There are dollars to be saved by opting for a cheaper Android phone, and you don’t have to lose a lot of the core functional smartness, either.

There’s no need to re-mortgage the home to buy your kids the shiniest new iPhone or priciest high-end Galaxy smartphone. The reality is a first smartphone purchase for the younglings can be a lot like their first car: a form-follows-function device that isn’t a bomb but gets the job done.

There are big bucks to be saved by opting for a more affordable smartphone, where “affordable” means buying into the Android ecosystem. Just because the makes and/or models aren’t necessarily household names, doesn’t mean they don’t have the essential features that really matter.

Smart trumps phone

So what exactly are essential features for a smartphone? The whole ‘smart’ bit is infinitely more important than the ‘phone’ part these days. While phone functionality is standard across all mobile phones, the smarter functions use data. Data-powered process and applications mean that messages can be sent/received and calls can be made without even needing to connect to a mobile network.

The right smarts

Connectivity is of utmost importance for a smartphone. Yes, this includes a cellular network – with all of our options recommended below operating on the fit-for-smarts 4G network – but also extended connectivity staples like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and GPS.

Bluetooth is great for connecting to other gadgets like compatible headphones. Wi-Fi is a great way to manage the precious data cap of a SIM-only or prepaid mobile phone plan. GPS is super handy for tracking a lost phone or helping your kids get from A to B. You can safely assume that all of our recommendations below include these connectivity essentials.

Candid cameras

Higher-end smartphones are sold on the merit of their cameras, but the cheaper end of town ain’t no slouch in that department, either. Front and rear-facing cameras are standard and let your kids make video calls to family or friends, or record static pics or video for a budding Instagram channel. More expensive smartphones tend to include better-quality cameras or even multiple cameras on the back for different conditions.

Important innards

What’s beneath the hood matters. Generally speaking, the larger the number, the better the smartphone is for it. This applies to memory (or ‘RAM’), internal storage (in gigabytes, or ‘GB’), battery capacity (measured in mAh), as well as the cameras (in megapixels, or ‘MP’). Processors (or ‘CPU’), the brain of smart gadgets, are a little more confusing thanks to a variety of different names. While bigger numbers are better, expect those larger numbers to also attract a higher price tag.

The black mirror

The final essential component of a smartphone is the screen. It’s not just the size that matters here (measured diagonally in inches), but also the resolution. This is where the weasel-word acronyms fly thick and fast again. Eye off a phone with an ‘HD+’ screen, for instance, and that’s ‘high-definition plus’, which translates to a resolution of… well, it varies per phone.

What’s important is the very-much-seen screen resolution follows the same logic as the unseen gadgetry guts: the bigger the number, the better the result. The higher the screen resolution, the easier it is to look at for long stretches. The larger the screen, the easier it is to watch videos on and read text – be it on a website, in messages, or on an ebook – which boosts its potential for both procrastination and productivity. Win-win!

SIX OF THE BEST

With quite literally scores of viable options for budget-friendly Android smartphones, let’s take a closer look at half a dozen great choices.

 

Oppo AX5s (black or red)
Oppo AX5s (black or red)

The AX5s starts with a generous 6.2-inch HD+ screen. There’s 64GB of internal memory to store plenty of apps, photos and video, with the option to expand that storage by up to 256GB with a compatible MicroSD card. Despite the budget price, the camera functionality is still decent with an 8MP front-facing camera and a dual 13MP/2MP rear camera to boot.

Samsung Galaxy A20 (blue or red)

Samsung Galaxy A20 (blue or red)
The Galaxy A20 is a reliable brand and line without the cost. In terms of the screen, you’re looking at a 6.4-inch HD+ display, with dual rear 13MP/5MP cameras and an 8MP front-facing camera. Dubbed the “Selfie Camera”, your kids will appreciate the smart selfie functionality for their social media poison of choice. Internal storage is only 32GB but can be expanded to 512GB with a compatible MicroSD card.

Huawei Y9 Prime (blue or black)

Huawei Y9 Prime (blue or black)
For a few dollars more, the Huawei Y9 Prime combos a bigger 6.59-inch screen with a higher-resolution (1080×2340 pixels) display. Storage won’t be a problem, with a generous 128GB of inbuilt space, and the option to up that by up to 1TB (which a phone really doesn’t need). The 16MP front camera makes for easy selfies, while the triple-camera 16/8/2MP rear combo makes for clear pics with a wide-angle option and better depth of field. Translation: a powerful photography tool inside a smartphone.

Vivo S1 (purple or blue)

Vivo S1 (purple or blue)
At the heart of the Vivo S1 is a 6.38-inch screen and an eye-candified 1080×2340 display resolution. A 32MP front camera is great for the selfie-loving student, while the triple-camera 16/8/2MP rear options produce great results. It’s got impressive grunty innards, too, care of 128GB of storage, and 6GB of RAM for more responsive multitasking between several apps. The 4500mAh battery keeps your kid connected for longer between charges, too.

Xiaomi Redmi Note 8 Pro (grey or white)

Xiaomi Redmi Note 8 Pro (grey or white)
The Xiaomi Redmi Note 8 Pro matches what the aforementioned Vivo S1 offers: 128GB of internal storage, 6GB of RAM, 4500mAh battery and the same 1080×2340-resolution display. The differences start with the larger 6.53-inch screen real estate and continue with the cameras. There’s a 20MP front-facing camera for fantastic clarity, and the quad-camera 64/8/2/2MP rear configuration makes for great snaps and also facilitates 4K video recording.

Oppo Reno Z (purple or black)

Oppo Reno Z (purple or black)
The Oppo Reno Z requires the biggest budget of the six options herein, but offers performance closer to high-end territory. Multitasking pupils will love the support of 8GB of RAM and the 128GB of storage. They’ll want that storage to complement the pictures and video from the 32MP front camera and the dual-camera 48/5MP rear camera. The rear cameras are built for shooting at night and in 4K. Good thing the results will look the part on the 6.4-inch 1080×2340 OLED display (it’s very, very pretty).

Just in case

It’s absolutely worth investing in a compatible case to protect your kid’s new smartphone from bumps and drops. Similarly, screen protectors also help preserve the all-important touchscreen and avoid cracked moments of seven years of bad luck (or parental wrath).