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Prices for top-end smartphones have been heading on a one-way upward trend for pretty much as long as the idea of a flagship was around, and finding a decent cheap smartphone is not as easy as it once was. However, there are still plenty of reasons to go for one of the cheapest devices on the market -– perhaps you’re traveling somewhere and don’t want to take your expensive flagship, or maybe you’re buying for an older relative who’s only likely to use their phone occasionally. Whatever the reason, it’s important to be aware of the compromises you’ll be making when buying a phone at the bottom end of the market.
Although all of the affordable phones here will be able to handle everyday tasks like calling, texting, and browsing with ease, they’re not designed for heavier-duty usages like HD video streaming or gaming. Many of these phones were also originally designed for markets other than the U.S. and might not be compatible with all American networks. As such, it’s important to double-check that your network does support the phone in question before buying it.
With those disclaimers out of the way, let’s take a look at eight of the cheapest smartphones that can be found unlocked for under $100.
Doogee is one of the very few manufacturers to offer a range of phones at the most affordable end of the market, but only one model is available for less than $100 –- the X97. In fact, the X97 just about squeezes in just under budget at $99.99, but it packs pretty much everything you’ll want in an ultra-budget smartphone. An 8MP rear camera borrowed from Sony offers some of the best picture quality you’ll get at this price, while a 5MP camera sits up front.
The X97 runs Android 12 out of the box and packs a Helio A22 processor that’s more than up to the task of everyday browsing or video streaming. A 4,200 mAh battery is decent for a sub-$100 phone and should stay juiced for as long as phones that cost double the price. Doogee says you’ll get up to 20 hours of calls or 7.5 hours of video streaming between charges. If you’re a frequent traveler, you’ll appreciate the dual SIM card slots, too, with 4G LTE compatibility meaning most global networks will be supported.
Samsung Galaxy A03
Samsung might be one of the world’s best-selling smartphone manufacturers, but its extensive roster of 2023 phones doesn’t include anything under $100. However, older versions of its budget-oriented Galaxy A range can be picked up within budget, including the Galaxy A03 Core, which is currently retailing for $85.95. It runs Android 11 out of the box but, thanks to Samsung’s generous software upgrade program, can be updated to Android 13.
With 2GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage, the Galaxy A03 is powerful enough for everyday use, and with a 6.5-inch screen, it’s not far off the size of many modern flagship phones. That screen sports a 720 x 1600 resolution, while a 5,000 mAh battery means it’ll stay powered all day. Much like the Doogee X97, the Galaxy A03 sports a 5MP camera on the front and an 8MP camera on the back, with the latter capable of digital zoom up to 4x.
Another phone that squeezes in just under budget, the Blackview A55, can be picked up for as little as $99.99. It runs Android 11 and packs 3GB of RAM as standard, although it does only offer a slightly underwhelming 16GB of internal storage. Nonetheless, that storage is expandable up to 128GB through the MicroSD card slot, albeit at an extra cost. With a 4,780 mAh battery, the A55 sports an average battery life for the segment, although it’s not the best choice if you’re looking for a phone that can stand up to a full day’s heavy usage.
It supports most 4G networks, although not all, and some popular U.S. providers are not compatible, so check carefully before you buy. If you’re traveling or just appreciate the ability to swap between networks instantly, then the dual SIM card slot is a definite bonus. Anyone looking to take some photos of their travels will find that the A55’s 8MP triple-camera setup does a reasonable job for its price bracket, although don’t expect picture quality to be anywhere near what pricier phones can offer.
As a starter phone for first-time smartphone buyers both young and old, the Alcatel 1B ticks all the right boxes. The 2020 version of the Alcatel 1B can be found for just $69.95, making it one of the cheapest new unlocked smartphones on the market, period. It supports 4G LTE, most U.S. providers are compatible, and Android 10 Go is available out of the box. Android Go is essentially a lighter version of Android that’s designed to run on budget phones, with tweaks made to make it faster on devices with limited storage and processing power. Many major apps have Go or Lite versions specifically designed to run better with this OS, including Spotify, Instagram, and Uber.
The 1B packs 2GB of RAM, and up to 128GB of internal storage is available with the MicroSD slot. Memory cards are now more affordable than ever now, so if you’re on a tighter budget, this shouldn’t be a deal breaker. A 64GB SanDisk MicroSD card should be more than enough storage for most new smartphone users, and it’s available for around $11. Adding extra storage will also give you plenty of room for photos and videos, with an 8MP camera at the rear of the phone and a 5MP camera up front.
Another cheap and cheerful option is the Blu G51S, which retails for $99.99 but is available on Amazon for less, sports one of the best cameras within the sub-$100 price range with a dual 13MP setup at the back of the phone and an 8MP front camera. It runs Android 11 and supports 4G, although it’s worth double-checking with your provider that the phone runs on your network before you buy, as some U.S. providers don’t support it.
The 6.4-inch display compares well to pricier phones and there’s even a fingerprint reader to add an extra layer of security, a feature not usually found on phones this cheap. The 4,000 mAh battery won’t win any prizes for longevity, but it’s decent enough that most people will be able to get through a day’s usage without needing to recharge. It’s powerful enough to deal with everyday browsing, too, with 2GB of RAM available and an octa-core 1.6GHz processor.
ZTE Blade A5
For a retail price of $89.00, the ZTE Blade A5 packs more than its fair share of features. A dual-camera setup at the rear packs a 13MP primary camera and a 2MP secondary camera, while the front camera packs 8MP. The 6.1-inch display offers a 720 x 1560 resolution, with a notch at the top to accommodate the front camera while still providing an optimal screen-to-body ratio. It comes with Android 9 out of the box but can be upgraded to Android 10.
Perhaps the biggest letdown of the Blade A5 is the 3,200 mAh battery, which is one of the smallest in the segment. It’s fine if you’re only using the phone occasionally, but it’s not going to stand up to prolonged, heavier use. That’s a shame because in most other aspects the phone is a strong choice. With 2GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage, it’ll be able to handle everyday tasks and store as many larger files and apps as most occasional smartphone users will need.
Nokia C1 Plus
Originally unveiled in late 2020, the Nokia C1 Plus attempted to cut all the unnecessary extras out of its most affordable smartphone to make it as wallet-friendly as possible. It launched with Android 10 Go and 4G compatibility, and 5MP cameras on both the back and front. It only came with 1GB of RAM, and 16GB of expandable storage, whereas most other sub-$100 phones offer double both of those figures. However, one thing Nokia remained very competitive on was its rock-bottom price –- at a current retail price of $78.86, there are few smartphones that can be found cheaper than the Nokia C1 Plus.
These lesser specs also meant that Nokia could fit a smaller battery, as less power would be needed to keep the phone running for longer. However, with only a 2,500 mAh capacity, the C1 Plus is still towards the back of the pack when it comes to battery life. Much like the ZTE Blade A5, it’s fine for occasional usage, but if you’re looking for a phone you could feasibly use all day without charging it, it’s probably worth paying a few bucks extra for a rival that’s closer to the $100 mark.
If having a newer version of Android comes high up your priorities list, then it’s worth considering the Nuu A10L. It sports Android 12 Go out of the box and 2GB of RAM, although there’s only 16GB of internal storage. That storage can be expanded up to 64GB by way of a MicroSD card, however. A quad-core 1.3 GHz processor should make messaging and scrolling a breeze, while a dual SIM slot will come in handy for anyone looking to use the phone on trips abroad. A 5MP rear camera isn’t the best in class, especially when it’s backed up by a 2MP front camera, but it’ll do in a pinch.
The A10L retails for $99.90, making it just about within budget. However, it does make some compromises to keep its price low. It only packs a 2,500 mAh battery, and the 5.45-inch screen has a disappointing 960 x 480 resolution, far less than most of its rivals. Still, as a newer handset, it at least boasts a cutting-edge UI even if other phones can squeeze in more pixels.