Given the dazzle of the Galaxies, Droids, and other star smart phones, it's easy to overlook the many less expensive, less promoted phones on the market. Some new models in our latest phone Ratings are easy to use, easy on the wallet, and even boast a few cool features you won't find on their richer cousins.
Here's a rundown:
Samsung ATIV Odyssey. Samsung's first Windows Phone is among several Windows 8 models we've just added to our phone Ratings. While the Odyssey lacks a high-resolution display, NFC-managed file sharing, a quad-core processor, and other features that define today's marquee phones, its hardware is more than adequate. It also comes with a decent number of useful apps, and is one of the few Verizon phones that will work on foreign GSM networks. That's a lot of phone for $50 with a two-year contract.
Pantech Discover. This Android smart phone, $50 from AT&T, is brimming with top-shelf features, including a large, brilliant 4.8-inch, high-definition display, and dual side-firing speakers for stereo sound without headphones. There's also a 12.6-megapixel camera with time-lapse video recording and a still camera that lets you choose your subjects' best facial expressions from several different photos and "glue" them on one perfect photo.
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The Discover also has an innovative and intuitive interface. For example, flicking your finger upward from the bottom of the screen summons a tray of convenient shortcuts for adding apps, widgets, changing wallpaper, and accessing phone settings. And for novices or "cognitively challenged" users, the Discover has an Easy Experience interface that clears desktop clutter to put core functions such as phone, contacts, messages, and camera front and center. It's also easy to increase the size fonts and app icons, and menus present a shorter list of options to simplify use.
Kyocera Jitterbug Touch. If only this model, the first smart phone from a carrier aimed at people who find today's cell phones "often too complicated to use," was as successful at simplicity as the Pantech. Costing $150 from Great Call without a contract, this Jitterbug is a pudgy model that measures 4.1 inches x 2.3 inches x 0.7 inches and has a 3-inch touch screen that makes everything displayed on it a tad small for any user, let alone one who finds regular screens "difficult to see," though Great Call promises that its phones address this issue.
It doesn't help that text and images aren't very crisp because the display's resolution is relatively low. And the phone's touch interface is simple, but it buries core features such as phone, camera, photo gallery, and messaging under an Apps tab. On the plus side, there is a slide-out keyboard, with keys that are clearly labeled, logically laid out, and well spaced.
Samsung Galaxy Stratosphere II. If it's a keyboard you want, a better choice is this Android model from Verizon—which costs even less, at $30 with a two-year contract from Verizon.
As with the original Stratosphere, the keyboard on this model is one of the best we've seen. It's clearly labeled, logically laid out, well spaced, and features five rows—a rarity among phones—with dedicated buttons for numbers across the top row, directional buttons, and buttons for search, accessing the Web, and messaging. Like its predecessor, it has a 4-inch touch-screen display, but it adds more internal memory, a higher camera recording resolution, NFC, and international GSM ability.