Introduction

It's been a few months since our previous Smartphone buyer's guide and the mobile market has shifted significantly since then. It's a buyer's market as they say, cheap phones have become better and flagships have become cheaper.



There aren't many new devices on the list - "new" both as in new to the guide and as in new to the market. Q3 is traditionally low on new launches so that's no surprise. But some old devices have dropped significantly in price, making them a killer deal.

Even flagships have tumbled down in price since their Q1 introductions. For the first time the buyer's guide will not have a €500+ chapter as there's almost nothing there. Here are shortcuts to the five price segments we've covered if you've already set your budget.

  • Under €100
  • €100-€200
  • €200-€300
  • €300-€400
  • €400-€500

We don't recommend feature phones any more, smartphones have found such great utility in our daily lives that it's detrimental to not have one. And it's not like you can save money by going feature phone, the Under €100 category will point you to some very affordable but capable devices.

The €100-€200 category is where smartphones become good enough, most people will perhaps get a _phone_ on this list. There's LTE, 1080p video, big screens and multiple SIMs so it's not difficult to find something to suit your needs.

Shrewd shoppers know that at launch phones carry a premium that sheds off with time. About a year later is about the ideal compromise between a low price and a device that's not too old in terms of tech. In the €200-€300 you can find a number of premium minis and phablets from 2013.

€300-€400 gets you a flagship from late last year or even a 2014 model as you get closer to the upper range of the price segment.

The €400-€500 segment houses the flagships that are yet to slip under €400 but it may not take them long. Still if money is no object and you went the best of the best you have to splurge some extra cash or wait a while longer.

Note that IFA is days away and we'll be seeing plenty of new devices pouring in and probably launching within the month. Mostly flagships as lower-profile devices get launched without much fanfare but you might want to hold off on hitting the Buy button for a week or two just to be sure.

You can read this buyer's guide page by page or jump straight to a price segment. If you do that, make sure to check the one below and above it - you might find a cheaper option that works just as well for you or a lot more functionality for not much more cash.

Under €100

If your spending budget is less than €100 then paying even €10 for a premium badge is too much so you have to be willing to look at brands that don't get much exposure in TV ads. That said we tried to strike a balance between bang for the buck and recognizable brand names.

It's not all badge worship, phones of popular brands are easier to find in stores, have a bigger community around them (should you ever have questions) and are generally more likely to get a software update. So maybe that tenner will be worth it.

This category has some very capable devices but if all you need is to get your foot in the door something like the LG Optimus L4 II will run you less than €50 and it's a smartphone. It has a reasonably big 3.8" HVGA (320 x 480) screen and is powered by a single Cortex-A9 core. It won't set any speed records and the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean is getting old but virtually all apps support it.

It has 4GB of built-in storage, just enough for apps, and a microSD card slot to take care of the rest. A 3.15MP camera with 480p video capture should do fine for Snapchat or Vine. The 1,700mAh battery is surprisingly big for this class.

There's a dual-SIM version of the Optimus L4 II for some extra cash.


LG Optimus L4 II
Pros Cons
  • 3.8" HVGA screen
  • Android 4.1 Jelly Bean
  • Optional dual-SIM
  • 3MP/480p camera
  • Low on CPU power
  • Relatively old Android

If you're willing to spend some extra cash, the Huawei Ascend Y330 doubles the screen pixels and the CPU cores. It has a 4" FWVGA screen (that's 480 x 854px) and is powered by a dual-core 1.3GHz processor. It runs Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, not much younger than the L4 II's OS.


Huawei Ascend Y330
Pros Cons
  • 4" FWVGA screen
  • Android 4.2 Jelly Bean
  • Dual-core processor
  • 3MP/480p camera
  • Relatively old Android

The Nokia Lumia 520 is dirt cheap in the US (Microsoft is practically giving it away) but it's quite affordable in Europe and the rest of the world, too. It has a 4" WVGA screen but it's an IPS for better viewing angles. The dual-core CPU is Krait-based so much faster than the Cortex-A7/A9 offerings and the _phone_ is getting updated to the latest Windows phone version.

It's the cheapest phone that records 720p video and the 5MP still camera is good too. One of the best perks is that it comes with free voice-guided navigation for a single country of your choice.


Nokia Lumia 520
Pros Cons
  • 4" WVGA IPS screen
  • Windows phone 8.1
  • Dual-core Krait processor
  • 5MP/720p camera
  • Voice-guided navigation
Review

Microsoft put out the new Lumia 530 but it's a bit of a downgrade in our opinion. It has a quad-core processor but it's Cortex-A7 based so the speed advantage is questionable. You also lose the IPS screen and the 720p video capture.

Of course, compared to similarly priced Androids it's still very compelling. We'd still go for the 520 over this one but if you need a second SIM slot then you have to pick the Lumia 530. It comes with free voice-guided navigation for all countries supported by Nokia Drive+ making it an excellent travel companion.


Nokia Lumia 530 Dual SIM
Pros Cons
  • 4" FWVGA screen
  • Windows phone 8.1
  • Quad-core Cortex-A7
  • 5MP/480p camera
  • Voice-guided navigation
  • Dual-SIM
  • No 720p video
  • Non-IPS screen

The Sony Xperia E1 dual is Android's answer to the Lumia 530. It has a 4" WVGA screen with scratch resistant glass. While on the positive side it runs a quite current Android 4.4 KitKat OS, it's down on power with just two Cortex-A7 cores. It does have Sony's good looks, a 3.15MP/480p camera and a big 1,750mAh battery going for it.

Note that there's a single-SIM version of the Xperia E1 but the price difference usually isn't much (you can always leave the second slot empty when you don't need it).


Sony Xperia E1 dual
Pros Cons
  • 4" WVGA screen
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • Dual-core Cortex-A7
  • 3MP/480p camera
  • Dual-SIM
  • Down on power compared to the Lumias

The Motorola Moto E boasts a slightly better screen than the Xperia, 4.3" qHD (540 x 960), with Corning Gorilla Glass 3. It has 1GB of RAM to improve multitasking performance on the dual-core Corttex-A7 chipset and a 5MP/ FWVGA 480p camera. It's not the thinnest phone around but the 1,980mAh battery lasts a long while.

While it's running the same Android version as the Xperia right now it's near stock, which improves chances of an upgrade down the line. To be fair, Sony has been very good with upgrades recently too.

The Moto E has a dual-SIM option too but that one is yet to drop under €100.


Motorola Moto E
Pros Cons
  • 4.3" qHD screen
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • Dual-core Cortex-A7
  • 5MP/FWVGA 480p camera
  • Optional dual-SIM
  • Down on power compared to the Lumias
Review

Firefox OS has a mission statement of bringing $25 smartphones but we're not quite there yet. There are a number of sub-$50 devices but those are from local brands. The ZTE Open C is easier to buy and has pretty decent hardware.

A 4" WVGA screen, dual-core Cortex-A7 processor and 3MP camera (with practically nonexistent video recording) aren't exactly what you dreamed of, but you can think of it as a cheap way to try the youngest platform on the market.

Even if you don't buy an Open C, it's good to be aware of the platform as Mozilla is slowly pushing down to its $25 target, which will finally make feature phones obsolete.


ZTE Open C
Pros Cons
  • 4" WVGA screen
  • Firefox OS 1.3
  • Dual-core Cortex-A7
  • 3.14MP/CIF@15fps camera
  • Terrible video capture
Friefox OS review

We round off this category with the Alcatel Idol S. It slinks just under the €100 cut-off point but it gives you the mid-range Android experience.

The hardware is surprisingly good. A slender 7.4mm body that weighs just 110g houses an impressive 4.7" 720p screen (IPS to boot). It has Dragon Trail Glass protection and oleophobic coating (to fight fingerprints).

The Idol S is not only the cheapest phone with a 720p screen we're recommending but its 8MP camera is the first so far to shoot FullHD 1080p video. You can also add LTE to its list of firsts.

Something has to give, of course, and it's the dual-core Cortex-A9 processor and relatively old Android 4.2 Jelly Bean. It does have 1GB of RAM though, all-round excellent for a €100 phone.


Alcatel Idol S
Pros Cons
  • 4.7" 720p IPS screen
  • Android 4.2 Jelly Bean
  • Dual-core Cortex-A9
  • 8MP/1080p camera
  • LTE
  • Thin and light
  • Not quite mid-range performance
  • Relatively old Android
Hands-on

€100-€200

This category will probably see the most action - phones are affordable and yet have all the features a casual user is likely to need. As a GSMArena reader you may be more tech-inclined and demand better specs but keep in mind that casual users make up the bulk of the market.

The Sony Xperia M is an alternative to the Lumia 520. It's pricier but it's powered by the same dual-core Krait processor and has 1GB of RAM. It has a 4" FWVGA screen and a 5MP/720p camera. It's a bit old and Sony is leaving it stranded at Android 4.3 Jelly Bean.

There's a dual-SIM version of the Xperia M but it's pricier and there are better dual-SIM options. The Xperia M is getting a little long in the tooth but compact droids with good specs are hard to find even these days.


Sony Xperia M
Pros Cons
  • 4" FWVGA screen
  • Android 4.3 Jelly Bean
  • Dual-core Krait
  • 5MP/720p camera
  • Optional dual-SIM
  • No more Android updates
Review

While the Lumia 530 is Microsoft's entry-level offering the Nokia Lumia 630 is a more capable phone. We found that the dual-SIM version of the phone is priced essentially the same as the single-SIM so that's our pick. By the way, the Lumia 635 is an LTE-enabled, single-SIM version of the phone. It's more expensive though so it depends on how important LTE is to you.

Anyway, compared to the 530 the Lumia 630 brings a bigger 4.5" screen and while the resolution is still FWVGA at least it's an IPS panel and it's protected by Gorilla Glass 3. The proprietary ClearBlack tech improves sunlight legibility.

The camera also regains its 720p video capture and you get more built-in storage.


Nokia Lumia 630 Dual SIM
Pros Cons
  • 4.5" FWVGA screen
  • Windows phone 8.1
  • Quad-core Cortex-A7
  • 5MP/720p camera
  • Voice-guided navigation
  • Dual-SIM
  • Optional LTE (single-SIM Lumia 635)
  • RAM could have been 1GB
Review

The ZTE Grand S Flex is another phone that gives you the mid-range experience. It's pricier than the Alcatel Idol S from the last chapter but makes up for it with a bigger 5" IPS screen with 720p resolution and a faster dual-core Krait processor.

It too has an 8MP/1080p camera and LTE connectivity. Unfortunately, it too is stuck on an old Android version. Another downside is that it lacks a microSD card slot though it does come with 16GB of built-in storage.


ZTE Grand S Flex
Pros Cons
  • 5" 720p IPS screen
  • Android 4.1 Jelly Bean
  • Dual-core Krait
  • 8MP/1080p camera
  • LTE
  • Old Android version
  • No microSD card slot

The HTC Desire 310 is our first brush with HTC hardware and software design. It tackles the Lumia 630 with a 4.5" FWVGA screen and a quad-core Cortex-A7 processor. The RAM varies by region and is either 512MB or 1GB.

The phone boasts a 1080p-capable 5MP camera and the respected Sense UI but it's based on old Android 4.2 Jelly Bean.

There's a dual-SIM version of the Desire 310 if you need it (at extra cost, of course).


HTC Desire 310
Pros Cons
  • 4.5" FWVGA screen
  • Android 4.2 Jelly Ben
  • Quad-core Cortex-A7
  • 5MP/1080p camera
  • Optional dual-SIM
  • Old Android version
  • 512MB RAM in some regions

The LG Optimus L9 II brings LG's thin-bezel magic to challenge the ZTE Grand S Flex and Alcatel Idol S. It has a 4.7" IPS screen with 720p resolution and is powered by a dual-core Krait processor. Unlike the other two, it runs a current Android 4.4 KitKat.

The Optimus L9 II has an 8MP/1080p camera, NFC connectivity and an IR blaster to control your TV and other equipment.


LG Optimus L9 II
Pros Cons
  • 4.7" 720p IPS screen
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • Dual-core Krait
  • 8MP/1080p camera
  • IR blaster

Phablets have exploded in popularity since they hit the scene but they are typically at least mid-range devices. The LG G Pro Lite Dual combines the utility of a stylus and a big screen with dual-SIM connectivity.

It has a roomy 5.5" IPS screen that's quite low on resolution (qHD for just 200ppi density) and is powered by an old dual-core Cortex-A9 processor running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. Not ideal but an 8MP/720p camera makes us feel a little better. There are stereo speakers on board, too.

While the LG G Pro Lite Dual makes some questionable sacrifices, it should do quite okay for mom and pop.


LG G Pro Lite Dual
Pros Cons
  • 5.5" qHD IPS screen
  • Stylus
  • Android 4.1 Jelly Bean
  • Dual-core Cortex-A9
  • 8MP/720p camera
  • Dual-SIM
  • Stereo speakers
  • Low screen resolution
  • Slow chipset
  • Old Android version

We started with the giants so let's look into the minis too. The LG G2 mini LTE has a 4.7" IPS screen with Gorilla Glass 2. The downside compared to the LG L9 II is that it's a qHD screen with about half the pixels. It's not more compact either, despite being a mini.

There are still reasons to consider it though. It has LTE connectivity for one and it's a newer device that's much easier to find in shops. It also gets more love in terms of software with many tricks borrowed from the big LG flagships (probably a brighter update future too).

A non-LTE dual-SIM version is available in some markets as well.


LG G2 mini LTE
Pros Cons
  • 4.7" qHD IPS screen
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • Quad-core Cortex-A7
  • 8MP/1080p camera
  • LTE
  • Optional dual-SIM (but no LTE)
  • Low screen resolution
  • Not the most compact mini
Review

The Sony Xperia M2 is a full centimeter taller than the LG G2 mini and half a centimeter wider. It has very similar specs though if size wasn't what attracted you to the LG. The Xperia M2 has a 4.8" qHD screen with Gorilla Glass 3 and is powered by a quad-core Cortex-A7 processor running Android 4.4 KitKat.

There's an 8MP/1080p camera and LTE connectivity or a second SIM slot if you prefer. Sony recently unveiled a water proof Xperia M2 Aqua version but the pricing of that isn't clear yet.


Sony Xperia M2
Pros Cons
  • 4.8" qHD screen
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • Quad-core Cortex-A7
  • 8MP/1080p camera
  • LTE
  • Optional dual-SIM (but no LTE)
  • Optional waterproofing
  • Noticeably bigger than the minis
Review

The Motorola Moto G 4G is said to be getting a replacement soon but it's still a good deal. It has near-stock Android and a promise of fast-track software updates when a new Android version becomes available. The 4G versions fixes the two major complaints of the regular Moto G, namely, it adds a microSD card slot and 4G LTE connectivity.

The phone has a 4.5" IPS LCD with 720p resolution and Gorilla Glass 3 protection. It runs Android 4.4 KitKat on a quad-core Cortex-A7 processor with 1GB RAM. It's potential downside is the camera, which is a 5MP/720p shooter.

Still, the phone has a solid build and the up-to-date software is a big plus for some.


Motorola Moto G 4G
Pros Cons
  • 4.5" 720p IPS LCD
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • Quad-core Cortex-A7
  • 5MP/720p camera
  • LTE
  • Camera is sub-par

The Sony Xperia SP is a direct competitor to the Moto G but one-ups it with an 8MP/1080p camera. The chipset is based on a dual-core Krait but more importantly it packs an Adreno 320 GPU instead of the usual 305 (used by Moto G and Optimus L7 II), so it should have double the performance in games.

The Xperia SP has an attractive metal rim and a 4.6" screen. It's a non-IPS TFT though so viewing angles aren't as good as on the Motorola.


Sony Xperia SP
Pros Cons
  • 4.6" 720p screen
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • Dual-core Krait
  • Adreno 320 GPU
  • 8MP/1080p camera
  • LTE
  • Non-IPS display
Review

The Acer Liquid E700 aims to be the phone to end all dual-SIM phones... because it has three SIM slots. While triple-SIM have been gimmicky no-name devices, the Liquid E700 is actually a solid contender.

It has a 5" IPS screen with 720p resolution (a hair under 300ppi) and a quad-core Cortex-A7 processor with 2GB RAM (the RAM amount is a rarity in this segment). And it runs Android 4.4 KitKat unlike many other MediaTek-powered devices. It also sports an 8MP camera and a massive 3,500mAh battery. And no, it's not particularly thick either - 9.9mm.


Acer Liquid E700
Pros Cons
  • 5" 720p IPS screen
  • Quad-core Cortex-A7, 2GB RAM
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • 8MP camera
  • Triple-SIM
  • Large battery

€200-€300

The best deals in this category happen to be older devices - flagships, phablets and minis - and a couple of out-of-the-box offerings. The new flagships, phablets and minis are in the next price segment but these get a big enough discount to make you question yourself whether you want to be part of the specs race or not.

Note that all phones in this category should have LTE connectivity and we won't mention it explicitly. We'll admonish the few that don't.

The ZTE Grand Memo almost made it to the previous chapter, it's a matter of less than €10. It has a 5.7" screen and a powerful Snapdragon 800 chipset (at this price point!) with 2GB RAM, plus a 13MP / 1080p camera.

There are downsides though. For some reason it runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. Also, the screen has only 720p resolution - 258ppi isn't bad but at this screen size 1080p would have been noticeably better. The chipset has been downclocked so the quad-core Krait 400 processor runs at 1.7GHz but it should still blow all the Snapdragon 400s out of the water.


ZTE Grand Memo
Pros Cons
  • 5.7" 720p screen
  • Android 4.1 Jelly Bean
  • Snapdragon 800 (downclocked)
  • 13MP/1080p camera
  • Old Android
  • Screen resolution on the low side

The Samsung Galaxy S3 Neo keeps the 2012 Samsung flagship alive with slightly different hardware. You still get a 4.8" 720p Super AMOLED screen and an 8MP/1080p camera, putting it in competition with the Moto G 4G and Xperia SP.

That said it doesn't have LTE connectivity but dual-SIM instead. It's powered by a quad-core Cortex-A7 processor with 1.5GB RAM and runs Android 4.3 Jelly Bean. It's a bit of a compromise but the Xperia SP and the LTE version of the Moto G don't have dual-SIM options and the Super AMOLED screen tops their cheaper LCDs. Beware of the outdated looks though.


Samsung Galaxy S3 Neo
Pros Cons
  • 4.8" 720p Super AMOLED
  • Android 4.3 Jelly Bean
  • Quad-core Cortex-A7
  • 8MP/1080p camera
  • Dual-SIM
  • No LTE
  • Slightly outdated Android
  • Outdated looks

The HTC Desire 516 dual sim didn't make the cut but the HTC Desire 616 dual sim is worth the extra cash. It has a 5" 720p screen and is powered by a rare octa-core Cortex-A7 processor. It has an 8MP/1080p camera and a certain HTC charm.

The octa-core CPU is choked by just 1GB RAM though and the 2,000mAh battery doesn't last as long as we would have liked.


HTC Desire 616 dual sim
Pros Cons
  • 5" 720p screen
  • Android 4.2 Jelly Bean
  • Octa-core Cortex-A7
  • 8MP/1080p camera
  • Dual-SIM
  • Old Android
  • Low on RAM
  • Only 4GB built-in storage
  • Battery on the small side
Review

In what could be the phablet deal of the year we found the Sony Xperia Z Ultra at little over €200. It has an expansive 6.4" 1080p screen and is stunningly thin - just 6.5mm thin! And it's IP58-certified so it can be used in the pool.

The phablet is powered by a Snapdragon 800 chipset with 2GB RAM and runs Android 4.4 KitKat - either the custom Sony version or the Google Play Edition. It has an 8MP/1080p camera though strangely, there is no LED flash. It's a large device but if you're okay with that (e.g. speaking rarely or with a wireless headset) it's a proper flagship at a killer price.


Sony Xperia Z Ultra
Pros Cons
  • 6.4" 1080p screen
  • Android 4.4 KitKat; Google Play Edition option
  • Snapdragon 800 chipset
  • 8MP/1080p camera
  • Just 6.5mm thick
  • IP58 certification
  • Large even for a phablet
  • No LED flash
Review

Here's an out of the box suggestion - the Samsung Galaxy S4 zoom. It's a Galaxy S4 mini merged with a point-and-shoot camera. The headlining feature is a 16MP camera with 10x optical zoom and optical stabilization plus xenon flash. It records 1080p video and has a camera ring for some manual tuning.

It is thick and heavy and the dual-core Cortex-A9 processor is no speed demon. The 4.3" qHD Super AMOLED is better than what you get from point-and-shoot cameras though and it runs Android 4.4 KitKat.

Even though any Smart camera would upload your photos to Facebook, the Galaxy S4 zoom would handle much more - it can work with just about any social network or messenger services, not to mention it's a proper phone as well.


Samsung Galaxy S4 zoom
Pros Cons
  • 4.3" qHD Super AMOLED
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • Dual-core Cortex-A9
  • 16MP camera with 10x zoom, OIS, xenon flash
  • Thicker and heavier than phones its size
Review

The regular Samsung Galaxy S4 mini is a nice mini if you don't expect too much of the screen. We'd recommend going for the Black Edition version, which improves the looks with a Note 3-like faux leather back. It's a tiny bit more expensive than the regular edition but is well worth it.

The 4.3" qHD screen isn't the sharpest but it's a Super AMOLED unit and it is very competitive compared to the LCDs in this class. It's powered by an overclocked Snapdragon 400 chipset and runs Android 4.4 KitKat. It has an 8MP/1080p camera.

The Galaxy S4 mini comes either in LTE or dual-SIM options (the Black Edition is LTE only). The phone weighs just 107g, perfect for those not enamored with huge smartphones.


Samsung Galaxy S4 mini
Pros Cons
  • 4.3" qHD Super AMOLED
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • Dual-core Krait
  • 8MP/1080p camera
  • Optional dual-SIM (but no LTE)
  • Screen not the sharpest
Review

The HTC One mini is a touch more expensive but the aluminum unibody feels more premium than even certain flagships. Its 4.3" screen is sharper than the Samsung's (720p) and it's a high quality Super LCD2 unit. The phone also boasts front-facing stereo-speakers.

The chipset is a bit slower than the S4 mini (lower clockspeed) and the storage is non-expandable (you get just 16GB). Also the 4MP UltraPixel camera while being good on its own, is no match for 13MP cameras by competing manufacturers.


HTC One mini
Pros Cons
  • 4.3" 720p IPS screen
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • Dual-core Krait
  • 4MP/1080p camera
  • Aluminum unibody
  • Front stereo speakers
  • Non-expandable storage
  • Low-res still camera
Review

A 2013 flagship can be had quite cheaply these days - the compact (for its screen size) Sony Xperia ZL has a 5" 1080p display and a Snapdragon S4 Pro chipset (with quad-core Krait processor). It runs Android 4.4 KitKat and boasts a 13MP/1080p camera.

It's not water-resistant like the Xperia Z but it does have an IR blaster for what that's worth.

The Xperia ZL is a bit of a downgrade compared to the Z Ultra but it's noticeably more compact. It's almost the same size as the 4.6" Xperia SP.


Sony Xperia ZL
Pros Cons
  • 5" 1080p screen
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • Snapdragon S4 Pro
  • 13MP/1080p camera
  • IR blaster
  • Very compact
  • Old (but still fast) chipset
Review

The Sony Xperia Z is a touch more expensive than the ZL and not as compact but it is IP57-certified so it isn't afraid of water. It also drops the IR blaster but other than that it has essentially the same hardware and software.

Try to weigh how much that IP57 is worth though, compactness and a few euro less shouldn't be underestimated.


Pros Cons
  • 5" 1080p screen
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • Snapdragon S4 Pro
  • 13MP/1080p camera
  • IP57-certified
  • Old (but still fast) chipset
Review

The Asus Padfone mini tackles the Galaxy S4 mini and One mini with a 4.3" qHD IPS screen and a quad-core Cortex-A7 processor. It's a dual-SIM phone (which lacks LTE) and runs Android 4.3 Jelly Bean.

The most important aspect, however, is that it comes with a tablet dock - the Padfone Station features a 7" IPS screen with 1,280 x 800 resolution and an extra 2,200mAh battery. The two together costs only slightly more than the two minis but you also get a tablet screen for your money.

There is only one caveat - the tablet and the phone can't be used simultaneously, you can only use either the phone or the tablet as the tablet slacks brains of its own and uses the ones inside the phone.


Asus Padfone mini (with tablet)
Pros Cons
  • 4.3" qHD IPS screen
  • Android 4.3 Jelly Bean
  • Quad-core Cortex-A7
  • 8MP camera
  • Dual-SIM
  • 7" WXGA tablet
  • Old Android
  • No LTE
  • Small battery (1,500mAh)
Hands-on

Another 2013 big shot adds to the phablet suggestions in this class. The LG Optimus G Pro boasts a 5.5" 1080p screen and is powered by a Snapdragon 600 chipset. It runs Android 4.4 KitKat and has a 13MP camera with 1080p video capture.

It's more expensive than the Xperia Z Ultra and the hardware isn't really enough to justify the price premium. However with a screen almost an inch smaller, it's a noticeably smaller device - we're only listing it here for those who can't imagine handling a 6.4" phablet but still want a big screen.


LG Optimus G Pro
Pros Cons
  • 5.5" 1080p IPS screen
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • Snapdragon 600
  • 13MP/1080p camera
  • IR blaster
  • Pricy compared to the more powerful Z Ultra
Review

€300-€400

Here we have newer former flagships and, surprisingly, a current one - the HTC One (E8) just made it into this category. It's rather large so there's a choice of more compact devices, all of which very capable.

The Sony Xperia Z1 Compact is said to be days away from being replaced by the Z3 Compact but that can only bring about a price drop and it's still an amazing phone. It has a Snapdragon 800 chipset and a 20.7MP camera with 1/2.3" sensor packed into small body with a 4.3" 720p screen. Like its bigger siblings, the phone is water-resistant with an IP58 rating.

The Xperia Z1 Compact may not be quite as small as the 4.3" minis of the previous chapter but we're talking a completely different level of performance here. Again, it's smart to wait until the Z3 Compact is announced.


Sony Xperia Z1 Compact
Pros Cons
  • 4.3" 720p IPS screen
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • Snapdragon 800
  • 20.7MP/1080p camera
  • IP58-certified
  • Slightly bigger than other 4.3" minis
Review

The full-size Sony Xperia Z1 has virtually the same price as the Z1 Compact. It has a bigger, sharper screen - 5" 1080p - and a bigger battery (3,000mAh vs. 2,300mAh). Other than that the two Z1 phones are virtually identical, Sony did an admirable job of not short-changing its flagship mini.

The Xperia Z1 is not the smallest or lightest phone in its class though, it's noticeably taller and wider than the 5.2" LG G2 below. It weighs 170g too.

Still, the Xperia Z2 doesn't do much to alleviate those complaints and the differences between the two phones don't necessarily make up the €100+ price difference. The Z2 has a slightly bigger screen (5." vs. 5"), better video capture (2160p vs. 1080p), slightly faster chipset (S801 vs. S800), more RAM (3GB vs. 2GB) and stereo speakers.

The Xperia Z3 is just around the corner but rumors are showing even fewer changes to the Xperia Z flagship.


Sony Xperia Z1
Pros Cons
  • 5" 1080p screen
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • Snapdragon 800
  • 20.7MP/1080p camera
  • IP58-certified
  • Big and heavy for a 5" phone
Review

The new LG G3 went straight into phablet territory but its predecessor still passes for a flagship - the LG G2 puts very little bezel around its 5.2" 1080p screen and was one of the most impressive phones of last year.

The camera is an optically stabilized 13MP shooter that's similar to what the G3 has. It can't shoot 2160p though, it tops out at 1080p @ 60fps, and it uses the older generation OIS. Other differences include a lack of microSD card slot (so get the 32GB version) and a non-removable battery (a single 3,000mAh should be enough though).


LG G2 (32GB)
Pros Cons
  • 5.2" 1080p IPS screen
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • Snapdragon 800
  • 13MP / 1080p @ 60fps camera with OIS
  • Small bezels
  • Non-expandable storage
Review

If you looked at the LG Optimus G Pro and thought "not big enough," the LG G Pro 2 is here with a 5.9" 1080p screen. It has a Snapdragon 800 chipset and a 13MP camera with 2160p video and optical stabilization, removable battery and expandable storage to boot.

You can think of it as a bigger, cheaper alternative to the 5.5" LG G3 as the G2 above misses out on some of these features. It really is big though - not Xperia Z Ultra big but still.


LG G Pro 2
Pros Cons
  • 5.9" 1080p IPS screen
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • Snapdragon 800
  • 13MP/2160p camera with OIS
  • Small bezels
  • Larger than most phones
Review

The OnePlus One is based on the Oppo Find 7a and is one of the best phones you can buy for its price tag. That's provided you can buy it, OnePlus haven't done the best job with manufacturing and distribution.

Still, you get a 5.5" 1080p screen, a Snapdragon 801 chipset, a 13MP camera with 2160p video capture and a relatively cheap option for 64GB storage. There is no microSD card slot and no 32GB version so 64GB is the one you want.

The OnePlus One is a proper competitor to the LG G3 and other similarly sized phablets. A QHD screen might sound impressive in a numbers comparison but make sure your eyesight is good enough to appreciate the difference to 1080p.

Oh, and unlike the Oppo, the OnePlus runs a special version of CyanogenMod so you get a stock Android with some helpful tweaks and a solid reputation for OS upgrades (the CM teams supports phones long abandoned by their maker).


OnePlus One
Pros Cons
  • 5.5" 1080p screen
  • Android 4.4 KitKat (CM11S)
  • Snapdragon 801
  • 13MP/2160p camera
  • Non-expandable storage
  • May be difficult to find in stores
Review

The HTC One is in a similar situation as the Xperia Z1 - its successor is an excellent phone but for the €100+ price difference you have to consider whether the new features are worth it. The 4.7" 1080p screen is of great quality but may feel a little cramped.

The trademark One features are in place though, an aluminum unibody and front-facing stereo speakers. The camera is a 4MP UltraPixel shooter with 1080p video capture plus OIS. The One (M8) can't do 2160p either and lacks OIS, so whether the Duo camera is worth it the extra dough is questionable.

Snapdragon 600 is behind in performance compared to the Snapdragon 801 but in regular daily usage you might not even notice a difference.


HTC One
Pros Cons
  • 4.7" 1080p IPS screen
  • Android 4.4 KitKat; Google Play Edition option
  • Snapdragon 600
  • 4MP/1080p camera
  • Metal unibody
  • Front stereo speakers
  • Relatively small screen
  • Older chipset
  • Non-expandable storage
Review

The Samsung Galaxy S4 got a refresh with a Snapdragon 800 chipset and LTE-Advance connectivity that is variously known as the Galaxy S4 LTE-A or S4 Advance or even just Galaxy S4. You'll recognize it by the model number I9506 (I9505 is the old Snapdragon 600 model). Anyway, the phone packs a 5" 1080p Super AMOLED screen, 13MP/1080p camera, expandable storage and relatively compact design. You can get a Black edition if you're no fan of Samsung's glossy plastic.

The Galaxy S4 LTE-A sits midway between the original S4 and the new Galaxy S5 in terms of price and features, a good option if you can't find a use for some of S5's extra features (the heart rate monitor, fingerprint sensor and 2160p video capture to name a few).


Samsung I9506 Galaxy S4
Pros Cons
  • 5" 1080p Super AMOLED screen
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • Snapdragon 800
  • 13MP/1080p camera
  • Older design and camera compared to the S5

HTC is known for its metal-clad flagships but the plastic HTC One (E8) is cheaper and has a better camera to boot. The 4MP UltraPixel camera was barely okay last year and way behind in 2014. The Duo camera didn't make up for lack of resolution so it was good to see HTC drop it in favor of a 13MP/1080p shooter (we would have liked it even better if it shot 2160p video).

If you're going to put a case on the phone it doesn't matter too much if it's metal or plastic and other than the body, the One (E8) has all the good stuff about the (M8) - a a 5" 1080p IPS screen, Snapdragon 801 chipset, front-facing BoomSound speakers, beautiful Sense UI and expandable storage. There's a dual-SIM version of the One (E8) if you need it.


HTC One (E8)
Pros Cons
  • 5" 1080p IPS screen
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • Snapdragon 801
  • 13MP/1080p camera
  • Front stereo speakers
  • Optional dual-SIM
  • No 2160p video capture
Review

€400-€500

Only flagships are left here and they may not stay long - the new Galaxy Note is said to be announced next week - a fact that is bound to drop the price of the old one, probably the Galaxy S5 price tag too. Same goes for the Sony Xperia Z2.

As for the Lumia 930, it's facing actual competition in the Windows phone market for the first time in a while so we'd keep an eye on its price, too. The competition comes from the HTC One (M8) for Windows, which is exclusive to Verizon in the US for now. If HTC expands availability it would find a place in the next buyer's guide.

Anyway, the Nokia Lumia 930 is the successor the Lumia 1020 has been waiting for. It has a relatively big camera sensor with 20MP resolution and is optically stabilized unlike the competing Xperia Z phones. It can't record 2160p video but the sound quality of its videos is second to none.

The camera has proper manual controls and can do "lossless digital zoom," provided you shoot at 5MP resolution (often good enough, 20MP can be overkill). It's easily one of the top cameraphones on the market right now.

The Lumia 930 has a 5" 1080p AMOLED screen with great sunlight legibility thanks to the proprietary ClearBlack tech. The usual Nokia software advantages like a free SatNav app are in place too.

Unlike the other Windows phone handsets we've encountered so far, this one is powered by Snapdragon 800, on par with the Android flagships.


Nokia Lumia 930
Pros Cons
  • 5" 1080p AMOLED screen, ClearBlack
  • Windows phone 8.1
  • Snapdragon 800
  • 20MP/1080p camera with OIS, great audio capture
  • Free voice-guided navigation
  • Non-expandable storage
  • No 2160p video capture
  • Easily heats up unpleasantly in prolonged use
Review

The Nokia Lumia 1520 has the same chipset and camera as the Lumia 930 but is actually a bit cheaper. It offers a larger screen too, a full inch more, if that's an advantage of you.

It has a 6" 1080p IPS screen with ClearBlack tech, a 20MP/1080p camera with optical stabilization and lossless digital zoom, Snapdragon 800, the works. It even has a microSD card slot, so storage isn't an issue even if you need more than 32GB. And the battery is predictably beefier, 3,400mAh.


Nokia Lumia 1520
Pros Cons
  • 6" 1080p IPS screen
  • Windows phone 8.1
  • Snapdragon 800
  • 20MP/1080p camera with OIS, great audio capture
  • Free voice-guided navigation
  • No 2160p video capture
  • Larger than most phones
Review

You may be surprised to find that the LG G3 just manages to slip into the sub-€400 category. This is for the 16GB version, of course, and storage isn't a problem - the G3 has a microSD card slot. Bear in mind that the 16GB model has 2GB of RAM, while the 32GB model has 3GB. Not that our benchmarks found much difference but in the long run as apps get heavier it might matter.

You get a relatively small device for its whopping 5.5" screen (not much bigger than an Xperia Z1, for example). The screen has QHD resolution, that's 1,440 x 2,560, or halfway between a FullHD TV and a 4K UHD TV.

The LG G3 brings an improved optical stabilization for the camera, 2160p video capture mode and a highly advanced focusing system that works great in the dark. The 3,000mAh battery is user-replaceable to boot, unlike the G2 battery.


LG G3
Pros Cons
  • 5.5" 1440p IPS screen
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • Snapdragon 801
  • 13MP/2160p camera with OIS and laser focus
  • Compact for its screen size
  • Big for a smartphone
  • Chipset easily overheats, reducing its performance in longer use
  • Screen contrast is not the best
Review

The Sony Xperia Z2 is about the same size as the chunky Xperia Z1 though it makes up for it with more real estate - it's a 5.2" 1080p screen. It's an IPS screen, too, finally improving the viewing angles that were a common issue of its predecessors.

It also upgrades the chipset to Snapdragon 801, adds a gig of RAM and enables 2160p video capture. The upgrades aren't earth-shattering but the Xperia Z3 is rumored to bring even less. We'd still wait until it's official though, if nothing else for the price drop.


Sony Xperia Z2
Pros Cons
  • 5.2" 1080p IPS screen
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • Snapdragon 801
  • 20.7MP/2160p camera
  • IP58-certified
  • Stereo speakers
  • Large for its screen size
Review

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is about to be replaced too but again this just means its price may drop soon, it's an excellent device otherwise.

The 5.7" Super AMOLED screen with 1080p resolution is beautiful and the S Pen stylus will have you jotting down more notes than you would on any other phone. The software is rich in proprietary features, including a Personal/Work switch, which is about to become standard for all Androids with the L release.

The Galaxy Note 3 has a 13MP camera that shoots 2160p video. In 1080p videos it can do lossless digital zoom similar to the Nokia. In terms of processing power, the phablet comes either with a Snapdragon 800 or an Exynos 5 Octa, both versions with 3GB RAM.


Samsung Galaxy Note 3
Pros Cons
  • 5.7" 1080p Super AMOLED
  • S Pen stylus
  • Android 4.4 KitKat with KNOX
  • Snapdragon 800 - OR - Exynos 5 Octa
  • 13MP/2160p camera
  • Mono speaker
Review

The Samsung Galaxy S5 builds on the highly successful Galaxy S4 with a new screen - 5.1" 1080p Super AMOLED with more accurate colors and reduced power usage. The phone is based on a Snapdragon 801 chipset.

It's IP67-certified so it can go in the water (though not as deep as the Xperia Z1), it has a heart rate monitor for exercise buffs, plus a fingerprint sensor for Private mode with separate secured storage and secured PayPal transactions.

Samsung used a 16MP sensor of its own design - it has a 16:9 aspect ratio so no cropping is necessary when showing photos on a widescreen TV.


Samsung Galaxy S5
Pros Cons
  • 5.1" 1080p Super AMOLED
  • Android 4.4 KitKat with KNOX, Private mode
  • Snapdragon 801
  • 16MP/2160p camera
  • IP67 certified
  • Fingerprint sensor
  • Heart rate monitor
  • Mono speaker
Review

Conclusion

If you've read through the pages and wonder why we missed the iPhone, the answer is simple - the new one drops on September 9 and now is the worst time to buy an iPhone 5s. Wait a couple of weeks as the iPhone 6 is set to be a major upgrade and even if you don't fancy getting one, its introduction will surely drop the price of the current models. As for the iPhone 5c, well, we always thought it was overpriced, especially so outside the US.



As for the other two major platforms, predictably it's Android that powers the bulk of the phones but Windows phone has a few good offerings too. It all falls on Nokia as other companies have neglected WP development for a while and the Microsoft-owned maker is badly lacking in mid-range phones (both of which may be changed with Microsoft dropping the licensing fees). IFA may even bring new announcements in this direction but for now it's either entry-level or pricy flagship if you want a Windows phone handset.

BlackBerrys are missing from the recommendations as they are not priced competitively enough against Android and WP to compensate for their relative lack of apps.

"Android" is often used as a common category but the reality is quite different - there are so many manufacturers, each putting their own spin on the platform. Less popular brands are especially strong under €200 and often offer more bang for the buck than similarly priced Samsung/LG/Sony phones.

The big makers have embraced the cheaper segments too and offer a mixture of older devices and ones specifically targeting that price range. Unless you're a tech geek or view the phone as a status symbol rather than a tool, a sub-€200 will probably serve you just fine.

Even the expensive devices aren't actually all that expensive any more - for the first time since we started these buyer's guides there is no €500+ chapter. The iPhones fall there but as we already discussed, now is not the time for them.

The Androids and Windows Phones all slot under the €500 mark, the LG G3 even drops into a category below that. You can bet these devices will be even cheaper come Christmas but you don't have to wait that long either, prices are more than reasonable right now.

You may want to wait for certain devices though, it's not only the iPhone that's getting replaced in September. A new Galaxy Note and Xperia Z3/Z3 Compact are in the cards, mid-range Nokias as well. You wouldn't want to find out that the new phone has just the feature you wanted or that the old one suddenly dropped in price, right after you bought it.

Under €100

If your spending budget is less than €100 then paying even €10 for a premium badge is too much so you have to be willing to look at brands that don't get much exposure in TV ads. That said we tried to strike a balance between bang for the buck and recognizable brand names.

It's not all badge worship, phones of popular brands are easier to find in stores, have a bigger community around them (should you ever have questions) and are generally more likely to get a software update. So maybe that tenner will be worth it.

This category has some very capable devices but if all you need is to get your foot in the door something like the LG Optimus L4 II will run you less than €50 and it's a smartphone. It has a reasonably big 3.8" HVGA (320 x 480) screen and is powered by a single Cortex-A9 core. It won't set any speed records and the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean is getting old but virtually all apps support it.

It has 4GB of built-in storage, just enough for apps, and a microSD card slot to take care of the rest. A 3.15MP camera with 480p video capture should do fine for Snapchat or Vine. The 1,700mAh battery is surprisingly big for this class.

There's a dual-SIM version of the Optimus L4 II for some extra cash.


LG Optimus L4 II
Pros Cons
  • 3.8" HVGA screen
  • Android 4.1 Jelly Bean
  • Optional dual-SIM
  • 3MP/480p camera
  • Low on CPU power
  • Relatively old Android

If you're willing to spend some extra cash, the Huawei Ascend Y330 doubles the screen pixels and the CPU cores. It has a 4" FWVGA screen (that's 480 x 854px) and is powered by a dual-core 1.3GHz processor. It runs Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, not much younger than the L4 II's OS.


Huawei Ascend Y330
Pros Cons
  • 4" FWVGA screen
  • Android 4.2 Jelly Bean
  • Dual-core processor
  • 3MP/480p camera
  • Relatively old Android

The Nokia Lumia 520 is dirt cheap in the US (Microsoft is practically giving it away) but it's quite affordable in Europe and the rest of the world, too. It has a 4" WVGA screen but it's an IPS for better viewing angles. The dual-core CPU is Krait-based so much faster than the Cortex-A7/A9 offerings and the phone is getting updated to the latest Windows phone version.

It's the cheapest phone that records 720p video and the 5MP still camera is good too. One of the best perks is that it comes with free voice-guided navigation for a single country of your choice.


Nokia Lumia 520
Pros Cons
  • 4" WVGA IPS screen
  • Windows phone 8.1
  • Dual-core Krait processor
  • 5MP/720p camera
  • Voice-guided navigation
Review

Microsoft put out the new Lumia 530 but it's a bit of a downgrade in our opinion. It has a quad-core processor but it's Cortex-A7 based so the speed advantage is questionable. You also lose the IPS screen and the 720p video capture.

Of course, compared to similarly priced Androids it's still very compelling. We'd still go for the 520 over this one but if you need a second SIM slot then you have to pick the Lumia 530. It comes with free voice-guided navigation for all countries supported by Nokia Drive+ making it an excellent travel companion.


Nokia Lumia 530 Dual SIM
Pros Cons
  • 4" FWVGA screen
  • Windows phone 8.1
  • Quad-core Cortex-A7
  • 5MP/480p camera
  • Voice-guided navigation
  • Dual-SIM
  • No 720p video
  • Non-IPS screen

The Sony Xperia E1 dual is Android's answer to the Lumia 530. It has a 4" WVGA screen with scratch resistant glass. While on the positive side it runs a quite current Android 4.4 KitKat OS, it's down on power with just two Cortex-A7 cores. It does have Sony's good looks, a 3.15MP/480p camera and a big 1,750mAh battery going for it.

Note that there's a single-SIM version of the Xperia E1 but the price difference usually isn't much (you can always leave the second slot empty when you don't need it).


Sony Xperia E1 dual
Pros Cons
  • 4" WVGA screen
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • Dual-core Cortex-A7
  • 3MP/480p camera
  • Dual-SIM
  • Down on power compared to the Lumias

The Motorola Moto E boasts a slightly better screen than the Xperia, 4.3" qHD (540 x 960), with Corning Gorilla Glass 3. It has 1GB of RAM to improve multitasking performance on the dual-core Corttex-A7 chipset and a 5MP/ FWVGA 480p camera. It's not the thinnest phone around but the 1,980mAh battery lasts a long while.

While it's running the same Android version as the Xperia right now it's near stock, which improves chances of an upgrade down the line. To be fair, Sony has been very good with upgrades recently too.

The Moto E has a dual-SIM option too but that one is yet to drop under €100.


Motorola Moto E
Pros Cons
  • 4.3" qHD screen
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • Dual-core Cortex-A7
  • 5MP/FWVGA 480p camera
  • Optional dual-SIM
  • Down on power compared to the Lumias
Review

Firefox OS has a mission statement of bringing $25 smartphones but we're not quite there yet. There are a number of sub-$50 devices but those are from local brands. The ZTE Open C is easier to buy and has pretty decent hardware.

A 4" WVGA screen, dual-core Cortex-A7 processor and 3MP camera (with practically nonexistent video recording) aren't exactly what you dreamed of, but you can think of it as a cheap way to try the youngest platform on the market.

Even if you don't buy an Open C, it's good to be aware of the platform as Mozilla is slowly pushing down to its $25 target, which will finally make feature phones obsolete.


ZTE Open C
Pros Cons
  • 4" WVGA screen
  • Firefox OS 1.3
  • Dual-core Cortex-A7
  • 3.14MP/CIF@15fps camera
  • Terrible video capture
Friefox OS review

We round off this category with the Alcatel Idol S. It slinks just under the €100 cut-off point but it gives you the mid-range Android experience.

The hardware is surprisingly good. A slender 7.4mm body that weighs just 110g houses an impressive 4.7" 720p screen (IPS to boot). It has Dragon Trail Glass protection and oleophobic coating (to fight fingerprints).

The Idol S is not only the cheapest phone with a 720p screen we're recommending but its 8MP camera is the first so far to shoot FullHD 1080p video. You can also add LTE to its list of firsts.

Something has to give, of course, and it's the dual-core Cortex-A9 processor and relatively old Android 4.2 Jelly Bean. It does have 1GB of RAM though, all-round excellent for a €100 phone.


Alcatel Idol S
Pros Cons
  • 4.7" 720p IPS screen
  • Android 4.2 Jelly Bean
  • Dual-core Cortex-A9
  • 8MP/1080p camera
  • LTE
  • Thin and light
  • Not quite mid-range performance
  • Relatively old Android
Hands-on