It used to be a simple fact that if you wanted a good smartphone, you’d need to pay hundreds of dollars either upfront or in slightly less painful installments each month. You’d also have to sign away two years of your smartphone-toting life to a wireless carrier for the privilege of paying $500, $600, $700 or even more for a phone. While there are still plenty of expensive smartphones to choose among, there are also some more budget-friendly options on the table, including some good smartphones for as little as $100.
As Liam Tung reported for ZDNet at the end of 2014, experts like those at research firm Gartner expect that the majority of smartphones will cost less than $100 by the year 2020. The firm projects that emerging markets will account for 78% of smartphone sales by 2018, pushing the below-$100 segment to the top as the dominant price point in the near future. You’ve probably already spotted a few inexpensive phones with impressive specs — perhaps a Windows phone, a device from Mozilla or Samsung, or a phone from one of the many smaller brands that sometimes focus specifically on budget-friendly phones.
Among the affordable choices available, most phones fall into a couple of different categories: phones that are sold without a contract, and unlocked phones. Most phones that you can buy from a carrier or a general retailer are locked to a specific operator, whether you buy the phone with a contract ad subsidy or pay the full price upfront. That means that you can only it on one or two carriers’ networks, depending on whether it’s a GSM or CDMA phone. Phones that are unlocked, on the other hand, aren’t limited by the same locking software, so your choice of networks is more flexible (though you’ll still need to do your research to find out if a specific phone is compatible with your network of choice).
If you’re looking for a budget-friendly alternative to the pricy choices at your local carrier store, read on for our list of 10 smartphones that cost $100 or less. There are still plenty of cheap smartphones you shouldn’t buy, so there are a few particularly important factors to keep in mind when you’re evaluating your options. A few of these are no-contract smartphones tied to specific carriers, while others are unlocked. Most are 4G capable, while a few are only 3G-ready — a sufficient option for users who mostly rely on their smartphones for voice calls or use them primarily while connected to WiFi, but not for those who want top speed for faster browsing or downloads.
1. Acer Liquid Z410
The Acer Liquid Z410 starts at $99 and is a good budget phone, with LTE support, a quad-core 1.3GHz processor, and an impressive 2GB of RAM (which isn’t common among sub-$100 phones). The phone features a 4.5-inch screen with 854 x 480 resolution, and it has 16GB of memory, plus dual SIM card slots, a 2,000mAh replaceable battery, a 5MP rear-facing camera, and a 2MP front-facing camera. As Toms Hardware pointed out last summer, the Liquid Z410 runs Android 4.4.4 KitKat, which is a significant drawback for users who would prefer a more updated version of the software, but may not bother those who simply want an affordable phone that will work.
2. BLU Studio C
BLU may not be a household name yet, but that’s no reason to skip the BLU Studio C if you want a phone that runs Android Lollipop without a hefty price tag. This 5-inch, 4G-capable phone starts at $95, and is powered by a 1.3 GHz quad-core processor, 1GB of RAM, 8GB of memory, and a 2,800mAh battery. Android Headlines notes that BLU offers “cheap, unlocked Android phones that are actually pretty good.” That’s especially true of the Studio C’s camera system, which integrates a Sony IMX179 Sensor, a Largan lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.2, and a 5MP front-facing camera with a Largan lens and 85-degree angle of view.
3. Cubot Z100
The Cubot Z100 is a solid smartphone for its $100 price tag. The 5-inch Z100 features 4G connectivity, dual-SIM support, a quad-core 1.0GHz processor, a 2,450mAh battery, 1GB of RAM, and 16GB of internal storage (which is upgradeable up to 32GB). Impressively, the phone also features an 8MP front-facing camera and a 13MP rear-facing camera. Cubot is one of the many Chinese smartphone manufacturers offering decent phones at low prices, and the Z100’s display features a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels, plus 2.5D curved glass, which means that the device features the curved edge that you’re more likely to see on pricy flagship phones than on affordable devices. Even better? The phone runs Android 5.1.
4. HTC Desire 510
HTC Desire 510 starts at just $45, and is a good model to consider if you have less than $100 to spend on a new smartphone. The 4G-capable phone features a 4.7-inch display with a low 480 x 854 resolution, and it’s equipped with just 4GB of internal memory (so you’re going to need to invest in a microSD card, which will enable you to expand the storage by up to 64GB). However, the Desire 510 is powered by a 1.4GHz quad-core processor and 1GB of RAM. With Android KitKat and a capable processor and battery, the HTC Desire 510 has the right tech to handle the basics well, according to CNET. The device’s design is a little chunky and its display noticeably lower-resolution than what you’d get with pricier models, but if you only need a smartphone for texting, email, and some light app usage, the Desire 510 will be fine.
5. Huawei SnapTo
If you’re looking for an unlocked LTE phone, the Huawei SnapTo is a great device to consider. Starting at just $92, the SnapTo has a quad-core 1.2GHz processor, and a 5-inch 1280x 720 resolution screen. It features 8GB of internal memory and a microSD card slot that can support up to 32GB of extra storage, plus 1GB of RAM, a 5MP rear-facing camera, and a 2MP front-facing camera. PCMag notes that while the SnapTo is a great value for an unlocked LTE phone, its performance is very entry-level. It’s also worth noting that the SnapTO runs an older, heavily-skinned version of Android (4.4 KitKat with Huawei’s Emotion UI v2.3.
6. LG G Stylo
If you’re searching for an affordable smartphone with a large screen, the $99 LG G Stylo may be for you. The device features a 5.7-inch screen with 1280 x 720 resolution, and it’s powered by a 1.2GHz processor and 1GB of RAM, and the G Stylo runs Android 5.0 Lollipop and is 4G LTE-capable. It’s also equipped with 8GB of internal storage (which is expandable up to 32GB with a microSD card) and an 8MP rear-facing camera. CNET notes that the device is a strong contender among affordable phablets, and includes a stylus that’s sturdy and comfortable to write with, plus a variety of signature LG features like QuickMemo+, KnockOn, and KnockCode.
7. Lenovo Golden Warrior S8
The Lenovo Golden Warrior S8, which starts at $100, has some impressive specs for such an inexpensive phone. That includes an octa-core 1.4GHz processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of memory, a 13MP rear-facing camera, and a 5MP front-facing camera. The Golden Warrior S8 runs Android 4.2, has a 5.3-inch screen with 1280 x 720 resolution, and has dual-SIM support. However, there’s no LTE connectivity, and the battery is 2,000mAh, which may mean shorter battery life than some of our other top picks. As Android Headlines reported before the device was officially launched, the Golden Warrior S8 is a good-looking device that won’t break the bank.
8. Motorola Moto E
The second-generation Motorola Moto E is a 4G-capable phone with 1GB of RAM, 8GB of internal storage, and a microSD card slot compatible with microSD cards up to 32GB. It runs Android 5.0 Lollipop, has a 2,390 mAh battery, and dual-SIM support. Wirecutter named the 2015 Motorola Moto E the “cheapest acceptable option” for users looking for a budget-friendly Android phone. The publication noted that this phone manages to avoid many of the pitfalls that make other cheap phones aggravating to use; the software isn’t too slow, the 4.5-inch size enables easy one-handed use, and while the display is relatively low-resolution at 960×540, it’s bright and power-efficient.
9. Nokia Lumia 635
If you prefer Windows to Android, then consider the Nokia Lumia 635, which runs Windows 8.1. The device starts at just $75, which gets you LTE connectivity, a 4.5-inch Gorilla Glass 3 screen, a quad-core 1.2GHz processor, 8GB of memory, and 1GB of RAM. The device also features a microSD card slot, which you can use to expand the phone’s storage by up to 128GB. PCMag reported back when the phone was introduced that the Lumia 635 was an “amazing value for the money.” That’s perhaps a little less true these days considering the array of inexpensive but competitive smartphones on the market, but it’s still a solid phone for Windows fans who don’t want to spend enough for a pricier phone that runs Windows 10 instead of an older version of the OS.
10. ZTE Zmax 2
If you need performance on a budget, the ZTE Zmax 2 may be the phone for you. The 5.5-inch smartphone costs just $99, and features 4G LTE connectivity, a 1.2GHz processor, 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of internal memory. It also includes mobile hotspot functionality, and runs Android 5.1 Lollipop. CNET reports that the ZTE Zmax 2 offers a big screen and reliable call quality that are both impressive for the price tag, though the device is heavy and the performance of its camera is inconsistent. However, the device is still a capable phone if you’re on a tight budget.