Cellular

Low-Priced Smartphones With High-End Features

If you're holding your breath for the iPhone 8 or the next flagship phone from Samsung, you might want to take a gander at the new, low-priced smartphones from Asus, Huawei, and other little-guy companies.

These phones and others being launched in 2017 cost $400 or less. Yet they serve up high-end technology, including wireless and rapid charging, ultrasharp displays, dual cameras, advanced virtual-reality experiences, and almost immortal batteries. You could pay more than twice that much for equivalent technology from the biggest brands. (There are some downsides to these low-priced smartphones—some have skimpy internal storage, for instance.) 

With this kind of competition from low-priced smartphones, how long can Apple and Samsung get away with $900 models? That depends, according to Jitesh Ubrani, a senior research analyst for mobile technology at technology consultant IDC. “When it comes to their flagships, I doubt we’ll see any price reductions in the future,” he says.

But, Ubrani says, Android vendors such as Samsung face a lot of price pressure because users can easily switch brands without losing access to the Google ecosystem they already use. This means that in the future they might offer additional inexpensive models alongside their top-end phones.

iPhone users could be out of luck. “Apple continues to remain in a category of their own as their brand remains strong and fans remain loyal,” Ubrani says. 

Consumer Reports will test these low-priced smartphones as they roll out in coming months before we can determine whether they live up to their promises. But if these devices perform as well as their makers claim, 2017 could be the best year ever to get cutting-edge technology at an affordable price.

Like the iPhone 7 Plus and LG G5 and LG V20, the Huawei Honor 6X has two main cameras handling the work of one. The typical formation on smartphones is one main camera to handle most shots and another with a zoom lens designed to better capture subjects that are very far away or a wide-angle lens to shoot objects that are very close.

But the Huawei Honor 6X has a 12-megapixel camera for most shots and a second one with a 2-megapixel sensor that’s primarily there to let you shoot photos at a rather wide aperture for what the company calls “stylish professional-grade blurred background effect.” It’s what the industry calls a bokeh effect, which you can also produce with the iPhone 7 Plus’ 12-megapixel secondary camera. The iPhone 7 Plus starts at about $800. The Honor 6X costs $250.

The stylishly slim metal Huawei Honor 6X gives you a 5.5-inch 1080p display; a moderately powerful and very efficient Kirin 655 octa-core processor; dual SIM slots, so you can have two phone numbers; a microSD memory-card tray; and giant-capacity 3340mAh (milliampere hour) battery that supports rapid charging and can run for two days, according to Huawei.

Last year’s Asus ZenFone Zoom presented a clever way to squeeze a 3x telescopic optical zoom lens into the claustrophobic case of a smartphone: The company put it on the inside. Instead of projecting outward, as most zoom lenses do, the lenses of this ZenFone move within the phone.

That model's just-announced successor, the ZenFone 3 Zoom, has this system, too. And though it downgrades the zoom to 2.3X, it adds several advantages that photo-focused smartphone users will appreciate. These start with two 12-megapixel cameras, one of them with a 25mm wide-angle lens to capture more of your subjects when they’re relatively close and to allow the phone to shoot bokeh shots.

Like many new models, the ZenFone 3 Zoom can shoot videos in 4K, which can drain most batteries quickly. But that shouldn’t be a problem on this ZenFone because it has one of the largest-capacity batteries we’ve seen on a phone—5000mAh—which Asus says can keep the recording going for more than 6 straight hours.

Other compelling features include an optical image stabilizer, a 5.5-inch 1080p display, 4 gigabytes of RAM, 128GB of onboard storage, and a microSD card slot for easily adding more. 

The LeEco LePro 3, about $400, is the company's highest-priced model (others cost $250 or less) and the one with the most impressive specs: a 5.5-inch high-definition display, a 16-megapixel camera that can record 4K video, and a massive 4070mAh battery that LeEco says will provide more than 300 hours of standby time. The battery can be rapidly charged in about 2 hours via the phone's USB Type-C port.

The sleek glass and metal curves of this phone, which measures 5.96x2.9x0.29 inches, evoke styling cues of more expensive Apple and Samsung devices. 

On the downside for many consumers, this model is also like the iPhone 7 in that it lacks a 3.5-mm headphone jack, instead using an audio connection via USB. That means you’ll need to use the included adapter to listen to your tunes unless you have wireless headphones.

Also like an iPhone, there’s no microSD card slot to expand storage. The LePro 3 comes with a decent amount of storage: 64GB.

The LePro 3 ships with an older version of Android (Marshmallow), and consumers might find its interface a bit disorienting because it masks or rearranges some conventional Android settings and navigation buttons.

Okay, the LG Aristo is about as cheap as you can go if you’re looking for a phone from a big-name phone maker running the latest version of Android (7.0, aka Nougat).

Available through T-Mobile, $144, and MetroPCS, $59 after instant rebate, the Aristo comes with a 5-inch HD display, a 13-megapixel main camera, and everything you need to handle most smartphone tasks, including near field communication (important for mobile pay systems) and a fingerprint reader.

Plus it brings along some LG conveniences, such as the double-tap on the display to wake up the phone and the ability to easily capture screen images, which you can write on and share with friends.

But the phone does give up some performance to come in at such a low price. It has a rather anemic 1.4-gigahertz quad-core Snapdragon processor and a piddly 1.5GB of RAM. Storage is also stingy—just 16GB of internal storage, expandable by a maximum 32GB using a microSD card. The 2410mAh battery is on the small side, too, but it is replaceable, so you can carry a spare battery.  

ZTE is one of the biggest suppliers of smartphones in the world, though in the U.S. this phone maker is largely known for its lower-end offerings. The ZTE Blade V8 Pro, however, is a higher-end phone. It has dual, rear-mounted 13-megapixel cameras. One of them is meant for wide-angle shots, but in combination the two cameras produce effects including bokeh.

This model supports a pair of SIM cards, so you can enjoy two accounts on one phone.

If you have only one number, the second SIM-card slot can hold a microSD card with up to 128GB of storage capacity. And if you take a lot of photos and videos, a memory card is just what you’ll need because the Blade BV8 Pro’s internal storage caps off at a low 32GB.

Additional features include a large 5.5-inch HD display and a reasonably capacious 3140mAh battery that supports rapid charging. 

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