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10 best cheap phones: $400 (or much less) buys an iPhone, Pixel, or Galaxy alternative


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Updated for May 2019: The Apple iPhone XS starts at $1,000, the iPhone XS Max at $1,099, the Samsung S10 Plus at $1,000, and the Google Pixel 3 XL at $899. 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 a deterrent for many folks.

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 Phones program that offers reasonable prices on current models and those that might be a year or two old, but are still a valuable option.

While many of these low cost phones are GSM phones that work on T-Mobile, AT&T, Metro by T-Mobile, and others, technology is adapting and many also work on Sprint and Verizon.

It’s tough to justify a $1,100 iPhone XS Max as your first phone, but any of these following phones may be great to get started with mobile technology, to get work done without forking over serious cash, for your elderly parent who needs an easy form of communication, or to have a second phone in case of an emergency. These phones are in order from lowest to highest price.

1. Coolpad Legacy for $129.99

coolpad-legacy-6.jpg

The new Coolpad Legacy, see my first take, is designed with a large display, huge capacity battery with Quick Charge 3.0, high-quality plastic and glass materials, a microSD expansion card, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and even launches with Android 9 Pie out of the box. There has to be trade-offs made at the $130 price, but it’s hard to see where these compromises were made on the Coolpad Legacy.

The Coolpad Legacy is being offered for $129.99 at Metro by T-Mobile. This means you get service with no annual contracts on a pre-paid basis. This is a great first phone, one for someone who needs a phone to last a couple days, or someone who wants a big display that is easy to read.

It has modern features and solid design aspects while performing reliably to help you get things done. I am still stunned by the low price of this phone and did not expect it to be this good.

2. LG K30 for $139.99

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Image: LG

The LG K30 has a full retail price of $179.99 (or higher), but it is currently priced at just $139.99 on Amazon.

The LG K30 has a 5.3-inch display with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 425 processor, an 8-megapixel rear camera, 5-megapixel front-facing camera, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage with a microSD expansion card slot, rear fingerprint scanner, and a rather large 3,000mAh battery.

The K30 is priced at less than most insurance policies for flagship phones, so if you need a low cost phone or a backup, then this may be the one to consider.

3. Apple iPhone SE (64GB) for $160

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-$400 list, but the 64GB Apple iPhone SE is available now from Amazon in a couple of colors at various prices. You can also find 128GB models on Amazon. These are renewed phones that come with a 90-day Amazon guarantee.

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 64GB 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.

4. Alcatel 7 for $179

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Image: Alcatel

Alcatel has been releasing some compelling, low-cost phones over the past year, and one of the premium devices in its lineup is the Alcatel 7. It is available from Metro by T-Mobile for $179 with special offers dropping it to as low as free with specific plan.

The Alcatel 7 and launches with Android 8.1 Oreo, has a massive 4,000mAh battery, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage and a microSD card slot, 6 -nch display, dual rear cameras, an IR blaster, and FM radio. The second 2-megapixel rear camera is designed to provide depth data for bokeh (portrait) mode photography.

The large display has an 18:9 aspect ratio, so you can enjoy video content on the phone. There is an Alcatel-exclusive CloserTV app that consolidates all of your online streaming services and cable TV service provider so you have one central location for enjoying your media.

5. Honor 7X for $200.99

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Image: Honor

The Honor 7X has been available for a year now, but is still a solid phone at the $200 price point. I wrote a full review last year where I awarded it an 8.4/10 rating, and I know a couple of people that have been very pleased with my recommendation.

If you are looking to spend $200 or less, I highly recommend this phone as a first choice. You can find it in various colors, including a cool red. Like most of these low cost devices, storage can be inexpensively expanded via a microSD card too

The Honor 7X 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, 3.340mAh battery, 3GB of RAM, FM radio, and more.

6. Moto G6 for $239.99

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The Moto G6 is available as an Amazon Prime Exclusive phone and may be one of the best available for just over $200.

ZDNet’s Ross Rubin stated that the Moto G6 was the way forward for Motorola, and then Sandra Vogel posted her full review of the G6 Plus. For just $239.99 you can purchase the Moto G6 in black or oyster blush from Amazon. An indigo blue one with 64GB of internal storage is available for $299.99.

The Moto G6 has a 5.7-inch display, dual rear cameras, an 8-megapixel front-facing camera, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage with a microSD card slot, and 3,000mAh battery. It is a mid-level phone available at an entry level price.

7. LG Stylo for $249.99

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Image: Amazon

The Samsung Galaxy Note standout feature is the S Pen, but the Note line starts at $1,000 and goes up from there. If you are a fan of using a stylus with your phone, then you are in luck, as you can find a much more affordable option on Amazon with the LG Stylo 4. This LG phone comes with a large 6.2-inch 1080p display and a stylus pen that even supports screen off memos, which is one of my favorite features on the Note 9.

The LG Stylo 4 has 3GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage with a microSD card slot, Android 8.1, and is powered by a Snapdragon 450 processor. It has a 13-megapixel rear camera and 5-megapixel front camera with a 3,300mAh battery and USB-C port for charging.

Facial recognition is used for convenient unlocking while a rear fingerprint scanner is present for secure situations.

8. Nokia 7.1 for $349

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Image: Josh Miller/CNET

The Nokia brand is back with compelling mid-range phones from HMD Global. The Nokia 7.1 can be purchased from Amazon, WalMart, and Best Buy for $349. Available colors include Gloss Midnight Blue and Gloss Steel.

A large 5.84-inch 19:9 ratio display made with Gorilla Glass 3 is powered by a Snapdragon 636 running Android 9 Pie. You will still find a standard 3.5mm headset jack on this phone with dual rear cameras with Zeiss optics. USB-C is available for charging and a 3,060mAh battery keeps you going for hours.

The phone incorporates a rear fingerprint sensor. This is an Android One device so you can count on timely updates too.

9. Moto Z3 Play for $349.90

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(Image: Sebaztian Barns/ZDNet)

The Moto Z3 Play also uses the Snapdragon 636 processor to power its 6-inch Super AMOLED display, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB internal storage. This is one of the most powerful phones under $400 and supports the use of Moto Mods.

Dual rear cameras are present, along with a 3,000mAh battery in a slim and sleek form factor. It’s a bit of an upgrade to the Moto G6 with support for the Moto Mods platform.

The Moto Z3 Play runs a stock Android experience with useful utilities from Motorola, such as the gesture to launch the camera or toggle the flashlight.

10. Google Pixel 3a for $399

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Google

Google’s Pixel line of phones has been competing with flagships from Apple, Samsung, and Huawei. Just last week at Google I/O, Google revealed the Pixel 3a at just $399. It’s a mid-level phone, but the standout camera from the Pixel 3 is included so if you want the absolute best phone for under $400 that will be updated for years, then you can’t go wrong with a Pixel 3a in Just Black, Purple-ish, or Clearly White.

Even better for the masses, Google will be selling these in T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint stores. US carrier stores often have launch specials and special pricing offers too so look around and even visit your store to test one out.

The Pixel 3a is running Android 9 Pie and is assured of getting updated to Android Q on a timely basis. It has a 5.6-inch display with a rear 12.2-megapixel camera and front 8-megapixel camera with Google’s fantastic image processing software.

A Snapdragon 670 powers the Pixel 3a with 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, a 3,000mAh battery, and stereo speakers. A fast rear fingerprint scanner unlocks the phone while it also still retains a 3.5mm headphone jack.

Disclosure: ZDNet earns commissions from some of the products featured on this page.



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