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Best inexpensive Android phablets: bigger + cheaper = better

Bigger is better. That’s a nutshell description of the recent mobile market trend favoring size over palpable “innovation”, which some tried to enforce as a rule for future “evolution”. But it didn’t really catch on as an ultimate dictum.

Phablet head

Instead, many nuanced it, envisioning a world of not just super-sized gadgets, but giants with a gentler, more sensible side. I’m talking of course about cost friendliness, and while the above mentioned motto isn’t a foolproof recipe for success yet, the following equation is truly infallible: bigger + cheaper = better.

Oh, yes, cutting-edge phablets continue to command extravagant prices of $500, $600, even $700 upon launch. And some keep the bar of expectations high-reaching long after they’ve made their society debut. But others target stingy sensible folks right off the bat, or lower the ask in no time to handle increasing competition.

Phablet

Without further ado, here are the 10 best jumbo-sized Android smartphones you can buy nowadays for less than $400:

10. LG G Pro Lite – $201

Okay, so the G Pro Lite is quite clearly not the world’s punchiest phablet. But it’s by far the cheapest that made our top ten, and that’s got to count for something. Available from various (trusted) third-party Amazon sellers for between $201 and $215, Optimus G Pro’s less gifted cousin packs a humble dual-core 1 GHz Mediatek chip and 1 GB RAM.

LG G Pro Lite

The 5.5-inch IPS LCD screen is outright cringe worthy, at 960 x 540 pixels, but the 8 MP rear cam with LED flash and 3,140 mAh battery are not bad. Not bad at all, and the amazing thing about the G Pro Lite is it runs Android 4.4 KitKat starting a month or so back.

9. Samsung Galaxy Mega 5.8 – $325

Not another underwhelming dual-core behemoth with a qHD (no, not QHD) panel. And it’s fairly pricey too. Also, it still runs Android 4.2 Jelly Bean. And the extra screen real estate (5.8 inches) is a double-edged sword, offering, well, extra real estate, but lower ppi caused by the meager 960 x 540 pixel count.

Galaxy Mega 5.8

So wait, why is the Mega 5.8 better than the G Pro Lite again? Basically, because it’s handsomer and much zippier, thanks to a 1.4 GHz Broadcom chip and 1.5 GB RAM. It’s also easier to procure, with US retailers, as always, more open to selling Sammy-made gear.

8. Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Neo – $410

I know, I know, I promised I’d settle for sub-$400 options, but really, what’s 10 bucks more? Let me rephrase: what’s 10 bucks more when you can get an almost exact replica of the GNote 3 design-wise, with S Pen support, 5.5 inches of HD Super AMOLED glory, a unique hexa-core Exynos CPU, 2 GB RAM and massive 3,100 mAh battery?

Samsung-Galaxy-Note-3-Neo

Such a pity the rear snapper sports a middling 8 megapixel sensor and Android 4.3 runs the software show. And for the record, most stateside retailers charge north of $450, in which case the bang for buck factor ain’t that outstanding anymore.

7. Lenovo K900 – $292

I hate downgrading amazing gear on account of its manufacturer’s inability to properly advertise it, but that’s just how it goes. Strictly looking at K900’s numbers, and its price on Amazon, you’d think you’re dealing with our all-around inexpensive champion.

lenovo-k900

However, the K900 is so hard to come by, it’s almost not worth the effort. Almost. Because, at the end of the day, those 5.5 inches of Full HD beauty, the dual-core 2 GHz Intel Atom processor, the 13 MP dual-LED flash camera, 2 GB RAM and metallic exterior warrant all the sacrifices (and risks) in the world.

6. Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 – $0.00 with AT&T contracts, $0.01 on Sprint, $400 factory unlocked

This is exactly what I was talking about. Were it not for Samsung’s omnipotent distribution muscle, the Mega 6.3 would easily get lost in the crowd. But when you can find the 6.3 incher on both AT&T and Sprint, you clearly take notice.

Galaxy Mega 6.3

Don’t get me wrong, the bigger Mega is no pushover. Its gargantuan screen boasts HD resolution, there’s a vigorous 1.7 GHz dual-core Snapdragon 400 chip inside the hood, plus 1.5 GB RAM and a spacious 3,200 mAh battery. Oh, yeah, and KitKat is around.

5. Sony Xperia T2 Ultra – $340

As we enter the first half of our affordable heavyweight chart, expect the number of flaws to decrease exponentially and the upsides to multiply. Case in point, the T2 Ultra. Any weaknesses? Sure, but only a couple: 1 GB RAM and a humdrum quad-core 1.4 GHz S400 SoC.

Xperia T2 Ultra

Strong suits? Where to even start? Well, the Triluminos 6-inch display is pretty great, although it’s not Full HD. Then you have on-board KitKat, a skinny 7.7 mm profile, bitching 13 MP main camera and hefty 3,000 mAh battery. Now that’s the stuff!

4. HTC Desire 816 – $385

Told you we’re going to run out of things to bitch about. I mean, sure, the Desire 816 ain’t flawless, what with its fairly steep price point, quad-core 1.6 GHz Snapdragon 400 processor and skinny 2,600 mAh cell. But boy, is the 5.5 incher a looker!

HTC-Desire-816

Fast too, courtesy of 1.5 GB RAM and pre-loaded Android 4.4. And photo buffs start drooling in 3, 2, 1… as HTC’s inexpensive giant touts 13 and 5 megapixel (!!!) rear and front cams respectively. Did someone ask for super-crisp selfies? You got it.

3. Huawei Ascend Mate 2 – $300

I know the name Huawei doesn’t inspire a lot of trust on the Western hemisphere, but sooner or later, it will. If they keep up the outstanding work, that is, as the Ascend Mate 2 is a whopper, with a 6.1-inch 720p IPS+ screen, 13/5 MP dual cameras and, get this, a 4,050 mAh ticker.

Huawei Ascend Mate 2

No wonder the bad boy weighs 202 grams, which is one of the main reasons it had to settle for bronze medal. Well, that, and Jelly Bean.

2. LG Optimus G Pro – $0.01 with AT&T contracts, $330 unlocked

It’s amazing how the one-year-old G Pro stood the test of time, costing now less than half of what it did back in the day while rocking aging but bitching specs: 5.5-inch 1,080p IPS Plus panel, quad-core 1.7 GHz Snapdragon 600 chip, 13 MP rear camera, 2 GB RAM, 3,140 mAh juicer.

att-lg-optimus-g-pro

LG’s timely update to KitKat sure helped the contender age gracefully, albeit for the time being, US owners need to make do with Jelly Bean.

1. Sony Xperia Z Ultra – $335

Look, I realize a 6.4-inch “tabphone” tipping the scales at 212 grams may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’ll just give the Z Ultra a chance, you’ll never look back to sub-6 inch handhelds. Measuring an astonishing 6.5 mm thin, the titan rejects all contacts with water and dust, boasts Full HD screen resolution, a top-of-the-line quad-core 2.2 GHz Snapdragon 800 SoC and 2 GB RAM.

Sony Xperia Z Ultra

Oh, oh, oh, and it challenges the productivity of Galaxy Notes too, interacting smoothly with whatever stylus, pen or pencil. And did I mention the battery’s capacity is a whopping 3,050 mAh, despite the Z Ultra being the supermodel of phablets? Yeah, no, you can’t do better than that at $335. 

Best Android Phablets and Jumbo-Sized Smartphones Money Can Buy in Early 2014

Compiling tech listicles at the wee hours of a new year is probably not the brightest idea, since odds are the hierarchy will be all jumbled by fresh product announcements before I can hit publish on my draft.

Phone call on Galaxy Note 8

But as I was rounding up the best phablets around, it dawned on me these behemoths are so likely to stand the test of time that whenever I decide to post the list, we’re covered for many months to come. Sure, plenty of new, sizzling hot jumbo-sized handhelds are to go official in the near future, yet they can’t do much to push the below greats to extinction.

Most of these are classics in the making, forefront fighters for the rights of the height-challenged, mentality alterers and just all-around pioneers. We salute you and welcome the transformations you have brought to the mobile décor, but now it’s time to pit you against one another and rank you.

phablet

Without further ado, here are the seven best phablets money can buy in January 2014:

7. Oppo N1 – starting at $600

Why it’s one of the best:

  • It rocks a unique design, with a rotating 13 MP camera capable of acting as both the rear and front-facing snapper and small posterior touch panel for easy, comfortable one-handed use

Oppo N1

  • Ginormous, vibrant 5.9-inch IPS panel with 1,920 x 1,080 pixels resolution
  • Solid build quality, feels nice and sturdy in the hand, uses mostly premium build materials
  • Tremendous photo shooting quality and exquisite selfie opportunities (run, duckfaces are coming!)

Why it’s not the absolute best:

  • It’s a little on the expensive side of things, going for $600 with 16 GB built-in storage
  • No microSD card slot
  • It’s behind the greats in raw speed, packing a dated Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 CPU

Oppo N1-2

  • Hard to come by and currently unavailable via Oppo’s US online store
  • Relatively heavy, even for its size (213 grams)
  • Runs a modified version of Android 4.2 (Color OS) and the promised CyanogenMod model isn’t out yet

6. LG Optimus G Pro – $0.01 with AT&T contracts, $500 outright

Strong points:

  • Stunning 5.5-inch True Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) IPS Plus LCD screen
  • Massive 3,140 mAh battery, which coupled with the small (by phablet standards) display and aging SoC, can theoretically deliver up to 31 hours of juice in continuous 2G talk time

LG Optimus G Pro

  •  Cheap, considering the state-of-the-art hardware you get

Flaws:

  • Ugly interface, laggy software support (don’t expect a 4.4 KitKat update anytime soon)
  • Snapdragon 600 processor

LG Optimus G Pro-2

  • Chintzy speakers
  • It tried a little too hard to replicate Galaxy Note 2’s looks, forgetting no one really liked Samsung’s glossy plastic exterior

5. Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 – $0.01 with AT&T and Sprint contracts, $500 unlocked (or $400 via other retailers)

Why it’s one of the best:

  • It’s the second largest of the bunch, yet also the second cheapest, tied with LG’s Optimus G Pro
  • Aside from AT&T and Sprint, it can also be found on US Cellular and MetroPCS, which is pretty amazing given exactly how big and nichy this thing is

GALAXY-Mega-6.3

  • Only 8 mm thick and 199 grams heavy
  • Fantastic pricing-quality ratio, as it packs 1.5 GB RAM and a 3,200 mAh battery
  • It’s still on Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, but don’t be surprised if it were to get 4.4 before the HTC One max

Why it’s not the best of the best:

  • 6.3-inch 1,280 x 720 pixels resolution screen with sub-par 233 ppi pixel density

Samsung-Galaxy-Mega

  • Dual-core Snapdragon 400 CPU
  • Plasticky, flimsy and cheap-looking

4. HTC One max – starting at roughly $100 with Sprint and Verizon pacts, $600 and up outright

Why it’s worth the recognition:

  • 5.9-inch 1,920 x 1,080 pixels resolution Super LCD3 display
  • Aluminum unibody, sturdy look and feel, giving off a much more premium vibe than any other phablet around

HTC-One-max

  • Fingerprint sensor: gimmicky? Damn straight, but some still seem to appreciate it
  • 3,300 mAh battery, gifted enough to last up to 25 hours in 3G talk time on paper

Why it’s not:

  • Solid? Sure. Bulky? That too, as it measures 10.3 mm in thickness and weighs in at 217 grams
  • Snapdragon 600 CPU

htc-one-mini-htc-one-htc-one-max

  • Still too damn expensive, even after a number of discounts
  • Though it currently runs Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, it’s unlikely to score KitKat by March

3. Samsung Galaxy Note 2 – starting at $450 unlocked

Upsides:

  • The textbook definition of oldie but goldie, this OG ages better than wine, now costing about as much as an upper mid-range 4.5-incher a year back and getting ready to taste Android 4.4’s chocolaty aroma
  • You can get it anywhere, everywhere and the pricing bar is likely to be further lowered in the near future

Galaxy-Note-2

  • S Pen support
  • Guaranteed software support
  • Excellent battery life, courtesy of a 3,100 mAh ticker and not quite demanding display/CPU duo

Downsides:

  • Poor design by 2014 standards, with tacky build materials

Samsung Galaxy Note 2

  • 5.5-inch 1,280 x 720 pix res screen with 267 ppi
  • Dated 1.6 GHz quad-core Exynos 4412 processor

2. Sony Xperia Z Ultra – $480 unlocked in 3G flavor, $540 with LTE, $650 Google Play Edition

Why it’s #2:

  • It’s the biggest, baddest mo-fo around, with a 6.4-inch Full HD panel and top-of-the-line Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 CPU
  • Can be scored with on-board KitKat in Google Play Edition

xperia-z-ultra-gpe

  • Slim and sleek, measuring an incredible 6.5 mm in thickness
  • Exquisite design (save maybe for the bezels), with shatter proof and scratch-resistant glass, as well as water and dust protection
  • Supports any kind of stylus or pen input, including regular writing tools

Why it’s not #1:

  • It can’t be had with subsidies stateside, so not everyone can afford it
  • 8 MP rear-facing camera

Sony-Xperia-Z-Ultra

  • Skinny, non-removable 3,050 mAh battery
  • 212 grams weight, which is slightly on the bulky side of things considering its wasp waist

1. Samsung Galaxy Note 3 – starting at $200 with pacts, $650 or so unlocked

Why it’s #1:

  • 5.7-inch Super AMOLED 1,080p display
  • S Pen support
  • 3,200 mAh battery

Samsung-Galaxy-Note-3

  • 13 MP camera with HDR, image stabilization, autofocus, LED flash, etc., etc.
  • Guaranteed software support (Android 4.4 KitKat rollout already underway)
  • Fast and furious Snapdragon 800 SoC, paired with a whopping 3 GB RAM
  • Plenty of storage options (16, 32, 64 on-board, plus microSD expansion)

Why its reign is somewhat vulnerable to future threats (mostly its own sequel):

  • The design is still not all it could be, despite an obvious evolution over the Note 2

Galaxy Note 3 in hand

  • Pricey, compared with all the others and considering it’s four months old
  • Bloated TouchWiz UI and no Google Play Edition available… yet

FYI: Handhelds measuring at least 5.5 inches and at most 6.5 inches were considered for this list, so don’t start bombarding us with questions and complaints about the LG G2 or Asus FonePad. It may be subjective, but I consider the former a phone, not a phablet, and the latter a full-fledged slate. That said, do you agree with our pecking order? Would you have made the list any different? Sound off below.