No way to escape from it, no reason to want to in the first place and no way to deny it. The age of the uber-cheap smartphones is upon us and, before you know it, the ruthless spec wars will be replaced by price and bang for buck wars.
And we owe it all to a group of ambitious, up-and-coming mobile phone manufacturers based in China. A few of them in Taiwan. But mostly in China. Lenovo, Huawei, ZTE, Oppo, Meizu, Coolpad, Xiaomi, they’re all looking to make it in the Wild West, and the only winning card they have against heavyweights such as Samsung, Apple, Sony, LG or HTC is affordability.
Even better, affordability sans too many corners being cut. True, gadgets conceived by the above are still few and far between on most West European or American store shelves. Which is why we’ve compiled a little guide featuring five of their best low-cost handhelds available in the US of A.
And by available, we mean up for grabs via a legit, trustworthy retailer or third-party Amazon seller. Unfortunately, our list is light on sub-$200 smash hits like the recently unveiled Xiaomi Hongmi, Huawei Honor 3X or ZTE Redbull. But surely you’ll find $240 or $260 is not a lot to ask for these budget-conscious powerhouses:
5. Huawei Honor 3C – $255
Damn import taxes! Were the Honor 3C to land stateside at a price point comparable to its retail value in China, the 5 incher would have no doubt topped our list. With ease. I mean, $255 is pretty decent, but $130 is outright unbelievable.
Granted, design ain’t 3C’s strongest suit, with an odd, much too squarish chassis making it look, well, repugnant. However, the spec sheet is impressive, and I’m sure many of you care about hardware more than aesthetics.
There’s a quad-core 1.3 GHz MediaTek chip inside the hood, 1 GB RAM, spacious 2,300 mAh battery (considering the razor-thin profile), plus the display boasts 1,280 x 720 pixels (aka HD) resolution. Oh, and the cameras are beauts, packing 8 and, get this, 5 MP sensors. With LED flash on the rear. Not bad, huh?
4. ZTE V987 – $217
Stuck on Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and unlikely to ever get promoted to KitKat, the 5-inch handheld also known as the Grand X Quad is in many ways similar to the Honor 3C. Nearly identical. But it’s cheaper, so it was this close to making the podium.
The juicer is larger too, at 2,500 mAh, which is no easy feat since V987’s profile is skinnier. On the not so bright side, the MediaTek CPU is clocked a little lower (i.e. 1.2 GHz), and the front snapper isn’t exactly ideal for selfies, thanks to a mediocre 1.3 megapixel count.
3. Huawei Honor 2 – $188
Clearly older than the 3C, the second-gen Honor (aka Glory 2) trumps its spin-off as it’s bizarrely both cheaper and punchier. Too bad it’s so old, having seen daylight in October 2012, and barely upgraded to Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, with no KitKat in sight.
But boy oh boy, is the hardware config a whopper given Honor 2’s price range. 2 GB RAM?!? I actually double and triple-checked that tidbit, as I didn’t believe it was possible. Yet it is. Also, Huawei’s homebrewed K3V2 processor may well outperform MediaTek’s low-cost SoCs.
And yes, I realize the smaller footprint (4.5-inch panel here, not 5 incher) could be deemed an inconvenience by many. In my book though, a compact form factor is an upside, and so is superior pixel density – 326 ppi.
Ending things on a low note, let’s mention Huawei’s Honor 2 measures 10.5 mm thick and tips the scales at 145 grams, which doesn’t quite spell sophistication.
2. Lenovo S930 – $244
I won’t lie to you, one of the reasons I saved two Lenovo devices for the top spots here is I trust them probably more than Huawei, ZTE, Xiaomi and Meizu combined. They really mean business, taking over for Google as Motorola’s management, and I reckon they’re the biggest Chinese threat for Samsung and Apple’s shared world domination.
Of course, brand reliability and awareness isn’t everything in this business, so good thing the S930 is a well-balanced gizmo spec-wise too. Personally, I’m no fan of gargantuan 6-inch phablets. But I get why people love them.
Now, the S930 is big, has a massive 3,000 mAh battery keeping the lights on, a quad-core 1.3 GHz MediaTek chip, 8 MP rear-facing camera, 8 GB built-in storage, microSD card slot, dual SIM support, Dolby Digital Plus sound enhancement system (neato), and pre-loaded Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, with a 4.4 KitKat bump imminent. That’s what I call bang for buck.
1. Lenovo P780 – $235
It doesn’t take an in-depth knowledge of the mobile tech world to tell what P780’s main selling point is: mind-blowing autonomy. Courtesy of a 4,000 mAh battery (sic), the 5 incher can supposedly last a record-breaking 25 hours in continuous 3G talk time and 840 hours (!!!) in stand-by on a single charge.
All-day battery life? How about all-week battery? The 1 GB RAM and 8 MP primary shooter definitely help P780’s cause, proving it’s not just a stellar slab endurance-wise, albeit the VGA front cam and 4 GB on-board storage are disappointing.
So is Android 4.2 Jelly Bean… at the moment, though I bet KitKat is close by. Now what say you come up with a sequel priced around the same mark and easier to find outside of Asia, Lenovo? It doesn’t even have to be branded as a Motorola to pique or interest. Would you or would you not go nuts about something like that?