Best cheap (sub-$200) unlocked Android smartphones available for Christmas

The beauty of Android-based hardware variety and manufacturer competition lies mainly in the numerous price points currently covered by phones, tablets and even wearables that can be described as respectable at the very least.

Android Santa

Sure, the absolute best handhelds of today will still set you back north of $600, $700, sometimes $800 free of carrier agreements and subsidies. But if you feel like a 4K 5.5-inch display is overkill (and it is), or you don’t need the world’s speediest octa-core processor, or can’t think of what might put 4 gigs of RAM to good use, chances are you’ll be more than happy with a sub-$200 purchase.

That’s right, two Benjamins is no longer dumb phone or ultra-low-end smartphone territory. And mind you, we mean two Benjamins outright, off-contract, and sans prepaid obligations too, where the network choice is all yours after you actually buy the device… as long as it’s not CDMA, aka Verizon or Sprint.


Just in time for Christmas, we’ve rounded up the affordable Android troops, including a series of gadgets not typically sold under $200, and destined to go back over the magic number once the holidays wrap up. You should hurry therefore, and take Amazon up on its compelling time-limited unlocked special offers:

Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 – $199.99

Wait a second, this isn’t the 4.7-inch variant normally sold for $200. That one’s $173 right now, while the $200 model measures a gargantuan 5.5 inches in screen diagonal, offering Full HD resolution, octa-core Snapdragon 615 power, 2 GB RAM, 13 MP photography muscle, 8 MP selfie prowess, and 2,910 mAh battery juice.

Alcatel Idol 3

Granted, the name Alcatel isn’t instantly associated with premium build quality stateside, and the TCL-owned, China-based brand is instead synonymous with compromises and corner-cutting. But those specs listed above are far from mediocre, and the 7.4 mm slender phablet doesn’t look shoddy by any standards. Quite on the contrary, as a better-known OEM would probably charge $400+ for a similar design.

HTC Desire Eye – $199.99

HTC Desire Eye

The 1,080p 5.2 incher is “watching” you at all times, promising stellar snapshot quality no matter which of its cameras you’ll use more. Both are 13 megapixel-capable, with dual-LED flash endowments on the front and back, Snapdragon 801 inside, expandable storage, multitasking-friendly memory, Quick Charge 2.0 technology, and Lollipop software goodies patched over the KitKats initially pre-installed.

Ideal for self-portrait addicts, the Desire Eye is coated in a swanky combination of white and red that also makes it a great gift for teenagers and young women.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua – $199.99

Xperia M4 Aqua

It may be bleak and cold outside now, but before long, you’ll be craving to hit the beach or the pool and, when the time comes, an aqua-protected phone will come in quite handy. Especially one covered by a standard 12-month warranty valid in the US, tipping the scales at only 136 grams while measuring 7.3 mm in thickness and 5 inches in display diagonal.

No wonder Sony used to charge 300 clams for the Snapdragon 615 mid-range powerhouse, classic and classy black paint job included.

Asus ZenFone 2 Laser – $199

ZenFone 2 Laser

Look, bragging rights are cool and all, but there’s literally nothing the $270 4GB RAM configuration is capable of and the 3 gig Laser can’t do. Besides, shutterbugs will get much faster focus from the lower-cost version, which works on AT&T and T-Mobile no problem, lasting for an eternity between charges courtesy of a pretty massive 3,000 mAh user-replaceable cell.

The 5.5-inch panel boasts Full HD resolution and resists scratches thanks to Gorilla Glass 4 technology, with a Snapdragon 615 SoC ensuring you never run out of power while browsing, gaming, or playing back high-res video content.

Huawei P8 lite – $196

Huawei P8 lite

Don’t let the “lite” suffix fool you. This isn’t some half-baked “diminutive” flagship. It’s got a robust metal frame, yet weighs in at 131 grams, and settles for 720p screen resolution because it’s better for battery endurance.

Amazon claims the inexpensive 5 incher “supports all GSM 4G LTE networks in the United States”, which is probably true, but to stay on the safe side of things, you’ll want to take a look at the full list of compatible bands before choosing to activate it on T-Mo, Ma Bell, MetroPCS, Cricket or some other smaller operator.

Samsung Galaxy J5 – $188


Are Samsung’s phones intrinsically better than the competition? Not really, particularly in the non-flagship market segment, where TouchWiz oftentimes burdens the UI rather than polish it, and the hardware specs very rarely match those of the company’s lesser respected rivals.

Still, some people will refuse to admit advertising doesn’t make a reliable product, and if you’re dead set on Samsung, at least get something with decent value for money. Like the plasticky but Lollipop-running J5, which sizes up at 7.9 mm in depth, featuring a 5-inch HD Super AMOLED display, quad-core SD410 chip, 1.5 GB RAM, 13 and 5 MP cams, and 2,600 mAh battery.

Motorola Moto G (3rd generation) – $172


Has the Moto G family lost its magic touch with a third version resistant to water, slated to receive Marshmallow updates soon enough, and capable of producing 13 and 5 MP photos and selfies? Not in the slightest, though it clearly faces much tougher competition than its predecessors.

Basically, software support is what recommends the G3 first and foremost, along with a surprisingly hearty 24-hour juicer.

BLU Life One X – $150

BLU Life One X

The Miami-based smartphone producer says it’s reached the number one spot in unlocked US sales in an impressively narrow window of time, and while we can’t verify that bold claim, we wouldn’t be surprised if BLU merchandise was near the top of your Christmas 2015 wish lists.

The refreshed Life One X literally just went on sale, and for a few days longer, it’s available at 50 bucks less than its MSRP, with upper mid-end specs in tow like a 5.2-inch FHD IPS LCD screen, 2 GB RAM, 13 MP LED flash rear camera, 2,900 mAh battery, LTE connectivity, and Lollipop treats, soon to be replaced by Marshmallows.

Motorola Moto G (2nd generation) – $145

Moto G 2014

The price tag feels a little steep compared to the vastly upgraded third-gen, but like its successor, the G2 is reportedly up for an Android M makeover in the next few months. It’s also theoretically optimized to keep the lights on all day long, capable of stereo sound, quad-core speed, and 1 GB RAM.

While writing that, this writer realized the 2014 Moto G is in desperate need of an additional discount. Contemporary, near-stock software is simply not enough to warrant close to $150. Make it $120, tops, Moto!

BLU Life One 4G LTE – $100

BLU Life One 4G LTE

What can a paltry Benji hook you up with? Believe it or not, 4G LTE support, 5.1 Lollipops, a 5-inch 720p display, 13 and 5 MP photography artists, quad-core Snapdragon 410 processor, microSD card slot, featherweight 125-gram construction, and Gorilla Glass 3 screen protection.

The perfect present for a first-time smartphone user, kid, elder, or even fashion-concerned individual not obsessed with cream of the crop specifications? You bet, with both black and gold color options priced at $99.99 for a limited time.