Mobile / Buying Guide

The Best Unlocked Smartphones for Your Buck


With all the leasing options and payment plans available to consumers these days, owning a top-of-the-line unlocked smartphone has never been easier. However, just because you can get a premium smartphone doesn't necessarily mean you should, or that it will fit into your budget—a $700 phone you pay off in 36 installments is, after all, still a $700 phone (plus interest). As an alternative to those bank-busting devices, we've put together a list of five smartphones that offer performance to rival their pricier peers, at a fraction of the cost.   

Moto G (3rd Gen, 2015)

Motorola is no stranger to a “best budget phone” list. Previous generations of the Moto G and Moto E have consistently placed among the year’s best-valued phones, delivering powerful performance and premium specs at a consumer-friendly price. The 3rd Generation Moto G keeps that tradition alive with its sharp-looking 5" IPS display and reliable quad-core-driven performance. Its dual-camera array—a 13MP rear and 5MP front—is powerful enough to rival several flagship phones and, as an added bonus, the Moto G is IPX7-rated to be water resistant, so you can count on it even in less-than-ideal conditions. Two storage variants of the Moto G are available, an 8GB version and 16GB, and both feature Motorola's signature interchangeable shell design, which lets you customize the phone according to your own sense of style.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

It's not often that you see a smartphone that's both waterproof and water-resistant, let alone at a mid-range prize, but that's exactly what the Xperia M4 Aqua delivers. The only phone on our list you can take with you into the tub, the IP65- and IP68-rated phone won't fry when exposed to watery environments—within reason (no deep-sea texting, please). In addition to its waterproof design, the M4 Aqua houses a crisp-looking 5" IPS screen and a powerful Snapdragon 615 octa-core chipset, meaning you’ll get fast, reliable performance whether you’re on land or at sea.   

ASUS ZenFone 2

2015 was a big year for the ASUS ZenFone 2. Available stateside back in May, this smartphone immediately turned heads with its 4GB of RAM offering. You can choose from multiple storage options, ranging from 16 to 64GB of storage. Both models feature a 64-bit Intel® Atom™ quad-core processor and 6430 PowerWR GPU, though the enhanced version runs at 2.3GHz (compared to the lesser 1.8GHz). And each houses a 5.5" IPS capacitive display with 1920 x 1080 screen resolution that enables users to enjoy Full HD content without pixel loss. Front- and rear-facing cameras are on board: a 13MP f/2.0 five-piece Lagan rear camera and 5MP front camera. And both lenses feature image-enhancing PixelMaster technology and a number of supplemental features that ASUS included to enhance the picture-taking experience. The ZenFone 2 is available in a variety of colors, some specific to their model version.

Huawei P8 lite

Though its name might suggest the P8 lite is something of a toned-down version of a more powerful device, its design and internal specs offer a look and performance that is substantially more than merely “lite.” Featuring dual quad-core CPUs and 2GB of RAM, the P8 lite offers processing power to rival most flagship phones and its camera array is just as impressive: a dual-lens setup that features a 13MP rear and 5MP front camera. Add in a vibrant 5" display and the only thing light about the P8 is its price tag.  

Huawei Ascend Mate 2

Though, technically, it was released at the tail end of 2014, the Huawei Ascend Mate 2, nonetheless, deserves recognition as one of the best mid-range phones available for its massive screen and powerful battery performance. At 6.1", the Mate 2’s IPS display delivers what is easily one of the largest dollar-to-screen-size ratios out there. Even more impressive is the built-in 4050mAh battery, which offers up to 60 hours of standard usage and, thanks to onboard Reverse Charging technology, enables to the Mate 2 to serve as a charging hub for your other mobile devices. For the fiscally responsible consumer who wants a screen the size of a paperback book and the amount of battery life it would take to read one, this is the phone for you.    

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Any with a removable battery and one that doesn't overheat as much because I always have safety concerns. I don't want a phone that turns into a hoverboard. 

Removable battery options are few and far between. Though it is extremely unlikely that phone would overheat to such a dramatic extent, the Samsung Galaxy S5 SM-G900M 16GB Smartphone (Unlocked, Charcoal Black) would offer a removable battery.

I purchased the Moto G 3rd Gen to compare against my iPhone 6 and hopefully put an end to my life under Apple. No doubt about it, the Moto G is nice, in the city, but exceptionally poor reception anywhere else. Regularly, alongside the iPhone 6 with 2 or 3 bars and downloading acceptably with 4G, the Moto G barely gets any signal and downloads time out. When the iPhone 6 struggles, the Moto G is dead. Too many tests and comparisons prove the Moto G is a lemon as a receiver. Does the Moto G even have an antenna? Moto Support proved useless, suggesting I discuss the problem with Telstra.

"...Mate 2’s IPS display delivers what is easily one of the largest dollar-to-screen-size ratios out there" - I think, it is 100% opposite.

Internet chatter suggests that B&H will be selling the Asus Zenfone Zoom.  I know that if I could pre-order one today I would make the purchase.