If you’d told us twenty years ago that people would happily pay four figures for a smartphone, we’d have laughed at you – and yet here we are. Whenever the latest model of a popular manufacturer’s flagship phone comes out, people fall over themselves to buy it, and the price is often the last thing on their mind. So long as you have the budget and you know what you’re doing, there’s nothing wrong with spending $1000 or more on a phone. At least if you do so, you can be reasonably confident that you won’t need to upgrade again for a while, and you’ll be ready for the 5G era when it arrives for real in mid-2021.
While it’s great to spend big money on the latest phone if you can do so, we appreciate that not everybody can. Many people – most people, in fact – have to work to a budget, and spending a grand on a smartphone doesn’t fit with that budget. That’s also fine because there’s really no need to. You can spend a tenth of that amount and still come away with a pretty good phone if you know where to look and you don’t mind making a few sacrifices. $100 smartphones exist, and they’re pretty good if you can find the right one.
If you buy a cheaper smartphone, you’ll have to be at peace with the fact that there will be a few things it can’t do. It’s highly unlikely to be 5G-ready, for example. It’s also extremely unlikely to be great at playing high-performance games. If all you do in terms of gaming on your phone is play online slots you’ll be fine, but downloading and centrally processing the latest mobile version of “Call of Duty” will probably be out of the question. Online slots, by the very nature of their design, don’t need much from your hardware to run smoothly. Centrally-stored games do. If you’re lucky, you might be able to connect your phone to Google’s Stadia and play games that way (the way Stadia works was, in fact, loosely inspired by online slots), but you can probably forget about big downloads.
With those inconveniences put aside for the moment, let’s see what’s out there.
Nokia has spent much of the past decade falling from grace in the eyes of most smartphone customers. They used to be the biggest name in the mobile phone game, but now they’re barely an afterthought. They’re still around, though, and they can still put together a quality phone when they put their minds to it. As an example, the Nokia 1.3 is as solid a budget smartphone as you’ll ever see, and you can pick it up for $99 if you buy directly from Nokia. The phone has a 5.71-inch HD screen, runs on Android, and comes with a 3,000mAh battery that should be enough to keep it running all day like you remember all your Nokia phones of the past did. Surprisingly for a cheap phone, the camera is pretty good too.
Blu Studio Mini
Here’s a phone you can pick up for seventy bucks from Walmart and have it do pretty much anything you want it to do. Before you buy one, though, double-check whether your SIM card will run in it. If you’re with Sprint or Verizon, you’re out of luck, but almost everything else should work fine. The Blu Studio Mini is a one size fits all phone, coming with a 5.5-inch HD screen with a curved glass display and a sleek finish. 2GB RAM is enough to keep it ticking over, and if the 32GB storage isn’t enough for you, you have the option of adding a further 64GB by pushing a micro SD card into the requisite slot. The battery is 3,000mAh, and the 13-megapixel camera should allow you to take some great snaps when you want to. The fact it runs an ancient version of Android is a drawback, but so long as security patches are still allowed, that shouldn’t be a barrier to purchase.
Blackview BV5500 Pro
One of the reasons that people are sometimes reluctant to spend big money on a phone is because they’re scared they’ll drop or damage it. For those people, the Blackview BV5500 Pro is the best of both worlds. It’s only $100 to buy if you use Amazon, and it’s very difficult to destroy. The rugged handset advertises itself as being drop-proof, shockproof, waterproof, and shatterproof. One look at the sturdy casing should be enough to tell you that it can probably live up to all of those reassuring promises! Seen as an ‘adventurer’s phone,’ it has a gorilla glass screen and a 4,400mAh battery that might be able to carry you through a full two days without needing to be charged. In terms of drawbacks, it won’t work with Sprint or Verizon, the camera is only eight-megapixel, and the maximum storage capacity is 32GB.
ZTE Maven 3
Yes, we know you’ve probably never heard of the ZTE Maven 3. Why would you? You probably saw it on offer for $50 or less at Walmart and assumed there must be something up with it, so you skipped right past it. If you’re in the market for a budget phone, though, skipping past it is a mistake. This is a minimalist’s dream. It’s fully unlocked, and so it should theoretically work with any network, and so long as you don’t overload it, you can text, call, and browse the internet to your heart’s content. The battery struggles a little at 2,035mAh, and the fact it’s still running Android Nougat in the 2020s is almost charming, but if all you want or need is a phone that can do the bare minimum, what more could you ask for considering the price?
Motorola Moto E6
As surprising as it might be that you can pick up a Motorola phone for one hundred dollars, that’s what the Motorola Moto E6 is going for at Amazon right now – and it might be a shrewd purchase. It’s an especially good price for a smartphone that was only released in mid-2019. The big difference between this phone and the other four we’ve looked at is storage. It comes with the capacity for a whole 256GB worth if you add a MicroSD card, which means the average user will never fill it. It’s water-resistant, it has a 13-megapixel camera, and the screen is a 5.5-inch HD display with an 18:9 aspect ratio. It’s even got a Qualcomm Snapdragon Octa-Core processor inside it, which makes it far more powerful than the other phones we’ve mentioned. If we only had $100 to spend on a phone, this is the one we’d go for.