Please Do Not Buy Cheap Android Phones

Listen, I understand the pain that comes with not being able to afford nice things. I really do. But for the love of everything mighty, do not waste your money, or stand by as your loved ones waste their money, on cheap Android phones.

Thanks to generous subsidies in the U.S., often only a few dollars separates a cheap Android phone from a top-tier model. With the exception of handsets like the Galaxy Note tabletphone, Droid Razr MAXX and Galaxy Nexus, all of which cost $299, there are a lot of quality Android phones to be had for just $199. Why get something like this lump, the $80 (after rebate) LG Lucid, and live with a bargain phone that will likely be shortly abandoned and destined to live without proper updates. You’re setting yourself up for a bucket of fail.

Here in the U.S., most of our smartphones are relatively affordable. Carriers provide generous upfront discounts, which they recoup over a pricy 2-year voice-and-data contract. Good or bad, this structure gives consumers easy access to top-tier devices — devices such as the Galaxy S II line and the Droid RAZR that are the very best companies can come up with to battle the iPhone. These are the phones you need to buy.

The thing is, these companies don’t just want to beat the iPhone — they want to try and own the smartphone game at multiple levels. To make this happen, they diversify their smartphone lineup like crazy. Consequently, instead of focusing on building one or two amazing models, makers outed many low-end phones that, thanks to a number of factors just don’t run well. Android’s race down market helped market penetration but has left a trail of unsatisfied customers.

Motorola, Samsung and all the rest rely on flagship devices to bring attention to their line. These devices, halo phones if you will, get top-billing by their makers. These devices get updates quicker and they tend to have more 3rd party accessories. Plus, and this is a big one, they often garner more attention by the development community even though they’re often harder to modify thanks to locked bootloaders and general nonsense.

“But they’re more expensive!” Yep, these phones are sometimes double the price of their cheaper siblings. However, we’re talking about $100 to $200 here. That’s not a huge jump. I know this makes me sound like a dick, but, you could always wait until you have the extra cash. After all, thanks to the same subsidy model that brings the price down to an affordable level, you’re going to have to live with this phone for at least two years. Don’t waste your money on a cheap model.

The problem comes when shoppers start comparing specs. Both phones might have a great screen, a 1.2GHz CPU, 512MB of RAM — but one is $100 less! Jackpot! But something had to give to get the price that low and often it’s bloatware, a shoddy hardware design, or smaller battery. Android is a demanding OS and quality software must be used.

There are plenty of quality $100 phones out there. Nokia’s amazing Lumia 900 will be $100 when it comes out next week. The iPhone 4 is only $100 now. Really want an Android phone? Look at the outgoing flagship models like the Galaxy S II models. Samsung threw everything they had into these phones in 2011 and they’re well-loved by the development and accessory community. But remember, this will be your phone for the next two years. Spend a bit more time and money on it than you would your next date. You’re probably going to be with your phone longer.