Help me pick a cheap smartphone.
March 21, 2019 8:47 AM   Subscribe

I'm about to switch carriers to Tello, and I need a new smartphone. I don't use much data or that many minutes (maybe 100-150 minutes/month). My price range is under $150 - ideally less. Please help me pick a cheap smartphone from the specifications inside:

I use my phone mostly the old-fashioned way (calls, texts, some camera use - it will be my sole camera, and I may use it to take pictures of documents during archival research, so the quality needs to be decent). On my phone I also run and use various programs over wifi like Slack, Whatsapp, etc. I don't use my phone to view much media and I don't particularly care about pixels or having an amazing viewing experience. I do care somewhat about the phone's size/weight and somewhat about its battery life.

It seems to me easier to get one of the refurbished phones on the Tello site (here). Some cursory research suggests that of those options, Motorola makes the best cheap smartphones. I'm seriously considering the Moto E4 ($79), the Moto E4 Plus ($125), and the Moto E5 Play ($139). Is any of these a better pick than the others, either in general or for my purposes? What is the difference between the E4 Plus and the E5 Play? Is either of those worth the increased price compared to the E4?

Also I think I need a Micro SD card? I exhausted my 16 GB memory last time and had to delete photos so my phone continued running. Could anyone recommend a good cheap card that would be compatible with these phones? Is Amazon the best place to purchase that?

Thanks for your help; I'm hopeless with this stuff!
posted by ClaireBear to Technology (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Do make sure it has enough memory, so it can be useful and also can accept updates. Also it should have some way to physically attach a lanyard.
posted by Baeria at 9:06 AM on March 21, 2019

The E4 plus is a bit bigger than the E5 but is a better phone so I'd go with that as long as you don't mind a big phone (neither are pocket size anyway) - the battery life is a particular strength (5000mah so nearly twice that of E4). It has a memory card slot so you should get a card at some point to store photos on.
posted by JonB at 9:51 AM on March 21, 2019

I have the E5 play and like it as far as budget phones go. The camera in good lighting conditions has been good for me taking pictures of documents. It has 2GB of RAM, so switching apps isn't too bad, and it can take an SD Card. Lenovo has only commited to doing security updates for the E5 Play, so it will never be upgraded past Nougat.

I haven't had any problem with battery, but I mostly use apps, and rarely use voice/text. The E5 play has an easy to swap battery, so if you didn't want to go the route of portable charger+cable, you could just swap a pre-charged battery if you needed more life. More importantly, later in life, if the battery is starting to show signs of aging, swapping in a new battery is easy peasy and cheap. I don't have/make time to replace glued in fidgety batterys, and the last time I paid to have it done on a Moto X the phone stopped charging (likely bad battery swap) after 33 days.

Weight is an issue for me, and it's on the lighter side of cheap phones recently released. The only thing I don't like about it is despite the plastic of the back being textured it's extremely slippery. The glass also isn't very scratch resistant, but I'll note (before my wife does if I don't) that I drop my phone anywhere from 5-15 times per week (usually falling out of a flannel pocket on my chest when I bend forward, so probably from heighs of 2.5-3 feet, occasional drops because it's slippery). No chips or cracks in the screen despite all that, and the 2 scratches are relatively light considering the abuse I've given it.

I didn't think I ever wanted a finger print reader before getting this phone, but now I absolutely love it, and I think it's perfectly placed on the back. I'll note the fingerprint reader only doesn't work well if my hands are wet enough (washing dishes, or immediately post workout).

$139 USD for a refurb (or new) E5 Play seems expensive - up in Canada, I thought I bought mine for $149 about 6 months ago when it was just released.

On preview, the E5 is definitely different than the E5 Play.
posted by nobeagle at 9:54 AM on March 21, 2019

Could anyone recommend a good cheap card that would be compatible with these phones? Is Amazon the best place to purchase that?

My Moto G has a Sandisk Ultra 64gb, bought from Amazon. Works great to store photos and videos, though I have to periodically sweep photos into it by hand using Google's "Files" app, I can't seem to get them to store there in the first place.
posted by BungaDunga at 10:04 AM on March 21, 2019

On first inspection, the main distinction between the E4/5 and the Plus variants is that the Plus variants have a much bigger battery. So they're a bit heavier, but they'll last longer on a charge.

This review article didn't find many difference between the E4 and the E5 Play beyond a slightly more recent version of Android; I don't know if there are any compelling differences between Android 7 and Android 8; my old and worn Moto G is still on Android 6.
posted by BungaDunga at 10:16 AM on March 21, 2019

It looks like the moto E4 is using a mediatek CPU vs. the E5 Play using a snapdragon 427. Performance benchmarks make the E5 play about 20% faster - but whether or not the phone will "feel" 20% faster is up in the air. E5 play being a year newer will likely mean an extra year of security updates. I replaced my original Moto G (no sdcard option for the OG) with my E5 play, and the E5 is much snappier than the G.

As well, Android nougat (and I thought Marshmallow also had it) has adaptable storage as an option. Meaning that if you're OK, you can use the SD card as /sdcard on the phone, and store (some) apps directly on the sdcard, leaving the phone's base storage more free. Meaning you don't have to move pictures, because they're in /sdcard/DCIM/ so they're stored by default on the new sd card. I know at least some marshmallow devices disabled adaptable storage as an option, and others shipped with it available, but disabled via gui (could be enabled via adb).

With adaptable storage, if your phone dies, you then can't take the sdcard out and mount it to copy the images off. So it's convenience one way vs. convenience in another way. I prefer adaptable storage myself as I want the space for cache on my phone, but with free google photo storage (plus my own manual backups via rsync) if this device dies it should specifically not be the end of the world. Definitely read up on adaptable storage vs. portable storage to see which you want to use with an SD card if you have the option.

If buying an SD card on Amazon, I'd recommend buying directly via amazon to avoid counterfeit cards.
posted by nobeagle at 11:08 AM on March 21, 2019

Thanks for all the useful comments! Everyone has been super helpful. So am I right in thinking that, to summarize:

- the main reason to go for the E4 Plus is the longer battery life; the disadvantage is that it's a bigger phone
- the main reason to go for the E5 Play is the faster and newer operating system which will get updates for longer in the future; it's also a bit slimmer.
- the main reason to go for the E4 is the much cheaper cost.

Am I understanding the situation right? It seems to me that for $40-50 more, it doesn't make sense for me to get the E4 Plus or the E5 Play, when I can get the E4 for $80. It would be a 50% premium for either a longer battery or a newer model. I guess it might make sense to buy the E5 if I knew I wanted to keep the phone for two or three years...
posted by ClaireBear at 11:46 AM on March 21, 2019

One more question. What would be the key differences between these Motorola phones and an iPhone 6 (refurbished)? Thanks!
posted by ClaireBear at 12:50 PM on March 21, 2019

Your summary re: the moto phones looks good to me, and if price is a primary driver as it looks to be, the E4 does look to be the best option to meet your stated needs. I have never played with the E4's camera. The aperature is better on the E5 play, but both have the same raw resolution.

Main difference for iphone 6 would be different OS'es - if you have any specific aps you want, they might not be available, or they might cost money. And the UI will likely at least be somewhat different. Initially it also looks like there will be a price difference (iphone 6 more than your other options). The camera of an iphone 6 will likely beat the camera on any budget phone. But if you're just looking for good enough for documents, I think the E4 should do.
posted by nobeagle at 1:40 PM on March 21, 2019

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