The art of settling: Finding a cheap smartphone that suits your needs

choosing the best mobile phone for your budget

While we're all guilty of gunning for the latest and greatest iPhone or Samsung, there are plenty of cheaper options to get you by.

There comes a time in every young adult's life when it's time to leave the roost and sign up to your own mobile plan. When this time comes, the urge to rock the freshest smartphone on the market is strong. However it's not always the most economical choice if you're fresh out of school or starting a uni degree, and even less so if you're looking to sign up to a contract.

While Samsung and Apple's premium lines of phones are undoubtedly popular thanks to a certain kind of superficial status that comes packed in, there are other cheaper handsets that do everything you need from a top-tier smartphone.

When it comes to making an educated purchase of a smartphone that ticks all the boxes, there's an overwhelming number of options on the market. However, it generally boils down to one of three choices: a cheap prepaid phone, a good mid-range phone with some premium features, or last year's popular handsets. Let's break down which phones are available at each tier and how much you can expect to fork out for them.

Less than $200: The burner

When it comes to cheap phones under $200, the general rule is you get what you pay for. Fortunately, what you pay for is Internet access for all your social media needs, a below-average camera and something to make and receive calls and texts. While a cheap prepaid phone might struggle to play more graphically intensive games and their internal memory might hold a handful of offensively bad photos, they'll still get you out of trouble on a budget.

Our pick: Samsung Galaxy J2

sj2-review

QUICK SPECS – Screen size: 4.7in | Storage: 8GB | Weight: 129g | Processor: Exynos 3475 Quad | Rear cam: 5MP | Front cam: 2MP | Battery: 2,000mAh | Screen res: 960x540 | Display density: 234ppi

What the Samsung Galaxy J2 lacks in power, it makes up for with a surprisingly long-lasting battery. While its 2,000mAh battery capacity is nothing to write home about, the J2's clean, uncluttered UI and subpar processor allow you to squeeze more hours of battery out given you're using the phone's most basic functions.

When we reviewed the J2 back in 2016, its battery lasted a solid 10 hours and 5 minutes when we ran it through Geekbench's battery test. That's up there with the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge.

The J2 also sports a pretty vivid display for such a cheap phone, a refreshing change from your average prepaid handset which makes you feel like you're living in Pleasantville.

The J2 is currently $179 from JB Hi-Fi.

More phones under $200

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$200 to $500: Power mid-ranger

Now that we're creeping into mid-range territory we begin to see some standup handsets at a decent price. Often smartphones that fall in the mid-range price bracket match and sometimes exceed what was cutting edge the year prior, with a few omissions here and there to keep the price down. Regardless, it's easy to pick a handset that is, by any measure, a quality smartphone for roughly half the price you would pay for the current lineup of premium handsets.

Our pick: Sony Xperia XA

sony-xperia-xa-review-2QUICK SPECS – Screen size: 5.0in | Storage: 16GB | Weight: 137.4g | Processor: Mediatek MT6755 Helio P10 | Rear cam: 13MP | Front cam: 8MP | Battery: 2,300mAh | Screen res: 1280x720 | Display density: 294ppi

The Sony Xperia XA is the more economical option to come out of 2016's Xperia X range. When we reviewed it back in August 2016, we remarked on its compact form, camera features and image quality. Despite a small dip in battery endurance (due to the phone's compact design and smaller battery), the XA's slim frame helps it fit comfortably in the hand.

While the XA may have launched a little pricey for what it offers ($499) it's since dropped in price considerably.

More mid-range options

$500 and above: Last year's premium

Once we move past the mid-range and start to creep towards unaffordable, the best option can often be last year's premium handset. This is rarely true for Apple (which don't typically budge on price too soon) but big Android brands like Samsung, Sony and HTC quite often slash the prices of their last flagship phone when the next big thing is released.

Our pick: Samsung Galaxy S7

Samsung Galaxy S7QUICK SPECS – Screen size: 5.1in | Storage: 32/64GB | Weight: 152g | Processor: Octa or Quad Core | Rear cam: 12MP | Front cam: 5MP | Battery: 3,000mAh | Screen res: 2560x1440 | Display density: 577ppi

Despite launching early in the year (March 2016), Samsung's flagship phone managed to stand its ground as finder.com.au's best smartphone throughout 2016. What makes the Samsung Galaxy S7 so appealing to the eye is its slightly rounded rear and its full-metal body. What really impresses is its unbeatable performance, top-shelf camera and outstanding battery life.

When we first reviewed the Galaxy S7, we praised all of this plus the S7's waterproof body, game launcher and always-on screen lock, and all that still holds up today.

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