Smartphones are among the most expensive consumer electronic devices, with even midrange smartphones costing hundreds of dollars. But what if your budget permits only $100 for a smartphone? Is there anything out there worth buying? Happily, the answer is yes. There are a number of decent budget smartphones for sale, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a new, unlocked, 4G phone at that price, though there are many more refurbished and prepaid phones available.
What to look for in a budget phone
Operating system: Google’s Android operating system has evolved over the last decade, but its deployment is all over the lot. Some smartphones get the newest Android version, while other brands settle with previous OS generations. Some handsets run stripped-down versions of Android — Android One or Android Go — designed for lower-powered, less-expensive phones. Consider which services you need from your phone and whether the OS it’s running can accommodate them. Some budget phones run updated versions of Android, such as Pie (9), Oreo (8), Nougat (7), or Marshmallow (6).
Components: Aside from the operating system, the processor, camera, battery, RAM, and storage are critical considerations in how well a cheaper smartphone can serve your needs. Since people tend to leave their cameras at home and use their smartphone’s still or video camera, the quality of the shooter is significant. Some cheaper phones offer dual SIM capabilities, which help to consolidate multiple older phones into a single newer one. Battery life is another factor to consider — and even though many manufacturers boast all-day battery life, it’s often far from reality.
Model year: Cheaper smartphones may also be older models, several generations old. Be sure to double-check the initial release year and also which Android operating system it can run. Some older smartphones can run updated operating systems, which contribute to better overall performance.
We surveyed the landscape of $100 or lower smartphones and dug up a few new, unlocked, 4G smartphones that are worth considering.
Motorola Moto E6
It’s rare to find an up-to-date phone for under $100, but the unlocked Moto E6 is one of them. With a 5.5-inch HD display and an 18:9 aspect ratio, you get a large, clear, responsive touchscreen. The phone features a Qualcomm Snapdragon Octa-Core processor running Android 9 and lets you add up to 256GB of photos, songs, and movies with a dedicated MicroSD card slot. The water repellent body keeps your phone protected from splashes and spills. A smart camera with Google Lens features text recognition while the built-in camera shoots 13MP photos. You can use your phone on any carrier.
The Nokia 1.3 is beautiful inside and out with a glass front buttressed by a 3D textured back with a choice of cyan, sand, or charcoal. But that’s just the beginning. You also get the up-to-date Android 10 Go operating system encased in a large 5.71-inch HD+ display. The 3,000mAh battery promises all-day performance, and supports a powerful camera that delivers great images in low light. A dedicated Google Assistant Button gives you access to weather, phone calls, news, and more via your voice. The smart money says you can look forward to updating the OS to Android 11 sometime next year.
ZTE Maven 3
The ZTE Maven is an unlocked GSM phone, which means it’s compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile carriers and any associated MVNO networks. Supported network bands include GSM, WCDMA, AWS, LTE, and GSM. The phone is not compatible with Verizon or Sprint. The ZTE Maven, which runs Android 7.1 (Nougat), ships with a non-removable 2,035mAh battery that promises some 15 hours of continuous streaming as well as 17 days in standby mode, and includes a minimal 5MP camera.
Blu Vivo X5
The Vivo X5 is a worthy competitor for an unlocked mobile phone in this price range. The device sports a 5.7-inch HD+ curved glass display running Android 9.0 Pie. It promises daylong battery life on a 2,800mAh lithium-ion battery, supported by an octa-core chipset. It also features 3GB of RAM, 64GB storage, and MicroSD capacity up to 64GB. A 13MP rear camera, coupled with an 8-megapixel front-facing camera and fingerprint sensor, offers a moderate photo experience. It also includes an accelerometer, gravity sensor, proximity sensor, and light sensor. The supports 4G LTE and 3G and is compatible with GSM networks including AT&T, T-Mobile, Cricket, and Metro PCS.
Blackview BV5500 Pro
The Blackview BV5500 Pro — a rugged 4G unlocked smartphone that’s IP68 waterproof, shockproof, and dustproof — is an amazing value for a $100 handset. Its Corning Gorilla Glass screen and rubber frame meets U.S. military standard MIL-STD-810G and is targeted to outdoor adventures. It runs Android 9.0, powered by a quad-core central processor and 3GB RAM, and supports expanding storage capacity to 32GB. Equipped with a 4,400mAh battery, it offers 480 hours standby and 31 hours of calling plus NFC functionality. The phone features two rear cameras — an 8MP main camera and a 0.3MP lens plus a 5MP selfie cam. A face unlock feature protects your privacy. The phone supports two nano sims or one sim + 1 TF (Transflash) card, and is compatible with AT&T and T-mobile but not CDMA carriers like Verizon, Sprint, or U.S. Cellular.
Blu Studio Mini
This convenient one-hand-sized phone — at 5.5 inches — has an HD 720 x 1440 resolution screen on an 18:9 curved glass display. You get 32GB memory, 2GB RAM, and the ability to add a Micro SD card for up to 64GB of storage. It features an Octa-Core 1.6GHz processor with an ARM Cortex-A55 chipset running Android 9 Pie. Shoot pictures with a 13MP camera and an 8MP selfie camera, both with LED flash. It has a 3,000mAh battery and is compatible with 4G LTE and 3G. The phone can run on all GSM networks including AT&T, T-Mobile, Cricket, Metro PCS, and others. It’s not compatible with CDMA networks like Verizon, Sprint, and Boost Mobile.