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The best smartphones for $100 or less

Smartphones are among the most expensive consumer electronic devices, and these days their ubiquity is the result of necessity rather than luxury. But with even midrange price tags upward of $500, you’re looking at some serious coin. The good news is that even if you’re in the market for a budget smartphone — say, something $100 or under — you may be surprised at the decent quality of some of the lower-priced options available.

What to look for

While Google’s Android operating system has evolved over the last decade, it’s kind of all over the place in terms of deployment. Some smartphones will get the newest Android 10 version, while other handsets sit forever with any number of previous versions. Some handsets will run various stripped-down versions of Android — Android One or Android Go, for example — designed for lower-powered, less-expensive phones. Consider what you need from your phone and whether the OS it’s running can accommodate it. Some budget phones run updated versions of the OS, such as Pie (9) or Oreo (8). Nougat (7) and Marshmallow (6) phones are also still fairly prevalent.

Aside from the operating system, the processor, camera, battery, RAM, and storage are critical considerations in how well a cheaper smartphone can serve your needs. Since people tend to leave their cameras at home and use their smartphone still camera or video app, the quality of the shooter is significant. Some cheaper phones offer dual SIM capabilities, which could help to consolidate multiple older phones into a single newer one. Battery life is another factor to consider — and even though many manufacturers boast all-day battery life, it’s often far from reality.

Another thing to watch out for is age. Cheaper smartphones may also be older models, several generations old. Be sure to double-check the initial release year and also which Android operating system it can run. Some older smartphones can run updated operating systems, which contribute to better overall performance.

We surveyed the landscape of $100 or lower smartphones and found a few that are worth a look.

Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

The Galaxy J2 Core is an Android Go phone, featuring the operating system’s lightweight variation of Android 8 Oreo to deliver excellent performance in an otherwise chunky, bezeled design. With the phone’s Smart Manager, you can directly install applications or move excess content to a memory card. The 5-inch display, with a 540 x 960 (qHD) resolution, provides a fairly low-resolution viewing experience, but the 8-megapixel flash rear camera and the 5-megapixel front camera facilitate crisp selfies and more detail in your shots. The Galaxy J2 core comes with a soft home button for seamless operation.

Nokia 3.1

There’s nothing about the Nokia 3.1 that obviously screams cheap. The handset is a compact device that maximizes screen space with its 18:9 radio aspect that lets you get the best out of your 5.2-inch HD display. It has a premium design with diamond-cut aluminum sides and a sculpted 1440 x 720 HD+ Gorilla glass display. It features a 1. 25 GHz Octa-Core chip with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. The 13-megapixel rear camera with auto-focus, automatic scene detection, and LED flash allows you to capture photos while the 8-megapixel front camera is perfect for group selfies with an 85.6-degree field of view. The built-in Android One OS ensures secure and up-to-date, nearly stock Android.  

Motorola Moto E5

This smartphone may be bare-bones, but for under $100 it gets the job done. It features a Snapdragon 425 chip and 2GB of RAM encased in a 5.7-inch 720 x 1440 pixel display with an 18:9 aspect ratio. It accommodates a MicroSD card up to 128GB, and runs on Android 8 (Oreo). With an 8-megapixel, f/2.0 camera on the back and a 5-megapixel shooter up front, photographic capabilities are serviceable. The phone is unlocked to work with all GSM carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile, but not CDMA carriers like Verizon or Sprint.

Blu Vivo X5

The Vivo X5 is a worthy competitor for an unlocked mobile phone in this price range. The device sports a 5.7-inch HD+ curved glass display running Android 9.0 Pie. It promises daylong battery life on a 2,800mAh Lithium-ion battery, supported by an octa-core chipset. It also features 3GB of RAM, 64GB storage, and MicroSD capacity up to 64GB. A 13-megapixel rear camera, coupled with an 8-megapixel front-facing camera and fingerprint sensor, offers a moderate photo experience. It also includes an accelerometer, gravity sensor, proximity sensor, and light sensor. It supports 4G LTE and 3G and is compatible with GSM Networks including AT&T, T-Mobile, Cricket, and Metro PCS, but not Verizon, Sprint, and Boost Mobile.

Motorola Moto E5 Play

The Moto E5 Play delivers on all the basics you would expect from a smartphone. It may not be fancy, but it serves most requirements with features like a quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of expandable storage. The E5 Play has a lightweight black plastic construction and a removable back cover, and it feels solid in the hand with a non-immersible water-repellent coating. It has a 5.2-inch, 1280 x 720 IPS panel that works out to 282 pixels per inch (ppi). The phone’s 8-megapixel rear camera is just so-so. The E5 Play runs Android 8 Oreo with few changes to the stock interface. The only extra functionality you get is Moto Display, which can show time, date, and notifications while the screen is off.

Ulefone Note 7

The Ulefone Note 7 is a competitive smartphone at a reasonable price that sports a 6.1-inch display and a 19.2:9 full screen with a teardrop notch, three rear cameras, and a 3,500mAh battery. It runs on Android 9 and supports expandable storage. The 8-megapixel main camera has two sub cameras and a rear flash to enhance the quality and clarity of photos. Its 3,500mAh battery is designed to conserve battery life after 15 minutes when the screen is locked. The Note 7 has three card slots for nano SIM, micro SIM, and TF cards. The phone promises excellent performance with an updated Android 9 Pie OS alongside 1GB RAM and 16GB ROM storage. It’s compatible with GSM carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile, but not CDMA carriers like Sprint and Verizon.


Sennheiser GSP 670 headset review: premium price, subpar performance

The search for a new headset can really get frustrating. Sure, there are a million options on Amazon for under $50, but when you want something premium, where do you start? If you’re looking for the best possible audio quality, you start with the Sennheiser GSP 670 and hope you can find it on sale because these things don’t come cheap.The GSP 670 is a premium headset with sound quality and a price tag to match. Launching at $350, you’re paying for the Sennheiser name and quality. We’ve tested multiple Sennheiser headsets throughout the years and have almost always come away impressed. That’s the same story here.The first thing you may notice about this headset is just how big it is. It looks big before you pick it up and it feels big once you put it on. Coming in at just shy of 400g, it has the weight to make those extremely long gaming sessions taxing, but luckily Sennheiser included one of the best headbands I’ve seen in a headset yet. It’s big and comfortable without looking too ridiculous.The earcups are equally nice with large plus fabric cups that will keep your ears away from the driver covers. If you prefer leatherette cups you’ll want to find another option, but I did find these to be one of the most comfortable headsets to just sit and listen to music on. The clamping force is just right (although uneven; more on that later) and the earcups provide a wonderful seal to keep the noise of the world away from your ears.One the outside of the headset, there’s a small tactile wheel to adjust chat volume if you’re using a gaming console, a large volume knob, and a multifunction button that will provide audio prompts for battery level and put you into pairing mode when you hold it down. The only thing we’re missing here is a physical switch to move between Bluetooth and 2.4ghz connection standards, and we’ll tell you why that matters in a bit.The microphone is on the left side of the headset and provides a nice tactile click when you flip it all the way up. This is how you mute your microphone and comes in handy when you need to have a quick conversation and get back to whatever you were doing before.I wish I could report that the microphone provided better audio quality but I was pretty disappointed. It’s been a struggle to find a wireless headset that really gives great performance in this area (I’m guessing there’s a bandwidth issue) and the Sennheisers fall disappointingly short. I think they sound much the same as every other headset released in the last decade, which isn’t saying a lot.Both Bluetooth and 2.4ghz connection standards are here. Plugging the USB dongle into my computer, the headset paired almost instantly and opened up a world of opportunity to tune through the Sennheiser app. There are options to tune your EQ, how the microphone sounds, and even provide a noise gate in case you have a noisy background. I didn’t find much difference in how the microphone sounded using these options so hopefully, they continue to be tuned in future updates.The sound that comes through these headphones is a completely different story. This has been one of the best audio experiences I’ve had in my time reviewing tech. I’d put it up there with the Sony WH-1000xm3 in terms of enjoyment. Where Sony offers amazing noise cancelation, the Sennheiser GSP 670 takes the crown in terms of audio quality.I found music pleasingly bass-y without feeling like I’m slogging through the mud just to listen. Mids are very clear while highs are crisp without being piercing.I just wish I enjoyed wearing these more. I can’t overstate how heavy these things are. At just under 400g, they’re one of the heavier headsets I’ve tested and it can be exhausting during long sessions. With 16 hours of battery life, those sessions can last all night, but you’ll need breaks.Additionally, I don’t like wearing these because of how the cups sit on my head. While the cups themselves are large enough that my ear doesn’t touch anything, the clamping is uneven and annoying. You can use the sliders in the headband to adjust your clamp, but I always end up with more pressure on the bottom of the cups than at the top.Frankly, these don’t look great and certainly don’t look like something I’d pay over $300 for. They’re big and bulky with muted colors and an … aggressive? design. I’m not entirely sure what to call this design language but there are definitely better-looking options on the market. This won’t matter to some, but for those who do care, it’s a bit of a killer and makes the cost harder to justify.ConclusionThere are always trade-offs when you’re using a wireless headset. Sennheiser smartly did not skimp on the audio quality and if you’re looking for a wireless headset that sounds great, this is definitely where you want to start. I put it at the top of the list in that respect.But, where it falls apart is pretty much everywhere else. Tradeoffs become pretty obvious when you use these for more than a few hours.Yep, they’re built solidly and the plastic design means they’ll hold up to some abuse. But, these look cheaper than competing options like the Astro A50s and Arctis Pro Wireless. Plus, as I’ve said a few times, they’re heavy.It’s awesome that they have both 2.4ghz and Bluetooth standards. But there’s no way to manually switch between them and the second that your computer plays audio via the USB dongle, the Bluetooth cuts out completely. If you’re using these to take a phone call or listen to music on your phone and you accidentally click on a YouTube link on your computer, say goodbye to your audio. This would be an easy fix with a manual switch and we hope to see that in a future revision.Best over-ear headphones (spring 2020)I can’t state enough how crappy the audio from the mic is. Maybe I’m spoiled by streamers who invest hundreds and hundreds of dollars into their audio equipment, but this sounds like every headset I’ve heard the last decade of gaming and that’s pretty disappointing.If your voice quality matters to you at all, I’d suggest getting a standalone mic. But you have to ask yourself if you’re grabbing something like a Blue Yeti, is there a justification for the GSP 670 when you can buy a wireless headset for far cheaper?I know it probably looks like I hate the Sennheiser GSP 670 but I don’t. In true dad fashion, I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed. While they’re best in class in terms of audio quality, the things they miss on are a killer and make them harder to recommend over other competitors.After a bit of searching, I’ve found the Sennheiser GSP 670 around $300 and sometimes cheaper on sale. I think if you can find these cheaper than that, go for it. Your ears will thank you. At full price, they’re a tough sell.Buy the Sennheiser GSP 670 at Amazon

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