Today you can now purchase cheap android phones for as low as $99. You can also buy phones in bulk if you want to sell smartphones. You can get a reliable, initially-impressive phone that you can use on different providers. Though it is really appealing, are they worth it?
Let’s begin with the important: low-cost phones are low-cost for a reason. There must be something that distinguishes a $99 phone from a $700 phone, and it’s possibly a mix of factors in most cases. Here are a few places where manufacturers save money.
Also, Read: The Best Smartphones To Buy This 2021
Affordably priced phones usually have either current low-end hardware or higher-end hardware from two or three years ago. This is one of the most successful ways to cut costs, but it often comes at the expense of results. Furthermore, the cameras are usually of lower (but usable) quality, and the screens lack the high pixel density, super-sharp displays seen in current-generation devices.
Right away, bear in mind that you’ll be having to contend with either a lower-end processor—say, one from Mediatek—or an older Snapdragon chip, most likely in the 400 range. This is significant for those who believe, “I can just get something cheap and put a ROM on it,” since some chip manufacturers are notorious for refusing to release source code, making it difficult for developers to create ROMs for their chips. Essentially, plan to stick with the stock software for the rest of the device’s existence, though doing some testing ahead of time wouldn’t hurt.
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There is, however, another side to the coin. Manufacturers of processors upgrade their technology every year in order to improve efficiency and battery life. This technology naturally spreads, so just because a chip is “budget-friendly” doesn’t mean it’s evil. Some of Mediatek’s Octa-core processors (like the 6753, for example) have become very strong in recent years, making them excellent budget options. These devices have a great price-to-performance ratio—significantly higher than most modern flagship models. Although the performance isn’t equal, at least you’re getting your money’s worth.
Lower-end handsets’ display technology is also a source of concern. Though most budget phones’ displays aren’t as high-resolution as modern flagships (1080p vs. 1440p), they’re still pretty good—Moto Motorola’s G line has nice-looking screens, Blu devices usually have very nice displays despite their generally low price points, and the Huawei Honor 5X has a 1080p display that easily competes with flagships of the past.
The camera is the one part of the hardware puzzle which will almost definitely be sub-par in a budget phone. Although the display and output can be adequate, cameras are often a shame. It makes sense—one that’s of the most critical features for most consumers, so having something truly exceptional is a major part of why high-end modern devices cost so much. While most budget phones’ cameras aren’t as bad as they once were, I can tell you right now that if a good camera is a must-have for your next smartphone, a budget phone isn’t for you.
Reliability and Updates
Since every system is different, pinpointing reliability is a little more difficult. If a current-generation high-end handset can easily last two years, a less expensive handset can only last half that time. There’s a possibility it’ll live a long and prosperous life, but there’s also a good chance it’ll die within the first year in some way—these phones aren’t built to be as durable as more expensive devices, so they’re more fragile. You must also bear in mind that they must cut costs elsewhere, so hardware failure is not unheard of. Budget phones, in my experience, have a coin toss lifetime.
It’s unclear if the $150 phone you’re considering purchasing will get the next update of Android, and if it does, it’ll probably be the last one it gets. Not to mention that it would almost certainly arrive much later than a flagship phone—possibly even a complete update cycle later. So, when the rest of the world gets Android 7.0 (or whatever the next big release is), the budget smartphone could only get 6.0. You never know, but it’s likely that the companies that make low-cost Android phones don’t have the resources to support them long-term, even though many of them are making an effort to offer updates and support to their lower-end models.
You’ll be sadly disappointed if you expect a Galaxy S7 (or even S6)-equivalent handset. However, if you keep your standards in check, you can get roughly 80% of the premium Android experience for a fraction of the price.
Carrier – Compatibility is the Key
Not every smartphone is compatible with all carriers, in case you didn’t know. There are two major forms of cellular service in the United States: CDMA and GSM. The two main CDMA carriers are Sprint and Verizon, while T-Mobile and AT&T are the two main GSM carriers. The technology behind and form of service differs significantly, but for the purposes of this article, you just need to know one thing: When it comes to buying off-contract phones (not only cheapies), you just need to know one thing: CDMA is not necessarily available, whereas GSM is.
Consumers who want to bring their own phones can’t do so with Sprint or Verizon. They have what they have to give, and that’s all there is to it. There are a few exceptions, such as the Google Nexus 5X and 6P, but otherwise, you’ll have to stick with what Verizon and Sprint have to sell.
GSM carriers, such as AT&T, T-Mobile, MetroPCS, and US Cellular, are fairly “available.” Most modern GSM smartphones can operate with a SIM card from one of the above carriers, regardless of where you purchased it.
Most flagship phones don’t have this problem because they’re built to “only run” with GSM carriers in the United States. Budget phones, on the other hand, aren’t. You’ll need to dig a little deeper into things like the phone’s “bands”–or basic data frequencies. When shopping for a budget phone, it’s important to remember that not every budget phone supports the right bands for every GSM network, which can be confusing.
Let’s say you’re looking to replace your aging Samsung Galaxy SIII on AT&T with a Motorola Moto E. The Moto E comes in two flavors: one that supports 4G LTE and another that only supports 3G. If you get the wrong one, you’ll lose the Galaxy SIII’s high-speed LTE data and be stuck with the Moto E’s comparatively slow 3G.
Thankfully, Motorola clearly distinguishes between the two models, but not all manufacturers do, and some carriers depend more heavily on some mobile bands than not every cheap phone support. LTE Bands 2, 4, and 7 are used by the phone in the above screenshot (Blu Vivo 5). LTE Bands 2, 4, 7, 12, and 17 are used by a Blu phone (the Vivo XL—shown below). T-Mobile relies heavily on Bands 12 and 17 in some areas of the world, and their absence on the Vivo 5 could leave some citizens without LTE coverage.
Simply put, even if a phone says it’s “4G LTE Compliant with T-Mobile” doesn’t mean it’ll work in every situation. Finding out what bands are funded and comparing them to the bands that are used in your field requires some searching. And sifting through the sea of cheap Android phones on Amazon can be a daunting task.
Also, Read: Buy Wholesale Cell Phones
Budget vs Flagship Phones
Cheap Android phones aren’t the only way to cut costs, of course. You could also buy last year’s or even the year before’s flagship phone, which would save you a lot of money. So, which is the better option? Unfortunately, this isn’t an easy question to answer, particularly given how quickly budget phones are improving and bringing high-end features to low-cost phones.
For example, the Vivo 5 and Vivo XL, two of Blu’s newest phones, both have USB Type C, a feature that is otherwise only available on a limited number of top-tier devices. Similarly, the Huawei Honor 5X has a fingerprint reader that is actually very good; it outperforms flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S5 that first introduced the feature. Usable fingerprint readers are only recently becoming commonplace on high-end smartphones.
And even now, all three of those phones are under $200. It’s a mad world we live in, with high-end features in low-end phones.
Furthermore, if a flagship is more than two years old, it is unlikely to receive any further updates. A low-cost phone isn’t guaranteed to work, but it’s a little more likely.
Of course, you must also think about the rest of the hardware. Is a two-generation-old processor, such as the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800, preferable to a new budget model, such as the MediaTek 6753? The older processor always outperforms the new budget chip in raw benchmark ratings, but that doesn’t always equate to real-world performance—just because the Snapdragon 800 outperforms the 6753 by 11,000 points in AnTuTu (38,298 vs. 49,389), does that mean it has 30% more strength in a real-world scenario? Almost never. You’d have a hard time knowing the difference between the two in most side-by-side comparisons.
Displays and Cameras
We already know that flagship processors from two generations ago are “faster” (on paper) than most current-generation budget chips, but what about display and camera technology? Since display technology is evolving at a rate that allows for higher-quality displays to be manufactured at a lower cost, the budget phone would almost certainly have a better display than the older flagship model. Although budget phones typically top out at about 1080p (at least for the time being), this usually translates to slightly better performance since the CPU and GPU have fewer pixels to drive.
As previously mentioned, the camera is one area where current-generation budget models can have an advantage. That one is somewhat subjective, as it depends on the phone in question—for example, despite being older, the S5 would have a better camera than the 2014 Moto X. Unfortunately, comparing two phones, regardless of price point, it’s far more difficult to come up with a hard-and-fast rule for camera efficiency. All you have to do now is look up reviews for the phones you’re considering.
Which is safer in the long run? It is highly dependent on the phone and what is most important to you. An older flagship might look and feel better, and it might even have a better camera–but it won’t get any updates, while a newer model might.
The one Exception
Having said that, there is one exception to most of the “rules” I’ve outlined here: Nexus phones are smartphones developed by Google. Nexus phones are usually sold at lower prices in the first place, making them more cost-effective than other high-end phones from the same generation when purchasing older versions. The last-generation Nexus handset, the Motorola Nexus 6, is currently available for as little as $250 brand new. Aside from being a little too tall, the Nexus 6 is a fantastic phone for the money, and it will easily outperform any other phone in that price range. Best of all, since it’s a Nexus, it’ll be sponsored by Google and get updates for far longer than phones from other firms.