Are Cheap Android Phones Worth It?

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Cheap Android telephones are rapidly turning into commonplace—for as little as $99, you may get a dependable, initially-impressive handset that you simply’re free to take to a bunch of various carriers. Whereas these bargain-bin units are positively interesting, you must ask your self: is it actually price it?

What Makes a Cheap Cellphone a Cheap Cellphone?

Let’s begin with the plain: low cost telephones are cheaper for a purpose. There must be one thing that separates a $99 cellphone from a $700 one, and–most often–it’s in all probability a number of issues. Listed here are a number of areas the producers have a tendency to chop prices.

More often than not, reasonably priced telephones have both present low-end , or higher-end from two or three years in the past. This is among the simplest methods to maintain prices down, however that at all times means efficiency takes successful. As well as, the cameras are often of decrease (however typically satisfactory) high quality, and the screens don’t generally have the excessive pixel density, super-sharp shows of current-generation handsets.

Proper out of the gate, you must remember that you’ll be coping with both a lower-end processor—like one thing from Mediatek, for instance—or probably an older Snapdragon chip, in all probability from someplace round the 400 vary. That is noteworthy for individuals who assume “I can simply get one thing low cost and put a ROM on it,” as a result of sure chip producers are recognized for not releasing supply code, thus making it not possible for builders to construct ROMs for these units. Primarily, rely on sticking with the inventory software program all through the lifetime of the system, thought a little bit of analysis forward of time wouldn’t be a nasty concept both. That approach you already know what you’re coping with earlier than it’s too late.

However there’s additionally one other facet to this story. Yearly, processor producers enhance the know-how they use to extend efficiency and battery life. This tech, naturally, trickles down, so simply because a processor is “budget-friendly” doesn’t mechanically make it dangerous. Lately, a few of Mediatek’s Octa-core processors (just like the 6753, for instance) have gotten fairly highly effective, making them wonderful decisions for price range units. The value to efficiency ratio in these sorts of units is mostly incredible—dramatically greater than most trendy flagship items. The efficiency isn’t comparable, however no less than you’re actually getting your $99 price.

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Show tech can be a degree of concern with lower-end handsets. Typically talking, the shows of most price range telephones, whereas not fairly as excessive decision of contemporary flagships (1080p vs. 1440p), are fairly respectable—Motorola places nice-looking panels in its Moto G line, Blu units usually have very good shows regardless of their generally-low value factors, and the Huawei Honor 5X sports activities a 1080p show that readily competes with the flagships of yesteryear.

If I needed to decide one piece of the puzzle that can virtually actually be sub-par in a price range cellphone, it’s the digital camera. The show could also be respectable and the efficiency acceptable, however cameras are virtually at all times a disappointment. It is sensible, actually—that’s probably the most necessary options to most customers, so getting one thing merely excellent is a giant a part of what jacks up the worth on high-end trendy units. Many of the cameras on price range units lately aren’t as dangerous as they as soon as have been, however I can let you know proper now: if an excellent digital camera is a must have to your subsequent system, a price range cellphone merely gained’t be for you.

Lengthy-Time period Reliability and Updates

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Reliability is a bit tougher to pinpoint, because it’s going to be totally different for each system. However the lengthy and wanting it’s this: if a current-gen high-end handset will get you a simple two years of use, a extra reasonably priced one could solely survive half of that. There’s an opportunity it may stay a protracted, fruitful life, however there’s in all probability an equal probability it’ll kick the bucket within the first 12 months a technique or one other—these telephones aren’t designed to be almost as sturdy as costlier cellphone will probably be in order that they’re extra fragile. You additionally need to remember that they’ve to chop prices someplace, so failure isn’t one thing that’s completely unusual. In my expertise, the lifespan of a price range cellphone is a coin toss.

Updates are a little bit of a coin flip, too. It’s questionable whether or not or not the $150 handset you’re enthusiastic about shopping for will see the following model of Android—and if it does, it’ll probably be the final one it ever sees. To not point out it can in all probability come a lot later than that of a flagship cellphone—generally even a full replace cycle later. So when everybody else is getting Android 7.zero (or regardless of the subsequent main launch is), the price range handset may be getting 6.zero. You by no means know, however the firms that construct reasonably priced Android telephones simply don’t have the manpower to constantly help these units long-term, although lots of them are no less than making an effort to supply updates and continued help to their low-end catalog.

In brief: in the event you go into this anticipating to get a Galaxy S7 (and even S6)-equivalent cellphone, you’re going to be sorely disillusioned. However in the event you preserve your expectations in verify, you can come away with about 80 % of the premium Android expertise for a fraction of the price.

Know Your Service—Compatibility Is Key

For those who don’t already know, not all telephones are appropriate with all carriers. Within the US, there are two foremost forms of mobile service: CDMA and GSM. Dash and Verizon are the first CDMA carriers, whereas T-Cellular and AT&T are the 2 main GSM carriers. The tech behind every sort of service is very totally different, however that’s not what we’re actually involved with for the sake of this text—you actually solely have to know one factor on the subject of shopping for off-contract telephones (not simply cheapies, both): GSM is mostly open; CDMA is just not.

Principally, neither Dash nor Verizon supply choices for purchasers to convey their very own telephones. They’ve what they provide, and that’s that. There are a only a few exceptions to this rule, nevertheless, just like the Google Nexus 5X and 6P, however in any other case, you’ll have to stay with the telephones Verizon and Dash supply.

GSM carriers—like AT&T, T-Cellular, MetroPCS, and US Mobile, for instance—are fairly “open.” You may take most trendy GSM smartphones, drop a SIM card from one of many aforementioned carriers in it, and it ought to simply work, irrespective of the place you purchased it from.

For many flagship telephones, this isn’t as a lot of a difficulty, as a result of they’re designed to “simply work” with GSM carriers within the US. Price range telephones, nevertheless, aren’t. You’ll have to look somewhat deeper at stuff just like the “bands”–or particular knowledge frequencies–the cellphone makes use of. Not each price range cellphone helps the correct bands for each GSM community, and it might probably make issues actually complicated while you’re procuring round.

For instance, let’s say you at the moment have an ageing Samsung Galaxy SIII on AT&T, and also you’re seeking to substitute it with a Motorola Moto E. There are two variations of the Moto E—one with help for 4G LTE, and one with 3G solely. For those who purchase the incorrect one, you then’re going to surrender the high-speed LTE knowledge that the Galaxy SIII has, changing it with comparatively snail’s-paced 3G on the Moto E.

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Luckily, Motorola does an excellent job of differentiating between the 2 fashions, however not all producers make it that clear, and sure carriers rely extra closely on sure cellular bands that not each low cost cellphone helps. For instance, the cellphone within the above screenshot (Blu Vivo 5) makes use of LTE Bands 2, four, and seven. An identical cellphone from Blu (the Vivo XL—seen beneath), makes use of LTE Bands 2, four, 7, 12, and 17. Band 12 and 17 are significantly necessary for T-Cellular in sure components of the nation, and their omission on the Vivo 5 means some folks could also be left with out LTE protection.

Principally, simply because a cellphone says that it’s ”4G LTE Appropriate with T-Cellular“ doesn’t essentially imply it will likely be appropriate in all areas. It actually takes some digging to determine what bands are supported, then evaluate that to the bands which are utilized in your space. And in the event you’re making an attempt to kind via the ocean of low cost Android telephones on Amazon, that may be an enormous endeavor.

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Price range Phones vs. Final-Technology Flagship Phones

After all, price range Android telephones aren’t the one approach to avoid wasting cash. You can additionally purchase final 12 months’s flagship cellphone, and even the 12 months earlier than’s, which might convey down the price fairly a bit. So which is healthier? Sadly, this isn’t such a simple reply, particularly contemplating the speed that price range telephones are progressing and bringing high-end options to low-end units.

For instance, two of the latest telephones from price range cellphone maker Blu—the Vivo 5 and Vivo XL—each have USB Kind C, a characteristic that’s in any other case solely discovered on a small handful of top-tier units. Equally, the Huawei Honor 5X has a fingerprint reader that’s truly fairly good; higher than the flagships that launched the characteristic, just like the Samsung Galaxy S5. Once more, usable fingerprint readers are simply now turning into mainstream on top-end units.

And all three of these telephones price lower than $200 proper now. Excessive-end options in low-end telephones…it’s a loopy world we stay in.

Moreover, an older flagship will in all probability not get any extra updates, particularly as soon as it’s greater than two years previous. An affordable cellphone could not both, but it surely’s no less than somewhat extra more likely to.

How do the Processors Evaluate?

After all, you continue to have to contemplate the remainder of the . Is it higher to have a two-generation-old processor, just like the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800, or a contemporary price range mannequin, just like the aforementioned MediaTek 6753? In uncooked benchmark scores, the older processor nonetheless typically outscores the trendy price range chip, however that doesn’t essentially at all times translate into real-world utilization—simply because the Snapdragon 800 outscores the 6753 by 11,000 factors in AnTuTu (38,298 vs. 49,389), does it actually imply it affords 30 % extra energy in a real-world state of affairs? Not often. In most side-by-side comparisons, you’d have a tough time telling the distinction between the 2.

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What In regards to the Shows and Cameras?

We’ve already established that two-generation-old flagship processors are “quicker” (on paper) than most current-generation price range chips, however what concerning the show tech and cameras? With the latter, the price range cellphone will greater than probably have a greater show than the older flagship mannequin, just because show tech is enhancing at a tempo that enables a lot higher-quality panels to be produced at a decrease price. And whereas price range telephones typically high out at round 1080p (in the interim, anyway), this typically interprets to barely higher efficiency since there are fewer pixels for the CPU and GPU to push.

As talked about earlier, the digital camera is one place the place you would possibly see a bonus of current-generation price range fashions. That one could be very subjective, and it relies on the cellphone in query—for instance, the S5 goes to have a greater digital camera than one thing just like the 2014 Moto X, regardless of being older. Sadly, it’s a lot tougher to place a cut-and-dry rule on digital camera efficiency when evaluating two telephones, regardless of which value level they fall into. You’ll simply need to lookup critiques for the telephones you’re focused on.

General, which is healthier? It relies upon rather a lot on the cellphone, and what’s necessary to you. An previous flagship could feel and look somewhat higher, and will include a greater digital camera–but it surely actually gained’t be getting any updates, the place a more moderen system would possibly.

The One Exception to All of This

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With all that mentioned, there may be one basic exception to a lot of the “guidelines” I’ve laid out right here: Nexus telephones. Google usually sells Nexus telephones at extra reasonably priced costs within the first place, so they’re more cost effective than different high-end telephones from the identical technology when shopping for older fashions. On the time of writing, you may get the last-generation Nexus cellphone—the Motorola Nexus 6—for as little as $250 model new. Apart from being arguably too large, the Nexus 6 is a nice cellphone at that value, and can simply trump another system at that value level. And better of all, because it’s a Nexus, it’s going to be supported by Google and get updates for much longer than telephones from different producers.

So When Is a Price range Cellphone the Proper Alternative?

Whereas I’ll admit that there’s by no means been a greater time to purchase into the price range scene–whether or not you’re getting an affordable current-gen cellphone or a last-gen flagship–there are occasions when it’s smarter than others.

For those who aren’t an influence person, or want to purchase a cellphone for somebody who isn’t, it doesn’t make a number of sense to fret about updates, processor benchmarks, and the like. Ease of use and value are typically extra necessary to these customers, and Android’s latest price range handsets can usually match the invoice completely. On the finish of the day, if all you’re seeking to do is textual content some pals, verify Fb, and play Sweet Crush Saga, then there’s no have to waste some huge cash on a cellphone that has greater than you want. Plus, you’ll in all probability want the money you saved for in-app purchases to assist get previous that one stage you’ve been caught on for 3 weeks in Sweet Crush. See? That’s me looking for you.

However what if you’re an influence person? Right here’s one other state of affairs: you broke your foremost cellphone (I’m sorry), however you’re nonetheless paying on it. That’s a horrible state of affairs to be in, as your service gained’t can help you finance one other cellphone till the present one has been paid off. As a substitute of crying the sob of a damaged man, you can simply suck it up and drop a pair hundred on a price range mannequin that can simply final till you’ve paid off your previous cellphone and it’s time to seize the latest hotness. Alternatively, you may simply take your child’s cellphone and provides her or him the cheaper cellphone—you gained’t get any judgement from me.

That truly brings up one other nice argument for price range units: youngsters. For those who’ve obtained a pre-teen simply dying for a cellphone, a extra reasonably priced mannequin simply is sensible. It’s their first (or second, third?) cellphone, and there’s an excellent probability they’ll break it anyway—youngsters are careless, uncoordinated, and simply not as attentive as their grownup counterparts, so these items occur. Why waste tons of on a present flagship cellphone? There’s no level—no less than not till they show they are often accountable with the cheaper handset.

All that mentioned: as a lot as I believe the present price range market is in one of the best place it’s ever been, an affordable cellphone isn’t at all times the reply. The first purpose that you simply’d be taking a look at a price range mannequin is, nicely, price range, so there’s no purpose to even look down this path in case your pockets can deal with a present technology flagship. To place it clearly, a Galaxy S7 Edge, LG G5, or Nexus 6P is at all times going to outwork a less expensive handset—there’s simply no query about it. Principally, in the event you can afford to spend extra, do it. Taking a look at it from a long-term perspective, you’ll finally find yourself a lot better off.

However in the event you can’t, the price range market is powerful, and getting stronger daily–so that you’re in luck.


At first of this text, I requested the query “are low cost Android telephones price it?” Two years in the past, I might’ve laughed and mentioned “completely not.” As we speak, nevertheless, we’re in a a lot better place technologically, and I really feel like there isn’t a place that’s extra clearly seen than the price range market. Whereas present flagship telephones are little greater than iterative updates of their predecessors, the price range scene is rising by leaps and bounds. The efficiency and options that you would be able to get for $200 within the present market is just astounding on most counts, making this a a lot better time to purchase a price range cellphone.

After all, it’s not at all times the only option, however that’s not for me to resolve. Every state of affairs is totally different and it’s finally as much as you to resolve what’s greatest to your utilization.

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