Until very recently, a budget smartphone meant an old, slow, Android-powered handset with a small screen, limited features, and last year’s version of the operating system. But just take a look at the news of the week:
Republic Wireless started selling the Motorola Moto X, a state-of-the-art and widely praised smartphone, for just $299–no contract required. And Republic’s four available service plans top out at $40 per month for unlimited everything (including 4G LTE). A Wi-Fi-only plan can be had for just $5.
Motorola just announced the Moto G, a slightly smaller, slightly slower version of the Moto X. Price tag for the unlocked 16GB model: $179. An extra $20 buys you 32GB.
Google recently unwrapped the Nexus 5, its new flagship phone. Boasting a 5-inch screen and the very latest version of Android (KitKat), it’s available unlocked for $349 (16GB) or $399 (32GB).
These kinds of options are simply unheard of. Sure, you can buy a no-contract iPhone 5S from, say, Virgin Mobile, but it’ll cost you $550 or $650 for the 16GB and 32GB models, respectively. And the same is typically true if you go shopping for a Samsung Galaxy S4, which is available from a few no-contract carriers–usually starting at that same $550.
I’m not saying those are bad deals. Even if you pay more up-front for your hardware, you’ll still save money over the long by going with a no-contract carrier. These guys offer lower (often much lower) rates on service, often as little as $35 monthly. Try getting smartphone service from a big carrier for less than $70.
But to see Google selling an unlocked Nexus 5 for $349, Motorola an unlocked Moto G for $179, and so on, suddenly the budget smartphone is no longer the red-headed stepchild of the marketplace. It’s the forget-you-and-your-pricey-two-year-contract option for anybody and everybody.
Earlier this week I was able to spend some time with the Republic Wireless Moto X. And you know what? It rocks. It’s not a compromise phone, not a tell-yourself-it’s-better-than-it-really-is phone, but a truly wonderful phone that I’m seriously considering buying.
By the way, in case you’re not familiar with the concept of an “unlocked” phone, it means it’s not tied to any one particular carrier (the rare exception being Republic’s version of the Moto X, which can be used only with their service). That gives you the option of shopping around to the growing number of bring-your-own-phone carriers: Boost Mobile, MetroPCS, Solavei, Straight Talk, Ting, T-Mobile, and so on.
That makes it much more likely you’ll be able to find a plan that best suits your needs (and budget), rather than shoehorning yourself into one of the big carriers’ our-way-or-the-highway plans.
For once, the highway is the place to be.