A guide to the best budget smartphones of 2015

Published August 9th, 2015 - 05:00 GMT

But before we get to the best sub-1k smartphone pick list, we have created a guide that can help you narrow down your choices. There are 11 factors that you need to check before buying a smartphone.

While this is the age of multi-core smartphones, you need to make sure that the CPU cores are sufficient enough for a snappy performance. Look for wordings in the spec sheet such as “Quad Core Cortex A7”, “Dual Core/Quad Core Cortex A15”, “Quad Core Cortex A53”, “Quad Core Cortex A57” or “Quad Core Krait cores”.

For reference, the best performing processors currently are the Snapdragon 400/410, Snapdragon 600/610, Snapdragon 800/801/805/810, Tegra 4/K1, Exynos 5 Octa, Exynos 7 Octa, MediaTek MT6582, and other 8-core MediaTek processors.

When it comes to memory, smartphones should strictly have a minimum 1GB of RAM at the least. 1.5GB RAM is the sweet spot, and 2GB, and above is just fantastic. On a personal note, stay away from smartphones below 1GB RAM.

On the software front, Android 4.4 KitKat and Android 5.0/5.1 Lollipop are the best releases of the Android OS platform so far. My personal choice has always belonged to stock Android experience. On the other hand, Windows Phone 8.1 and Blackberry 10.3 are the latest and best featured versions for Blackberry and Microsoft.

A vital factor that needs to be considered for those who loves mobile photography, music, or installs a lot of memory hungry mobile games. While smartphones today are offered in 8GB, 16GB, 32GB, 64GB and 128GB capacities, it’s not easy to find 64GB and 128GB mid-range devices. So make sure the smartphone accepts MicroSD cards for memory expansion.

Whether you presently use multiple phone numbers or not, there will always be a time when you will need the Dual SIM functionality. Especially when you really hate swapping SIM cards from a Single SIM device. Many companies have started to embrace the benefits of having Dual-SIM on their devices.

These relate to the various mobile internet speeds your smartphone can accept. While having the LTE capability in a mid-range device is a great bonus, the tariff packs are quite costly as compared to 3G data packs. Nevertheless, both networks are really fast.

Since this is strictly about mid-range devices, almost all smartphones in this category offer mediocre to decent performing cameras. Nevertheless, just make sure the front and rear cameras are at least 2-5MP minimum with LED flash. On a personal note, the high-end Samsung Galaxy S6/S6 Edge and the LG G4 are few among the latest to offer the best in mobile photography.

Whenever someone asks me to suggest a good 1K smartphone, I shoot back these questions- Do you prefer big screens, or small screens? Are you a one-hand user? Do you use both your thumbs for typing text?

Reason being. I have often seen people invest in smartphones to realize later that it doesn’t suit their personal preferences. The 4.5-inches to 5.1-inch models are presently the norm that can suit any type of hand, big or small. People with bigger hands might well go for the 5.5-inch to 5.7-inch variants, and 6-inch and above just seems to be an overkill.

Other features to keep an eye are the type of display, screen protection and resolution. IPS and LCDs are the best all-round displays currently available. However, AMOLEDs have excellent viewing angles, but with saturated colors. Corning Glass protection is an added bonus. As for resolutions, 720p screens provide decent sharpness, 1080p is great and 2K is the best.

“How long will the device run?”, “How long can I play?”, or “How long can I make a call?” are the most commonly asked questions before consumers even think of buying the device. Always make sure that the smartphone holds a minimum 2000 mAh or above battery capacity for a decent usage.

Now that we have narrowed down the priorities, let’s get down to the top budget smartphone list of 2015.

While mid-range smartphones usually come in cheap builds, the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 impressed me with its high quality build and solid performance. Powered a Snapdragon 410 processor with 1.5GB RAM, the near stock Android Lollipop gave me a great snappy performance.

With features such as a 4.7-inch 720p display, 8GB storage with MicroSD, 13MP front/5MP rear, Dual SIM support, dual front facing JBL speakers, and a 2000mAh battery, the 899 AED Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 is easily my favorite pick when it comes to mid-range devices. The Idol 3 shares some design similarities with the Google Nexus 4.

If you prefer to use the most secure mobile platform at an affordable rate, then the Blackberry Leap is what you’re looking for.

It has a brilliant 5-inch 720p display, a snappy dual-core Snapdragon S4 Pro, 2GB RAM and an 8MP rear camera with flash. You also get 16GB internal storage with MicroSD expansion. All said, the Blackberry Leap impressed me with its battery life, thanks to the 2800 mAh battery. Price ranges from 950 AED to 1050 AED.

If you’re into the stock Android KitKat experience, then try the Wiko Getaway. Thanks to the MediaTek MT6582 and its 1GB RAM, the Getaway performs speedy enough with no bloatware in sight. It has a 5-inch display, and a decent performing 13MP main camera.

There is a 5MP front camera too for all your selfie needs. The device also possesses a 2000 mAh battery that gave a decent amount of usage time. The Wiko Getaway costs just 699 AED.

If 3G internet speeds don’t cut it enough for you, then how about a 4G-capable Android smartphone that costs just 499 AED? The RaceJet holds similar features of the Wiko Getaway, such as a 5-inch display, 5MP front camera and a MediaTek MT6582 with 1GB of RAM.

While the camera is just 8MP, we did notice that the camera produced slightly better image results than the Getaway’s 13MP camera. All said, the RaceJet 4G holds a 2020 mAh battery.

Interested in Windows Phone flavors? Here’s the Microsoft Lumia 640 XL, a youthful 5.7-inch IPS smartphone that provides bang for the buck features and functionality. The device is powered by the quad core Snapdragon 400 processor with 1GB RAM, running Windows Phone 8.1. The device is also entitled to receive a free Windows 10 Phone update in the near future.

Dual-SIM capability is also supported. The Lumia 640 XL possesses a 13MP camera on the back, with a 5MP selfie snapper on the front. You can also benefit from the massive 3000 mAh battery that gave me enough juice to go on for a couple of days. The Microsoft Lumia 640 XL costs 899 AED.

The Innjoo Fire caught us by surprise with its decent performing hardware for a very low eye-popping 299 AED price tag. It’s based on a quad core MediaTek processor with 2GB RAM, running Android 4.4.4 KitKat OS. Additionally, this affordable device holds 5MP cameras on both the front and rear.

Other features include a 2500 mAh battery, and Dual-SIM functionality with 3G support. The Innjoo Fire is easily the most affordable, and well performing Android device we have reviewed so far. The smartphone is exclusively available at Souq.com.

While we have not yet reviewed this device, the ASUS ZenFone 2 amazed me with its impressive specs on paper. It has a 5.5-inch FHD display, powered by a 64-bit Intel Atom processor with fast and massive 4GB dual channel RAM-all this to run the Android Lollipop as snappy as possible. The 13MP camera looks impressive with F2.0 aperture lens, and a 5MP selfie camera, also with a F2.0 lens.

ASUS claims that the 3000 mAh battery can achieve a 60% charge in 39 minutes. The ZenFone 2 is impressively thin at 3.9mm. Available configurations include 16GB, 32GB and 64GB capacities, with pricing ranging from 800 AED to 1250 AED. However, the 16GB variant only has 2GB RAM.

I recently had an opportunity to try out the Sony Xperia M4 Aqua Dual for half a week, and I must say that am quite impressed with the smartphone. It’s powered by a 64-bit octa-core Snapdragon 615 processor, with 2GB RAM that provided a snappy near stock Android 5.0 Lollipop experience.

The 13MP rear, and 5MP front cameras were quite good too. The device features dual front facing speakers that sounded crisp. The 2400 mAh battery lasted around two days, thanks to its Stamina mode. The 5-inch IPS display is vibrant and it’s also IP65/IP68 rated for dust and waterproof capabilities, and features a cap-less MicroUSB port. The Sony Xperia M4 Aqua Dual LTE price ranges from 900 AED to 1200 AED.

I have always seen people judge gadgets and smartphones by just the brand name, which is really a wrong practice in my book. Brands don’t always justify how good the device is. I agree that budget smartphones and a few brands of the past did bring bad experiences to many, but things have considerably changed. So, give them a shot.

By Vinu Varughese


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