Best cheap phones in the US for 2016

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Update: The best cheap phone of 2016 is no surprise: Motorola is once again at the top of our list. We’re reviewing more budget phones than ever, so stay tuned for additional comparisons and ranking changes.

The best cheap phone in the US is a complicated find. Even in 2016, carriers still love to lock you into contracts for budget phone prices, only to have you pay the full amount back in high monthly fees.

That’s why we have sorted through hundreds of inexpensive smartphones in order to rank the best options that you can buy unlocked without monthly fees and, importantly, without a two-year contract.

And good news: while many are $200 or less, you’ll actually recognize the names: Motorola, Google and Apple. Others may be new to you, namely Alcatel, ZTE and Huawei, but they’re just as list worthy.

No, these aren’t the best phones in the US and you won’t find the new Galaxy S7 or S7 Edge among them. Likewise, the new 4-inch iPhone SE is $399, so it misses the mark by $100, as lovely as it is.

But every cheap phone here is perfectly fine for everyday use by someone looking to save money on a discounted iOS 10 or Android 6.0 Marshmallow handset.

1. Moto G4

Weight: 155g | Dimensions: 153 x 76.6 x 9.8mm | OS: Android 6 | Screen size: 5.5-inch | Resolution: 1080 x 1920 | CPU: Snapdragon 617 | RAM: 2GB | Storage: 16GB/32GB | Battery: 3000mAh | Rear camera: 13MP | Front camera: 5MP

Bright Full HD display

Impressively powerful

Lack of Moto Maker options

No NFC

Motorola has made some major upgrades to one of its best phones you can buy right now – the Moto G.

The Moto G4 is the first time the phone line has adopted a 5.5-inch Full HD display and it’s an impressively powerful device as well. Compared to some of the other phones to follow on this list, this is going to give you the best gaming performance below $200.

Better yet, it costs just $149 on Amazon if you’re willing to put up with lockscreen ads. Battery life is impressive on the Moto G4, but it’s not a perfect phone, as there’s no NFC and no customization options you get with other Motorola devices.

That said, the rest of the Moto G4 makes it our favorite cheap phone you can buy right now.

Read the full review: Motorola Moto G4

best cheap phone 2016

2. iPhone 5S

Apple’s iPhone makes the cut if you jump through hoops

Weight: 112g | Dimensions: 123.8 x 58.6 x 7.6mm | OS: iOS 10 | Screen size: 4-inch | Resolution: 640 x 1136 | CPU: Dual-core 1.3 GHz | RAM: 1GB | Storage: 16GB | Battery: 1,560mAh | Rear camera: 8MP | Front camera: 1.2MP

Touch ID is easy and secure

Great camera on a budget

Battery could be better

It’s really, really difficult to fit an Apple phone on a best cheap phones list, but there has to be at least one that’s inexpensive enough for iOS fans who refuse to try Android.

The cheapest is iPhone 5S. Through the Apple Store, it costs $450 without a contract until the iPhone SE replaced it, and that was way too expensive to consider here. But what about outside the usual channels?

The cheapest iPhone I can find comes from pre-paid carrier Virgin Mobile. It costs $249 after a $50 promotional discount, and doesn’t require a contract, so you can cancel thereafter.

You’re only getting 16GB, but then again, so are entry-level iPhone SE owners. It comes in space gray or silver, has Touch ID and a still-impressive 8MP camera and runs iOS 10.

Read the full review: iPhone 5S

best cheap phone 2016

3. ZTE ZMax Pro

ZTE cut almost no corners on this budget device

Weight: 189g | Dimensions: 165 x 84 x 8.9mm | OS: Android 6.0 | Screen size: 6-inch | Resolution: 1,920 x 1,080 | CPU: Octa-core 1.5GHz | RAM: 2GB | Storage: 32GB w/ microSD | Battery: 3,400mAh | Rear camera: 13MP | Front camera: 5MP

Good build quality

Close to stock Android Marshmallow

Dim screen

Bad speaker

While ZTE might not be the world’s most recognizable smartphone brand, the ZMax Pro is a sign that this might be changing soon.

Somehow, this 6-inch device is just around $200 and comes packed with a fingerprint sensor, 32GB of storage, a microSD card slot, and enough power to handle medium-sized loads of gaming and multi-tasking.

We think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at every turn with the ZMax Pro, as we were.

Currently only available for MetroPCS and T-Mobile, this device is one of the best, most-surprising values to come out of 2016. Here’s to hoping that more carriers support it soon.

Read the full review: ZTE ZMax Pro

best cheap phone 2016

4. Huawei Honor 5X

The Chinese phone maker comes to the US with Honor

Weight: 158g | Dimensions: 151.3 x 76.3 x 8.2mm | OS: Android 6.0 | Screen size: 5.5-inch | Resolution: 1080 x 1920 | CPU: Quad-core 1.5 GHz | RAM: 2GB | Storage: 16GB | Battery: 3,000mAh | Rear camera: 13MP | Front camera: 5MP

Beautiful design

Fast fingerprint sensor

Problematic UI

Can only buy online

You can’t have a best cheap phone list and not include Huawei, and for the first time in the US, we can include the Chinese company’s budget-friendly Honor phone line.

The  Huawei Honor 5X costs just $199 for phone with a full HD 5.5-inch display, has been upgraded to Android 6.0 Marshmallow, and it looks a lot like its 6-inch cousin, the Huawei Mate 8.

This Honor phone takes serious design cues from Huawei’s premium Mate series, seen in its metal finish that could easily be mistaken for a premium phone that’s leagues ahead of the discount handsets.

It still has a slower Snapdragon 615 processor, plus its problematic, iOS-like user interface isn’t not nearly as buttery smooth as Apple’s operating system, but no one but you will tell under its metal shell.

Read the full review: Huawei Honor 5X

best cheap phone 2016

5. Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3

A cheap 5.5-inch phone from a company you’ve never heard of

Weight: 141g | Dimensions: 152.7 x 75.1 x 7.4mm | OS: Android 6.0 | Screen size: 5.5-inch | Resolution: 1080 x 1920 | CPU: Quad-core 1.5 GHz | RAM: 2GB | Storage: 16GB | Battery: 2,910mAh | Rear camera: 13MP | Front camera: 8MP

Vibrant screen

Dual front stereo speakers

Sluggish interface

No quick charging

The Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 is the best phone with a 5.5-inch display that you can get without having to pay a whole lot of money. Specifically, this Android handset is just $179.

It’s an unlocked phone with the same sized screen and pixel density as the iPhone 6S Plus. It even has dual, front-facing stereo speakers, something you won’t hear from an Apple phone. Of course, the rest of the specs can’t compare to an iPhone, with a much slower Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 octa-core processor running at 1.5GHz and mediocre 13MP camera.

That should be enough for most people looking for a cheap phone. And think of it this way: you could buy four Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 phones for the price of one iPhone 7. Really.

Read the full review: Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3

best cheap phone 2016

6. Moto X 2nd generation

Motorola’s unlocked phone from 2014 still impresses us

Weight: 144g | Dimensions: 140.8 x 72.4 x 10mm | OS: Android 6.0 | Screen size: 5.2-inch | Resolution: 1080 x 1920 | CPU: Quad-core 2.5 GHz | RAM: 2GB | Storage: 16GB | Battery: 2,300mAh | Rear camera: 13MP | Front camera: 2MP

Great 5.2-inch screen

Moto Maker customizations

No micro SD slot

Camera inconsistent

Motorola’s 2014 flagship is the most expensive phone on this list, but it’s also one of the best because it hovers between our best phones and budget lists.

It has a vibrant-looking, 5.2-inch AMOLED display and a curved back that feels like the right size and shape for a one-handed phone. The aluminum frame gives it some sharp class.

It’s cheaper than most Android 6.0 Marshmallow phones in its class and it has some neat tricks, like the always-on Moto Display and web-based Moto Maker software for custom phone orders. These are features carried over to the newer Moto X Style, Moto Z and Moto Z Force, but at a higher cost.

There’s no microSD slot, unfortunately, and the camera is okay. You’ll also want to skip the nice leather option because it’s a bit too supple and bruises easily. That back isn’t worth your hard-earned money.

Read the full review: Moto X 2nd generation

best cheap phone 2016

7. OnePlus X

OnePlus X can now be sought without an invite code

Weight: 160g | Dimensions: 140 x 69 x 6.9 mm | OS: Android 6.0 | Screen size: 5-inch | Resolution: 1080 x 1920 | CPU: Quad-core 2.3 GHz | RAM: 3GB | Storage: 16GB | Battery: 2,525mAh | Rear camera: 13MP | Front camera: 8MP

Attractive design

No NFC or fast charging

Bright display

Average performance

Anyone can buy the OnePlus 3 since it doesn’t require an invite, but it’s still expensive at $399. Good news: its smaller sibling has been much more affordable since it launched.

The OnePlus One X is now $199 and compromises on everything from inches to specs. It has a 5-inch full HD display, a Snapdragon 801 (no, not 810) processor and 3GB of RAM.

Those are still better than average specs for a cheap phone that runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Just don’t go looking for a fingerprint sensor on this budget phone option.

Instead, what I appreciate most is that the phone features a microSD card slot and an older micro USB port instead of the newfangled USB-C style that I’m just not ready for yet.

Read the full review: OnePlus X

best cheap phone 2016

8. Asus Zenfone 2

Weight: 170g | Dimensions: 152.5 x 77.2 x 10.9mm | OS: Android 6.0 | Screen size: 5.5-inch | Resolution: 1080 x 1920 | CPU: Quad-core 1.8 GHz | RAM: 2GB | Storage: 16GB | Battery: 3,000mAh | Rear camera: 13MP | Front camera: 5MP

Spacious display for cheap

Customization interface

Cheap look and feel

Dim screen and camera

The more expensive 4GB ASUS Zenfone 2 was a tough sell for us, only because it brought powerful specs and Android customizations, yet wrapped it all in a plastic phone at $299.

Much less of an oxymoron is the 2GB Asus Zenfone 2, at a more reasonable $199. It feels just as cheap, but for a much more appropriate price. You just have to deal with its slower processor.

Intel is powering both variants, and this phone has a 1.8GHz Intel Atom Z3560 quad-core chip, ditching the more commonly used Qualcomm Snapdragon processors.

Its roomy 5.5-inch display, 1080p resolution and Android software tweaks are the real highlights. Screen brightness and camera are literal lowlights, but you can’t win them all with a cheap phone.

We were able to test out the forthcoming Asus Zenfone 3 Deluxe (launched in Asia, but not the US just yet), but with its more powerful specs and all-metal design, it’ll likely cost much more than the cheapest Zenfone 2.

Read the full review: Asus Zenfone 2

best cheap phone 2016

9. HTC Desire 626

It’s not the HTC A9, but its cheaper cousin

Weight: 140g | Dimensions: 146.9 x 70.9 x 8.2mm | OS: Android 5.1 | Screen size: 5-inch | Resolution: 720 x 1280 | CPU: Octa-core 1.7 GHz | RAM: 2GB | Storage: 16GB | Battery: 2,000mAh | Rear camera: 13MP | Front camera: 5MP

Bright, sharp screen

Customizable interface

Weak camera

Average performance

You won’t find the new HTC 10 on this list, but the Taiwanese phone maker has a budget smartphone that packs solid mid-range specs at a fraction of the price.

The year-old HTC Desire 626 holds up with a 5-inch display and 720p resolution that’s big and sharp for the amount you’re paying. It gives HTC’s colorful interface a sharpness that makes everything pop.

Its 16-megapixel (MP) camera and battery life are mediocre compared to what we were expecting, but that’s almost universal on smartphones at this price.

The HTC Desire 626 is all about offering an HTC-built phone with an octa-core processor, and actually paying less than the upfront price of a $199 phone that has a two-year contract.

Read the full review: HTC Desire 626

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