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Photo of the Apple iPhone SE, one of Low-Priced Smartphones With High-End Features
Photo: Apple

Low-Priced Smartphones With High-End Features

Can you get modern-day tech in a modestly priced phone? Absolutely, Consumer Reports' testers say.

Looking for a good smartphone at a reasonable price?

Well, that's not such a towering feat, especially if you're willing to consider smaller brands. A number of low-priced models offer many of the features people have come to expect in a premium phone, including high-definition displays, fingerprint sensors, and enough battery life to get you through the day.

While these phones might lack a top-of-the-line camera, they do offer plenty of compelling photo options, says Richard Fisco, Consumer Reports’ head of smartphone testing.

For instance, all of the phones listed below have cameras that can record video in the ultra HD format, and the camera on the Samsung Galaxy S7 comes with optical image stabilization, which helps you get better shots in low-light conditions.

On the flip side, you’re not going to find a low-priced phone with the latest processors and graphics chips. And don’t expect cutting-edge features such as wireless charging, water resistance, OLED screens, and Face ID, either.

And, Fisco says, some cheaper phones might not support all LTE bands, so you could lose your data connection in certain locations.

But if you’re willing to make a few trade-offs, you can get one of the sub-$400 smartphones that impressed our testers.

Once you buy your new low-priced smartphone, check out our reviews of the best cell-phone carriers and the top low-cost cell-phone plans.

1
Samsung Galaxy S7

Samsung Galaxy S7

Once upon a time, this was our top-rated phone. The Galaxy S7 had a state-of-the-art camera, great battery life, and a big, bright screen.

But that was more than two years ago. Since then, the S7 has been eclipsed by not one but two generations of the phone, as well as models made by other phone makers.

But that means the S7’s price has come down, too. You can now get one for about $370. And while it may not have the flash it once did, the S7 remains a solid phone, rated Very Good by our testers.

It boasts a 5.1-inch LCD screen. There’s a 12-megapixel rear camera and a 5-megapixel front, or selfie, camera. But forget about taking pictures with that artsy affect known as bokah. The S7 predates Samsung’s dual-cameras, which are required to take those portraits with blurred backgrounds.

The phone is water resistant, and there’s a MicroSD slot if you want to expand your storage. In our testing, the battery lasted 24.5 hours, which is better than average.

    2
    Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact

    Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact

    Sony offers a handful of budget-minded devices. This one—priced around $360—earned the highest rating from our testers.

    The Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact is what you'd expect—compact. The 4.6-inch display may seem small these days but could be just right for someone looking for a phone that tucks neatly into a pocket.

    There's a 19.2-megapixel main camera and an 8-megapixel selfie camera. Overall, we found the camera performance to be Good but still significantly below the best smartphone cameras on the market. There's a memory-card slot for expanding your storage. And in our testing, the phone's battery lasted 21 hours.

    If $360 is too steep, consider Sony’s $250 Xperia X or $275 Xperia X Compact. Want a 5.2-inch screen? Check out the $380 Xperia XZs.

      3
      Apple iPhone SE

      Apple iPhone SE

      At $350, the iPhone SE is Apple’s lowest-priced option. The relatively tiny phone has been on the market for more than two years but continues to be popular.

      Our testers say the rear camera performs very well in terms of color quality, exposure level, and sharpness. At 12 megapixels, it may seem minimalist to some Apple fans, but it offers face detection and records video in ultra HD.

      Of course, there are no dual cameras or portrait mode or water resistance. This phone predates all of those bells and whistles.

      But its 4-inch display gets admirable marks. The battery life is 19 hours. And the Apple iPhone SE affords you all that iOS has to offer in a pocket-sized package, including Apple’s app store and features such as iMessage and FaceTime.

        4
        Motorola Moto X4

        Motorola Moto X4

        While this $350 phone isn’t flashy, it did manage to score a Very Good in just about all of our testing categories.

        When you get right down to it, it’s a midrange phone with a couple of nice extras.

        There’s a 5.2-inch screen along with dual rear cameras—one is 12-megapixel and the other an 8-megapixel wide-angle. Overall, the quality of images taken with the main rear camera were Good but lagged those of the top smartphone cameras. There’s also a 16-megapixel selfie camera, which we rated as Very Good.

        One nice perk: The camera can record video in the ultra HD format.

        The Moto X4 also passed our tumble and water-resistance tests. Battery life clocked in at a solid 24.5 hours. But make sure you’ve got headphones handy; this phone doesn't come with a pair. 

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          Bree Fowler

          I write about all things "cyber" and your right to privacy. Before joining Consumer Reports, I spent 16 years reporting for The Associated Press. What I enjoy: cooking and learning to code with my kids. I've lived in the Bronx for more than a decade, but as a proud Michigan native, I will always be a die-hard Detroit Tigers fan no matter how much my family and I get harassed at Yankee Stadium. Follow me on Twitter (@BreeJFowler).