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Top 10 super-slim smartphones you can actually buy today – April 2015

Update:  Check out our updated article on the latest Android phones available that are considered the best slim phone 2017

The world’s thinnest smartphone title has become a thorny affair in recent years, as new contenders basically pop up out of nowhere once every few weeks. Most of the times, no-name Chinese manufacturers are behind these designs that defy gravity common sense, and the goal is to score free publicity for future products with better build quality.

BLU-Vivo-Air

Essentially, while there’s nothing inherently wrong with scouring the market for sub-7 or even sub-6 mm “supermodels”, there is such a thing as too slim. Too slim to handle daily use and abuse, too slim to offer decent hardware performance and, especially, too slim to last more than a few hours between battery charges.

At the same time, it’s important to distinguish the obvious vaporware from handhelds destined for a long, happy life on the catwalk. Here are ten ultra-slender gadgets available via the world’s largest e-commerce outlet that aren’t going anywhere in the coming months and aren’t too svelte for their own good:

ProductBrandNamePrice
SamsungSamsung Galaxy Alpha G850a 32GB Unlocked GSM 4G LTE Quad-Core Smartphone (Gold)Buy on Amazon|$94.94(Price as of 02/23/2019 09:31 ET)

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BLU Vivo Air – $190 in black; $200 in white gold

BLU Vivo Air

At 5.1 mm, aka approximately a fifth of an inch, the 4.8 incher promises up to 24 hours of continuous juice in talk time. Via 2G networks, that is, with 3G speeds draining the 2,100 mAh cell twice as fast. That’s far from impressive, but compared to other ridiculously thin phones, the Vivo Air is at least quite cheap and, according to folks who’ve touched it, not as frail as you’d expect.

It’s compatible with every US GSM carrier you can think of, caps off at HSPA+ in the connectivity department and tips the scales at, get this, 97 grams. Fashionistas, that’s probably your cue!

Huawei Ascend P6 – starting at $170 unlocked

Huawei Ascend P6

6.2 mm won’t break any records… anymore, yet it allows the P6 to come in at a 120 grams weight with 4.7-inch glass in tow and a robust all-metal chassis. Even less expensive than the Vivo Air, the P6 is old news, having seen daylight in June 2013, but rumor is it’ll nab over-the-air Lollipop treats eventually.

Samsung Galaxy A7 – $444

The mobile ruler’s newfound fondness of swanky, graceful gear has recently translated in not just the company’s handsomest flagship to date, but prettier-than-ever-before mid-rangers as well. Case in point, the aluminum framed A family, headlined by a fairly steep 5.5 incher with Full HD screen resolution, octa-core punch and 2 GB RAM.

Samsung Galaxy A7

The middle spectrum of the Android décor has sure come a long way. Alas, the A7 can’t possibly deliver respectable autonomy, given the 6.3 mm profile forces battery capacity to cap off at 2,600 mAh. With such a bright Super AMOLED panel, plus an Exynos Octa powerhouse in the equation, that’s a goner in a few casual gaming hours.

Huawei Ascend P7 – $324

Huawei Ascend P7

The follow-up to the critically acclaimed P6 is, as you’d presume, better-looking, more technically impressive and pricier. Also, slightly thicker, at 6.5 mm, which is a good thing, proving once again a little meat on the bones comes with its share of advantages. Most prominently here, a significantly larger 2,500 mAh ticker.

Sony Xperia Z Ultra – $288

Sony Xperia Z Ultra

This oldie but goldie gargantuan phablet measures 6.4 inches in diagonal, weighs in at 212 grams yet touts a 6.5 mm wasp waist. It’s almost a paradox, but one you’d be lucky to get at less than $300. Yes, you’ll bear your charger with you at all times (or maybe an external power bank), however the 1,080p Triluminos display, IP58 water resistance and 2 GB RAM will make the efforts and sacrifices all worth it.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha – $298 and up unlocked; starting at $0.01 with AT&T

Galaxy Alpha

Credited as the one that started Samsung’s metal revolution, the 6.7 mm Alpha preserves plastic remnants of an age past, standing out with amazing construction prowess in addition to style and slimness. Also, fingerprint recognition technology, Lollipop software (on Ma Bell at least), octa-core muscle, 2 GB RAM and generous 32 GB internal storage space.

Oh, but how tiny the 1,860 mAh cell sounds!

Samsung Galaxy A5 – $321

Samsung Galaxy A5

The middling member of the middling Galaxy A family looks a lot like the Alpha, measuring the same 6.7 mm in depth, only it’s bigger, at 5 inches, heftier (123 grams), and longer-lasting, presumably, courtesy of a 2,300 mAh battery.

Definitely longer-lasting, since a frugal quad-core 64-bit Snapdragon 410 processor runs the performance show, paired with 2 gigs of random-access memory.

Samsung Galaxy S6 – $750 factory unlocked; $200 with AT&T, Sprint and Verizon pacts

You can’t have a “best of” list sans the as-yet uncrowned heavyweight champion of the world, the 6.8 mm/138-gram “next big thing.” Sure, it’s costly opposite every other mobile on our roundup, but it’s most likely a battery champ too, which is certainly no easy feat.

Galaxy S6

Okay, maybe not a champ per se, yet I think we can all agree 17 hours of “moderate usage” is a substantial number for an octa-core Quad HD beast with an eating disorder. What more can we say about the S6 we haven’t already said? It’s a must-buy. Period.

Samsung Galaxy A3 – $238

Samsung Galaxy A3

Practically tied with the S6 in physical narrowness, the SIM-free A3 is less than a third of the top dog’s price, and consequently, offers specs that are thrice as humble. A lackluster 4.5-inch 960 x 540 pix res screen, quad-core 1.2 GHz S410 CPU, 1.5 GB RAM, 1,900 mAh heart, etc., etc. On the plus side, the metal-clad budget trooper can probably keep the lights on from dawn to dusk if you take good care of it and don’t exert too much pressure on the average qHD display/64-bit processor combo.

Lenovo Vibe X – $127

Lenovo Vibe X

How is this “anorexic” 6.9 mm fellow so cheap? Well, it’s ancient for one thing, turning one and a half recently, and it’s also still on an archaic Android iteration – 4.2 Jelly Bean. Then again, the quad-core 1.5 GHz MediaTek MT6589T SoC is probably good for cell endurance, while the 5-inch FHD IPS display, 2 GB RAM, 13 MP and 5 MP cameras are really mind-bending features for Vibe X’s price range.

Forget Moto Es and Gs, this is the real low-cost MVP!

ProductBrandNamePrice
SamsungSamsung Galaxy Alpha G850a 32GB Unlocked GSM 4G LTE Quad-Core Smartphone (Gold)Buy on Amazon|$94.94(Price as of 02/23/2019 09:31 ET)

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LG G4 vs G4 Stylus vs G4c vs G4 Beat/G4s – specs comparison

And just like that, LG managed to overshadow arch-rival Samsung for a change. Unfortunately, product confusion and brand dilution aren’t departments one would want to “prevail” in, especially when an exceedingly dense mid to high-end roster could generate serious market cannibalization issues.

LG G4

Even at first glance, there’s plenty to underline the “standard” G4’s superiority over its pen-capable and compact siblings. But can you also tell off the bat the 5.5 incher is considerably better than the just-announced 5.2-inch G4 Beat, aka G4s?

And if so, doesn’t that make the latter way too similar to the G4c? Not to mention how convoluted things might get if the oft-rumored G4 Pro materializes with a display diagonal circling the 5.7-inch footprint of the G4 Stylus, labeled G Stylo at T-Mobile.

G4 Beat

All in all, LG was obviously wrong to hatch so many marginally different members of the same smartphone family, but since we can’t convince them to axe a few G4 derivations, we’ll try to understand each and every variant’s strong points and flaws, as well as their overlapping target audiences.

How? Through a tried-and-true comparison process, which this time doesn’t aim to uncover a winner. It’s crystal clear who that is, now we’d like to know why and by what type of margin:

LG G4 vs G4 Stylus vs G4c vs G4 Beat/G4s – pricing and availability

LG G4 leather

Retail costs aren’t the definitive contrast elements, but it’s good to get this out of the way early and gauge the exact tariff gaps. A factory unlocked flagship G4 can be purchased from Amazon for as little as $540 in brown leather, $567 in black leather, $568 in metallic gold and $578 in metallic white.

On-contract, the Quad HD handheld is available for $0 down with AT&T financing, or $200 at Sprint or Verizon. Meanwhile, the G4 Stylus is slightly harder to come by stateside, except for its T-Mo-exclusive G Stylo incarnation, which costs $330 outright (no upfront payment needed).

LG G Stylo

The G4c has recently gone on sale in Europe starting at €250 or so, and the G4 Beat will apparently debut in countries such as France, Germany and Brazil in a matter of weeks, maybe days at an as-yet undisclosed rate. Fingers crossed for $300 tops when or rather if it ever swings by America.

Design and build comparison

Essentially, all four G4 models look the same on the outside. Brushed plastic constructions – check across the board. Subtle curves? They all got’ em. Rear physical buttons? Do you even need to ask? Optional leather covers? Those are limited to the base G4, and chiefly make it a premium proposal.

LG G4 plastic

Then there’s the issue of size, with the G4 Stylus leading the ranks, at 5.7 inches, followed by the 5.5-inch G4, 5.2-inch Beat and 5-inch C. Unsurprisingly, the Stylus is the tallest and widest quartet constituent, while the G4c is the thickest, measuring 10.2 mm in depth.

The thinnest? The G4 Stylus by a hair, at 9.6 mm. The lightest? The G4c, of course, weighing 136 grams.

Display and cameras

See, this is where things get a tad confusing. LG advertises the G4 Beat as a mid-range soldier, but with 1,920 x 1,080 screen resolution and 423 ppi, it’s almost as sharp as the G4. Probably not on paper, given 2,560 x 1,440 and 538 ppi sound a lot more impressive, yet in real life, you’ll never, ever tell Quad from Full HD apart in these circumstances.

LG G4 camera

And the G4 Stylus and G4c aren’t half bad either, touting 720p IPS LCD panels.

As far as photography is concerned, the G4 easily stands out, thanks to 16 and 8 MP shooters. Tied for the silver medal, the Stylus and Beat offer 13 or 8 megapixel rear cams, depending on region. Dead last, the G4c lacks the 13 alternative and caters to selfie pros with a 5 MP front snapper that’s also slapped on Stylus and Beat’s faces.

Processors, RAM and battery life

Short of remarkable compared to, say, Samsung’s homebrewed Exynos 7420 SoC, the hexa-core 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 inside the G4 runs circles around G4 Beat’s octa-core S615, or G4 Stylus and G4c’s quad S410.

Snapdragon 808

The significantly prevalent 3 gig memory count should help you better understand why the G4 is roughly twice as expensive as the 1 GB RAM G4c. The G4 Stylus lets you choose between 1 and 2 configs, and the G4s sits in the middle, with 1.5 gigabytes of the good stuff.

Now, as you can imagine, it’s tricky to estimate the day-to-day autonomy of relative newcomers G4c and G4 Beat. The G4 and G4 Stylus both pack 3,000 mAh cells, reportedly good for close to 20 hours of continuous 3G talk time on a single charge.

LG G4 battery

At 2,540 and 2,300 mAh respectively, the G4c and Beat may fall a little behind. Not too much, though, particularly in the former’s case, considering its less power-demanding hardware.

Software, storage and others

Android Lollipop everywhere. 5.0 on the G4 Stylus and G4c, 5.1 for the G4 and G4 Beat. With a number of LG-proprietary tweaks and add-ons mainly on the latter two.

LG G4c

MicroSD external storage expansion capabilities are naturally one more point where the four meet, albeit “locally”, the hoarding room differs quite a lot. The G4 allows you to save 32 GB of movies, apps, videos and photos sans a secondary card, the G Stylo cuts the ROM in half on Magenta, and the “international” G4 Stylus, G4c and G4 Beat further reduce that by 8 gigs, sticking to only 8.

Any other “small” things you should take into account before deciding which G4 flavor to buy? Perhaps optional Qi wireless charging and standard Quick Charge 2.0 technology, both features squarely present in G4’s bag of tricks.

LG-G4-Stylus

Or maybe it’s worth highlighting once again the G4 Stylus provides a touch of extra functionality, courtesy of pen support. Bottom line, it’s easy to distinguish the G4, G4 Stylus, G4c and G4 Beat/G4s… if you know where to look.

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.

Android-Unlocked

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

Samsung-Galaxy-J5

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

Moto-G-2015

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.

Samsung Galaxy A8 vs Galaxy A7 vs A5 vs A3 – specs comparison

After (hopefully) helping you better understand the “deal” with LG’s far too similar mid-range G4 derivations, our mission of clarifying convoluted Android smartphone families enters a new phase. Today, we’re all about praising the Samsung Galaxy A roster’s full-metal diversity.

Galaxy A3 A5 A7

Yes, for once, you’ll see us endorse so-called “brand dilution” instead of bitching and complaining. That’s mostly because the Korea-based manufacturer dominators have been wise enough to separate the top-shelf Galaxy S line and slightly humbler A clan.

Besides, before the A8 came to light, the differences between the A3, A5 and A7 were crystal clear, and their target audiences easy to deduce even only judging from the names and numeric suffixes. The A3 is the entry-level member, although nowhere near as modest as, say, Moto Es, the A5 takes up a higher branch of the totem pole and the A7 comes fairly close to flagship material.

Samsung-Galaxy-A8

Not as close as the A8, obviously, but we’ll tackle the specifics of the quartet’s key variations as follows:

Samsung Galaxy A8 vs A7 vs A5 vs A3 – pricing and availability

It’s perhaps needless to mention the new head of the household hasn’t gone on sale yet. However, we have a pretty good guess of how much it’s going to cost – north of $500 contract-free. Steep? A little, especially as the GS6 was recently dropped by Amazon to a palatable $555.

Samsung Galaxy A7

Of course, if the A8 gets a similar global push (which is highly unlikely), discounts will come for it too. Meanwhile, a factory unlocked Galaxy A7 with 3G connectivity sets you back $400 in black or white. The A5 starts at $280 (not bad), and the A3 is roughly 50 bucks cheaper.

Any US carrier pickups on the horizon? We can hope, but they feel rather implausible at the moment.

Design and build comparison

Samsung-Galaxy-A5

Construction is one of the main reasons we dig the Galaxy A family as a whole. You don’t often see low-enders as robust and premium as their superior siblings, yet save for footprints, the A3, A5 and A7 are essentially identical. All-metal, slender, with slim screen bezels in tow, sharp corners and neat industrial vibes.

Oh, okay, maybe A3’s bezels are a bit chunkier. And the A8 is hands down the clan’s looker, shaving vertical display borders off almost altogether and measuring a mouth-watering 5.9 mm in depth. But all four As catch the eye with svelte figures: 6.9, 6.7 and 6.3 mm for the A3, A5 and A7 respectively.

Display and cameras

Samsung Galaxy A3

From top to bottom, we have 5.7-inch 1,080p, 5.5-inch 1,080p, 5-inch 720p and 4.5-inch qHD Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreens. The resulting pixel density sits at 386, 401, 294 and 245 ppi. See, a smaller panel can definitely have its benefits.

Above all, we’d like to underline there’s something for virtually everybody here, and camera sensors make it even more abundantly clear various classes of customers are catered to. The best photographic unit is evidently provided by the A8 (a 16 MP powerhouse), with A3’s 8 megapixel shooter at the other end of the spectrum.

Galaxy A7 camera

 

In the middle, the A5 and A7 don’t disappoint, with interchangeable 13 MP autofocus/LED flash rear cams. As far as selfie equipment goes, there’s no discrimination – everybody gets 5 MP front-facing snappers, no flash included. Bummer? Nah, Sammy always knows how to treat its most narcissistic fans.

Processors, RAM and battery life

Qualcomm may have lost probably the biggest Android chip-supplying contract of 2015, “forcing” Samsung to go the Exynos path to dodge the overheating woes of the Snapdragon 810. But they didn’t lose the OEM’s trust in the low to mid-end segment, with octa-core Snapdragon 615 SoCs on the A8 and A7, and quad-core S410 arrangements delivered to the A3 and A5.

Snapdragon-615

You get 2 GB memory, you get 2 GB memory, everybody gets 2 GB memory… except for the 1.5 gig RAM Galaxy A3. But hey, that’s plenty to adequately ensure Android 4.4 or 5.0’s average requirements, as well as great bang for your buck at sub-$250.

As always, autonomy is a delicate issue and depends on a number of subjective factors. Not to mention no one’s got the chance to fiddle with the Galaxy A8 until now. In theory, even if it’s the thinnest handheld put under the microscope today, the A8 should last longest between charges, thanks to a sizable 3,050 mAh cell.

Galaxy A family

The A7 renounces around 400 mAh capacity, the A5 further trims the volume to 2,300 mAh, and the A3 settles for a tiny 1,900 mAh pacemaker. On the plus side, the energy needs of the four devices are different, so at the end of the day, they all likely boast 12 hour+ endurance numbers in continuous talk time.

Software, storage and others

The new guy runs Android 5.1 Lollipop out the box, the OGs all come pre-installed with 4.4 KitKat and upgradeable to 5.0 L. On top of that, TouchWiz UI sprinkles a few goodies and add-ons across the board, and hopefully, Android M bumps are also guaranteed across the board.

galaxy_a_lollipop

Digital hoarders should be happy to hear microSD expansion isn’t restricted on any of the A-series phones, with 16 GB the base internal capacity of the entire ensemble, and 32 gigs offered as a costlier alternative on the Galaxy A8.

Connectivity-wise, 4G LTE support has your back for speedy network access everywhere (just not stateside), with Wi-Fi a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS and NFC covering all the standard bases. Wait, no, sorry, the A8 is Bluetooth 4.1-enabled.

Galaxy A8

And it’s also the only one capable of recognizing your fingerprint and using it as a security-enhancing feature, via home button touch. Ah, what we wouldn’t give for at least one easily removable battery or water-protected body. Maybe premium sound enhancements of sorts…? Samsung Pay support? Wireless charging?

Guess you really can’t have it all at $230 or $280. Or $700, for that matter. We’ll always find something to undermine a smartphone’s excellence. That said, these four come so close to non-flagship perfection, they can almost touch it.  

Best contemporary HD (720p) Android smartphones

Quad HD handheld display resolution is overkill, and everybody knows that. Including the device manufacturers trying so hard to sell the “feature” as something that’s not – useful and groundbreaking.

Quad HD TV

Well, yeah, sure, it’s innovative and all on paper, but the end consumer needs a magnifying glass to tell the difference between 1,920 x 1,080 and 2,560 x 1,440 pixels. And even then, it’s marginal. Don’t get us started on 2K content, still fairly hard to come by for living room TVs, let alone portable miniature gadgets.

Meanwhile, you can’t argue with the sharpness advantage of Full HD smartphones over their 720p ancestors. Yet we’re certain there are mobile enthusiasts around who’d be happy “settling” for HD, aka 1,280 x 720 panels.

1080p 720p

Besides, the ppi makes the stills and clips pop first and foremost, so if the display is small enough (but doesn’t require constant squinting), HD res can produce excellent pixel per inch tallies. Lastly, it’s good to take into account the affordability factor in a time when $700+ “powerhouses” no longer feel thrice as impressive as sub-$250 “low-end” affairs.

Without further ado, and in order to please the most Android aficionados, we give you one candidate for the title of best 2015 720p smartphone from ten different household names in the industry:

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact – $379 and up

Xperia Z3 Compact

They say this muscular but diminutive 4.6-inch Lollipop soldier will soon be replaced by a slightly larger 1,080p soldier. Replaced? Never! It’s perfect the way it is, with a remarkable 319 ppi count in tow, quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor inside, 2 GB RAM, 20.7 MP photography beast, 2,600 mAh battery and (relatively) reasonable price point.

The only good that can come out of a Full HD, 4.8-inch or so upgrade is a discount to, say, $300 bucks. Boy, would the Z3 Compact look irresistible then!

HTC Desire 820U – $308

HTC Desire 820

A lot bigger than the 4.6-inch contender above, at 5.5 inches, the plasticky, playfully colored Desire provides a sub-par 267 ppi pixel density. It’s also in dire need of a software renovation, as it runs 4.4 KitKat, and the 2,600 mAh cell feels a little on the light side given the footprint and juice-demanding octa-core Snapdragon 615 CPU.

But the 13 MP and 8 MP cameras, as well as the 2 GB RAM make the compromises all worth it. Let’s hope Lollipop is nigh, though.

Samsung Galaxy A5 – starting at $276 GSM unlocked

Samsung Galaxy A5

A premium full-metal chassis, excellent 71 percent screen-to-body ratio, bright and vivid 5-inch Super AMOLED glass, 2 gigs of memory, 13 and 5 megapixel cams, microSD capabilities and super-slender 6.7 mm profile.

All for the low, low tariff of 276 US bucks in black, or $282 in white. The only thing missing is Android 5.0, which should make its way over-the-air soon. Perhaps more than 2,300 mAh battery capacity too, but alas, a software update can’t bring extra autonomy to the table.

LG G3 Beat – $185

LG G3 Beat

Also known as G3 S, this inexpensive 5 incher offers 294 ppi and a similar albeit obviously inferior construction compared to the standard, stylish G3. You got your rear physical buttons, slim resulting bezels, surprisingly robust plastic build and overall lackluster specs: Snapdragon 400 chip, 8 MP LED flash main shooter, 8 GB internal storage, microSD card slot, 2,540 mAh battery.

Pre-installed KitKat as well, though Lollipop will “import” Material Design goodies before long, according to official manufacturer statements.

Huawei SnapTo – $178

Huawei SnapTo

This is by no means a flagship, or even unexpectedly solid budget challenger to Moto G2’s throne. But unlike all the phones listed so far, it’s sold directly by Amazon, with Huawei’s express permission and thus no concerns as to US network support, lengthy shipping or faulty packaging.

Not exactly a looker, the SnapTo rocks a decent 5-inch IPS LCD panel with 294 ppi, quad-core 1.2 GHz S400 SoC, 1 GB RAM, 5 MP/2 MP cams, non-removable 2,200 mAh battery, 8 GB ROM, microSD external expansion and Android 4.4. Yawn!

Motorola Moto G second-generation – $172 global GSM unlocked

Moto G second-gen

Speaking of the devil, i.e. the world featherweight low-cost champion, it’s still available extremely close to its MSRP almost a full year after its commercial release. But the third-gen is on the way, and soon enough, you should be charged $150 tops for the OG Snapdragon 400 5 incher running close-to-stock Lollipop backed by a 2,070 mAh juicer.

Asus Zenfone 5 – $139

Asus Zenfone 5

The name is no doubt misleading. Obviously, the Zenfone 5 doesn’t outdo the ridiculously cheap, high-end Zenfone 2. It’s actually a 5-inch forerunner of the 4 GB RAM monster, with a quarter of the random-access memory, 294 ppi screen, Intel Atom inside, 8 and 2 MP cameras.

Essentially, standard features for the sub-$150 segment, so it’s up to you and maybe your aesthetic sense to embrace or pass on the 10.3 mm thin matte plastic phone.

Sharp Aquos Crystal – $129 with Boost Mobile; $132 for Sprint prepaid

Sharp Aquos Crystal

It’s not fair to compare prepaid and completely unlocked prices, since the former arrangements come with strings attached, but the Aquos Crystal is a steal, no matter how you look at it. Of course, the 1,280 x 720 pixels resolution isn’t the display highlight here, but instead the no-border artful conception.

Art is really the best way to describe the 78.5 percent screen chin-tastic Crystal. If only the Now Network would finish “optimizing” Lollipop already, helping the 1.5 GB RAM/S400 hardware config perform at its finest.

Xiaomi Redmi 1S – $127

Xiaomi Redmi 1S

It’s always risky to throw your hard-earned money at “Generic” (literally), obscure importers, but Xiaomi’s one-year-old may well be worth it. Despite sticking to Jelly Beans when Lollipops are flavor du jour.

It’s simply too good cheap to be true refused, at 4.7 inches, 312 ppi, quad-core 1.6 GHz Snapdragon 400 velocity, 1 GB RAM, 8 MP LED flash photo skill and 9.9 mm waist.

BLU Life One 4G LTE – $99

BLU Life One 4G LTE

Technically not yet released and squarely up for pre-orders ahead of a July 17 bow, the LTE-enabled, Lollipop-upgradeable 5 incher is the ultimate bargain. At least at the moment, because next week, it should leap to its “normal” SIM-free tariff of $149.

You can activate it on AT&T, T-Mobile, Cricket Wireless, MetroPCS and any other GSM carrier you can find operating stateside, and everything from design to cameras to battery screams $200+ value.

Somehow, BLU managed to pull off both a 7.5 mm supermodel figure and respectably spacious 2,420 mAh cell, plus 13 MP LED flash rear camera, 5 megapixel selfie pro, 64-bit Snapdragon 410 processor, 1 GB RAM and microSD support. Cue slow clap!

Best affordable Android smartphones already on Lollipop

According to official Android distribution numbers harvested by Google during the week leading to May 4, a measly 9.7 percent of all devices with the world’s most popular mobile OS inside run 5.0 or 5.1 Lollipop.

Android Lollipop

That’s certainly disappointing, given 5.0 source code was freely disseminated back in early November 2014 and Android M’s “final” release is a few months away, tops. Ecosystem fragmentation clearly remains an issue, nay scourge in dire need of a universal cure.

But alas, there’s no such thing. The best we can do to fight the widespread epidemic is probably not commit to a handheld or tablet for over a year, and replace them as soon as they show their first signs of wear, tear and imminent software oblivion.

Lollipop

Either that, or resign ourselves to the lag of fresh OS flavor distribution. Not in a million years? We didn’t think so, which is why we’ve compiled a list of ten low-cost phones flaunting Lollipop goodies today. All available under $300 off-contract stateside, these can be replaced with M-powered newcomers in the fall or winter sans remorse:

10. Samsung Galaxy S4 – $290

Well, hello there, old friend! Good to see you looking so young past your conventional prime, despite launching when Jelly Bean was still a thing. We wouldn’t hold our breath for a forthcoming 5.1 update, but 5.0 will do, as long as memory bleeds are a thing of the past.

galaxy-s4-lollipop

Remember, the GS4 is a couple of generations behind the times, so it can’t afford to waste a single MB of RAM. It’s “only” got 2 gigs in total, plus a decrepit octa-core 32-bit Exynos 5410 chip in tow.

9. Samsung Galaxy Alpha – $284 AT&T unlocked

Something old, something new, something metallic, something… dazzling white. Pre-installed with 4.4 KitKat, but upgradeable to 5.0.2 Lollipop worldwide. Endowed with a generous 32 GB of native storage space, though unfortunately short of microSD external expansion possibilities.

samsung_galaxy_alpha_lollipop

Still a great bargain, offering fingerprint recognition support, octa-core Exynos 5430 power, 12 MP photography skill and a wasp 6.7 mm waist.

8. Sony Xperia Z Ultra – $280 factory unlocked

As is the case with most gizmos on our list today, the Z Ultra has recently begun its global Lollipop spread, so certain territories may need to give it some time. A few weeks, worst case scenario. LTE-enabled on US GSM networks, the 6.4 incher was a big deal, literally and figuratively, when it debuted on store shelves.

Xperia Z Ultra

Almost two years ago, that is, so part of the phablet’s mojo dwindled. Not the Snapdragon 800 muscle, IP58 waterproof robustness, 6.5 mm delicacy or stylus, pen and pencil functionality. Bottom line, it’s a must-buy for folks who believe size matters.

7. Sony Xperia C3 – $255

It really would have been outrageous if Sony squarely brought Lollipops to Xperia Z family members, considering the C3 is one of the most feature-packed phablets in its price range. 5.5-inch 720p screen, 8 MP rear cam, 5 MP selfie shooter, quad-core Snapdragon 400 SoC, 1 GB RAM, microSD card slot.

Xperia C3

What more could you want at a little over a third of Galaxy S6’s no-contract costs?

6. Sony Xperia T2 Ultra – $235

To answer our own question, 13 megapixel camera dexterity is certainly better than 8 MP, and many will also favor T2 Ultra’s gigantic 6-inch IPS LCD panel over C3’s “minuscule” footprint. Of course, this is no selfie champ, with a humble 1.1 MP snapper slapped on its face, and the odds of scoring a 5.1 promotion, let alone 6.0 (5.2?) Marshmallow seem microscopic.

Xperia T2 Ultra Lollipop

5. LG G2 – starting at $208

A fellow Galaxy S4 classic, LG G4 and G3’s ancestor is rapidly closing in on its demise, so don’t be surprised if the handful of lingering Amazon listings begin to vanish before long. The rear physical button pioneer, this ultra-compact 5.2 incher that’s nearly 76 percent screen is at the end of the software support road, so in a way, it’s the perfect transitional device while you wait for “Macadamia Nut Cookie” treats.

LG G2 Lollipop

4. Asus ZenFone 2 – $199 with 2 GB RAM and 16 GB storage; $299 in 4/64 gig configuration

First, a piece of advice. If you can afford to choose, go with the upper-tier version. It’s totally worth it, sailing through multiple graphics demanding games at once like no other Android soldier before it. Besides, 300 bucks is a ridiculously low tag for what’s ultimately a high-end product.

Asus ZenFone 2

Full, not Quad HD, with frugal Intel Atom inside, a 13, not 16 or 20 MP camera, but the best multitasker the mobile landscape has to offer at the moment. And yes, guaranteed to jump on the M bandwagon soon after merely seeing the light of day last month powered by Lollipop.

3. Motorola Moto G (2nd generation) – $179.99

Budget mobile tech consumers, things can’t get much better than this. Stock, up-to-date software, the solid promise of additional support, wide American carrier compatibility (no 4G LTE, though), spacious and sharp 5-inch HD display, punchy quad-core Snapdragon 400 CPU, 1 GB RAM, microSD capabilities, 2,070 mAh battery juice.

Moto G 2014 Lollipop

Seriously, what are you waiting for? Go ahead, buy the 2014 G, get one for your parents, GF and best friend. It’s so cheap yet so awesome that you won’t spend much, but still look like a hero.

2. Motorola Moto E (2nd generation) – $143

Willing to trade screen real estate and great pixel count for “universal” LTE connectivity? Meet the 2015 4.5-inch 960 x 540 E. Already upgradeable to Android 5.1, this is no doubt on its sure way to battery efficiency-enhancing M.

Moto E 2015

Not that it needs radical autonomy enhancements, what with its more than respectable 2,390 mAh cell. Granted, the cameras are pretty crappy (5 and 0.3 MP), but on the bright side, the S410 processor is 64-bit Lollipop-ready, contributing to superior speed and system stability.

1. Motorola Moto G (original) – $139.50

Bet you forgot all about the non-expandable 8 GB storage-packing 4.5 incher released in late 2013. We don’t blame you, and while it’s not inexpensive enough to return under the limelight… yet, it definitely has more discounts in the pipeline.

Moto G

Then, at, say, $120, maybe $100, you’ll surely move past the 5 MP cam, 2,070 mAh battery and outdated design inconveniences. Remember, 720p display resolution, Snapdragon 400 heat and AT&T and T-Mobile 3G access.

Best ultra-low-cost Chinese smartphones readily available stateside

Contracts are so 2010. Nowadays, it’s all about the unlocked and prepaid gear. It’s just far more convenient that way, not to mention oftentimes cheaper, at least over the long haul.

android-china

T-Mobile is climbing the US carrier (or rather “Uncarrier”) ranks thanks to its lauded no-contract Value Plans, Motorola has reclaimed a lot of its lost mojo with advantageous G and E phones requiring no lengthy network agreements, while Miami-based handheld manufacturer BLU is the new self-proclaimed “market leader in unlocked devices in the United States”.

But perhaps the companies that have the most to gain from the rise in popularity of unlocked smartphones and abrupt fall of traditional 24-month-tied-up mobiles are the low-cost Chinese OEMs otherwise unable to cater to Western audiences.

For reasons that need a separate 1000-word piece explanation, Huawei, Lenovo, ZTE, Meizu, Gionee, Xiaomi, Oppo and so on and so forth can’t rely on Verizon, AT&T, Sprint or even T-Mobile to increase their reach. Not directly.

Android-Unlocked

And so, they’re forced to go their own way, set up proprietary American shops or simply distribute their bang for buck champions via alternative retail channels such as Amazon or eBay. Of course, there are a number of exceptions to the rule, particularly in Huawei and ZTE’s camps, but for the most part, the Tributes and Avails sold through AT&T look like relics of time past compared to current high-enders and mid-rangers.

Bottom line, your best ultra-affordable yet respectable Android-powered Chinese bets are these top-selling Amazon items:

Meizu MX4 – $290

Since when does almost 300 bucks qualify for “ultra-affordable?” Since what you’re getting in exchange for the three Benjamins are Samsung Galaxy S6-rivaling specifications. Yes, really. Okay, so the 5.36-inch 1,920 x 1,152 screen produces 418 ppi pixel density, which is no match for GS6’s record-setting 577 ppi count.

Meizu MX4

Also, MX4’s pre-loaded Flyme 4.0 software is based on a dated iteration of Android – 4.4 KitKat. But then you get a mind-blowing 20.7 MP rear camera with dual-LED, octa-core 64-bit MediaTek MT6595 processor (clocked at up to 2.2 GHz), 2 plentiful gigs of RAM and, above all, a beautiful, near-borderless frame. Basically, all the makings of a true flagship at less than half the price.

Gionee Elife E7 – $214

Speaking of “true” flagships, the E7 no doubt fitted the description as well… back in 2013, when it was launched. Today? It’s still a solid contender, and it’s cheaper than ever before, which should make up for the fact it never got a KitKat update, let alone Lollipop goodies.

Gionee-Elife-E7

Hardware-wise, you can’t do much better than quad-core Snapdragon 800 and 3 GB RAM at a little over 200 clams. The Full HD 5.5-inch IPS panel is also all it could be, and the 16 and 8 MP cameras are standout performers by any standards. Why is Gionee a brand largely unknown outside of its homeland and India again?

Meizu M1 Note – $209

A second Meizu already? Maybe the media should reconsider Xiaomi’s “Apple of China” nickname. Of course, Meizu is no Apple when it comes to greed, pricing a big-battery, Full HD 5.5 incher with octa-core punch at the equivalent of an iPod Touch.

Meizu M1 Note

Despite what the name suggests, stylus support isn’t a part of the deal. IGZO screen frugality is however, plus 3,140 mAh juice, KitKat-forked software, 2 GB RAM, microSD capabilities, as well as 13 and 5 MP camera muscle.

ZTE Nubia Z5S mini – $200

Don’t let the “mini” moniker fool you. This splendid 4.7 incher isn’t diminutive by any stretch of the imagination, with 720p IGZO glass in tow, “mainstream” quad-core Snapdragon 400 power, 2 GB RAM, 13 MP/5 MP cameras, microSD and DTS sound enhancements.

ZTE Nubia Z5S Mini

Oh, and did we mention the black-and-white handheld tips the scales at 118 grams while only measuring 8.6 mm thick? Too bad it’s on Jelly Bean, and the battery is quite small, at 2,000 mAh. But boy, you’ll look good whipping this puppy out of your trou pocket.

Huawei Ascend P6 – $179

Familiar with the expression “oldie but goldie”? Huawei sure is, refusing to discontinue this iPhone 5-mimicking two-year-old despite most of its specs going out of fashion recently. Well, not the 2 GB RAM. Nor the 5 MP selfie-friendly cam.

Huawei Ascend P6

As for the 6.2 mm slim aluminum skeleton, we hope it never goes out of style. It’s one of those timeless things, like Bob Dylan music or denim jeans.

Lenovo Golden Warrior S8 – $147

Look out, Moto G and E, a “golden warrior” is making a move for your US no-contract low-cost throne. A large, uber-stylish, relatively sharp, respectably powerful soldier with decidedly impressive 13 and 5 MP cameras.

Lenovo-Golden-Warrior-S8

At 5.3 inches in diagonal, 146 grams in weight and 7.9 mm in waist, the S8 certainly stands out at a first glance and, as long as you don’t push it over the limit, the octa-core 1.4 GHz MediaTek chip should perform adequately. Once again, the greatest flaw is decrepit Jelly Bean software, alongside meager battery life. But at sub-$150, you can’t hope to have it all.

Huawei Honor 3C – $116

A phenomenally popular franchise in Asia, the Honor family has recently reached its fourth full generation, but thanks to a series of price cuts, the 3C remains in the spotlight too. Granted, the 2014 5 incher isn’t especially elegant, friendly to digital hoarders (only 8 gigs of base storage), or what you’d call a powerhouse, with a now humble Huawei-made Kirin 910 CPU inside.

Huawei Honor 3C

Then again, it packs 2 gigs of random-access memory, a whopper for this price range, sports an excellent 5-inch 720p display and “appropriate” 8 MP/5 MP cameras.

Lenovo A916 – $105

Seeing as how they own Motorola, it feels fitting to wrap up today’s list with Lenovo, always a name to be reckoned with in the budget-friendly landscape. As you might expect, the A916 cuts a number of corners to come so close to the magical number ($100), primarily in the build department. In other words, if you want something to endure and survive a few years of daily use, look elsewhere.

Lenovo A916

If you’re happy thinking about the “now”, you’ll be ecstatic to hear 105 bucks can buy you a 5.5-inch HD IPS LCD screen, octa-core MediaTek heat, 13 MP dual-LED flash photography skills and 2,500 mAh energy. Talk about value for your money!

This week’s best deals on smartphones, tablets and accessories – March 13

TGIF, everybody! Another exhausting work week is almost behind us, so it’s time to fire up the YouTube cat videos, catch up on all the entertainment news you feared would distract you from your strenuous business tasks, and… spend some of that hard-earned cash.

TGIF

Otherwise, what’s the point of busting your hump day in and day out… well, at least from Monday through Thursday? Go on, be adventurous, have a little fun and stock up on gadgets and accessories. After all, you can never own too many of those.

The thing is purchasing a new powerhouse phone, backup handheld, tablet, power bank, keyboard accessory or whatever sometimes feels like another day at the office. You have to scour the web for the best prices, spend hours reading user reviews, and ultimately, the joy is all gone.

Android money

But that’s why we’re here. We have dozens of unbeatable promotions on sizzling hot gear, carefully selected and handpicked to make your life so much easier. Many are time-limited, a few will expire in a matter of hours due to overwhelming demand, and all come with the safety guarantee of America’s number one online retailer, Amazon:

Smartphones

 

Samsung Galaxy S5 – $1 with Verizon contracts

This baby is the number one on-contract best seller on Amazon for a very good reason. It’s handsome, powerful and not particularly pricey. Just keep in mind Big Red’s tag has been fluctuating for weeks now between $1 and $100.

Galaxy-S5-Verizon

BLU Studio 6.0 LTE – $220 (60 bucks off)

One of the largest 4G-enabled phones you can find under $250 is also Full HD-capable, quad-core-powered, and ready to keep the lights on for a full day’s work, thanks to a 3,200 mAh battery.

BLU Studio 6.0 HD – $149 ($40 discount)

It goes without saying the “HD” ditches LTE and lowers the screen res bar to 720p. But at $150 unlocked, it’s still a bargain, what with its quad-core processor, 3,000 mAh cell and 8 MP camera.

Prepaid HTC Desire 510 – $49 for Sprint; $69 with Boost Mobile

“In stock but may require an extra 1-2 days to process.” This should tell you everything you need to know about Desire 510’s popularity. A well-deserved success, given the value for money: quad-core Snapdragon 400, 1 GB RAM, 2,100 mAh battery.

HTC-Desire-510

LG Tribute – $39 on Sprint or Virgin prepaid

Yet another prepaid Moto E “killer”, the Tribute stands out with uber-slim bezels, a generous juicer and respectable S400 chip. Also, a no-contract tag $40 under the list price.

Tablets

 

Kindle Fire HDX 7 – $199 ($40 off)

Kindle Fire HDX 7

A surprise contender in our recent high-res slate roundup, the tiny Fire HDX thrills with raw power as well, though the closed ecosystem may throw you off a bit.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 7.0 – $150 by itself; $163 with Targus case and free stylus

The bundle offer in particular is very attractive, albeit the HD 7 incher has never been a beast.

Free Shield controller and tablet cover with 32 GB 4G LTE Nvidia Shield Tablet

Shield Tablet controller

The deal is as straightforward as it sounds. Buy an LTE 8-inch Shield, with or without an AT&T pact, and the gaming controller and protective cover are on the house. Sweet!

LeapFrog LeapPad 3 kids’ learning tablet – $79 in green

Much more than a toy, the third-gen LeapPad is made to resist shocks, and perfectly blends entertainment with education.

Asus Transformer Pad TF103C-A1 – $239 (with keyboard dock)

Can’t decide between a large tablet and mini-laptop? Why not get both… for the price of one? Processing and shipping may take a while, unfortunately.

Asus TF103C

32 GB Asus Google Nexus 7 2012 – $140

If Nexus 5’s disappearance reopened your appetite for the family’s classics, it’s good to know the OG N7 can still be found on Amazon. And it’s a steal.

Best Amazon deals on accessories

 

Rebelite Ultra Slim Bluetooth keyboard – $16.95 (down from $49.99)

The only thing “wrong” with this heavily discounted listing is the product doesn’t qualify for free shipping by itself. But you can surely find something to add to your cart to reach $35, and thus not miss out on one of the cheapest all-compatible smartphone/tablet keyboards.

Omaker 10000 mAh external battery pack with flashlight – $18.69 (63 percent savings)

Omaker power bank

No idea why you’d need a flashlight on your power bank, but this thing is gigantic and affordable, not to mention it’s praised by Amazon buyers like the second coming of Jesus. So yeah, it’s probably a must-buy, if your phone or tablet’s cell can’t keep up with your lifestyle.

Otterbox Defender Series Samsung Galaxy S5 case – $25

It goes without saying there are better, stronger cover accessories to be found on Amazon for the S5, but many cost over $50, some almost $100. For $25, this bad boy offers respectable protection against drops, bumps and shocks.

Tech Armor Samsung Galaxy Note 4 screen protectors – $5.91 (3-pack)

They keep your precious Note 4 away from scratches and dust, they’re 6 bucks, and there are three of them. We rest our case.

Jawbone Jambox Wireless Bluetooth speaker – $79.99 in purple hex

Jawbone Jambox

With its own internal rechargeable battery, cross-platform support, a compact form factor and, above all, booming sound, the Jambox is a no-brainer purchase for always-on-the-road audiophiles. Especially at $80, which is almost half off.

Aaaand there you have it. Something for everyone, at the best prices around. Remember, same place, same time, next week, all-new deals!

Best sub-$100 unlocked Android smartphones

It’s odd, but while a Benjamin can buy a pretty well-balanced tablet from a few manufacturers everyone’s heard of, finding a solid ultra-low-cost Android smartphone is still tricky business. Sure, there’s always the prepaid route, not to mention the possibility of signing two-year contracts to slash prices north of $500 to sub-$100.

Android-Unlocked

But it goes without saying both those paths come with bumps on the road, lengthy obligations, or uncomfortable restrictions. And until the fully unlocked policy of America’s big four carriers is settled, many will need to pay an arm and a leg for total freedom.

Or settle for crappy, unreliable, China-made technology. And yes, trustworthy OEMs such as Meizu or Xiaomi dish out bang for buck champions like crazy, but for the most part, they remain exclusive to Asia and, at best, parts of Europe.

Motorola Moto E

When they do ultimately swing by the States, their advanced age and exorbitant import taxes kill any shred of appeal. But don’t despair, as we’ve rounded up nine (half-) decent sub-$100 unlocked handhelds nonetheless, available for your convenience at Amazon. There were supposed to be ten of them, however we simply couldn’t find another to recommend to even our worst enemy.

9. Samsung Galaxy Pocket 2 – $99.95 with GSM HSPA+ support

We’ll be frank, the only reason the Pocket 2 made this list is its tender age. Launched in September 2014 with KitKat onboard, the cringe worthy 3.3 incher may even be in line for a Lollipop update… in a year or two.

Samsung Galaxy Pocket 2

Ah, who are we kidding? We’d rather go back to the days of Java-sporting feature phones than check out the stuttering of L’s normal silky smooth nature on a 320 x 240 pix res screen, “driven” by a 1 GHz Cortex-A7 chip and 512 MB RAM. Next!

8. Samsung Galaxy Star Pro Duos – $89.98 with 2G only

And Sammy wonders why, oh why they’re doing so bad in the low-end niche. It’s out-and-out shameful 2G-only “smartphones” are still being sold in this day and age, and although the mobile phone producer probably has nothing to do with Amazon’s third-party Star Pro listing, they should use their influence to nix it. Today!

samsung-galaxy-star-pro-duos

But hey, at the end of the day, despite the connectivity shortcomings, horribly dated pre-installed software (4.1 Jelly Bean, really?), and dreadfully laggy 1 GHz Cortex-A5 processor, the Star Pro Duos looks better than the Pocket 2, thanks to a far superior 4-inch 800 x 480 pix res panel.

7. LG Optimus L5 II Dual – $98.78 factory unlocked

Still hard to recommend to a friend, this humble 4 incher offers 3G support and, though stuck on 4.1 Jelly Bean, has 4.4 KitKat on the way. It’s also rather stylish… considering, with a slim 9.2 mm profile, and packs a sizable… again, considering 1,700 mAh battery.

LG Optimus L5 II

Oh, oh, oh, and the 5 MP rear-facing camera boasts LED flash. Downsides? Everything else, from the sluggish 1 GHz Cortex-A9 CPU to 512 MB RAM, no front cam and 4 GB internal storage.

6. BLU Advance 4.0 – $75.71 and up

Compatible with AT&T, T-Mobile, MetroPCS, Cricket Wireless, and any other GSM service provider you can think of, this baby easily achieves HSPA+ speeds and is a powerhouse compared to the snails above, with a dual-core 1.3 GHz MediaTek MT6572 processor under the hood.

Blu-Advance-4.0

Now, granted, we wouldn’t exactly call the 4-inch Advance a looker, as it’s just 56 percent (!!!) screen, and the rest bezels. Also, it’s a chunky monkey, and uselessly so, measuring 12.4 mm thick, and yet packing a 1,600 mAh cell. But all in all, it’s an okay choice for the money. Not the best, not the worst.

5. Huawei Ascend G520 – $99.90

Our first quad-core contender, the G520 was never meant to reach Western shores, so 3G coverage may be a little on the patchy side. We don’t particularly trust the seller either, and there’s no KitKat bump in store, which explains why Huawei’s large 4.5 incher isn’t a podium threat.

Huawei Ascend G520

Nevertheless, it’s a handsome, beefy, smooth devil, with Jelly Bean onboard, a 5 MP LED Flash snapper slapped on its back, 9.9 mm thin waist, and 1,700 mAh ticker. It’s worth the risks ergo, if our following four budget throne candidates fail to hit the spot.

4. BLU Studio 5.0C – $88.32 and up

For a company with a measly five years of experience in the field, BLU Products sure knows how to make its gadgets attractive. The Studio 5.0C, for instance, is not only uber-cheap, but extremely fashionable, with a wide array of colorful paint jobs available and neatly compact body.

Blu Studio 5.0C

As the name suggests, this a borderline phablet, but the big-ass display is a lemon, with a sub-par 854 x 480 pixel count. Good thing you get pre-loaded KitKat, dual SIM support, a 5 MP rear cam with flash, and GSM compatibility nationwide.

3. BLU Dash 5.0+ – starting at $94 with 4G HSPA+ speeds

Another BLU? These guys are something else, and for 95 clams, offer quad-core speed, KitKat software, dual cameras, and a design worthy of a higher price tag. Once again though, it’s the 5-inch screen’s resolution that makes the Dash fall short of affordable perfection.

BLU Dash 5.0+

Well, that, the 512 MB RAM, and skimpy 4 GB native storage.

2. Alcatel One Touch Fierce – $84

Okay, now we’re talking! Once upon a time priced at over $160, the 4.5-inch Fierce is nowadays available for half that dough. Confirming size isn’t everything, the compact handheld delivers 960 x 540 pixels resolution for 245 ppi, and is a multitasking champ, courtesy of its generous gigabyte of random-access memory.

Alcatel One Touch Fierce

A quad-core 1.2 GHz MediaTek SoC also helps it tower above all its rivals in raw speed. Such a shame it runs Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, and Alcatel remains mum on a possible KitKat promotion. Lollipop? It feels but a sweet, distant dream.

1. Motorola Moto E – $99 in black global GSM unlocked variant

It may not sound wise to purchase the first-generation E when a sequel is likely right around the corner, but if you think for a second Motorola will ever lower the ask further, you’re, well, delusional.

$99 is already incredibly low, and $30 off list, and charging, say, $90 or $80 would be almost like giving the phone away for free. Smaller than the Fierce, it’s got the same exact screen resolution and thus superior pixel density.

Moto E

And no, perhaps the dual-core 1.2 GHz Snapdragon 200 processor isn’t ideal. But paired with 1 GB RAM, and near-stock Android 5.0 Lollipop on the software side of things, it makes this thing fly. Then you have a 1,980 mAh battery that helps it last like a little Energizer bunny, and microSD support in case 4 gigs of space isn’t enough.

The king of the sub-$200 space (all hail the Moto G) strikes again.

Best ultra-affordable prepaid smartphones for 2015

Seeing as how the race to the bottom is heating up by the day as far as Android smartphone retail costs are concerned, a refresh of our best sub-$100 prepaid device list from April 2014 was probably long overdue.

Verizon SIM card

To make that abundantly clear, just one member of last year’s magnificent low-cost seven made the cut this time around, and that’s despite us feeling generous and adding two extra spots to the rankings. We’ve also decided to stop comparing apples and oranges, so we’ll be listing your nine best prepaid phones out and about in no particular order.

The fact of the matter is they’re all incredibly enticing and bang-for-bucktastic, so the verdict comes down to your personal preference of one carrier or another, a certain design, brand or footprint. Not to mention the effect of price fluctuations on a gadget’s appeal.

100-Dollar-Bills

Currently, all these nine Android soldiers can be purchased for less than $100 off-contract, but many are discounted and set to up the ask soon enough.

Motorola Moto G

An instant classic and living legend, the first-generation, non-microSD-supporting G is as popular today as it was when it topped our previous prepaid charts, nine months ago. It still doesn’t allow for external storage expansion, and the mediocre 5 MP rear-facing camera hasn’t got any better with time.

Moto G

On the bright side, it’s cheaper than ever before, likely to get even cheaper, and it runs Android 5.0 Lollipop nearly free of manufacturer “optimization” or carrier bloatware.

Motorola Luge – $80 via Verizon

A mostly overlooked and underrated Big Red exclusive, this 4.3 incher is more easily pocketable and slimmer, but slightly less powerful, with a dual-core 1.5 GHz Snapdragon S4 Plus processor inside. Truth be told, its flaws are G’s fortes and vice versa, as the Luge features microSD support and a superior 8 MP LED flash cam, yet settles for an underwhelming 960 x 540 pix res screen.

Motorola Luge

Moto E – $20 at US Cellular

Oh, come on, another Motorola? Indeed, and it’s not just because this writer loves, loves, loves the direction the company’s moving in for a couple of years now. It’s also thanks to USC’s unbelievable generosity, and the handheld’s Android 5.0 compatibility.

Moto E

For only 20 bucks (if you hurry, and grab the E online), you score a Gorilla Glass 3-covered 4.3-inch 960 x 540 panel, 1 GB RAM, 5 MP camera, microSD card slot, and 1,980 mAh battery. If only other no-contract specialists would follow US Cellular’s suit.

HTC Desire 510 – $72 with Boost; $78 at Virgin; $84 on Sprint

Though HTC is keen to eat at Samsung, Microsoft or Motorola’s budget sales, their one and only prepaid heavyweight title contender is this mixed bag of 854 x 480 pixels resolution mediocrity and 2,100 mAh cell quality.

HTC-Desire-510

Larger than all its rivals so far, and arguably the most stylish of the pack, the Desire 510 stands out with snazzy white and blue coats of paint, plus software that works and looks great, despite there being no sign of Lollipop goodies. So nice to have you, BlinkFeed!

LG Tribute – $65 Sprint; $65 Virgin

We’ve wrapped up Motorola’s triad, now onto LG’s own affordable no-contract trinity. First up, a 4.5 incher that more or less squeezes Desire 510’s internals into a slightly more compact body. Good or bad thing?

lg-tribute

Well, extra screen real estate is always nice to have, so LG loses a point, but the pixel-per-inch count is virtually identical, and the $20 less asked by Sprint and Virgin Mobile for the Tribute may tip the balance in LG’s favor.

LG Optimus F60 – $59 through MetroPCS

The confusing branding suggests this F-series family member is a lot older than it really is, having only been released in October of… 2014. Slashed from $159 to $59 for a limited time, the F60 is Lollipop-ready, with a quad-core 64-bit 1.2 GHz Snapdragon 410 CPU under the hood.

LG Optimus F60

If you’re the pessimistic type, you’ll of course retain the F60 doesn’t run Android 5.0 yet, and sports a forgettable 4.5-inch 800 x 480 IPS screen. No matter how you look at it though, the 2,100 mAh battery is quite large.

LG Volt – $60 Sprint; $80 Boost

Another triumvirate finished, and sadly for LG, no Moto G-like standout here. Not even a Luge, albeit the Volt electrocutes the F60 and Tribute with a 3,000 mAh (!!!) cell, 8 MP LED Flash rear-facing camera, and 70.1 percent screen-to-body ratio.

LG Volt

Too bad the actual screen resolution is nothing to write home about, at 960 x 540 pixels, and the 32-bit-capable quad-core Snapdragon 400 chip limits certain upcoming functions of Android 4.4 KitKat’s follow-up.

Samsung Galaxy Avant – $69 via MetroPCS

The Korean mobile kings had a piss-poor year in the high-end segment, where the Galaxy S5 failed to outsell its predecessor, but their low to mid-end box-office accomplishments are probably a far cry from their days of glory past as well.

Samsung Galaxy Avant

Unless you’re willing to cough up north of $150, the Avant on MetroPCS is your only option to go low-cost Samsung. A stellar option, don’t get us wrong, as long as you hurry, with a 4.5-inch 960 x 540 TFT screen, quad-core 1.2 GHz Snapdragon 400 SoC, 16 GB internal storage (!!!), 1.5 GB RAM, 5 MP camera with LED Flash, and 2,100 mAh battery.

Last but not least, pre-installed Android 4.4 KitKat and, presumably, 5.0 Lollipop on the way.

ZTE ZMax – $99 at MetroPCS

If this was a competition like last year, the ZMax would have taken the trophy home so breezily you’d have wondered why there was even a contest in the first place. Granted, you’re unlikely to see the $99 price tag stick. In fact, it could go up as I’m typing this. No, not yet. But soon…

ZTE ZMax

Before it does, let’s remember and cherish this moment. The moment determined, prompt folks were able to nab for $100 a gigantic, handsome and robust 5.7-inch Android with KitKat on-board, 720p display resolution, 2, yes, 2 GB RAM, 16 GB internal storage space, microSD support, 8 MP main snapper, 1.6 MP front camera, and 3,400 mAh battery.

And yes, we know some of you aren’t comfortable with holding a beastly 5.7 incher in your hands, or tucking it in your trou pockets. But you’ll just have to make the “sacrifice” if you want the very best a Benjamin can buy free of contractual obligations.

Best low-cost 4G LTE Android smartphones available stateside

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.

4G LTE

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.

LTE speeds

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.

sony-xperia-sp

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.

Studio 5.0 LTE

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.

LG Volt

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.

Xperia M2

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.

HTC_Desire_510

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.

HTC-Desire-610

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.

Moto-G-4G-LTE

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.

Best iPhone 6/iPhone 6 Plus alternatives available for a fraction of the price

It takes a good bit of courage, as well as a slight dose of desperation, to knowingly turn a blind eye to the specific guidelines set by your idol, mentor and forerunner, to whom you basically owe everything. “No one is going to buy a phone you can’t get your hand around” said Steve Jobs in 2010.

Android vs Apple

“Bigger than bigger” said Tim Cook upon unveiling the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus, at last acknowledging the superiority of the phablet. Sorry, the “iPhablet”.

Bold move, when Cupertino knew full well it was exposing itself to an unprecedentedly facile wave of public ridicule. I mean, it took a copywriting virtuoso to come up with the classic “dude, you’re a barista” line, but a trained monkey could have probably penned the latest “It doesn’t take a genius” and “Then and Now” commercials.

iPhone 6 mocking

Still, iSheep iFans are flocking to stores to commit to a pair of handhelds that’s a couple of years late to the jumbo-sized party. Not to mention horribly overpriced. Why? Because they don’t know any better. Or so we hope, as the other scenario, according to which they’re aware of the Android competition yet go for the iPhones nevertheless, is much bleaker.

Either way, we feel it’s our civic duty as advocates of quality over marketing to round up a few sturdy, good-looking, affordable iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus alternatives. And if we can convince a single mobile tech consumer to leave Apple’s ship, it’s mission accomplished. Here we go, in no particular order, the iPhone 6-crushing magnificent seven:

For the first time in history, Cupertino can’t settle on one form factor. So, as Caesar used to say, “divide et impera”. Divide and rule. In other words, we shall split the standard iPhone 6 and the Plus, and crush them one by one.

Moto-X

The Moto X is, in our humble opinion, the perfect iPhone 6 slayer, as it offers the same 4.7 inches of screen real estate into a much more compact body. Yes, believe it or not, the X is a whopping 9 mm shorter and 2 mm narrower.

The pixel density is mostly in the same ballpark (312, 326 ppi, potayto, potahto), and then you have twice the iPhone’s RAM, plus all sorts of customization options via Moto Maker. And don’t get me started on the huge pricing gap. We’re talking $250 or so outright, and $200 with carrier agreements.

Still think the 4-inch frame of the iPhone 5s hits the sweet spot? Then why compromise on outdated technology when you can get a powerhouse like the Z1 Compact? True, Sony’s mini-flagship is a little larger. But for 3 extra mm in height and 6 in width, you receive 0.3 inches more of 720p IPS panel.

Xperia Z1 Compact

Needless to point out to the massive retail cost gap… again, while the difference in performance and quality is perhaps most striking when looking at Z1 Compact’s camera pitted against its iPhone 6 counterpart. 20.7 vs. 8 megapixels. It’s like David and Goliath all over again, only this time Goliath destroys its underdog opponent.

Beyond advertising bloopers, distribution gaffes and build quality woes, the OnePlus One is a spectacular, breathtaking 5.5-inch smartphone that the iPhone 6 Plus has nothing on in a head-to-head battle.

OnePlus One

Beauty? Check. Compact form factor? Check. Vibrant Full HD display? You got it. Plus Snapdragon 801 punch, 3 GB RAM, 13 MP rear camera greatness, 5 MP selfie-friendly potency, etc., etc. And the icing on the cake is the low, low price point.

Speaking of low prices, the Vibe Z is apparently worth 40 percent of the iPhone 6 Plus. Otherwise put, you can buy two Vibe Zs and a half for the costs of one single iPhone 6 Plus. All while the Z measures 9 mm less than its high-priced adversary in height, and sports an identical (on paper) 5.5-inch Full HD screen.

Lenovo Vibe Z

Also, our low-cost Android soldier packs a quad-core Snapdragon 800 SoC, which we have every reason to believe is a near match for the Apple A8, as well as two gigs of RAM, one more than the 6 Plus.

See, this is the beauty of the Android “ecosystem”. No one forces a certain form factor, a certain size or design on you. Want to be able to comfortably hold your phone in one hand? The Z1 Compact has your back.

sony-xperia-z-ultra

Fully agree that “bigger is better” and not afraid to push the boundaries of phablets? Then why settle for 5.5 inches when you can score 6.4 inches of Full HD awesomeness? No, the Z Ultra is not everyone’s cup of tea.

But as far as giants are concerned, it’s the best. Crazy affordable, crazy thin (yes, thinner than the thinnest ever iPhones), crazy zippy and crazy water-resistant. It’s crazy good, too.

I know, I know, I promised to list the iPhone 6 killer candidates in no particular order. But of course I saved the best for last. The LG G3 and Galaxy Note 3. Now, the two aren’t exactly dirt-cheap. And they can’t really be had for “a fraction of the iPhone 6 Plus price”.

lg-g3

But they’re still cheaper and better. The G3, for instance, will knock your socks off with a fantastic design, rear physical buttons included, and a mind-blowing Quad HD display. Though a 5.5 incher, just like the iPhone 6 Plus, the G3 is merely 146.3 mm tall and 74.6 mm wide (vs. 158.1 and 77.8). And it’s 8.9 mm thick, yet it manages to accommodate a 3,000 mAh juicer.

The rest? Snapdragon 801, 3 GB RAM, 32, yes, 32 GB standard internal storage, microSD support, the whole shebang. Even with the Note 4 looming, this may remain the all-around best smartphone in the world.

Ah, the Galaxy Note 3. The Rolls Royce of phablets, at least until the LG G3 dropped, with an unrivaled creative side, thanks to the S Pen support, Snapdragon 800 heat, 3 GB RAM, a 3,200 mAh battery and in many ways perfect 5.7-inch 1,080p Super AMOLED panel.

Samsung-Galaxy-Note-3

Sequel around or no sequel around, this is a classic, and as its list price drops, its popularity shall endure. Eat your heart out, Apple.

Best Android smartphones for selfies – top front facing camera options

Whether you consider them to be in poor taste, a passing fad or a key element of today’s pop culture, selfies are unquestionably at the peak of their popularity.

selfie cat

The most retweeted image ever is a self-portrait photograph of a cluster of celebrities, the Oxford English Dictionary awarded the term, which wasn’t previously listed in the glossary, the 2013 word of the year prize, and yes, even Russian dictator Vladimir Putin occasionally strikes a selfie pose.

Not to mention the leader of the free world, who infamously made waves with much too cheerful selfies during Nelson Mandela’s memorial service, or Pope Francis, who recently helped press coin a new term relating to the tireless trend – “usies”.

You also got groupies, groufies and wefies, but no matter how you call them, one thing’s crystal clear: selfies are here to stay. So instead of vainly opposing the furor, why not go with the flow, embrace it and make the most of it?

Oscars selfie

That’s what smartphone manufacturers are trying to do, and the good news is they’re treating the newly created market niche very seriously. So seriously that most current contenders for the title of world’s best front-facing camera-toting handheld are much more than just solid selfie-centric slabs.

Cutting to the chase, we’ve rounded up seven Android phones with some of the most capable front snappers attached, as well as an array of impressive other features. As usual, we’ve only selected gadgets readily available stateside, and designed by OEMs we can vouch for. Here we go:

7. BLU Life Pure – starting at $252.45

First of all, yes, we can vouch for BLU Products. The Miami-based mobile phone producer has been around long enough to earn our trust, and lately, the budget specialist has begun cranking up its marketing and advertising efforts too.

BLU_Life_Pure

Now, BLU’s very rich roster includes a number of devices packing 5 megapixel front shooters, but the Life Pure ultimately made the cut thanks to its sensible price point and solid bang for buck factor. The imaging department in particular is thrilling, with a 13 MP cam slapped on the 5 incher’s rear. And then you have Full HD display resolution, quad-core power, 2 GB RAM, as well as DTS Surround sound enhancements.

6. Huawei Ascend P6 – $270 in an unlocked flavor

Ah, yes, the one-year-old Ascend P6 is a classic heavyweight of the selfie scene, being one of the very first Androids to come towing an impressive 5 MP front camera. Aimed squarely at teenagers with an eye for fashion, this upper mid-range 4.7 incher measures a record-breakingly slim 6.2 mm in depth and is capable of shooting HD videos with the 5 megapixel secondary snapper.

Huawei Ascend P6

The Beauty Shot mode is bound to further increase the handheld’s appeal among youngsters, while the 8 MP primary cam doesn’t sound very impressive at first, but it does feature autofocus, LED flash, plus 1,080p video recording capabilities. Not bad for less than three Benjamins, eh?

5. HTC Desire 816 – $230 on Virgin Mobile prepaid; starting at $370 SIM-free

The Desire 816 wins precious points with its larger-scale availability, relative affordability and dedicated Selfie mode, but at the end of the day, we feel the 5 megapixel selfie-centric camera comes up short in a toe-to-toe battle with the following four title contenders.

HTC Desire 816

It just does, although 1,080p video shooting is supported, and outside of the photographic field, the specs are quite decent too: 5.5-inch 720p screen, quad-core 1.6 GHz Snapdragon 400 processor, 1.5 GB RAM, 2,600 mAh battery.

4. Lenovo Vibe Z – starting at $303

Forget “decent” specs, the Vibe Z is one of the most underrated powerhouses of late 2013. With a skinny body, uber-crisp 5.5-inch FHD panel, 2 whopping gigs of RAM under the hood and a zippy quad-core 2.2 GHz Snapdragon 800 CPU, this baby almost doesn’t need top-level cameras to appeal to the young, hip crowd.

Lenovo Vibe Z

Yet it carries them anyway, sporting 13 megapixels on the rear and 5 on the front, spiced up with add-ons like autofocus, LED flash, touch focus, face detection and an 84-degree wide-angle lens and FHD video recording respectively. Duckfaces have never been clearer. Just don’t forget to edit out all the pimples.

3. HTC One M8 – available for between $50 and $100 with AT&T, Verizon and Sprint contracts; $650 unlocked

The selfie bronze medalist is one of Android’s all-around greats, and the all-aluminum beaut settles for the last spot on the podium only due to an inferior megapixel count when compared to the silver and gold winners.

HTC One M8

Sorry, HTC, the 5 MP sensor is amazeballs, especially when paired with a wide-angle lens, f/2.0 aperture and the now iconic Selfie Mode, but it’s simply not the greatest. And we know full well megapixels don’t always tell the full story, but here, we think they do.

That being said, if you’re not just interested in taking vain photos of yourselves eating out, get the M8. It’s gorgeous, punchy and a battery life beast.

2. Meitu 2 – starting at $395.99

You know how we promised to list solely smartphones from well-known, reliable manufacturers? Let’s take a short break from that, and consider this nugget: the no-name Meitu 2 (horrible name, by the way) features a, wait for it, 13 MP front camera. And a 13 MP rear camera. That’s… just… crazy.

Meitu 2

Even crazier, the dedicated Fujitsu Milbeaut professional image processor, which takes care of a number of complex editing tasks once the rough selfies are taken. You can clear out skin imperfections, change the color tone, lighting and even make yourself look skinnier. Sure, it’s cheating, but so is Photoshopping pics. The difference is the Meitu 2 makes photo editing as easy as ABC.

Oh, if only we’d know a thing or two about the obscure Asian company.

1. Huawei Ascend P7 – $415 with 4G LTE in factory unlocked version

No, the P7 is no hardcore, professional selfie machine. It lacks the built-in image processor of the Meitu 2 (seriously, what’s up with that name?), and the 8 MP front cam sensor pales in comparison with the 13 megapixels mentioned above.

Huawei Ascend P7

But still, 8 MP is pretty nutty. And the Panoramic Selfie feature is a home run. You also get 1,080p video support, and outside of the vanity photo realm, a 13 MP rear-facing camera, 5-inch Full HD IPS LCD screen, 6.5, yes, 6.5 mm profile, 2 GB RAM and quad-core 1.8 GHz HiSilicon Kirin 910T SoC. In short, the absolute best you could hope for at less than $450.

Back to school shopping guide: best Android smartphones for students

Things just got real. The start of the new school year is less than a week away, so it’s high time you stopped daydreaming about the good old early days of summer. But September 4 doesn’t have to be a time of grief and sorrow.

smartphone students

Not entirely. You might as well embrace the beginning of the rest of your life, and make the most of it. And what better way than loading up on sizzling hot Android gear to ensure you’ll stand out from the crowd once that first bell rings?

Already stacked on tablets, convertibles, laptops and/or multi-purpose Android PCs? Then let’s get you a pocket-sized computer too, and kick the school year into gear in style. We’ve rounded up the best options for every budget, unlocked, on prepaid plans and with standard contracts, and without further ado, here they are in no particular order:

Motorola Moto E

We realize it’s cool to hate on your parents, and them getting you cheap, sub-par mobile equipment for back to school season is always a great pretext to let the rage flow. But would you cut them some slack? They probably work hard for every penny they earn, and besides gadgetry, they have to take care of feeding, clothing you and shipping you off on all those spring break vacations.

Moto E

Besides, say what you will about the Moto E, but Motorola’s budget champion is anything but sub-par. In fact, it offers one of the best bang for buck values around, it’s petite, decently punchy and up to date software-wise, plus the wet dream of any geeky stock Android aficionado. No reason to hide, we know you’re out there.

Motorola Moto G

Be honest, you don’t really need all the “premium” features high-end Androids accommodate. But maybe Moto E’s low-res display, dual-core chip and scanty 4 GB of internal storage space don’t entirely fulfil your needs either.

MOTO_G_4G

Enter the Moto G, the perfect low-cost, mid-range smartphone, with a perfectly sized, one-hand-friendly 4.5-inch 720p screen, beefy quad-core processor, 1 GB RAM, 8 gigs and up of on-board storage, plus microSD support and 4G LTE connectivity in a model available at a sensible $220. No strings attached and free of any and all contractual obligations.

HTC One M8

But mom, all the cool kids own these metal beauties called iPhones, and I want to show them off by getting an even more gorgeous, larger, zippier all-aluminum slab. Cheaper too. The answer to your iPhone slaying dilemmas is the One M8, and if your parents can afford it, don’t think about it, just buy, buy, buy.

HTC One M8

And the greatest advantage of the metallic design isn’t the visual effect and the envy it’ll breed in the schoolyard (although that’s nice too), but the robustness and durability of the chassis. Plus, the M8 is a selfie beast, courtesy of a 5 MP front-facing camera, and a battery champion.

LG G3

Where to even begin? The LG G3 is such a stunning little portable PC that it would honestly be easier to list the reasons it’s not the top choice for students. But let’s focus on the good and try to keep it short. First, the design. No metal, no deal? Think again, because the G3 ain’t a phone, it’s a fashion statement.

LG G3 Verizon

And then you have the state-of-the-art 5.5-inch Quad HD display, the explosive quad-core 2.5 GHz Snapdragon 801 CPU, massive 3,000 mAh battery, 3 GB RAM and beautiful 13 megapixel rear camera. This, my friends, is the textbook definition of a powerhouse, and at least until the Galaxy Note 4 drops, it’s the all-around best Android handheld. Besides, it’s really not that pricey either.

Samsung Galaxy S5 Active

So you want something a little more outdoorsy and capable of keeping up with the challenges of being young, always on the move, always ready for everything. But conventionally ruggedized devices feel bulky, look fugly and lack that certain je ne sais quoi in the performance department.

galaxy-s5-active

All hail Samsung then, which have finally brought rugged into the mainstream. Sure, the S5 Active can’t exactly take a bullet for you, but it can swim, it dismisses dust contact, rain, vibration, solar radiation and thermal shock like it’s nothing.

And the beauty of it is the 5.1 incher measures a measly 8.9 mm in thickness, tips the scales at 170 grams and packs (almost) everything that makes the standard GS5 so great, quad-core S801 SoC, 16 MP camera and heart rate monitor included.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Okay, guys, play is over, it’s time to look at an option good for the classroom too. The thing is the Note 3 is really the best of both worlds, supporting your creative and learning-thirsty side with S Pen support and offering bleeding edge specifications, from an outstanding 5.7-inch Super AMOLED Full HD screen to 3, yes, 3 gigs of RAM to a 3,200 mAh battery.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3

And yes, we’re fully aware a drastically improved sequel is on the way, but this OG is available for free on carrier agreements and $520 outright, whereas the Note 4 will probably start at $300 and $800 respectively.

HTC Desire 816

Given the recent rise of prepaid carriers and plans, it’d have been a terrible shame to wrap up our little back to school shopping guide without offering an option for folks who are opposed to contracts, but also unwilling to drop a fortune on an unlocked, SIM-free gizmo.

And Virgin Mobile’s Desire 816 is a prepaid instant classic. Clearly targeted at budget-restricted phablet lovers, this Herculean fellow will no doubt cater to the needs of photo buffs as well, thanks to a 13 MP rear-facing snapper and, yes, a 5 megapixel front camera.

htc-desire-816

But that’s not all. The design is a winner too, despite the somewhat chintzy plastic, you get a generous 1.5 GB of RAM and, last but not least, Android 4.4 KitKat with Sense UI 6 on top.

That’s a wrap, boys and girls, and it’s now time for the tough decisions. Regardless of what you end up buying though, this is shaping up to be an epic school year. Keep at it.