The 3 Best Budget Phones That You Can Buy Right Now [For $200 or Less]
Nowadays, it’s pretty normal for a smartphone to cost $1,000 or more. That may seem ridiculous to some, but if you think so, well, you’re wrong. Let me explain. Most people reading this will be able to remember things that happened 15 years ago, so, let’s go back to 2005.
What Could You Expect to Pay For a Computer 15 Years Ago?
Well, that’s a broad question, but we should pick something reasonable to compare to a modern cell phone. Of course, that’s going to be a laptop. And I think it’s fair for that laptop to be a touch screen model, so that it’s as close of a comparison to a phone as possible.
Also, we think it’s only fair to pick a laptop by a popular manufacturer, and not some little-known, little-sold bargain bin device. Come on, people, we are going for a mainstream comparison here, so let’s be reasonable.
Meet The Lenovo Thinkpad X41 Convertible Tablet
Lenovo, a Chinese company, purchased IBM’s personal computing division in 2005. The ThinkPad X41, with its fingerprint scanner and touch technology, made it one of the year’s most popular computers, and subsequently, a great comparison for this article. This was a great computer at the time. No, it was not the absolute fastest computer on earth, in fact, it wasn’t even the fastest laptop. But it was definitely a quick machine. It could do anything that you needed to do on it, and it did so effortlessly.
This computer retailed for $2,249. After you adjust for inflation, that’s $2,952 in today’s dollars. Believe it or not, that was a great price for a laptop at the time. Just 5 years earlier, you could expect to pay $3,000 ($4466 adjusting for inflation) for a much less capable PC.
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So, What Kind of Specs Did The Lenovo X41 Have?
I’m glad you asked. At the heart of this machine was a 32-bit 1.5Ghz single-core Pentium M 758 CPU. Before you laugh, let me explain a few things to you.
The Pentium M was a great leap in performance for Intel. Before the Pentium M came out, everything Intel put out was based on the Pentium 4, which was total trash. Don’t believe me? Well, then maybe you will believe Intel. The Pentium 4 architecture was so bad, that Intel scrapped the entire thing and went back to the Pentium III. At the time, recent improvements in manufacturing technology allowed the Pentium III to run at much higher clock speeds. That, along with some minor architectural improvements, produced the Pentium M, which all Intel CPUs are currently based on.
That’s right, that Core i9 CPU you just bought is based on an Intel Pentium III. Now, isn’t that somethin’?
So, the point is, even though it’s only 32-bit, 1.5Ghz, and single-core, it was a really, really great CPU for the time. It was as fast as a 2.5Ghz Pentium 4 that you could find in a desktop, and because it was so much more efficient, unlike the Pentium 4, it worked well in laptops. This laptop was fast. The only thing better than it was other laptops with higher clocked Pentium M chips.
Random Access Memory
This laptop had 512MB of RAM. I know, I know, half a gig. But at the time, this was the industry standard for high performance. Think of it as 16GB of RAM today. Oh, how far we’ve come. This memory was DDR1. Well, at the time it wasn’t called that. Much in the same way that the first entry in a movie franchise that ends up with sequels isn’t generally called ‘Part 1’. It was just DDR. DDR stands for double data rate memory. This type of memory employed a new technique where it could store 2 bits of data in the same time that older RAM could only store 1, hence the ‘Double’.
This device had an XGA (1024 x 768) resistive-touch single point LCD panel. Sorry, folks, no pinch-zoom here. One finger, that’s it. But remember, this was 15 years ago when touch screen computers were basically unheard of. No, it was not an OLED panel. Hell, it wasn’t even an IPS LCD. It was just a good ole’ TN-type LCD. Yep, poor viewing angles, brightness, and color reproduction. Still though, state of the art.
The Lenovo Thinkpad X41 came standard with a 40GB 4200RPM hard drive. Yes, that weird spinning magnetic thing that used to be in every PC. This was a great hard drive at that time, but as we all know, solid-state storage made them totally obsolete for anything other than datacenter usage.
This laptop had only one way to connect with the outside word wirelessly, and that was with 802.11G wifi. 54 megabits per second, compared to 802.11ac’s maximum of 7000 megabits per second, and a usable range of about 70 feet. The internet at the time was about 5mbps, on average, so this laptop had plenty of headroom to do stuff online and could transfer files on your local network pretty fast. There was absolutely no cellular option from the factory, and if that was something that you needed, you could expect to pay hundreds for an add-in card.
If you were lucky, and if you turned your screen brightness all the way down, and you didn’t play any videos, and if you held your tongue at just the right angle, you might get 2 hours out of this thing.
So, What’s The Point of The Explanation Above?
So, I get that it might be a little confusing. I’m saying both good and bad things about the specs of the Lenovo X41. You see, the whole purpose of the above writing is to explain that yes, this is an old computer and has some pretty laughable specs, but it was really, really good for the time.
The main purpose, here, is to explain that paying $1000 or more for a phone is not ridiculous. In fact, it’s a marvel of technical and economic progress to be able to pay so little for a computer. Oops. I meant to say phone, right? No. I didn’t. Let’s be real, here. We call them smartphones, but really, what percentage of the time do you use your ‘smartphone’ to actually call people? Yeah, that’s what I thought.
I literally cringe every time I hear someone say “Why would anyone pay that much for a phone?’.
So, Let’s Break This Down
What do you get for $1000? 4, 6, or 8 CPUs, all-around 2 GHz or more. Any one of which by itself is far faster than any Pentium M. You get at least 3 cameras. Any one of which is better than the point and shoot you bought last week. You get 6 GB of RAM or more, and that’s DDR4, folks. You get an ultra-high-resolution screen that has pixels so small that you literally can’t see them. You get internet connectivity everywhere that is 20 times the speed of the Wi-Fi on the aforementioned Lenovo laptop. You get 256 GB of incredibly fast solid-state storage. You get a music player, a video player, a text messenger, and well, a phone. Did I forget to mention that you can fit all that in your pocket, and the battery lasts all day long? Well, I guess I just did.
But Wait, There’s More
I think it’s pretty clear that people should stop complaining about top-end phones because you get all of the above in a super-premium device made of metal and clad in glass. Not just any glass. We’re talking super high tech ultra-thin Gorilla glass. These things are really nice devices and are a testament to technological, industrial, and manufacturing progress. But it gets even better than that.
Everything that I said above is true and applies today. As far as performance and features per dollar, a $1000 phone truly is a great value, no matter which one you choose. The thing is, though, it gets even better than that. We as a species have made so much progress that the same thing rings true at a much lower price point.
The Best Budget Phones That You Can Buy Right Now
1. Nokia 4.2 – Most Phone For Your Dollar – $149 (Unlocked)
Yes, Nokia still makes phones. It’s been making a serious impact on the lower end of the spectrum over the last couple of years, and the 4.2 is no exception. Looking at the Nokia 4.2, it’s impressive how many features Nokia was able to fit into such an affordable device.
It has 8 CPUs, all of which are of the ARM Cortex A53 variety. Half of them are 2.0Ghz and the other half are clocked at 1.4Ghz. This setup is known as Big.little, and it’s great for prioritizing workloads for power efficiency while maintaining great performance.
It has a 13MP camera that is accompanied by a 2MP depth sensor, and the pair actually takes surprisingly good photos. It’s got a dedicated button for bringing up the Google Assistant, and a MicroSD card slot for expanding the 32GB of internal storage up to 400GB.
This phone has plenty of RAM for the average person and even enough for some power users. 3GB of DDR4 goes a long way when you aren’t pushing a Quad HD display, so this phone is actually pretty snappy. Its got a pretty large 5.71″ HD+ (1520 x 720) IPS LCD that has really high brightness for good outdoor visibility.
Another fantastic thing about the Nokia 4.2 is its software or lack thereof. This phone doesn’t come with any bloatware installed at all. The only thing you’ll find in the app drawer is the usual Google apps. The phone is part of the Android One program, so you are guaranteed at least 2 major OS updates. It’s a similar experience to that you would find on Google’s Pixel phones, so, that’s nice.
In addition to the aforementioned OS upgrades, the Nokia 4.2 will also receive security patches through April 2022. That kind of update support isn’t even seen in some flagships that cost hundreds of dollars more, and if you’re the type that plans on keeping your phone for years to come, that’s something to think about.
Yeah, it’s lame that the Nokia 4.2 still uses the old MicroUSB port for charging, but I mean, that’s my only complaint. It’s an overall great device. You can pick one up right now for $149 unlocked on Amazon.
- Rear depth sensing camera
- Rear fingerprint scanner
- Dedicated Google Assistant button
- Expandable storage up to 400GB
- Clean Android One software
- 1080P RAW video capture
- Outdated MicroUSB charging port
2. Samsung Galaxy A10e – Fastest Budget Phone – $179 (Unlocked)
Right off the bat, the Galaxy A10e has a stunning display for the money. It’s got a resolution of 720 x 1560 pixels, and it’s bright and clear, even in direct sunlight. It’s rather large at 5.8 inches, and it’s edge-to-edge. If you watch a lot of videos, the A10e will make your movies and games stand out a bit more. It’s not an AMOLED panel, but it’s an IPS LCD, so expect great viewing angles.
As far as the CPU goes, well, this thing has 8 of them. It’s got a Samsung Exynos 7884 SoC (System on Chip) that is made up of 2 ARM Cortex A72 processors and 6 ARM Cortex A53s. That’s a lot of CPU power. Sure it’s not an iPhone 11 or Galaxy S20, but remember, this thing is only $179 unlocked on Amazon.
If you don’t need an unlocked one, and you just want to get one of these devices for as little money as possible, you can pick up one for $91.08 locked to Total Wireless. SIM Card Included.
Something else we especially like about this phone is the fact that it works on all major U.S. carriers. Other highlights of the Galaxy A10e include expandable storage up to 512GB, and a 3,000 mAh battery. It’s not a perfect device, namely with the small 2GB of RAM, but that’s 4 times the RAM that was in your old laptop that you paid $2000 for. And yes, it only has a single rear camera, where the new iPhones have like 75 of them, but remember, this is not a $1000 phone.
When it comes down to it, this is not only a great phone for the money, but it’s a great phone in general. Personally, I bought one of these for my 6-year-old son. He loves it.
- Infinity Display
- Expandable storage
- Works with GSM and CDMA networks
- Reliable performance.
- Single rear camera
- Just 2GB of RAM
3. Motorola G7 Play – Best Alexa Built-in – $179 (Unlocked)
Motorola’s Moto G-series has been a popular choice for a budget Android phone for quite a while now, and this phone isn’t going to change that at all. Yes, it has a pretty large notch compared to the 4.2 and A10e, but there’s a lot to offer here that makes the G7 Play definitely worth looking into.
In addition to a clean and snappy Android One interface, you also get Motorola’s suite of software add-ons. This includes Moto always-on Display and Moto Actions, which allows you to move the phone in a chopping gesture to turn on the flashlight, among other cool shortcuts. The Moto Actions gestures are actually very useful in real-world scenarios. No gimmicks, here.
This phone also includes Amazon Alexa, and you can press and hold the power button to access the virtual assistant at any time. If you prefer Alexa to Google Assistant, this makes the G7 Play a better fit than something like the Nokia 4.2.
The Moto G7 Play has got an SD card slot for expandable storage up to 512GB, a USB-C port to charge, and works on all major U.S. carriers out of the box. Like the other phones on this list, it has 8 processors, but unlike the other phones on this list, 4 of those processors are Corex A73 based, so you can expect this phone to be very fast.
You can pick this phone up for $174.95 on Amazon, which in my opinion is an incredible value considering everything that you’re getting.
- Push-to-talk Alexa button
- Motorola’s excellent software
- Storage is expandable
- Reliable processor
- 2GB of RAM
- Poor future for software updates
- Large notch.