If you're the kind of person that wants a top-of-the-line phone, there's never a good time to buy: there's always something newer and shinier and more exciting coming out. If you're perfectly content with a mid-range or entry-level handset, though, you're spoiled for choice right now.
There's an increasingly competitive segment of the Australian smartphone market occupied by some very interesting handsets. They're definitely cheap, but they don't skimp out entirely on useful features and modern accoutrements. Take Motorola's brand new Moto E as an example — it's US$129 outright, so will probably be well under $200 here, but you still get the latest version of Android, a 4.3-inch qHD LCD screen, a perfectly adequate Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 processor, and a capacious 1980mAh battery.
The Moto E's only real sticking point is its mediocre 4GB internal storage — although that's ameliorated by a microSD slot hidden behind its removable, replaceable rear cover (which has plenty of different colour options available, too). If you end up needing extra space, just pay a few dollars for a cheap memory card!
But what is obvious from our initial hands-on with the Moto E is that it's entirely capable of running modern apps and doing everything you'd expect of a 2014 Android phone. Considering it's going to cost less than $200, that's incredible value; it's hardly worth buying something more expensive when you'll only get diminishing returns. If you want something a little better, the Moto G is adding 4G support, and it shouldn't be much more than $250. Another bargain.
Motorola wants back into your life.
It wants to be what the Nexus phones can’t be, while simultaneously wanting to build the last word in cheap, utilitarian Android for the masses.
The Moto E is the company’s attempt at the latter, and after an initial hands-on, it goes down a treat.
The lower end of the smartphone world has always had a strong showing from Windows Phone, and the newest and best Nokia looks like yet another winner. For $250, you get yourself a slightly lower-resolution screen than the Moto E, but you similarly get the latest version of Microsoft's simple, powerful operating system, a Snapdragon 400 quad-core processor, and a large-enough-for-daily-use 1830mAh battery.
If you're happy to buy it from Vodafone on a prepaid lock-in, though, there's a huge selling point for the Lumia 630 — it's only $179 for any one of the five bright colour options. Considering the quality of previous Lumias, this looks like an incredible value handset.
Microsoft’s first phone to launch with Windows Phone 8.1 — not Nokia, not any more — is the Lumia 630.
In five typically Nokia bright colours, the 630 is made for students and businesspeople and trendsetters alike, with decently powerful hardware and a 4.5-inch display.
And it’s cheap, too.
Here's the thing, though: even last year's high-end Android and Windows Phone smartphones are falling in price rapidly, and they're more than powerful enough to keep up with brand new entry-level competitors. You can pick up a Samsung Galaxy S4 for less than $500 — this is a phone that cost $900 only 12 months ago. Similarly, the HTC One can be found for the same price, not bad for a year-old flagship. Google's Nexus 5 isn't much cheaper than when it launched, but that doesn't stop it being a great phone.
Three great flagship smartphones for less than $500. Three great brand new entry-level smartphones for $250. And all of which that can do basically anything you'd ever want a smartphone to do. Why would you pay more?
P.S. If you're wondering why I didn't include the iPhone 5 or 4S in this list, it's because while you're able to buy refurbished or new ones from Apple, they're still not especially cheap — the lowest-priced new model is a 8GB iPhone 4S (from 2011!) for $529. If you want a cheap iPhone, you'll have to buy second-hand or get it subsidised by a telco.