If you read certain tech sites, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the only smartphones worth owning are top-of-the-range flagship models – which is all they ever talk about. In reality, very few people need a smartphone that costs upwards of $1000. For half the price, it’s possible to snap up a great handset with all the essential features – including fast performance, an excellent camera and decent battery life.
Good cheap smartphones are more common than you might think. This is especially true if you’re willing to forgo those “next big thing” features that usually turn out to be gimmicks.
The phones on this list all cost under $500. In addition to leaving more money in your pocket, the lower price also means you can probably afford to buy outright – instead of saddling yourself to a mobile phone contract. Win win!
HTC One X9: $299-$499
The HTC One X9 looks indistinguishable from a top-tier smartphone. It boasts an all-metal body in silver, gold or dark grey and a generous 5.5-inch display with a native resolution of 1920×1080 pixels. It’s powered by an an octa-core processor and 3GB of RAM running Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Other noteworthy specifications include dual stereo speakers, a 13-megapixel camera with RAW image capture, optical image stabilisation, 4K video recording, 32GB of onboard storage, a memory card slot, inbuilt NFC and a 3000 mAh battery.
You can currently buy the HTC One X9 outright from JB Hi-Fi for $499. However, we’ve seen it online for under $300 (plus shipping). You can also purchase it on a $40 plan from Vodafone for $2 per month.
Oppo F1: $250-$300
The Oppo F1 is billed as a dedicated “selfie camera”. Its main claim to fame is an 8-megapixel front-facing camera boasting a wide f/2.0 aperture and 1/4-inch sensor. (There’s also a 13-megapixel camera on the back.) It also boasts a patented “Screen Flash” feature which improves pictures in low-light situations. You can appraise its selfie-taking capabilities for yourself here.
Even if you discount the fancy front camera, this is still a high-quality Android for the asking price. Chief specs include a five-inch screen with a native resolution of 1280×720 pixels, HDR support, a Qualcomm Snapdragon Octa-core 64-bit processor and 3GB of RAM, a Micro SD card slot and a 2500 mAh battery. It’s finished in metal alloy that is softer to the touch than most smartphones.
Originally retailing for $350, the Oppo F1 can now be snapped up for around $250 online. If you prefer to buy in-store, JB Hi-Fi is currently selling it for $318. You can also get the Oppo F1 for free on a pre-paid $35 plan from Woolworths.
Huawei Ascend Mate 7: $280-$500
Like the other smartphones on this list, the Huawei looks every bit the flagship smartphone despite the attractive price tag. It comes with a massive six-inch screen with a native resolution of 1920×1080 pixels.
Despite the screen size, the phone can still fit inside your pocket thanks to its high screen-to-body ratio and near-invisible bezel. Noteworthy specifications include an eight-core Kirin 925 SoC chipset, 3GB of RAM, a fingerprint sensor, a 13-megapixel camera, 4K video recording, 32GB of onboard storage and dual microSIM slots. It also has an eye-catching “champagne gold” finish that belies its mid-range price tag.
You can pick one up brand new on eBay for around $280 (plus shipping).
Samsung Galaxy J7 Prime: $340-$400
The Samsung Galaxy range is best known for producing expensive rivals to the Apple iPhone (that, and blowing up.) However, the brand is also active in the lower end of the market where it sells a selection of Galaxy phones for every taste and budget. One of the better offerings is the Samsung Galaxy J7 Prime which provides a bunch of shiny shiny features for under $400.
Product highlights include a brushed metal unibody design, a 5.5-inch 1080p display with 2.5D Corning Gorilla Glass, a 1.6GHz Octa-Core processor, a fingerprint sensor, a 13-megapixel rear camera with LED flash, dual SIM support and a generous 3300mAh battery with a “reserve” function for calls and messages. The J7 was never officially sold in Australia but you can buy it from Dick Smith’s online store for $339.
iPhone 6 (Refurbished): $400-$500
Apple doesn’t care about customers in the mid-range market. It makes exxy phones for sexy people who care more about style than anything else. Nevertheless, if you’re desperate to get your hands on an iOS handset for under $500, an iPhone 6 is a pretty good option.
Apple no longer sells the iPhone 6, but you can purchase refusbished models for around $400, plus shipping. Despite being over three years old, it remains an impressive all-rounder. When it comes to performance, it can still hold its own against the other smartphones on this list courtesy of an A8 chip with 64-bit architecture and M8 motion coprocessor.
It comes with a Retina HD display, a decent 8-megapixel camera with 1080p HD video recording, Apple Pay functionality and the usual iOS features such as FaceTime, Touch ID and Siri. More importantly, it looks and feels exactly like an iPhone. (If you’re willing to pay a bit extra, you might also want to consider the iPhone SE.)