Android smartphones available for under $250?
January 12, 2014 11:55 AM   Subscribe

Best no-contract Android smartphone that I can buy (ideally new) for under $250?

Looks like I'm taking it back to 2011!

My smartphone is very close to dead, three months before my contract ends and I can upgrade. That (plus the question earlier this weekend) got me to realize that the cost of a prepaid (ie, no contract) Verizon plan is $40 less per month than what I'm paying (unlimited talk and text, 4 GB data). So, it looks like I should just pay for a new phone now and recoup the costs via that $40/mo savings starting in March. I have no problem going no contract (even if Verizon won't let me port my number or whatever) since I'm on Google voice. That said, I used to have AT&T and switched to Verizon due to dropped calls, so I probably won't switch carriers altogether.

I don't want to spend $500, plus I've been pretty happy with the original Razr (XT912). I have minor complaints (photo quality and declining battery life) but also some areas where I've been really impressed (stupidly, I go without a case too often, and I have dropped it a LOT, and it's just now catching up to me).

It looks like I can pick up a new Razr on eBay for about $175, or a Maxx for about $250 (can't find that deal now, though, so I may have dreamed it and be stuck with the non-Maxx). But I haven't been paying any attention to the cell phone market. If there's something that I should consider instead, I'd love to know. I've been thinking about trying something from HTC? From the crash test videos I've watched, I'm under the impression that the Samsung phones are too fragile for me? (Honestly, I'm not going too be able to not drop my phone.) I'd ideally like to buy something new, but could be persuaded otherwise.

I tend to use my phone for: business calls in places with high background noise, constant email and web surfing, lots of photo-taking in indoor low light situations, lots of audiobooks, never videos, almost never music, occasionally to drop off of ladders. I've gotten resigned to traveling with my power cord, so the 6 hour battery of the original Razr was fine, but not so much the 2-3 hour life of my aging battery. Oh, and the 16 GB memory card from my current phone seems to be usable, so I'm not too worried about memory, assuming the phone has a slot for that. Thanks!
posted by slidell to Shopping (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I got a Virgin Mobile ZTE Supreme for Christmas. 35.00 a month 300 minutes no limit text and data.
First Android I've ever had. I'm having a good experience so far. Currently that phone is 249.00 I got it for 223.00 at Christmas.
posted by AuntieRuth at 12:00 PM on January 12, 2014

To be clear, that's on Verizon? That's limiting (CDMA, no Nexus 4) but you could do a lot worse than the Moto G, which is very much a budget phone (no LTE) but $99 with no contract and better than Verizon's other prepaid smartphone options.
posted by holgate at 12:13 PM on January 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have an HTC One and as far as durability is concerned- it's amazing. I drop that thing all the time and it doesn't have a scratch on it. Battery life and audio quality are good, the camera is OK but seems to do better indoors. I paid around $200 for it 18 months ago.
posted by entropyiswinning at 12:52 PM on January 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Moto G is a pretty nice phone at an attractive price. I'd definitely stick to the 16GB model - Android 4 is miserable with 8GB. How much access to Wifi do you have? The G doesn't have a microSD slot so stuff you only need on a occasional basis is best stashed in the cloud, which is fine unless you have to pull it down through the cell network all the time.
posted by Candleman at 1:00 PM on January 12, 2014

If it's the battery life making you change phones, it's relatively easy to change the battery yourself. Replacement batteries are pretty cheap on eBay and often come with the necessary screwdriver.

I've had two recent Samsung phones (Galaxy Nexus and SGIII) and they both have survived repeated dropping. The back and battery often fly off, but the phones would still work when reassembled.
posted by K.P. at 1:51 PM on January 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Absolutely no contest: Motorola Moto G - the 16GB version.

If you buy anything else at that price point then it will probably run outdated software, have a godawful UI skin overlaid and run on weak hardware. In other words, it'll be shit.

You have been warned! :)
posted by mr_silver at 2:02 PM on January 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you'll consider a little more on the phone and less on the service: A Moto X with Republic Wireless. The Moto X is pretty spectacular; it swings well above it's weight. The only downside is the only version Republic sells is 16 gigs with no SD slot, and it will only work on Republic's system. That's because it has special firmware that allows the phone to hand off, back and forth, between WiFi and cellular. ( RWs original mission was to be Wi-Fi service only, but they've really polished their system. I'be been a customer for 2 years.)

The upside is Republic has CHEAP service. I use their next-to-the-top tier: unlimited everything with 3G for 25 bucks/month. Their backbone system is Sprint. The Moto X is $299.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 2:25 PM on January 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have whatever the Android phone that comes with Republic Wireless is. Recommended.
posted by aniola at 2:31 PM on January 12, 2014

If you definitely can't go any higher (cough, Nexus 5. Best phone I've ever owned) then I would recommend looking for a deal on a used phone on eBay. You can get a top condition Galaxy S4 for around $250/$300, for instance. A lot of them still have 6 months warranty too. Bargain.
posted by 0bvious at 2:33 PM on January 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am writing this comment on my Moto G. I got the 16 GB version, and I like it very much.

My favorite aspects: no junky phone company apps, and it has an FM tuner. Since listening to audio while I walk around my city is one of the things I do most with my phone, that's super useful.

If you have any questions about this phone specifically, I'd be happy to answer them. (I am on T-Mobile, so that limits me to phone specific questions, rather than carrier related ones).
posted by ocherdraco at 2:34 PM on January 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

You can get a top condition Galaxy S4 for around $250/$300 [on eBay]

I haven't used one, but nearly everything I've read said the GS4 had very little improvements on the GS3. So if you can get a S4 for that price, you can probably get a used S3 for under $200. They will (unless the Verizon models are different--mine was a GSM model) take an SD card and you can replace the battery w/o any tools or tiny screws (like most things that take batteries).
posted by K.P. at 3:29 PM on January 12, 2014

I like my HTC One X, though it's only barely powerful enough for what it tries to do.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:34 PM on January 12, 2014

If you're sticking to Verizon, you can get a Moto G at BestBuy for $100. (Possibly other places as well.)
posted by catalytics at 3:41 PM on January 12, 2014

I've read said the GS4 had very little improvements on the GS3

No. The body of the phone is pretty much unchanged, but the internals are much improved: double the ram, much fast processor, 720p -> 1080p screen, 8 -> 13 megapixel camera, etc. Most importantly though, the S4 can run the latest version of Android without a stutter. The S3 is ok for now, but over the next year it will really begin to lag. Spend a few more pennies and get a phone that lasts you a year or two rather than 6 months.

(cough, Nexus 5)
posted by 0bvious at 3:44 PM on January 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

> >(cough, Nexus 5)

The Nexus 5, like the Nexus 7 tablet and the LG Nexus 4 before it, is not compatible with the Verizon Wireless network. Since the Nexus 5 has the hardware necessary to work on Verizon’s network, it looks as if the provider is stubbornly blocking the Google phone for one reason or another.
posted by K.P. at 3:56 PM on January 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Check out (it's like ebay for phones and tablets...lots of good deals) looks like the Galaxy Note 2 is coming down to your price range (one up now for $260) ...I seriously love mine... super-fast, great battery life, S-pen for pressure-sensitive drawing and etc and etc...and the bigger screen means no more typos :D
Review and specs here.
posted by sexyrobot at 9:14 PM on January 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a Moto G on T-Mobile and it fits pretty much every one of your specifications except for surviving falls off ladders part. It is seriously the best phone I've ever owned for the price. The battery life is about 8 hours with moderate use, a little more if you use one of those battery saver apps. Get a case for it and you're good to go.
posted by calistasm at 9:33 PM on January 12, 2014

Dropping by to recommend the Moto G, which I just got last month as a replacement for a broken iPhone. It's has KitKat already, and is a perfectly useful phone, for a price that can't be beat. However, it doesn't have an SD card slot, but you can easily just get the 16GB model.
posted by General Malaise at 6:14 AM on January 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all this great advice. In researching your suggestions, I've realized that my plan (to buy a phone that I can use on my contract for 3 months, then take it to a Verizon pre-paid account) may not work. Verizon allows BYOD but only if the phone is not 4G enabled, it seems. 3G speeds on Verizon are reportedly slow like dial-up. (Really? I will have to experiment.) And while the Moto G phone does work with Verizon pre-paid, they apparently don't let you use it while under contract. My choices may be the standard ones, so I'm thinking I may buy a used HTC One or Galaxy S4, then consider selling it in three months if I actually do switch to a prepaid plan or buy a subsidized phone. More advice is welcome.
posted by slidell at 11:01 AM on January 13, 2014

News just in: Moto G Google Edition for $179
posted by 0bvious at 3:57 PM on January 14, 2014

I believe you can get a Verizon Galaxy Nexus used on eBay for around $100. It won't run KitKat, but it doesn't seem to matter much to me. The only reason I'm thinking of upgrading to the new Nexus in a few months (instead of waiting for it to die) is that it's only 16BG with no SD-slot (not enough room for music). In terms of processor/RAM/etc it's in the same ballpark as both your old Razr and the MotoG. I believe the screen is a little bigger. Since there shouldn't be a new Nexus phone for many months I would expect you could sell it on eBay for about what you paid for it. I'm not sure exactly when HTC and Samsung are releasing their follow-ups to their top-tier models, but you could expect the resale value to drop when they do.

And if battery life is an issue for you, you can swap the battery out w/o tools. Spare batteries and chargers for them are cheap on eBay (though the battery life is often less than advertised). Keep a spare in pocket.
posted by K.P. at 4:38 PM on January 14, 2014

Thanks again everyone. I'm writing this on a new (to me, and little used all around) Galaxy S3 I bought for $200. I'm hoping it'll hold its value for a few months, at which point I'll be out of contract and may sell it. The call quality is definitely worse than the Razr, but hopefully it'll be an improvement overall. Thanks again.
posted by slidell at 7:11 PM on January 17, 2014

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