A hundred greenbacks is a respectable chunk of change, but when it comes to personal electronics like the ultrapersonal smartphone, $100 (before taxes and fees) is a darn good deal. Since the smartphone operating system remains the same across handsets from the most entry-level to the most premium, what a price hike usually gives you is a step up in features — like LTE or HSPA+ 42 support, a faster processor, and more-premium camera components, for example.
Here are some of today’s top picks.
Apple iPhone 4S (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint), October 14, 2011
With the iPhone 5 now on sale, the iPhone 4S gets an automatic deep discount to $99 on all its postpaid networks. Its 3.5-inch screen may look shrunken next to the 5’s new 4-inch face, but this phone still has the power that made it the blockbuster it was last year: a brilliant screen, terrific camera, and a robust operating system that will support iOS 6 and even more software tricks. Its smaller screen size and absent 4G LTE speeds are the more pertinent drawbacks. Read the full review of the iPhone 4S.
HTC One X (AT&T), May 6, 2012
Sales-savvy shoppers know that there’s nothing like a newer, shinier model to drive down the price of a perfectly good product. AT&T’s $99 HTC One X (originally $199 just a few months ago in May) may not boast the quad-core Tegra 3 processor of the HTC One X+, announced today for AT&T, but it has an excellent camera and screen, a very fast chipset in its own right, Android 4.0 (upgradable to Jelly Bean,) and LTE speeds. For $99, it’s a steal. Read the full HTC One X review.
Motorola Atrix HD (AT&T), July 13, 2012
Like their movie counterparts, smartphone sequels can be hit or miss. Ideally, they should build on the highlights of their predecessors while advancing the story with something new. With a less ambitious feature set and a design that shows few changes, the Motorola Atrix HD for AT&T doesn’t quite follow the perfect sequel script. And while it has a few faults, that’s not to say that it lacks power, speed, and poise. There’s 4G, a bright display, Android 4.0, and a very affordable price tag. Read the full review of the Motorola Atrix HD.
Samsung Galaxy Nexus (Verizon Wireless), December 14, 2011
The first Android smartphone to have Ice Cream Sandwich out of the box, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus stirred the Android pot when it launched late last year. The main camera isn’t great, but the handset has a beautiful screen, fast 4G, and top-notch internal performance. It’s also one of the first phones to get the fast, fluid Android 4.1 Jelly Bean OS, and it costs just $99 with a contract. Read the full review of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.
Pantech Flex (AT&T), September 6, 2012
The $49.99 Pantech Flex has an interesting design and 4G LTE speeds. It’s also Pantech’s most ambitious effort, with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and a dual-boot mode that offers you a simpler version of Android as training wheels in addition to Pantech’s custom ICS interface. Unfortunately, the 8-megapixel camera isn’t up to snuff, but the $50 price is hard to beat for everything else. Read the full Pantech Flex review.
Samsung Galaxy S Blaze 4G (T-Mobile), March 21, 2012
A strong choice for T-Mobile, the Samsung Galaxy S Blaze 4G is a sweet package that contains a 4-inch Super AMOLED screen, a solid 5-megapixel camera, a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, and T-Mobile’s fastest data network. It currently runs on Android 2.3 Gingerbread. Read the full review of the Samsung Galaxy S Blaze 4G.
Pantech Burst (AT&T), January 23, 2012
Two colors — red and titanium — and a horde of features make the 99-cent (originally $50), 4G LTE-ready Burst the cell phone country’s best-value Android phone. It has a beautiful 4-inch Super AMOLED display, a dual-core 1.5GHz processor, a great 5-megapixel camera, and a front-facing camera to boot. Read the full review of the Pantech Burst.
Samsung Exhibit II 4G (T-Mobile), October 26, 2011
A front-facing camera, 4G (HSPA+) speeds, a decent 3-megapixel main camera, and Android 2.3 Gingerbread for only $30? Not bad, T-Mobile! Sure, you can only nail down the price after a $50 mail-in rebate, and the handset may never see an Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich update, but that’s a pretty decent little package for not a lot of dough. Read the full review of the Samsung Exhibit 4G II.