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Top Five Budget Handsets of 2017

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Dec 31, 2017, 8:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Not everyone has the means or the desire to spend $1000 on a smartphone. There's good news: phone makers spent 2017 shoring up their ranks of budget-friendly devices, which now offer an incredible amount of performance for the dollar. These are the top five sub-$200 handsets of the year.

Inexpensive smartphones used to be junk. Quite often, spending $100 to $200 on an entry-level device meant you were saddled with a slow phone with a crappy screen and a miserable camera. That's no longer the case. Today's entry-level devices have high-def screens, solid battery life, and decent cameras. Moreover, some have even added higher-end features such as metal construction, waterproofing, and fingerprint readers.

The usual suspects — Motorola, ZTE, HTC, Huawei, and others — pushed out dozens of affordable smartphones this year that are perfectly suitable to novice and experienced users alike. Here are our picks the best low-cost phones of 2017.

Motorola Moto G5 Plus

Motorola revamped its entire line of devices this year, including the capable G series. Now in its fifth generation, the G series took a respectable step forward in 2017. Those with an eye for design should be pleased with the Moto G5 Plus, which dropped the flashy plastic covers of previous generations for a metal skin that adds a dash of class. The result is a phone that looks and feels like it should cost hundreds of dollars more than it does.

Another nice feature for a device in this price range is the 5.2-inch full HD display. The screen is nice, and the phone includes a fingerprint reader for security. The large battery is another bonus, as is the snappy mid-range processor from Qualcomm and the better-than-average camera.

One Motorola's greatest strengths is its software. The Moto G5 Plus runs a clean version of Android with thoughtful and helpful tools — such as Active Display — that improve the experience day in and day out.

The unlocked Moto G5 Plus offers excellent support for U.S. LTE networks and punched way above its weight.

Motorola Moto E4 Plus

Motorola's entry-level E series also received a huge upgrade in 2017. The Moto E4 Plus packs one of the largest and longest-lasting batteries of any device in the market. The E4 Plus carries a 5,000mAh battery inside and it defines this phone. The phone pushes through two full days of intense use, something few phones these days can claim to do. Anyone who values battery life over other features will find the E4 Plus has the goods.

Similar to the G5 Plus, the E4 Plus drops the cheesy plastic build of earlier generations for a more conservative metal-glass-plastic combination. It's a fine piece of hardware, given the price, and includes a large 5.5-inch 720p HD screen that's great for watching videos or playing games. The camera impressed me, as did call quality, and performance from the processor.

A fingerprint reader on the front is something that's rare for a phone in this price range. Moreover, owners can take advantage of the fingerprint reader to perform myriad actions in the UI. Speaking of which, the E4 Plus runs the same great version of Android as the G5 Plus.

The Moto E4 Plus is a phenomenal frugal phone.

ZTE Blade Z Max

ZTE has carved a niche for itself in making inexpensive, big-screened smartphones for prepaid carriers in the U.S. None was as impressive this year as the Blade Z Max, a beast of a device that's sold by MetroPCS for barely more than a Benjamin. The ginormous 6-inch, full HD screen dominates this handset. The display is bright, colorful, and an excellent canvas on which to consume content or to be productive.

Going hand-in-hand with the screen is an equally impressive 4,080mAh battery. The phone's power cell offers killer battery life that easily pushes past what's available from today's top smartphones. Need 1.5 or more days of power? The Blade Z Max delivers.

Other stand-out features included dual rear cameras and a fingerprint reader. These aren't often found on such inexpensive devices. Offering them on the Blade Z Max allowed ZTE to give cost-conscious buyers a taste of the good life.

Few phones offer so much bang for the buck.

HTC U11 Life

HTC took all the best features of its U11 flagship handset and somehow managed to distill them into the affordable U11 Life without degrading the experience. The U11 Life carries over one of the U11's most appealing aspects — the mirrored blue finish — at one-third the cost. In order to keep the price down, HTC sprayed metallic paint on the inside of a clear acrylic shell. The difference is almost imperceptible when compared to the highly polished glass of the U11. The U11 Life is one of the most attractive sub-$200 handsets on the market. As a bonus, the phone is compact and would be a good option for those who prefer smaller devices.

But wait, there's more. The U11 Life also ports over the U11's squeezable side edges, which allow users to call up Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa by squeezing the phone's waist. Further, the U11 Life is waterproof, a feature that's unavailable from most other handsets at this price point. Other high-end features include a 5.2-inch full HD screen, fingerprint reader, NFC, and support for Apple AirPlay music streaming.

Toss in fine performance from the battery, wireless radios, camera, and processor, and the U11 Life is the most attractive budget phone.

Huawei Honor 7X

The Honor 7X from Huawei is one of the first budget phones to adopt the trendy features seen on today's flagships. It combines a metal unibody chassis with a 2:1 display and dual cameras to stand above the competition.

You could easily mistake the Honor 7X for a much pricier handset. The curved metal chassis may bear too much resemblance to certain iPhones, but the large screen makes it stand out in this class. The 5.9-inch display jumps to the 2:1 aspect ratio and includes full HD+ resolution. This large LCD panel looks fantastic, given the price point, and gives the Honor 7X the sought-after all-screen look. The metal build is of excellent quality and the phone is slim and well-made.

The dual rear cameras give even budget seekers powerful imaging tools. While the main sensor captures full color images, the second captures monochrome images and provides depth/contrast data to enable portrait picture taking. Few phones at this price include portrait photography.

There's lots more to like, such as the large 3,340mAh battery, fingerprint reader, memory card support, good call quality, and flexible software.

The Honor 7X is an appealing, unlocked option that beat much of the competition to the top features of the year.

Honorable Mentions

If you like Motorola's software and want something smaller than the E4 Plus, the Moto E4 is more compact, more affordable, and still impressive. Cricket customers can find many of the Blade Z Max's features in the Blade X Max, which features a massive screen and more appealing design. Alcatel did a great job with the Idol 5, a high-design handset that packs a lot of punch for the price.

About the author, Eric M. Zeman:

Eric has been covering the mobile telecommunications industry for 17 years at various print and online publications. He studied at Rutgers Newark and University of Kentucky, and has a degree in writing. He likes playing guitar, attending concerts, listening to music, and driving sports cars.

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Jan 6, 2018, 4:53 PM


I like mine, got the G4 at $32 and it’s great
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