There should really be a category of smartphone called “wisephone;” the kind of phone you get when you like all the cool new features, but you have better things to do with your money than spend $800 or more on a phone. Like when you buy a car, you can keep a great deal of money in your pocket by choosing one from a previous model year or from a brand that doesn’t carry a huge price premium. In the mobile world, it’s especially true when you choose to go no contract. Then, you’re free to find the best deal on the phone with features you want, and you don’t have to buy it directly from your carrier.
Take a good look at these five smartphones for under $200. They are not cheap smartphones, they’re inexpensive. It’s an important distinction. These phones will work on either the Ting CDMA or GSM network and so could also be used with Sprint’s (CDMA) or T-Mobile’s (GSM) networks.
1. Samsung Galaxy S4 | $188
If you are looking to join the unlocked Galaxy club and keep it sub-$200, this is the phone you want. It was the world’s most advanced smartphone when it came out in 2013. That sounds like a long time ago but make no mistake: A Galaxy S4 is absolutely a workhorse for work or play.
At its heart is a quad-core 1.9 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 for crunching data and for smooth gameplay.
You’ll be able to clearly see your docs, videos, games or whatever you’re into on the 1080p screen. It’s also one of the last Galaxy phones to offer expandable storage: Grab a cheap microSD card and bump up your storage space for pictures, videos or whatever else you want to carry around.
You’ll have access to the speed of 4G LTE so you’ll never be kept waiting.
Just FYI – The GSM network variant of Galaxy S4 is available for $228. That means it didn’t quite make the cut for this blog but it’s worth a look if GSM offers better coverage in your area.
2. Apple iPhone 4S | $138
It’s not a phone, it’s a lifestyle choice. Apple has proven itself a master of tech branding and for many people, it’s the only choice. If you don’t want to spend nearing $1,000 on the latest and most capacious iPhone, the iPhone 4S is a good choice.
It’s got an A5 dual-core processor, high-quality camera and retina display. Talk to Siri, check the 3D maps and send your videos directly to your TV with a swipe of your finger.
This was the last model Apple made before they switched over to SIM cards so you can just activate the phone and go.
FYI – The iPhone 5c just missed the cut at $204 and up. If you want to secure the next generation for not much more, the 5c is definitely a good investment.
3. BLU Life One X | $158
You may not have heard of BLU… but let’s fix that now. BLU makes phones that pack in some great high-end features but without the high-end price tag. The BLU Life One X is a sleek, lightweight Android phone that feels like a Samsung Galaxy device. It’s one of the best performing devices you can get at this price. Inside you’ll find two SIM card slots and one of those increasingly elusive microSD card slots for expanding your available storage space.
The 5.2-inch 1080p IPS LCD screen offers 424 pixels/inch and is nice and sharp for looking at photos, watching videos or playing games. The screen is also clad in scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass 3, a rarity in budget phones.
If you spend time in an office block or if your current phone seems to lose coverage when you head indoors, you’ll be glad to know you’ve got T-Mobile’s band-12 compatibility. That means your cell antenna can bore through office walls and keep your coverage steady while you’re inside.
4. Motorola Moto G4 | $199
This is one of those times when bigger is better. The Moto G4 has a big 5.5-inch screen powered by a 3000 mAh that won’t quit on you. The octa-core 1.5 GHz Snapdragon processor runs the show, offering a smooth and simple smartphone experience. The specs of the Moto G4 are much higher than you’d expect at this price point.
If you’re stepping up from an older phone, you’ll see a big difference with the 4G LTE speeds offered on the Moto G4.
Live large at a price that just barely squeaks under the $200 cap.
5. Huawei Honor 5X | $199
Let’s say you want one of the coolest looking phones on the market. Let’s say you’re tired of passwords and just want to use your fingerprint to unlock that phone. Let’s say you want a phone that was released in 2016. The Honor is yours.
In its aircraft-grade aluminum casing, the Honor 5X can take a hit and keep flying. The screen is of the 1080p, Full HD variety. The 13MP camera can go toe-to-toe with any mid-range and even some high-end smartphones when lighting conditions are on point. This is a completely unlocked, dual-SIM phone, meaning it’s perfect for the traveling set.
In the Honor, you’ll also find a microSD card slot which allows for expandable storage. In fact, the budget space seems to be where it’s at for this very useful feature that the >$500 smartphones are choosing to leave behind.
Keep in mind you’ll need to pick up a Ting GSM SIM to get the Honor 5X up and running.
What to Do With Your Savings
There’s a whole universe of smartphones under $200 that fit your lifestyle and that, considering it from the price vs. performance equation, maybe even outperform the best phones on the market.
The latest and greatest “flagship” phones have brought some pretty compelling new features to market, no doubt. That said, we’re advocates for saving money by making smarter choices. Sometimes, the real power move is to let other people be the “first adopters” who ultimately, are the ones paying for all the initial “go to market” costs that phone makers are trying to recoup when they sell their $600, $800, $1,000 phones.
Maybe the wisephone move is to think about the people you want to talk to with your smartphone… and use your smartphone savings to make memories with those people instead.