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The 5 Best Cheap Phones You Can Buy

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Looking for cheap phones? It was once virtually impossible to buy a quality smartphone without breaking the bank -- but times have changed, and companies are now offering quality handsets at bargain prices. These phones aren't the best you can buy, but they're certainly not garbage.

All the phones on this list have been well received and retail for $350 or less. If you broke your phone and need a low-cost replacement, or are looking to take advantage of AT&T (NYSE: T  ) or T-Mobile's (NYSE: TMUS  ) new subsidy-free plans or a similar prepaid plan, take a look at the following handsets.

Motorola's Moto G: $179/$199
The Moto G is an Android-powered smartphone with a 4.5-inch screen. It starts at just $179 for 8GB of internal storage, and for $20 more you can bump it up to 16GB. Reviewers have praised the phone -- Gigaom called it the "best budget phone money can buy," and Mashable labeled it a "good smartphone, period." In terms of its internal specs, it's about on par with Samsung's almost two-year old Galaxy S3, but it can still handle most games.

Unfortunately, it lacks 4G LTE, meaning that your Internet will be slow -- 3G networks generally average about 1-4 Mbps download speeds, while 4G networks are often 20 Mbps or more. And don't expect to take great photos -- the camera is pretty lackluster.

Still, if you can get past its limitations, the Moto G is an excellent budget phone. You can get it for AT&T, T-Mobile, Boost, or Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) .

Samsung's Galaxy Light: $240
Unlike the Moto G, Samsung's Galaxy Light can connect to 4G networks. It also has a removable backplate, allowing you to swap out the battery on the fly or expand the phone's storage with a micro SD card. Its specs are about on par with the Moto G, and it's also an Android phone, but its screen is a little bit smaller (4 inches) and it's more expensive at $240.

But it's available on only one major U.S. carrier, T-Mobile -- so if you're on another carrier, you're out of luck.

The Lumia 520 and 521: $99/$126
Like the Galaxy Light, the Lumia 521 is available only on T-Mobile, but its brother, the Lumia 520, is on AT&T. Both phones sport similar specs, with 4-inch screens and 5-megapixel cameras. They both have removable batteries and 4G connectivity. AT&T sells the 520 for $99, while the 521 is $126 at T-Mobile.

Like all of Nokia's Lumias, the 520 and 521 both run the Windows Phone 8 operating system. That gives them deep integration with Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) online services and a solid tile-based interface, but Windows Phone doesn't offer as many apps as Android, so if you're an app junkie, you might want to stay away.

Google's Nexus 5: $349/$399
Google's (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) own Nexus 5 is the epitome of Android, designed to offer the purest Android experience possible. It's the most expensive phone on this list, at $349, but it offers specs on par with far more expensive handsets. In fact, some reviewers have called it the best Android phone, period, even better than the high-end flagship handsets from companies such as Samsung and LG that retail for upwards of $600.

If it has any limitations, it's the battery, which can't be swapped out and doesn't hold a particularly long charge. If you want a Nexus 5, you can buy it directly from Google's Play Store, and it's available for all major carriers, with the exception of Verizon.

Motorola's Moto X: $329 on promotion
The Moto X is the bigger, beefier, more expensive version of the Moto G. Officially, it retails for $399, but Motorola has been running frequent promotions on the handset, and right now you can buy it from Motorola's website for just $329. Like the Nexus 5, the Moto X has been widely praised -- in particular, reviewers have appreciated its responsiveness and all-day battery life.

The phone's two most notable features are its customization and always-on listening ability. If you order it through Motorola's website, you can completely customize the look of the phone, changing its color scheme and even adding a wood backing. Once you receive the Moto X built to your specifications, you can control it without ever touching -- just saying "OK Google now ..." activates the phones, and you can dictate a variety of commands.

The Moto X is available for all major carriers.

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Read/Post Comments (6) | Recommend This Article (9)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 01, 2014, at 1:11 PM, DATMAN wrote:

    I would stay away fromt eh Nokia's that run WINDOWS operating system. We already have a privacy issue and MS is looking to get deeper into your business. You have to agree and signup with an account to get updates. They also keep track of your movements.

  • Report this Comment On February 01, 2014, at 4:56 PM, BigJohnHouston wrote:

    I actually don't believe that "cheap" should be a criteria for selecting a phone. Rather, it is a tool, and I believe one should select their tool based upon their needs and productivity. My work gave me a MacBook Air, so I selected an iPhone 5. This tool syncs seamlessly with my laptop and allows impressive productivity. I believe that should be primary. Phones are powerful tools that are integrated into our business lives.

  • Report this Comment On February 01, 2014, at 5:22 PM, mrwhooppee wrote:

    since when is 200-400 bucks cheap ?

  • Report this Comment On February 01, 2014, at 7:17 PM, rocsoe wrote:

    It's not the cost of the phone. It's the cost of the carrier and plan. The carriers rule, not the phone makers.

  • Report this Comment On February 04, 2014, at 10:11 AM, applejacks wrote:

    The Lumia's are the best bang for the buck (and the cheapest) smart phone option available right now. It really is a full featured smart phone for only $100. And, Nokia includes free stand alone (i.e. offline) navigation, so you can signup for AT&T's wi-fi only prepaid plan and NOT have to buy any data while still having access to a pretty good GPS navigation app (as well as internet anywhere there is wi-fi). Very good deal! I own multiple iPhones and Android devices at my house, and the family actually prefers these WP8 phones.

  • Report this Comment On July 13, 2014, at 1:33 AM, 1973bear wrote:

    These Android Smartphones are really cheap check out available in the UK and worldwide shipping, great value and great specifications!

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Sam Mattera

Sam has a love of all things finance. He writes about tech stocks and consumer goods.

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