The Best Cheap Android Phones

The Best Cheap Android Phones

These days, cheap Android phones are a dime a dozen — literally. You needn’t search far and wide for a speedy, polished, and competitive smartphone that won’t break the bank. Trouble is, not every inexpensive Android phone checks every box. Plenty of low-end devices are marred by underwhelming software experiences and bottom-of-the-barrel build quality.

If you’ve never comparison shopped for a smartphone under $100, $150, or even $200 before, the cheap Android phone market can be overwhelming; it isn’t easy to sort the good from the bad. To cut through the noise, here’s a curated list of the best cheap Android phones on the market. They might be inexpensive, but they don’t cut corners.

By Kyle Wiggers

The best cheap Android phone: Our criteria

Picking the best smartphones for the money is a lot easier if cash is no object, but most folks don’t have that luxury — nor does it make sense to spend $1,000 or more when you can get a great smartphone for much less.

That’s why we looked for phones that punched above their weight class. Here’s our criteria for the best cheap Android phone:

  • They deliver on value. Our picks offer compelling features for their price brackets. Whether that’s an innovative design or a wealth of features, these devices distinguished themselves from the rest.
  • They have a supportive community. Our selections are more than just great products in and of themselves. XDA is about community, and we chose the smartphones with large, passionate followings. These phones, regardless of OEM support, are likely to enjoy software updates and mods for years to come thanks to lively development communities.
  • They have great hardware. We chose phones that offer fantastic hardware for the money. They’re not packing run-of-the-mill processors from an off-brand you’ve never heard of; they’ve got the latest and greatest under the hood, translating to fantastic performance whether you’re shooting 4K video or playing the latest games.

The Best Cheap Android Phones

Xiaomi Mi A1

Xiaomi Mi A1

Xiaomi Mi A1 Specifications
Dimensions 155.4 x 75.8 x 7.3 mm
Weight 165g
Software Android 8.0 Oreo
CPU Qualcomm octa-core 2.0 GHz Snapdragon 625 Cortex-A53
GPU Adreno 506
RAM and Storage 4GB with 64GB of storage
Battery 3,080mAh
Display 5.5-inch Full HD+ (1920×1080) IPS LCD
Wi-Fi 802.11ac (2.4GHz/5GHz)
Bluetooth Bluetooth 4.2
Ports USB Type-C, 3.5mm headphone jack, dual SIM slots
Rear Cameras 12MP + 12MP (f/2.2, 26mm, 1.25µm), PDAF, and LED flash
Front Camera 5MP
Colors Black, Gold, Rose Gold, Red
Price Starting at $225

The Xiaomi Mi A1, Xiaomi’s debut Android One smartphone, was announced in September 2017, and it’s our pick for the best cheap Android phone. Its uncompromising hardware and surprisingly capable (if not quite perfect) camera help seal the deal.

The highlight of the Xiaomi Mi A1 is its all-aluminum design, which looks and feels twice the phone’s $200 asking price. Beneath the curved 2.5D glass and 5.5-inch Full HD (1920×1080 pixels) IPS LCD screen are three capacitive navigation buttons (home, back, and a shortcut to the multitasking menu), opposite a discrete earpiece and front-facing camera. The Mi A1’s bezels are a bit thicker than the ones you’ll find on 18:9 edge-to-edge budget smartphones such as the Moto G6, but not distractingly so. It’s an attractive design — if a bit too evocative of Apple’s iPhone.

It’s worth mentioning that the display gets quite bright, topping out at 450 nit. You won’t have trouble making out text on the Xiaomi Mi A1 outdoors in bright sunlight, thanks to the panel’s great viewing angles and color accuracy. It’s not perfect — there’s noticeable glare in direct sunlight, and the display glass’s reflectivity sometimes makes colors appear washed out. But that said, the Xiaomi Mi A1’s screen is a top performer in this price range.

As for the Xiaomi Mi A1’s hardware performance, it’s equally top-of-class, with a 2GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 system-on-chip (the same chipset in the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4, Moto G5 Plus, and Moto Z Play) behind that wheel packing more than enough punch for day-to-day productivity tasks. The SoC’s paired with 4GB of RAM and Qualcomm’s Adreno 506, which together launch apps quickly and juggle app threads with ease.  That’s not to suggest the performance ceiling isn’t noticeable — in power-intensive and graphically demanding benchmarks, the Adreno 506 chugs along, achieving an average of just 4 frames per second in GFXBench’s Car Chase offscreen test — but when it comes to web browsing, email clients, and social media apps, the Xiaomi Mi A1 simply flies.

The Xiaomi Mi A1’s excellent performance doesn’t come at the expense of battery life, thankfully. The 3,000mAh cell lasts a full day, and it gained support for fast charging in an Android Oreo-based firmware update in December 2017. With a Qualcomm Quick Charge-compatible 5V 2A USB Type-C charger, the Mi A1 can recharge up to 100 percent in 92 minutes.

As for the phone’s pair of rear cameras, they’re not too shabby. The Xiaomi Mi A1’s dual rear camera module comprises two 12MP sensors (f/2.2 aperture, 1.25µm pixel size and f/2.6 aperture, 1µm pixel size), one with a wide-angle lens and a supplementary sensor with a telephoto lens. It’s capable of 2x optical zoom and can record videos up to a resolution of 4K (and slo-mo 120fps videos at 720p), and it delivers. Photos in daylight have vivid contrast (thanks in part to Xiaomi’s custom high-dynamic range mode), good color accuracy, and impressive sharpness. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of low-light snaps, which tend to come out grainy and a little unbalanced.

All in all, though, the Xiaomi Mi A1 is an incredibly impressive phone for the money. $200 nets you a Full HD display, a snappy processor, and the benefit of Google’s Android One program, which includes close-to-stock Android firmware, timely Android security patches, and the promise of an upgrade to Android P. That’s tough to beat.

Nokia 6

Nokia 6 Specifications
Dimensions 154 x 75.8 x 7.9mm
Weight 169g
Software Android 8.0 Oreo
CPU Qualcomm octa-core 1.4 GHz Snapdragon 430 Cortex-A53
GPU Adreno 505
RAM and Storage 3GB/4GB with 32GB/64GB of storage
Battery 3,000 mAh
Display 5.5-inch Full HD+ (1920×1080) IPS LCD
Wi-Fi 802.11ac (2.4GHz/5GHz)
Bluetooth Bluetooth 4.1
Ports microUSB 2.0, dual SIM slots
Rear Cameras 16 MP (f/2.0, 1.0µm), PDAF, dual LED flash
Front Camera 8MP (f/2.0, 1.12µm)
Colors Arte Black, Matte Black, Tempered Blue, Silver, Copper
Price Starting at $180 (on Amazon)

HMD Global, the Finnish company that inked a licensing deal in 2016 to produce Nokia-branded smartphones, had a wildly successful year. It shipped 16 million Nokia smartphones in Q3 2017 alone, and tens of millions over the past twelve months. The affordability of its lineup played a pivotal role, and there’s no better case in point than the $180 Nokia 6.

The Nokia 6, which launched on Amazon’s virtual Prime Exclusive Phones storefront earlier this year, is a killer device by any measure. It boasts a premium all-metal “double-anodized” shell (minus a narrow strip of plastic at the top to accommodate the antenna) and a 5.5-inch Full HD (1920×1080) IPS LCD screen, which is flanked on either side by speakers (the earpiece doubles as a secondary speaker). The screen, speaking of, is vibrant and colorful, with viewing angles on par with the Xiaomi Mi A1 and a quoted 450 maximum brightness (although some publications have measured as high as 522 nits).

HMD Global’s equipped the Nokia 6 with capacitive navigation keys and a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, a microSD card slot (for tacking storage onto the 32GB internal flash module), and a 3.5mm audio jack. The analog headphone jack’s a nice value-add, though it’s a bit disappointing that HMD opted for a microUSB port instead of a USB-C connector.

The Nokia 6’s system-on-chip, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 paired with 3GB/4GB of RAM (depending on the model), is another unfortunate cost-saving measure. It’s a hierarchical step down from the Snapdragon 600 series processors in phones such as the Xiaomi Mi A1, and it shows: framerate dips and sluggishness pervade the Nokia 6’s preloaded applications, especially the camera app. That said, the launcher and Android’s settings menus aren’t noticeably slower than usual, and not-too-demanding games such as Nova: Legacy are smoother than might be expected.

So, how about the cameras? The Nokia 6 doesn’t have the advantage of dual sensors — it sports a single Zeiss-branded 16MP rear camera (f/2.0 aperture, 1.0µm pixel size) and an 8MP front-facing camera — but it makes the most of what it’s got. The rear camera snaps good, and occasionally great, pics in bright daytime lighting, but cloudy days and nighttime skies present a real challenge for it. Colors become washed out, and an overriding softness smudges shadows, edges, and other fine details into nondescript blobs.

It’s not all bad, though. The Nokia 6 packs a 3,000mAh battery lasts about a day on a charge, and it supports quick charging. Plugged into a compatible wall adapter, the power back recharges from 0% to 50% in 30 minutes.

It’s also a part of the Android One program. At Mobile World Congress 2018, Nokia announced that all of its 2018 devices, including the Nokia 6, would receive at least two years of monthly security updates, a curated set of preloaded Google apps, and Android P when it becomes available later this year.

There’s no denying that the Nokia 6 is a flawed budget smartphone. But its merits — namely, it’s polished design and Android One guarantees — make up for its flaws.

ZTE Blade Z Max

Honor 7X Specifications
Dimensions 166.1 x 84.6 x 8.4mm
Weight 175g
Software Android 7.1.1 Nougat
CPU Octa-core 1.4 GHz Cortex-A53 Qualcomm Snapdragon 435
GPU Adreno 505
RAM and Storage 2GB with 32GB
Battery 4,080 mAh
Display 6.0-inch Full HD+ (1920×1080) IPS LCD
Wi-Fi 802.11n (2.4GHz)
Bluetooth Bluetooth 4.2
Ports USB Type-C, 3.5mm headphone jack, dual SIM slots
Rear Cameras 16 MP + 2 MP dual rear cameras, PDAF, and LED flash
Front Camera 8MP
Colors Black
Price Starting at $120 (on MetroPCS)

The ZTE Blade Z Max, the successor to the Z Max Pro, might be getting a bit old in the tooth (it launched in August 2017) but it’s still a heck of a deal. For the bargain-barrel price of $120 from MetroPCS, you get a whopping 6-inch display, dual cameras, and a gigantic 4,080 battery. How’s that for a doorbuster?

The ZTE Blade Z Maxis anything but dainty. The phone’s 6-inch casing is made entirely of a rubber-like textured, grippy, soft-touch material that’s easy to grasp ahold of — so long as you’re using two hands. Despite ZTE’s decision to eschew aluminum for a less expensive finish, the Blade Z Max doesn’t feel cheap or unwieldy. In fact, the rear cover’s honeycomb pattern — along with the rear-facing fingerprint sensor and capacitive navigation buttons — elevate the Blade Z Max in a field of homogenous unibody designs.

The ZTE Blade Z Max’s highlight is the display, and it doesn’t disappoint — for the most part. On tap’s a 6-inch IPS LCD screen with a curved 2.D scratch-resistant glass and Full HD (1920×1080) resolution, which works out to a pixel density of 367 ppi. Unsurprisingly, it’s not the sharpest screen in its class — it’s no match for the Nokia 6 and Xiaomi Mi A1’s 403 ppi screen density — but makes up for it with solid color reproduction, wide viewing angles, and a maximum brightness level (460 nits) that’s enough to stand up to blinding sunlight or a powerful desk lamp.

Under the hood, the Blade Z Max boasts an octa-core 1.4GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 435 paired with 2GB of RAM, a combination that’s on par with its predecessor’s Snapdragon 617. It and its GPU, the Adreno 505, won’t set any benchmark records, but nonetheless handles most apps as leas as well (and in some cases better than) the Nokia 6’s Snapdragon 430. One unfortunate compromise is the RAM, which is half the amount that ships in the Xiaomi Mi A1 and the high-end variant of the Nokia 6. In theory, it’ll hobble the Blade Z Max’s performance relative to its competitors, though it’ll come down to the circumstances and use cases. Unless you’re a heavy-duty multitasker — i.e., they type who switches between a dozen Chrome tabs and a YouTube video while turn-by-turn directions blare in the background — you’re unlikely to run up against the Blad Z Max’s hardware limitations.

You’re just as unlikely to drain the battery in an afternoon. The Z Max’s 4,080mAh power pack lasts an at least a full day, if not a day and a half. And it supports fast charging via USB-C, which is a nice touch.

The Blade Z Max, like the Xiaomi Mi A1, has a dual rear camera. On the back’s a 16MP sensor paired with a 2MP sensor, which allows for a Google Pixel-like Portrait Mode that lets you focus in on a foreground object while blurring the background. Otherwise, the camera isn’t anything to write home about. When conditions are good and the lighting’s perfect, it captures clear shots with lots of detail. But on overcast days or during nighttime, image quality falls off a cliff.

That’s all to say the ZTE Blade Z Max isn’t for everyone. There’s no denying it’s a bargain — outside of Asian markets, you’re unlikely to find better hardware for the price — but niggles like the limited RAM, middling camera, and lack of support for 5GHz Wi-Fi networks (the ZTE Blade Z Max can only connect to the 2.4GHz band) take it down a peg. If you’re willing to look past its flaws, though, the Blade Z Max is the phone for you.

Honor 7X

honor 7x

Honor 7X Specifications
Dimensions 156.5 x 75.3 x 7.6mm
Weight 165g
Software EMUI 5.1 (soon EMUI 8.0)
CPU HiSilicon Kirin 659 (four 2.36 GHz ARM Cortex-A53 cores + four 1.7 GHz ARM Cortex-A53 cores)
GPU Mali-T830 MP2
RAM and Storage 3GB/4GB with 32GB/64GB of storage
Battery 3,340 mAh
Display 5.93-inch 18:9 Full HD+ (2160×1080) IPS LCD
Wi-Fi 802.11ac (2.4GHz/5GHz)
Bluetooth Bluetooth 4.1
Ports USB Type-C, 3.5mm headphone jack, dual SIM slots
Rear Cameras 16 MP + 2 MP dual rear cameras with f/2.9 aperture and 1.25 µm pixel size, PDAF, and LED flash
Front Camera 8MP with f/2.0 aperture
Colors Black, Blue, Gold, Red, Gray
Price Starting at $199

Huawei’s Honor 7X topped our list of the best budget phones for the money, but it’s worth mentioning here. For $199, its design, cameras, and performance are virtually unmatched — with the exception of the Nokia 6 and Xiaomi Mi A1, of course.

To recap: The Honor 7X features a brushed aluminum unibody that highlights the 5.93-inch Full HD+ (2160×1080) 18:9 IPS LCD edge-to-edge FullView display. Under the hood, Huawei’s HiSilicon Kirin 659 octa-core system-on-chip (paired with 3GB/4GB of RAM and a Mali-T830 MP2 GPU) supplies enough horsepower to tackle almost any app thrown at it, and the 3,340mAh battery lasts a full day on a charge.

The Honor 7X’s cameras are stars in their own right. The dual rear camera module, which consists of a 16MP sensor (f/2.9 aperture and 1.25 µm pixel size) and a 2MP secondary sensor, captures impressive photos and videos, and has a Portrait Mode-like feature that applies a bokeh effect (i.e., a blurred background and in-focus foreground) to photos.

One last thing worth highlighting: The Honor 7X ships with Huawei’s Emotion UI (EMUI), a custom skin atop Android, with AI-enabled features such as real-time scene and object recognition and accelerated language translation.