Are there any good Android phones for around £100 out of contract? My three-year-old iPhone 4 was wonderful but it has become a liability. Typing has always been a problem and, as the new iPhone will not have a better typing system, I’ve had enough. I tried a Lumia and found it excellent except for the terrible media player. The primary use for my phone is as a Walkman, so I think an Android must be it. I’m now out of contract, and happier that way.
A lot of tech websites will tell you the top four or five Android phones every month, and they usually cost £400 to £600, which is the price of a decent laptop. Not many sites cover all the cheap Android phones, partly because there are too many of them. Sometimes one breaks through and becomes famous, like the Orange San Francisco (a rebadged ZTE phone), but I haven’t noticed one of those around at the moment.
Smartphones in the core £150 to £250 price range usually have lower specifications than the top models, and may simply be older phones from the leading brands. However, you can save money by dropping from a top-tier brand such as Samsung, Nokia, HTC or Sony to one of the Chinese contenders – usually either ZTE or Huawei. As you are used to an Apple iPhone 4, you may find these somewhat unpolished in comparison. Still, the Huawei Ascend P1 looks good value at Expansys, which is currently selling it discounted from £249.99 to £174.99.
Going below £150 involves significant compromises in processor power, memory and screen resolution. Also, you may find cheaper phones are still running old versions of Android (2.x) rather than more recent (4.x) ones.
The best cheap Android phones include the Sony Xperia E (£108.50 at Amazon.co.uk), HTC Desire C (£105.49), and the Samsung S6310 Galaxy Young (£128.70).
All three have half-VGA screens (320 x 480 pixels), and both the Sony Xperia E and Samsung S6310 run Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) on 1GHz Cortex A5 processors. The older HTC Desire C lags in running non-upgradeable Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) on a 600MHz Cortex A5. I reckon the Sony Xperia E is the pick of the bunch, at the price, but these models are really aimed at people upgrading from feature phones, not downgrading from an iPhone 4. You will get a much better phone if you can spend a bit more.
For example, stepping up from the Xperia E to the Xperia U £149.95 would get you a better (but still 3.5in) WVGA screen with a resolution of 480 x 854 pixels, twice the memory, a better processor (dual-core 1GHz Cortex A9), and a better camera (5 megapixels instead of 3MP) with LED flash. The U comes with Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) but you can upgrade it to 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich).
You will lose some resolution compared with the iPhone 4’s 3.5in screen (640 x 960 pixels). However, the Xperia U is about an ounce lighter, and you gain a microUSB v2.0 port with USB On-The-Go, stereo FM radio with RDS, camera image stabilisation, and the chance to use a Swype or other keyboard. (As you know, you will also lose access to the iPhone’s app collection.)
For other differences, check this side-by-side comparison at the excellent GSMArena website.
The deal-breaker with the Sony Xperia U is that you cannot expand the 4GB of memory provided for your documents and media files (there’s another 2GB for apps). This may involve swapping too many files around, depending on your musical tastes. While the Samsung I8160 Galaxy Ace 2 would solve that problem in an otherwise equivalent phone, the £178.12 price is a long way from your desired “around £100”. Of course, you may find it cheaper if you shop around.
If you are feeling lucky, you could take a flyer on a cheap white-box Android smartphone. One of the better known examples is the V1277 or Star V12, which is sometimes referred to as the MTK6577 after its Media Tek processor. A Google search will find lots of YouTube videos, reviews and forum discussions. An Amazon.co.uk search for V1277 found it for £105.99 (MTK6577), though some sellers charge more than £150. I’ve not seen or tried the V1277 myself, but it generally gets good reviews and the specification is excellent for the price.
Alternatively, you could reconsider a Nokia Lumia, which you say you found “excellent”. The Nokia Lumia 520 is better than the three cheap name-brand Android models mentioned above. It has a faster dual-core processor, and a bigger (4in) screen with more than twice the resolution (480 x 800 pixels). Also, its 8GB memory can be expanded with a microSD card up to 64GB in size.
Amazon.co.uk has the Lumia 520 for £129.95, but you should be able to get one for £10-£20 less on the high street.
You don’t like the Lumia’s “terrible media player”, but there are already some third-party alternatives. For example, you could try the free VK Player, Audio Player Free, DAAP Media Player ($1.99) or Ultimate Media Player (beta), amongst others. The old Zune software was good, so Microsoft may well improve the current player, or Nokia may add a better app.
Since your iPhone 4 hardware is giving you problems, you may be in a hurry to buy. If not, Google is expected to release Android 5.0, code-named Key Lime Pie, later this year: rumours suggest October. There will also be a Windows Phone 8 Blue update, following the release of Windows 8.1. According to Microsoft’s Michael Stroh, this will bring back “support for FM radio (we heard you!)”, make it easier to select, download, and pin tunes in Xbox Music, and “improve the accuracy of song info and other metadata – something I know music fans will appreciate”.