Please give recommendations for a slightly less crappy smartphone
January 30, 2017 11:58 AM   Subscribe

I currently use a LG L34C Optimus Fuel. It's $30 at Wal-Mart, and runs about as well as you would expect based on the price point. It has been discontinued and now I'd like to upgrade--but pay less than $100. I am having difficulty finding a phone that fits that price and meets the following criteria:

Minimum criteria:
  • Compatible on the Verizon network (i.e. CDMA). I use PagePlus and would like to stay on the Verizon network.
  • Better than my current phone
Seriously, that's it. I use my phone to take photos, check my calendar, and light Internet browsing.

It would be really nice if the upgrade had a front-facing camera, and I prioritize camera quality and battery life over most everything else. It would also be nice if my phone was not the size of a dinner plate.

I know $100 won't get me a lot (most lists of "budget" smartphones start at $100 and go up). But it would be nice to get better than what I have. Does anyone have suggestions?
posted by schroedinger to Technology (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
moto g play (4th gen) from amazon 'with offers and ads' is $100 for prime members.
posted by noloveforned at 12:03 PM on January 30, 2017 [7 favorites]

Swappa has several different Verizon phones available. You may be able get a more updated model if you buy used rather than new.
posted by soelo at 12:24 PM on January 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

You'll have to get creative with that list of requirements. Something like purchase a prepaid phone, which they often sell for less while planning to recoup via the prepaid plan, root it and put another ROM on it. You can avoid flashing a new ROM if you don't mind anemic device space and bloatware, but it's so worth it for the improved camera and being able to use the SD card for internal space.

~8 months ago I bought a $60 Boost Mobile Moto E from Radio Shack, slapped Cyanogen Mod on it, and it's almost nearly close to being as good as any many-hundreds-of-dollars phones I've owned. However, that route is now gone due to changes in Sprint's policies and CM shutting down in the last few weeks. I'm waiting to see if LineageOS will support my Moto. Keep your fingers crossed!!
posted by dozo at 12:33 PM on January 30, 2017

The original Moto E for Verizon is for sale on Amazon for $50. It's probably not *great* but it's better than the phone you have.
posted by cnc at 12:41 PM on January 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Blu R1 HD (16gb, 2gb RAM version) with Amazon offers is a GREAT value for $60 through Amazon Prime. I used it as a 'between phones' phone. Here's a Wired Review.The camera is so-so, screen and hand feel are good.
posted by maya at 12:51 PM on January 30, 2017

Can you go used? You can probably find an iPhone5 for that price if you look.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 1:07 PM on January 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don't mind used provided the model is resilient. I'd like this to last me a few years at least.
posted by schroedinger at 2:06 PM on January 30, 2017

maya, is that Blu CDMA? I searched high and low for a Sprint compatible Blu, Elephone, Oukitel or other super cheap China phone but they were all GSM. :(
posted by dozo at 2:13 PM on January 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

dozo, you're absolutely right. Sorry, OP!
posted by maya at 3:11 PM on January 30, 2017

The Galaxy Note 2 and 3 are both around your price range on swappa and were flagship phones when they came out. I still use my note 2 every day and have yet to have a problem with it...It's only in the last six months or so that I've started to find the occasional app or website that don't support it anymore (which isn't really a hardware issue so much as a software/support/corporate greed issue), so it might be worth springing for the note 3...
oh geez...I just checked the specs on your phone and ...well yikes that's a hunk o junk...the note 2 blows that out of the water and it came out like 5 years ago. Definitely resilient...keep it in a slim TPU case and it will last and last...the stylus is fun if kinda gimmicky, mainly b/c there's not a ton of apps for it, but the ones that do, esp art apps like sketchbook pro, are great...maybe not your thing, but the calendar uses might be interesting. (if you play music at all there are a ton of free music apps out there and the stylus definitely helps when there are a lot of small keys/buttons)
5.5 inches may be "dinner plate" territory to you (now), but it's something you get used to fast and then wonder how you ever used anything so small before. It's also become pretty much industry standard...most smaller phones these days are 'budget' models and are severely substandard in power, design, and construction.
posted by sexyrobot at 4:57 PM on January 30, 2017

Generally more RAM and more cores (with higher ghz speed) for the processor mean a faster phone. Your phone is only 512MB of RAM and a 1.2 ghz dual core, which is pretty bad for 2017.

If you're willing to switch to Virgin Mobile (which I used for about 6 years but recently switched to get a phone I wanted) you could get this, which is a 1.2 ghz quad core and 1.5 GB of RAM, on sale for $80:!/shop/phones/samsung-galaxy-j3-2016-phone/features/ This has a 1.2 octa-core and 2GB of RAM for $100:!/shop/phones/lg-x-power/features/

I switched to Boost Mobile, which is cheap, unlimited no-contract service just like Virgin Mobile. They have this phone for $100 which is 1.4 ghz quad core and 2GB of RAM:!/shop/phones/lg-stylo-2/features/

As far as I know, both Virgin Mobile and Boost are CDMA, but you'd have to look. I would never go back to Verizon -- it's way too expensive. Using services like Virgin Mobile and Boost gives you unlimited everything for $30-$35 per month. I remember paying $80 per month and having caps on usage on Verizon.

As for the phones, your mileage may vary. Some phones just are better made than others but I've been using mid-range Android phones forever and never had much of a problem. I go by the specs and the reviews. Also, you have to think about how much battery life you want, how big you want the screen, etc.
posted by AppleTurnover at 6:41 PM on January 30, 2017

Just to clarify, I specify Verizon-compatible because PagePlus, the carrier I use, uses the Verizon network. I want to stay on the Verizon network since it's always given me the best service. Right now I'm paying $30/month for all the data and minutes I need, so I'm pretty happy with that plan.
posted by schroedinger at 10:52 PM on January 30, 2017

You can get a used iphone 5 from swappa in your price range. Right now they show one for $74.
posted by Violet Hour at 1:15 AM on January 31, 2017

So I have the Moto E. Just as a warning, it's a prepaid phone on VZW; I don't know how this works on PagePlus, but to activate it on Verizon's postpaid service I had to first buy a month of prepaid service and activate it before switching out the SIM card. That said: I bought my Moto E new off eBay for under $40 and got a deal on the first month of prepaid service for $25 (there's one you can buy that is "Wifi only", I think). So it involved some slightly inconvenient hustling but it worked out to be by far the cheapest reasonable option for me.

The phone itself is okay -- for $60-70, it's a steal. Downsides are, it has very little RAM and stuff keeps swapping out (so Lyft will close when you open the web browser, meaning you have to wait another 90 seconds when you switch back to Lyft as the app starts up from scratch), and the onboard storage is only 8 GB, 5 of which are taken up by the OS. So you can't install very many apps (most won't install to an SD card and I've had a couple of cards fail on me). It also has no LED flash, so dim front flashlight only. Upside, it's Moto, so there's a minimum of mandatory crapware -- there's some, because it's also Verizon, but not as much as there could be. And it's well-supported, with recent OTA updates and a contemporary edition of Android.

If you can actually afford to spend $100 and don't care about ads on your device I'd probably go for the Moto G, but if saving $30-40 is a priority or if you hate ads the Moto E is the logical choice on a CDMA network, I think.
posted by en forme de poire at 1:59 AM on January 31, 2017

Oh, photos, sorry, I just re-read your question. Photo quality is usually not amazing by modern standards, but it has an "HDR" mode and you can coax a decent shot out of it, especially outside in bright light. It does have a front-facing camera. Battery is quite good, as far as I'm concerned (this was a Hail-Mary replacement for a Galaxy S5 and that phone got substantially worse mileage in my hands). The phone is also a normal size, not a phablet or anything.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:17 AM on January 31, 2017

(The camera is definitely better on the Moto G4 Play though.)
posted by en forme de poire at 2:19 AM on January 31, 2017

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