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Best cheap smartphones: $300 (and much less) can buy mobile satisfaction

The Apple iPhone X starts at $1,000, the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 at $950, and the Google Pixel 2 XL at $849. These manufacturers and wireless carriers tend to offer monthly payment plans to help people accept these high prices, but no matter how you slice it the price of flagships is still huge.

Thankfully, there are some outstanding low cost alternatives and these alternatives have significantly improved over the past few years. Various manufacturers, including many from China and Korea, have compelling products and these products are finding their way into the mainstream market. Amazon has its Prime Exclusive Phone program that even offers lower prices through lockscreen offers and ads, which is a fair trade-off to save some cash.

‘My First Phone’: CNET editors look back at their first phones

Most of these low cost phones are GSM phones that work on T-Mobile, AT&T, MetroPCS, and other low cost carriers. Some can be found at Sprint and Verizon stores, but there is less availability and price competition when it comes to the CDMA networks.

It’s tough to justify a $1,000 iPhone X as your first phone, but any of these ten phones may be great to get started, to get work done without forking over serious cash, or to have a second phone in case of an emergency. These ten are in order from lowest to highest price, with Amazon ad-supported prices listed, as applicable.

1. ZTE Blade V8 Pro ($140)


Image: CNET

The ZTE Blade V8 Pro has a full retail price of $199.98, but it is currently priced at just $139.99 on Amazon. This large 5.5 inch Android phone with Gorilla Glass 3 offers dual rear 13 megapixel cameras, front fingerprint scanner, microSD expansion card support, and a rather large 3,140 mAh battery with Quick Charge 2.0 support.

The ZTE Blade V8 Pro is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage. It’s quite a powerful mid-range phone at one of the lowest prices you will find on any smartphone today.

CNET reviewed the device and gave it a respectable 7.4/10 rating. It was knocked for being heavy and having slightly buggy performance, which leads me to recommend looking at paying a bit more for another phone in our low cost list.

2. LG X Charge ($150)


Image: LG

LG is known for making high end camera phones, especially the G and V series devices. The LG X Charge is the lowest priced LG device in the Amazon Prime Exclusive lineup at $149.99. The word Charge is in the device, but it means you will rarely have to charge it up with its massive 4,500 mAh battery that is unheard of in the smartphone world.

Unlike most of these low priced phones, the LG X Charge also works on the Sprint network, in addition to AT&T, T-Mobile, and other GSM networks.

The LG X Charge is powered by a MediaTek 1.5 Ghz octa-core processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB internal storage, and a microSD card. It has a rear 13 megapixel camera and 5 megapixel front-facing camera.

3. Nokia 6 ($180)


Nokia 6

HMD Global

Nokia is back with a full Android lineup and earlier this summer I took a look at the Nokia 6. It’s a solid device powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 processor, 3GB RAM, and 32GB internal storage. The 5.5 inch display looks great and is composed of Gorilla Glass 3.

The Nokia 6 is also available as an Amazon Prime Exclusive phone for $179.99 and can be purchased in black or blue.

CNET awarded the Nokia 6 a 6.7/10 rating with the lower level processor taking away some points for performance.

4. Moto G5 Plus ($185)



Back in March, I stated that the Moto G5 Plus was the best sub-$300 smartphone available at the time. The Amazon Exclusive price now has this phone even lower, down at $184.99.

There is very little compromise on this device with snappy performance from the Snapdragon 625 processor and a very stock Android experience. It has splash resistant nano coating and a large 3,000 mAh battery. The 5.2 inch display device fits well in your pocket and even works on Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile, and others.

CNET awarded the Moto G5 Plus an 8.3/10 rating, making it the highest rated lowest priced phone available today.

5. Honor 7X ($199.99)


Image: Honor

The Honor 7X was just announced last week and I offered up some first impressions. If you are looking to spend $200 or less, I highly recommend this phone as a first choice and know a few friends who already ordered one based on my recommendation.

It’s rather stunning that the Honor 7X is only priced at $199.99 as it looks and feels like a device priced at least twice this cost. It’s all metal body has an excellent fit and finish with minimal bezels, dual rear cameras, a fast Kirin 659 processor, and more.

You can purchase the Honor 7X in black or blue and it will be available starting next week. Like most of these low cost devices, storage can be inexpensively expanded via a microSD card too.

6. LG Q6 ($230)


The LG Q6 appears to be a flagship LG G6 in mini form factor with many similar design features, including a fantastic FullVision 18:9 aspect ratio display.

The LG Q6 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 435 processor with 3GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage, and a microSD card slot (notice the pattern here below $300?).

Like the LG G6, the LG Q6 is built to pass the MIL-STD 810G drop tests so it has more durability than others. There is a 13 megapixel rear camera and 5 megapixel front camera on the Q6.

7. Alcatel Idol 5S ($280)


The Prime Exclusive version of the looks to be unavailable, but for $279.99 you can still buy one without offers and ads. I tested the Alcatel Idol 5S in July and loved it. Alcatel has been making some high quality phones for the last couple of years and has a familiar looks and feel to all of its phones.

The Alcatel Idol 5S is powered by a Snapdragon 625 processor with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage. It has a glass back and front with loud stereo speakers.

8. Apple iPhone SE (32GB) ($280)

iPhone SE

While the iPhone SE got a storage bump in March 2017, the underlying hardware remains the same as the original hardware released in March 2016.

You probably didn’t expect to ever see an Apple iPhone in this sub-$330 list, but the 32GB Apple iPhone SE is available now on Amazon for $278.28.

Many people keep buying this iPhone because its the last of the small devices with a 4 inch display, but it still has all of the great iOS functionality. Other specs include a rear 12 megapixel camera, a front 1.2 megapixel FaceTime HD camera, a fingerprint scanner integrated into the front home button, and 32GB of internal storage.

The Apple iPhone SE is powered by the Apple A9 chip and M9 motion coprocessor for a fast experiences with a standard 3.5mm headset jack still present on the phone.

9. Moto G5S Plus ($300)


The Moto G5S Plus.


Moto recently released a successor to the Moto G5 Plus in the Moto G5S Plus. This upgrade offers a dual rear camera setup, a larger 5.5 inch display, more RAM, and an improved front-facing camera for a $299.99 price.

NFC is nearly always something left out of these lower priced devices and that is the case here as well. microUSB is also used as the charging standard, instead of the new USB Type-C port.

Thankfully, Moto offers a very stock Android experience with some Moto enhancements that make the device very responsive and efficient in daily use. This phone also supports Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile, and prepaid partners so you can use it without carrier bloatware.

10. Moto X4 ($330)


The Moto X line started off the modern Moto Androids a couple years ago and the Moto X4 may be the best in this list of ten affordable phones. It offers an excellent glass sandwich design with a solid dual rear camera experience, IP68 dust and water resistance, and hands-free Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa support.

The Moto X4 also supports Project Fi so if you are looking for a way to have an affordable carrier, you have this option available on the X4. You can also use it with other GSM carriers, of course.

The Moto X4 uses the new USB Type-C port for charging and still retains a standard 3.5mm headphone jack. It has a front fingerprint scanner and that button can also be enabled for single button navigation in the settings. This is also one of the lower priced phones that has NFC so you can use it for Android Pay. You can have a lot of fun with the dual rear cameras too.

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