by Andrew Heinzman on
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One of the nicest things about the Android platform is that phones come in all sizes and price ranges. We’ve selected the best phones under the $300 mark for American shoppers.
With a price range under three C-notes, you won’t get the latest processors or a long list of extra features. But these phones have access to Google’s Play Store and its millions of apps, solid hardware, and reliable software (though it may not be updated as often as iPhones).
We’ve broken down the selections by the major American carriers, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint. All of the devices below are offered with interest-free financing on your phone bill, or as outright purchases with no commitment. We’ve also selected an unlocked GSM model, if you’re not interested in using a carrier-supplied phone. International readers, sorry we can’t cover every phone in every territory, but you can consider these devices general positive recommendations if they’re offered near you.
The mobile market is constantly shifting. We’ll be updating this article periodically to make sure it has the latest devices offered by the carriers.
Motorola’s G-series has long offered excellent value with software that stays surprisingly lean for a non-Google phone. The Moto G6 Play continues that tradition, giving AT&T users access to an excellent bargain. The phone’s 5.7-inch screen is paired with a 4000mAh battery, absolutely massive at this size and price range, which should last for two days of moderate use at its sparse resolution.
Creature comforts include a fingerprint scanner, an impressive 13-megapixel rear camera, and a MicroSD card slot. With just 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage it’s not the most capacious phone around, but for the $180 asking price it’s very reasonable. The software is Android 8 “Oreo” at the time of writing, and Motorola is better than most suppliers at getting updates out eventually. Note that this design uses the older MicroUSB charging port.
Verizon’s Moto G6 is, naturally, somewhat similar to the Moto G6 Play on AT&T. It’s $60 more expensive, but that premium gets you a dual rear camera (12 and 5MP) for better shots with more effects, a faster Snapdragon processor, and a more stylish glass back panel. The fingerprint reader moves to the front of the phone, and storage is doubled to 32GB (still with a MicroSD card reader) with an extra gigabyte of RAM.
The phone uses the newer USB-C charging port, but oddly, the battery is slimmed down to 3000mAh. The screen is sharper, a full 1080p, with the same 5.7-inch size. It’s still running Android 8.0 Oreo. The processor and RAM boost should make the upgraded G6 noticeable faster, and if the battery doesn’t last as long, at least it comes with Motorola’s quick charging technology.
The Stylo 4 is an odd duck, a stylus-packing, big-screen phone that seeks to ape the Galaxy Note series at less than a third of the price. With a massive 6.2-inch 1080p screen, it certainly gets the “big” part down. Underneath you’ll find a Snapdragon processor, 32GB of storage plus a MicroSD card slot, but only 2GB of RAM. The 13MP rear camera is serviceable, though it captures video at a maximum of 1080p, and the system packs in a USB-C charging port and a fingerprint sensor.
The integrated stylus bay keeps the battery smaller than you might expect on a phone this big, just 3300mAh. The phone runs Android 8.1, but purists probably won’t like LG’s rather dated skin running on top of the interface. If you need something smaller to fit in more cramped pockets, T-Mobile also sells the Samsung Galaxy J7 Star with a 5.5-inch screen at the same price.
Speaking of the Galaxy J7, Sprint sells the same model under the “Refine” label. It’s using a 720p screen in a budget body, but the smaller real estate and lower resolution should make the 3300mAh battery last for well over a day with standard use. 2GB of RAM and 32GB of ROM are pretty standard for this category, with Samsung’s Exynos processor making a surprise showing on an American carrier.
The software is Android 8.0, plus Samsung’s rather heavy skin and the Bixby voice assistant button (don’t worry, you can remap it to something that’s actually useful). 13MP cameras on both the front and the rear will capture sharp images in either direction, and there’s a MicroSD card slot if you fill up your storage with selfies. Note that, oddly, the gold version is the only one available on Sprint.
Huawei doesn’t have much of a presence on American carriers, but you can pick up this surprisingly powerful unlocked model on Amazon. Amazon also sells the Moto G6, LG Stylo 4, and Galaxy J7 in unlocked variants, but if you’re not restricted by carrier choices, we’d recommend the Huawei Mate SE. With a 2.4Ghz 8-core processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of storage plus a MicroSD card slot, it’s got every other phone on this list beat for pure hardware power. Its 5.9-inch 1080p screen with stylishly curbed glass and a full aluminum body make it a looker, too.
The 16MP rear camera comes with a 2MP secondary sensor for enhanced shots, paired with an 8MP front-facing camera. 3340mAh of battery power means it will keep up with most alternatives, and its speedy fingerprint sensor is mounted on the back. The phone has already received a software update to Android Oreo. The only surprisingly downer on the spec list is the MicroUSB connection, but you do get a free slim case in the box.
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