Many consumers seem to be unaware that great smartphones can be purchased for far less than $1000. I am truly baffled by this. I don't know whether consumers are buying very expensive phones because they don't know any better, or because they think a superb camera and larger storage are worth several hundred dollars. Perhaps, they aren't thinking about the cost as much as they are just buying what everyone else is buying, or what they see advertised most on TV? Do they value an up-to-date version of Android that is a little more secure on the Internet than older versions? Or, do they want GPS?
I am at the other end of the smartphone-buying spectrum. I bought a Hauwei Union Y538 about 3 years ago at Best Buy for $20 and have been happily using it ever since as an MP3 player, video player, and ebook reader. I also have a couple of useful apps like City Maps 2Go and Kiwix. I rarely connect my smartphone to the internet by wifi. I have never used it to make phone calls. Sometimes, I use it to take pictures, but I bought a cheap, used 13MP camera about a year ago to use whenever I need higher quality pictures. I replaced the battery in my phone a few months ago. Other than that, I have had no significant problems.
A few weeks ago, my mother surprised me with the news that she is considering buying a smartphone. I say she surprised me, because her eyesight isn't the best, so I thought a 5 or 6 inch screen was the last thing she would want. She asked if I could recommend something inexpensive. Since I haven't been in the market for a smartphone for 3 years, I didn't know what to suggest. However, I do know a simple process that will lead to the purchase of a smartphone that most consumers with reasonable expectations will likely be happy with.
The process is simply to go to Amazon, look at as many of the lower-priced smartphones as possible, and see what buyers say about them. So, this week I went to Amazon and made a list of all the smartphones I found selling for less than $100 with reviews averaging four stars or better. I threw out all phones with less than 25 reviews, because sampling uncertainty is too high with a small number of samples. I also ignored Blackberry and Apple smartphones. The result is the table below. All 19 phones listed in the table are new. By "new", I mean not used. Some are older models.
|Name||Price (USD)||Carrier||Screen Size/|
|Camera(s) Pixels||Android Version||Band||Micro SD||Notes|
|BLU Advance A4 (2019)||$39.99||Unlocked||4.0"/?||512MB/16GB||5MP & 2MP||8.1||GSM 3G||up to 64GB||#1|
|BLU Advance S5 HD||$49.99||Unlocked||5.0"/|
|1GB/16GB||8MP & 5MP||8.1||GSM 3G/4G LTE||up to 64GB|
|BLU Dash JR 4.0K||$49.00||Unlocked||4.0"/|
|256MB/512MB||2MP||4.2||GSM 2G||up tp 32GB||#2|
|BLU Studio Mini 5.5HD||$69.99||Unlocked||5.5"/|
|2GB/32GB||13MP & 8MP||9.0||GSM 3G/4G LTE||up to 64GB||#3|
|BLU VIVO X5||$99.99||Unlocked||5.7"/|
|3GB/64GB||13MP & 8MP||9.0||GSM 3G/4G LTE||up to 64GB||#15|
|BLU Vivo XL4||$84.99||Unlocked||6.2/|
|3GB/32GB||13MP & 2MP||8.1||GSM 4G/4G LTE||up to 128GB|
|Coolpad REVVL Plus C3701A||$99.99||Unlocked||6.0"/"FHD"||2GB/32GB||13MP & 5MP||7.1||GSM 3G/4G LTE||up to 128GB||#4|
|Hisense Infinity F24||$79.99||Unlocked||6" IPS/|
|2GB/16GB||13MP & 8MP||7.0||GSM, 4G LTE||up to 128GB|
|Huawei Ascend XT 2||$99.99||Unlocked||5.5" IPS/|
|2GB/16GB||12MP & 8MP||7.0||GSM, LTE||up to 128GB||#5|
|Huawei Y5 2018 DRA-L23 (International)||$84.90||Unlocked||5.45"/|
|1GB/16GB||8MP & 5MP||8.0?||GSM, 4G LTE||up to 256GB?|
|Motorola Moto E5||$89.99||Unlocked||5.7"/|
|2GB/16GB||8MP & 5MP||8.0||GSM 2G/3G/4G LTE, CDMA||up to 128GB||#6|
|Motorola Moto G (2nd generation, International)||$99.00||Unlocked||5.0"/?||1GB/8GB||8MP||4.4||3G UTMS/HSPA+||up to 32GB||#7|
|Samsung Galaxy J2 Core 2018 (USA Latin Caribbean version)||$82.99||Unlocked||5"/|
|1GB/8GB||8MP & 5MP||8||GSM, 4G LTE||up to 256GB||#8|
|Samsung Galaxy J3 Luna Pro 4G LTE||$98.50||Total Wireless||5"/|
|1.5GB/16GB||5MP & 2MP||6.0.1||4G LTE||up to 256GB||#9|
|Samsung Galaxy J7 Crown S767 4G LTE||$68.04||Total Wireless||5.5"/"HD"||2GB/16GB||13MP & 13MP||8.0||GSM/CDMA 2G, 3G, 4G LTE||up to 400GB||#10|
|Samsung Galaxy J7 J737A 2018||$89.00||Unlocked||5.5"/|
|2GB/16GB||13MP & 13MP||8.0||WCDMA/GSM, 4G LTE||up to 256GB||#11|
|V Mobile N8||$68.99||Unlocked||5.5"/|
|1GB/16GB||8MP & 5MP||8.0||3G WCDMA/2G GSM||up to 64GB||#12|
|ZTE Blade Spark Z971||$99.99||Unlocked||5.5"/|
|2GB/16GB||13MP & 5MP||7.1||2G GSM, 3G HSPA, 4G LTE||up to 128GB||#13|
|ZTE BLADE Z MAX Z982||$87.99||Unlocked||6.0" IPS/|
|2GB/32GB||8MP, 16MP & 2MP||7.1.1||2G GSM, 3G HSDPA, 4G LTE||up to 128GB||#14|
#1: Slow wifi and internet surfing. Seems that most people rated it highly based mostly on its low price.
#2: The specifications are a few years behind the other phones. Most reviews are from 2015.
#3: Low speaker volume. User-replaceable battery. 2 sims.
#4: Good battery life.
#5: Sometime freezes. Long battery life.
#6: Good battery life. Can move all apps to SD card. Has GPS, A-GPS, and GLONASS.
#7: Has GPS. Some Wifi problems. Sometimes slow. Short battry life.
#8: User-replaceable battery. Has GPS and GLONASS.
#9: Has GPS and A-GPS.
#10: This phone seems to be a favorite of prepaid phone carriers. Net10, TracFone, Simple Mobile, and Total Wireless all sell it for different prices. Amazon often ships the wrong carrier's phone to customers.
#11: Long battery life.
#12: Has 2 SIM slots and USB OTG. The V Mobile V8-N, which sells for basically the same price as the V Mobile V8, has GPS "when unlocked".
#13: Some users complain that the screen locks every 10 seconds, and there is no way to change this.
#14: Slow CPU. Amazon doesn't mention GPS, but an outside review says the phone has GPS and A-GPS.
#15: An outside review says this phone has A-GPS.
I did not try to indicate the quality of any of the above phones' screens or cameras. Discerning that from user reviews is much too fraught with peril, because every user has different quality standards. The best source of this kind of information is an online reviewer who reviews many phones and has a sense of what "good" and "bad" look like. Seeing the screen for yourself at a brick-and-morter store would be even better.
I did not give details about exactly what frequencies each phone supports. Some work on more frequencies than others. You should be sure that any phone you are considering buying is compatible with the carrier you are considering using. You can also contact a carrier representative to confirm that they support the phone.
Another thing to be aware of is that Amazon prices are constantly changing. So, don't be surprised if you can't find a particular phone at the exact price shown in the table above.
One of the frustrations of shopping for a smartphone is that sellers frequently give wrong or incomplete information. Sometimes they say one thing in one place and something different in another place in the same advertisement. For example, several of the sellers of the phones in the table above gave two different numbers for the amount of storage on their phones. A couple of the phones above had no mention of GPS in their Amazon advertisements, but outside reviews or Amazon customers mentioned it. Sellers also often leave off basic information that is necessary to correctly identify what they are selling. For example, sometimes the model number of a phone is left out of an advertisement. I am almost convinced that a major reason for products with multiple model numbers is that sellers want reviewers to review their best products while actually selling unsuspecting consumers something inferior. I am still not sure whether the ZTE BLADE Z MAX Z982 is the same as the ZTE BLADE Z MAX, or they are two different models. I assume many mistakes are just due to laziness or to sales people who had "liberal educations", where details were not considered to be important.
Most smartphones under $100 do not have GPS. Exceptions are the Motorola Moto E5, Motorola Moto G 2nd Gen., and Samsung Galaxy J2 Core 2018. Outside reviews say the ZTE BLADE Z MAX Z982 and BLU VIVO X5 also have GPS. I am still not sure if the V Mobile N8 has GPS, or whether it is limited to the V Mobile N8-N ("when unlocked").
Because the intention of this article is to enable readers to compare basic phone features, some features of some phones have not been mentioned--like FM radios, finger print readers, the ability to send screen output to TV's, MP3 players, various camera features and operating modes, and the ability to show or play various picture, audio, and video formats. For more complete information, find a good online review, or download the phone's manual.