I enjoy writing about the products I have used and tested. I try to bring you the best product reviews possible!
2017 was another great year for smartphones, so I have put together a list of the ten best. There are a lot of great phones on the market, but I have focused on the most popular and affordable ones. Mobile phones these days have a lot of specs, such as the front and back camera, twin SIM cards, OS, storage, battery life, fingerprint sensors, waterproof capabilities and much more.
What surprised me was to see how many of these new features are now present on some of the cheapest mobile phones. So even if you are looking for a cheap phone, it will still not be too far away from the expensive types, when it comes to specs.
10. Huawei Honor 8
I pre-ordered this, based on using the Honor 5x, figuring it would be an appropriate upgrade. This phone has exceeded my expectations, so I pre-ordered wisely.
I bought into the Honor brand at $200 for my old Honor 5x. I'm not a big spender, so the $350 for the upgrade to Honor 8 was a bit of a stretch for my budget (that's $399 with a $50 account credit for pre-order)! After using this, I had no buyer's remorse; it's a keeper. At this price point, it's a gem.
I'm not enough of a pro to know if the dual-lens camera is much better than other types. What I do know is that I got a bunch of really great shots, including many in low light (campfire). There are some functions and modes ("beauty" mode did not make me beautiful btw), but so far I've only used the panorama mode and the effects filters. I'm not big into filters, and there are plenty of apps for that, but sure, those are fun. So, even though I'm not a pro, I can confirm that this camera takes fast pictures, and they seem sharp with lovely colors. The low light pictures were a bonus, and I'm hoping that I can depend on that more and more, and get some quality inside/evening shots.
I have two things to say about the software. First, I have very little patience for bloatware, and that being said there was very little on this phone. It was all tucked into a little folder, out of the way, no complaints. One item which Honor has on there which I love is the phone guard, which I can use to block calls and control some privacy/data flow.
When I picked up the Honor brand earlier in 2016, I was going from an iPhone, and for me the EMUI OS is perfect. It feels nearly identical to the Apple iOS which means there was almost no learning curve. I have read some complaints about this on the internet, but I have to be honest, I just haven't found out what they are whining about.
The shiny and reflective surface is pretty neat in full sun, and it looks very sleek and layered. When I ordered it white seemed like a good idea, but now I'm wondering if black might have been a better choice as I am not that big of a fan of how it looks.
My phone is in my hand a lot, and I can get my thumb all over the display for one-hand texting. The smooth glass finish all over the Honor 8 is lovely to touch, and I find myself taking the freebie plastic case off to enjoy the slickness of the phone body. By that I mean, it's slippery, it wants to slide, it wants to creep, it wants to go with gravity, but the plastic case puts a stop to that.
So far I have had no dropped calls or anything like that. I went camping recently out along the coast, with just the trees and ocean, and I got good reception all over the area. Does that mean it's a good phone, or that AT&T has good coverage? Either way, it is pretty good.
I just popped in my SD card that I've been using, so I have had no problems with the memory on the phone.
Regarding battery life, I used this phone nonstop on my trip from using the GPS, to taking photos, to watching youtube videos, listening to music, and checking the Guardian news 100 times in one day. Despite all of this the battery lasted well into the second day of camping!
This is my first device with fast charging, and it is great! I haven't had a crisis yet where I was running out of power, but I did notice that it fills quickly. After just a few days I'm beginning to feel that fast charging should just be standard on everything. The only issue is that it is USB type C, sigh. Time to buy some adapters.
I'm still in the honeymoon period and in love this smartphone. Eventually, I expect I will begin to notice some things after I've used it a while, but I can say that at the moment this is making me really happy, and it's a definite step up for me.
9. HTC Desire
After years of replacing every entry-level Virgin Mobile smartphone within 12 months, thanks to shortcomings of one sort of another, I was sure I had at last found a winner in the Samsung Galaxy SIII, which I purchased at a very large big-box retailer earlier. My Galaxy, however, stuttered when I texted—resulting in a lot of errors due to the phone's failure to keep up with my rather slow rate of speed.
The other headache: the Galaxy SIII wouldn't reliably link up to my Kenwood head unit for Pandora streaming. Worse, even when I wasn't using a hands-free Bluetooth connection, callers sometimes complained that my voice clipped and dropped out. I blamed this on the network, initially, when in reality it was my phone that was causing the issue.
In search of a solution, I "downgraded" recently to the cheaper-but-newer HTC Desire 626s. For the first time in two years, the problems I began encountering first with LG's Volt and then with my Samsung Galaxy SIII have been solved: the HTC Desire 626s works beautifully hands-free in my car using Google's alternative to HTC's hard-of-hearing dialer app. Another pleasant surprise: call clarity is much improved both regarding hearing other callers and their experience in talking with me.
The HTC's 8MP rear-facing camera isn't quite up to the performance of the Samsung Galaxy SIII but not bad by comparison to the 13MP camera on the Moto G. Both cameras are decent only in bright light, but under less-than-bright indoor lighting, the edge goes to the HTC over the Moto G.
Volume-wise, the Galaxy SIII and the Moto G are on par, with a loud built-in speaker. The HTC Desire 626s doesn't get nearly as loud. The maximum volume through the inbuilt speaker on the HTC Desire 626s is about 3/4 of other two. For me, that's loud enough. But for those who make a lot of use of the speakerphone while driving, as opposed to a BT headset or the like, the HTC may not cut it.
The exterior feel is nothing special on the HTC Desire 626s. It doesn't have the Gorilla Glass or the heft of the more solid feeling Moto G and the plastic body is more thin and flexible than I'm accustomed to coming from the Galaxy and some other LG smartphones. This is not the phone for people who insist on carrying their smartphones while engaging in sports or other high impact activities—the Moto G again wins out in this respect because it's also water resistant, which the HTC is not—and yet while HTC's build is lightweight and doesn't look like it would survive much of a drop it's nothing that a good quality cell phone case can't compensate for during normal use.
On paper, and according to many professional reviewers, too, the Motorola Moto G wins out on processor speed, battery life, camera performance and the like. But having compared both, I just couldn't get past the Moto G's instability running Google's own built-in apps. Numerous troubleshooting steps failed to allow reliable access to the Google Play store, in particular.
Moreover, although the Moto G's screen icons are more generously sized (bigger) and the processor speed faster, the HTC Desire 626s wins out in terms of providing a visibly sharper screen. I am a Flickr user for whom color accuracy is a big deal. I enjoy viewing photos through the HTC much more than the Moto G if only because the Moto G noticeably undersaturated blues.
At this point in my HTC Desire 626s ownership experience, this is the most satisfied I have been with a smartphone in over two years. If there's one long-term concern I have about the HTC Desire 626s, it's the fact that the battery can't be removed and therefore cannot be replaced. In the event the battery begins to lose charging capacity—given that it's not a strong point, to begin with—its days will be numbered (hence the reason I am not totally sold on it). For now, however, I am enjoying the fact that I can hear callers more clearly and drive hands-free with fewer distractions. Thanks, HTC!
8. Orbic Slim
This phone is incredibly thin and incredibly light, with 6.5mm thick and with a weight under 5 ounces. The AMOLED screen is surprisingly vivid for the resolution and size. Though the MT6753 octocore processor is on the low end for eight-core chips, the fact this phone has 2bg RAM and it ships with zero bloatware makes it very responsive and fast even while multitasking. I'm going to repeat that last one: pretty much all this has installed when you get it is Android 6 and the standard Google apps. There's no manufacturer bloatware.
You will not spend a bunch of time uninstalling and disabling junk apps, and you won't be fighting manufacturer-installed apps that can't be uninstalled or disabled without rooting your phone or using an app manager. The MALI T720 GPU isn't necessarily all that impressive, but it performs surprisingly well in this configuration feeding the AMOLED at 1280X720. It handles 3d FPS games like NOVA3 flawlessly. The physical interface is simple having just three physical buttons and three touch-sensitive buttons. The 13mp main camera is quite good with average to slightly better than average low light performance, and the camera app is pretty much like any other so casual cell phone photos won't disappoint. The 5mp user-facing camera is pretty standard and good enough for video calls.
Battery life is a little above average as I'm getting 5+ hours of screen on time and a couple of days plus with just a few calls and texts on the weekends. The performance of the general use and productivity apps are very good. The multi-touch screen is just right as far as sensitivity and accuracy are concerned. Cell reception and my perceived call quality are average to good compared to other handsets I've had the last few years. WiFi performance is average to good, and I probably should have listed this under the "pros" because the WiFi chip doesn't seem to heat the phone up very much even when doing bandwidth-intensive activities. All in all, it's a good phone and a good performer across a pretty wide range of uses. I like it. There's quite a lot of competition in this price range these days, and this phone is a good competitor for your money. If you're hoping for a small-ish handset (thin, light, and a little smaller than the current crop of "phablets"), then this is an excellent choice.
7. FIGO Atrium 5.5
This phone is excellent for anyone on a tight budget. Don't judge this phone just because it was made in China; that doesn't mean that it's totally a disaster. I could play YouTube on its HD screen, and the video quality is good. I thought it would be blurry, but wow, I was impressed how clear it turned out.
For downloading apps, it could take some time, but it won't take that long, so you don't need to worry. The phone looks "sassy slim" in my opinion, and it also feels comfortable. The only complaint I have is what many other customers have had which is that finding a case is difficult. Gosh, I spent so much time trying to find a case.
I found one phone case that came the closest to the size of this phone, and that was the Sony Xperia Z1. I hope it would help anyone with this only problem. Overall, I love this phone!
6. Huawei P8 Lite
I had a unique opportunity to beta test this phone even though I have no affiliation with Huawei. I entered and won a contest to try a super secret new device. I've been using this phone as a daily driver for a couple of months after years of having flagship Androids or Nexii phones for both my family and me.
The screen is brilliant, the camera takes great pics, even for an amateur (read not a photog) like me, and it does everything I need at the full price that I've become accustomed to paying for contract upgrades.
While I like a lot of EMUI, I'd prefer having an app drawer. It's easily solvable with a custom launcher. Us Android folks know that's the beauty of the platform anyway, choice. That said, there are some well thought out additions to Android, including nice camera filters, and some power management profiles that enable the 2200mA battery to easily make it through a day. Quite honestly I was intentionally taxing the phone with the largest battery draining apps on my Nexus 7 2013, and it easily held its own. When I used it similar to the Moto X it replaced two days of charge was easily attainable.
All that and my cell service will be roughly 40% cheaper once I transition my entire family to a non-Verizon postpaid plan that's available with an unlocked phone. Having the dual sims, I was able to test multiple providers to verify reliable coverage for where I would use the phone. As an added benefit I was able to purchase a sim and service for a vacation in Jamaica and have a local number while still having service on my main phone number. Again, being unlocked there was no need for carrier permission to use the phone on another network.
As far as exterior durability, it comes with a pre-installed screen protector. I didn't even notice it until it was pointed out to me. Due to a lack of available cases, I used it naked except for the screen protector mentioned above. I've never done that with a phone. The back is textured in such a way that if it were scratched, I wouldn't notice. The sides seem to have endured just fine as well being in my pocket with keys and change. So it seems that a case isn't needed as it seems to take normal wear and tear pretty well.
In conclusion, I know this is a mid-range phone. Line it up side by side with any flagship, and it won't match up. No ~$180 phone will compare to a ~$700 phone. What it does do is give you maximum bang for the buck out of your wallet without any gimmicks, contracts, bloat, or shackles to a carrier.
5. BLU Vivo
The BLU Vivo XL may be the best budget phone you can buy. Like the BLU Life One X, it is a lot of phone for the price. I have both, and here is my comparison of the two phones.
First, both phones have nearly identical internals. The processor is the same, both have 16GB of storage with micro SD expansion, both have a 13-megapixel camera on the back and 5-megapixel camera on the front, both are dual SIM, and they both have 2GB of RAM.
Here is where they differ. The Life One X (LOX) comes with a 5.2” 1080p LCD screen, while the Vivo XL (VOX) comes with a 5.5” 720p Super AMOLED screen. Which is better? I would probably say that the LOX gets the win here. The VXL has a more color-vibrant screen, but the LOX screen shows more detail and the colors are more realistic. The difference in screen quality is obvious to me, but the VXL still has a good screen.
The software experience is a second major difference you will find between the two phones. The LOX has a basically stock Android 5.1 experience with some minor additions such as screen gestures. The VXL software adds a whole lot more to Android 5.1, some good additions, and some not as good. The first addition that the VXL has is the quick settings are launched from the bottom of the screen (like in IOS) instead of the top. For me, this is a welcomed change. Other changes include tweaking the settings app in a way that makes some settings more difficult to find; this is obviously a negative for me.
The battery is a third major difference. The LOX has a 2950 mAh battery that gave me decent battery life, and usually made it through a day of heavy usage, but occasionally I would have to charge it in the evening to make it through the day. The VXL has a 3150 mAh battery that is removable, but also easily made it through a day of heavy usage. I am fairly confident that the screen difference plays the biggest role in affecting the battery life here.
The charging ports present another major difference in the two phones. The LOX comes with the more traditional micro-USB charging port and a 1-amp charging block, while the VXL comes with the newer USB Type-C port which is reversible, and comes with a 2-amp charging block. The VXL is a clear winner in this category. I’ve read other reviews that talk about extremely slow charging with the LOX, and I’ve had the same experience with mine. The catch is that the LOX charges decently with the block supplied by BLU, but any other charging block or external charging methods make the charging time insanely slow.
Minor differences: The LOX has a LED flash to support the selfie camera, the VXL doesn’t. This is a win for the LOX. The LOX has on-screen “buttons” for back, home and recent apps, which the VXL has capacitive buttons that do not take up screen real-estate. The LOX is thicker with a more leathery feeling back, while the VXL has a plasticy back but has a slimmer feel in the hand.
Bottom Line: You can’t go wrong with either of these phones for $149. I bought both of mine during the promotional prices of $99, but both phones outperform their price tags. When I received my Vivo XL in the mail, it replaced my Life One X as my daily phone. I made this choice primarily based on battery life and because I tend to like larger phones (regarding screen size).
4. BLU Life One
For me, it was worth paying the extra $50 to get the upgrade from 2GB of RAM to 4GB of RAM and from 16GB of storage to 64GB of storage. I’ve had the phone for about two weeks now, but I’ve only been using it for about one week.
In that time I feel like I’ve been able to pretty well assess the phone. This is my 5th or 6th phone from BLU, and I most recently I had the BLU Vivo 5R, a similarly priced phone, but I definitely like the X2 better so far.
Here are my thoughts on the phone so far:
The Life One X2 is one of the first BLU phones that I’ve used that has a Snapdragon processor, specifically it has the 430. When combined with 4GB of RAM you will experience pretty seamless multitasking. However, the Snapdragon 430 will give you some slight lag on occasion. It really isn’t bad, but with some of the heavier apps like graphics-intensive games, you will get some stutter.
The X2 has a 3000 mAh battery, which gives me around 4 to 4.5 hours of screen on time. I am a very heavy user of my phones, so this won’t quite get me through a full day on some days, but for most, people, it probably would. The X2 comes with Qualcomm 3.0 fast charging, which will give you a rapid recharge. In just 15 minutes you can get around 35% battery, and in 30 minutes of charging you can get up to 60%. A full charge takes about 65 minutes.
With a 5.2” screen the Life One X2 is not as large as many of the newest phones that sacrifice one hand usage for a large screen. The screen is an IPS 1080P display which isn’t the best picture quality that I’ve seen, but it’s not bad at all either. One interesting thing about the build of the phone is that while at first glance it appears to have an all metal build, you can actually remove the back of the phone to reveal the battery (which is not removable), the micro SD card slot, and the dual SIM card slots. The X2 is a bit thick and heavier than many of the newer phones, but for my taste, this actually isn’t a bad thing.
I’ve never owned a BLU phone that had a great camera, and the X2 is no exception to that. The 16-megapixel camera takes pretty good pictures in well-lit situations, but low-light situations will cause your pictures to get pretty grainy. It definitely doesn’t compete with high-end phones regarding low-light camera performance, but in good lighting, I don’t think that you will see a big difference. Similarly the 8-megapixel camera on the front of the phone is okay, but not amazing. It should be noted that this does have a front facing flash though, so you can take selfies at night if you are into that sort of thing.
Some BLU phones have very heavy skins on top of Android (like the Vivo line), while others have a nearly stock version of Android. In this case, the X2 is nearly stock, which I personally like a lot. Having a heavily skinned version of Android like the 5R does have some benefits, but overall the Life One X2’s stock build of Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) is preferable to me because it doesn’t have a bunch of gimmicks that you will never use or will barely ever use. Also, I’ve actually already had a software update on the X2, which is highly unlikely if you have a heavier skinned BLU phone. (It should be noted here that BLU does not have a stellar record of updating their phones in the past).
One beautiful thing about BLU is that they almost always include a bunch of accessories with their phones. With the X2 you get a thin TPU case, a plastic screen protector, a pair of headphones, and a Qualcomm 3.0 fast charging wall adapter.
For my money, I think the X2 is well worth the $200 that I paid for it. I also think that it’s worth it to pay the extra $50 to get the higher specs of the 64GB/4GB version. This phone has solid performance, decent battery life, a decent camera, and is GSM unlocked.
3. Posh Mobile Ultra
I am a dedicated, loyal and committed Blackberry user, perhaps in denial that the BB era is gone. Therefore, I wanted a secondary phone that could keep me in touch with various apps (no longer available or working on BB) needed for daily business use, a world phone I can use while traveling outside the country, and at the same time still keeping my BB. My next objective was to get the best of price and functionality. The POSH Ultra max 4G LTE L550 meets my need.
The screen size 5.5' and surprisingly a battery life that can last me the whole day with normal use was well worth the purchase. I am very satisfied that it did not come with much bloatware. The phone is fast enough for me, though I notice a couple seconds of delay in some of its operations (opening of apps, email, etc.).
The front facing camera is very minimally adequate with some lag, but with auto-focus. The rear camera is fairly decent, but not great. Bluetooth works as expected, though the android to android transfer at phone setup did not work as expected, it gave me an error. The SIM card works seamlessly, and calls are fine. It detects the 4G LTE easily on T-Mobile network. Call quality is fine; the sound is acceptable. The dual SIM card is a great value, though it is not clear if the second SIM takes the place of an SD card. The instructions are not very clear in the accompanying manual. I am using a T-Mobile sim and a 200GB SD card, and the phone recognizes the SD card's capacity. The phone came with screen protector and a transparent case. Great value for money. The operating system is Android Marshmallow 6.0. I am not sure if one can upgrade to 6.0.1 because it does not detect any update.
Overall this is a great budget phone. My only concern was the micro USB cable for charging uses a long pin (the charging slot is deep within the phone), so no other micro USB cable I have can work. I got in touch with POSH tech support, and they shipped out to me a spare charger. That was great customer support. Their response was within a few hours, and they are ready to make sure one has a great customer experience.
For the price, and the quality, this is far better than many other phones in its price range. I recommend this phone if you are looking for a budget phone that works, and give you good bang for your buck.
2. Apple iPhone 5
First of all, I am not an iPhone or Apple devote, I use products based on how well they perform and suit my needs. This phone blows away the others. I had an iPhone 3, then switched to an HTC Android, then the Droid Razr, and now I'm back to the iPhone again. I like the clarity of the screen, which helps when reading text with these old eyes. The Facetime feature is great and the Verizon LTE is super fast.
The screen and all of the apps are much more responsive than the iPhone 3 or any of the Android devices I've had. I'm sure another stunning Android phone will come around and I will just as likely switch again. For now, the iPhone 5 performs at every level.
1. Samsung Galaxy J7
I love this Samsung J7. I couldn't afford the sticker price for the S6 or S7 (sticker shock). Therefore; I opted for this phone which is scaled down regarding processing/memory, but it's much better quality than the phone I was using for my Boost Mobile account. I had no issues charging it or switching it over from old phone to this new phone via my online account (I didn't have to talk to anybody to do this, and it worked out just great).
My buddy has the Samsung S6 which he paid for upfront (no contract at Boost Mobile). Comparing my new J7 to his S6, well it's apples to oranges. His has two processors (a quad-core and an octa-core). This J7 has just the octa-core, but for me, this is proving to be plenty of processing power along with the 2GB RAM. This was pretty comparable to the ZTE Warp Elite I've been using since January 2016, but I'd have to say that the Samsung is much faster. Also, the screen response is so much better in this J7 model (even with the glass protection I placed on the screen).
This phone has so many of the new specifications at a reasonable price. That is why I really recommend this affordable mobile phone.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2016 oyningen
ramzan on March 31, 2019:
plz add the prices of these phones too.
smart-device-help on December 27, 2016:
Thank you outstanding article, I've been digging up info on upgrading phone by a reasonable price. This gave "everything" I've been looking for in one shot.