredibly low price of $182, you get quad-core Snapdragon 400 power, an 8 MP rear camera with LED flash and pre-loaded Jelly Bean with KitKat on the way.
Oh, and did I mention you can activate the thing on T-Mobile or Metro’s LTE networks, or use it with HSPA+ on AT&T? No-name? Not for long, I would think.
5. LG Volt – $110 on Virgin Mobile prepaid; $113 with Boost Mobile no-contract plans
No, I’m afraid the Volt can’t be purchased unlocked. And it’s not available on any of the “big four” service providers. Which is why it’s only number 5 in our ranks, because otherwise the quality-pricing ratio is amazeballs.
No, the 4.7-inch 960 x 540 pix res display isn’t ideal. And design-wise, the Volt doesn’t astound either, feeling a little chunky at a first glance. But there’s a reason for that. You get a gigantic 3,000 mAh battery under the hood. Bye-bye, nightly charging.
4. Sony Xperia M2 – $265.15 in unlocked GSM variation
Unlike the Xperia SP, which was never in the cards for a podium spot due to its age, Sony’s other budget LTE effort narrowly misses out the bronze medal. Unlucky! Still, you shouldn’t disregard the mid-range 4.8 incher, as it’s likely mere months away from scoring KitKat.
Then there’s the outstanding (by mid-tier standards) 8 MP rear camera with Exmor RS sensor, plus a beefy 2,300 mAh battery, zippy quad-core Snapdragon 400 CPU and slim 8.6 mm profile. Oh, if only the screen were at least 720p.
You probably guessed it already, but just to be sure, let’s mention the M2 is compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile LTE. Sorry, Verizon, sorry, Sprint.
3. HTC Desire 510 – $0.01 with Sprint contracts; $199.99 free of obligations
Finally, some affordable LTE love for Sprint customers. And finally, a phone that’s fully up to date software-wise out the box. Yes, the Desire 510 runs KitKat, but that’s not its only key selling point. There’s also 64-bit, yes, 64-bit power, courtesy of a spanking new quad-core Snapdragon 410 processor.
Too bad without Android L, the beefy chip is forced to stay in 32-bit mode. Still, the performance is mind-blowing… given the price range, you also get 1 GB RAM, decent battery life and a plasticky yet robust and colorful carcass.
2. HTC Desire 610 – $0.01 with AT&T contracts; $200 outright; $180 with GoPhone prepaid plans; $300 factory unlocked
Needless to point out which carrier the Desire 610 is first and foremost compatible with, but let’s add T-Mobile to the list for the factory unlocked model. That’s just one of the reasons the 610 defeated the 510, another very important one being the superior 8 MP rear camera with LED flash.
And the crisper qHD 4.7-inch screen. And the wider palette of youngster-seducing colors. Also, the 610 is slightly thinner and lighter, albeit that sadly leads to weaker battery life as well. Finally, the on-board chip isn’t 64-bit-supporting, but again, even if it were, you couldn’t tell.
1. Motorola Moto G 4G – $200 in unlocked form with universal 4G LTE
What a shocker, huh? Who would have ever expected this overlooked bag of mediocrity to snatch the crown? I’m kidding, of course, as the LTE variation of the first-gen Moto G is the complete opposite of overlooked.
Everyone’s talking about it, everyone craves for it (if they can’t afford the 2014 Moto X, that is), and everyone deems its quality-price ratio a knockout. For crying out loud, the G not only destroys the other six title candidates in head-to-head battles, it fights in a category of its own.
So if the Desire 510 and 610 are budget heavyweights, the Moto G LTE is an ultra-heavyweight. It’s the Batman for their Robin. The Marvel for their DC.
I mean, just look over this spec sheet and find one single flaw: 4.5-inch HD IPS screen, quad-core 1.2 GHz Snapdragon 400 CPU, 1 GB RAM, 8 GB internal storage, microSD support, 5 MP rear camera with LED flash, 1.3 MP front snapper, stock Android 4.4 KitKat, 2,070 mAh battery. Too bad it’s not compatible with Verizon… yet, or Sprint. Just AT&T, T-Mobile, MetroPCS and the gang.