For many budget-minded shoppers, the traditional route to an affordable smartphone has often been “still-good” hand-me-downs, refurbished “like new” models, or discounts on phones eclipsed by newer, shinier successors. But why settle for the patina-encrusted mobiles of the past when there are plenty of intriguing new models from which to choose?

We already have several fairly new models in our Ratings that fit that bill. These include the $180 LG Escape 2 and the $190 Samsung Grand Prime. But two of the most recent additions, the iPhone SE and Blu Vivo 5, are particularly interesting entries into the cheap smartphone arena.

The iPhone SE, which starts at $400, provides the essentials users need for enjoying the benefits of the Apple ecosystem, including mobile payments via NFC and Touch ID authorization. And the phone's small size promises respite from the palm-stretching dimensions of iPhone 6-class mobiles. That price tag may sound a little high for something I'm calling a cheap smartphone, but it's the least expensive new iPhone model you can own.

For Android fans, the $200 Blu Vivo 5 has a small price tag that belies some very big features, including a phablet-size display, impressive options for cellular service, and a clever trick for getting you out of uncomfortable social situations.

iPhone SE Offers iPhone 6 Features

The iPhone SE has an iPhone 5s-size, 4-inch display and trim shape. The new phone has the same flat, rounded edges of the iPhone 5s, though the rear side is made of aluminum, like the iPhone 6 models.  

But that small package manages to cram in many qualities of the iPhone 6-series phones. That includes the fast A9 processor and M9 coprocessor, plus NFC support and other hardware needed for Apple Pay transactions. And, as on an iPhone 6s, the Siri assistant can respond to voice commands without you having to touch the home button.

Overall battery life was very good, providing an adequate 9 hours of talk time in our testing.

The iPhone SE has the same 12.2-megapixel main camera that’s on the 6s iPhones; it can take Live photos and shoot videos in 4K resolution. In our tests the camera proved to be better than many competitors at taking still images, producing very-good-quality pictures when under well-lit conditions. The camera also performed very well under low-light conditions. High-definition, 1080P video performance was just decent, though, and the camera had difficulty focusing in low light conditions in video mode.

The SE’s excellent display is the same as the one on an iPhone 5s: 1136-by-640-pixel resolution at 326 ppi, which is very good for a 4-inch screen. The display earned high marks for color accuracy and contrast, and for visibility in bright light. 

Blu Vivo 5: A Popular Unlocked Choice

You may have never heard of Blu, but this smartphone maker has been selling quite a few phones in the burgeoning unlocked-smartphone market. The company accounts for 5.2 million of the 14 million unlocked phones sold in the U.S. Unlike most phones people buy, you can take an unlocked smartphone to a new carrier with little fuss, provided the phone has radios that are compatible with the provider's network. Blu’s phones are ultra-cheap by smartphone standards, yet they have many compelling features.

The Blu Vivo 5, for instance, which costs just $200, has a very good—and very large—5.5-inch HD display (720P), yet is one of the thinnest and lightest phablet-sized models we’ve seen. It’s just 0.27 inches thick and weighs 4.9 ounces. 

And the Vivo 5 is actually two phones in one, thanks to its dual SIM-card slot that allows you to have two phone accounts—even from two separate providers. (This is a GSM-based phone, which means you can use it with providers such as AT&T and T-Mobile, but not Sprint or Verizon.)

That makes the Vivo 5 an appealing option for anyone who needs a second smartphone, such as for travel or business use, but only has the budget—or pockets—for one. There is one downside to this capability: The slot for the second SIM card is also the slot for the microSD memory card, which means you can’t have expanded phone storage when you’re using two accounts. But since the phone already comes with an adequate 32GB of internal storage, that shouldn’t be an issue for most people. 

The Vivo 5 has a USB Type-C connection, so there's no more fumbling around on which way is up when plugging in the charger. Finally, here's a neat trick: Subtly pressing a button on the screen activates Fake Call, which makes the phone ring after a short delay, allowing you to escape a meeting by saying you have to leave to take care of a work crisis. (A recording even plays, urging you to get a colleague an important file.)

Visitors to our Ratings will notice that the Vivo 5 is not among our Recommended models. That’s because of relatively weak performances in several areas, such as the camera, and because it lacks NFC, high-band (5GHz) Wi-Fi, and other features many smartphone users may miss. Plus it doesn't support some LTE frequency bands, which may hurt cell coverage in some areas. All of these shortcomings help drag the overall score of this otherwise compelling model just below the recommended threshold. But if those sacrifices seem worthwhile to you, the Vivo 5 could be a model to look at.