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The 5 Best Cheap Phones You Can Buy

By Sam Mattera - Feb 1, 2014 at 7:45AM

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Cheap phones are more capable than ever before. Here are the five top cheap phones on the market.

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 (T 0.00%) or T-Mobile's (TMUS -0.33%) 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 (VZ 0.52%).

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 (MSFT -1.39%) 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 (GOOGL -2.46%) 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.

Sam Mattera has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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