The 6 biggest warning signs when buying a cheap phone

When it comes to the smartphone market, you’re going to find a huge mix of super budget options, mid-range options, and high-end premium flagship devices. As great as flagships like the iPhone 14 Pro, Pixel 7 Pro, and Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra are, not everyone can afford a phone that starts at around $1,000 and goes up from there.

While there are some decent mid-range smartphones out there, you’ll have to be careful when considering the really budget “cheap” devices. Here are some warning signs you should consider before you get tempted by that smartphone that sounds too good to be true (because it probably is).

Look at the amount of internal storage

The official render of the Motorola Moto G Play 2023.

When shopping for a new smartphone, one of the most important things to consider is the amount of internal storage. These days, the absolute minimum The amount of storage a phone should have should be at least 64GB, and ideally 128GB. I mean, yeah, you could get away with 64GB if you’re very aware of what you’re downloading and do with your phone, but 128 GB is the ideal starting point.

Motorola recently announced its new Moto G Play (2023) phone, which costs just $170. Tempting, right? But it only comes with one storage capacity, which is 32GB. Nowadays, you can literally fill up 32GB in a few days, because most of that space is also taken up by the system. exploitation itself — in this case, it’s Android 12.

Consider the size of apps and games in the Google Play Store, which can range from a few tens of megabytes to a gigabyte or more, depending on the size of the graphics and other elements for said game or app. Then think about the photos and videos you might want to take, or even upload to review. What about downloaded audio or video for entertainment when you can’t get a data connection?

These are all things to consider, and something like the G Play’s 32GB of storage is next to nothing these days. Sure, you can expand the storage on the G Play as it supports microSD cards up to 512GB, but you’ll still get slow performance if that internal storage is full. And since there are so few, there is no doubt that it would happen.

Always take a look at what the cheap phone offers in terms of storage. No one can get by with 32GB these days, which is even less since most operating systems already take up space. Consider spending that money on something with more basic storage instead.

Make sure the charging speed can handle the battery size

moto g play 2023 rear

You’ll always want to make sure to check battery capacity and charging speeds to make sure your phone can, you know, get you through at least an entire day. There are a few more affordable options that give you huge batteries, like the OnePlus Nord N300 5G, which has a massive 5,000mAh battery and up to 33W fast charging for just $230.

But again, the Moto G Play (2023) shows how not to do things. It also comes with a 5,000mAh battery, and at first it seems like a bargain for $170. But unfortunately, unlike the OnePlus Nord N300 5G, the new G Play only has a charging speed of up to 10W – and that’s hardwired! It doesn’t even have wireless charging, which you’d expect for 10W. With a 5000mAh battery, charging it at 10W will take a very long, so don’t expect to get a quick charge in the middle of the day. For phones like this, an overnight charge is the only solution, really. Although Motorola says you’ll get up to three days of battery from a single charge, so an overnight charge every few days isn’t too bad.

But if you want an affordable phone with a big battery that can get you through the day, be sure to double-check the charging speeds as well. No one likes waiting for a full charge in the middle of the day if that happens.

Oh, my eyes! Check display and resolution

OnePlus Nord N300 5G notch
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

If you’re looking for affordable phones, you shouldn’t expect something like an iPhone 14 Pro with a 120Hz ProMotion OLED display with 460 pixels per inch (ppi). But you also need to make sure the resolution is good enough by today’s standards.

The Moto G Play (2023) only has an HD+ display that maxes out at 1600 x 720. That means it has a ppi of around 270. That’s on par with a phone in this price range though, and it has a 90Hz refresh rate – which is actually more than the 60Hz from the iPhone 14.

But still, it’s a device you’ll be staring at for most of the day. I personally noticed a huge difference going from an iPhone 3GS to an iPhone 4 when Apple introduced the Retina display, and there is a big difference going from an HD LCD to OLED. When you have a lower resolution screen, things may look blurrier around the edges and objects may not look as sharp. Overall performance can also be affected, with framerate drops and stuttering, especially in graphics-intensive games.

So while a smartphone is very tempting due to its low price, consider the overall screen appearance and performance of a device you’ll be looking at and using all day. Is it really worth it?

Chips, RAM and Why They Matter

The Apple iPhone SE (2022) held in a man's hand.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Computer chips, in general, are constantly evolving, including those found in smartphones. To make a smartphone super affordable, it’s not uncommon for them to use an older chip, maybe one from a year or two ago.

Although the average person might not think about the chip in their smartphone, it is important to check. This is because you should have a smartphone that can last at least two years, which is the typical upgrade cycle.

For example, take another look at the Moto G Play (2023). The phone will be launched on January 12, 2023. However, it uses a MediaTek Helio G37 chip, originally launched in late 2020. So, in 2023, this phone is already using an entry-level chip that is over two years old. At this point, even entry-level smartphone chips would have improved in two years, so why waste money on old, outdated chips?

RAM is also an important factor that affects the performance of a phone. Most budget Android devices have at least 4GB of RAM at this price, which is fine. But the G Play and other budget phones only have 3GB of RAM, so they don’t even hit that bare minimum of 4GB. Again, the money may be better spent on something a bit better.

The importance of software updates

Android 13 logo on the Pixel 7 Pro.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

Motorola is shipping the G Play (2023) with Android 12, and it will only receive one software update for the current Android 13. After that, no more software updates besides security updates.

In case you missed it, Android 13 is the current Android operating system, which is currently available on Google Pixel devices, like Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro. Most Android phones will usually get at least two years of software updates, but budget phones can get even less. This is another important factor to consider – do you really want to spend the money on a phone that will become obsolete in a year, or is it better to spend something that will benefit from two, three or four years of upgrades major software updates?

And long-term updates aren’t limited to expensive flagships these days. The Galaxy A53 5G can be had for around $449 or $349 and is guaranteed for four years of Android updates. If you plan on using your phone for over a year, this isn’t something you want to overlook.

Don’t be fooled by multiple camera sensors

Close-up of the OnePlus Nord N300 5G camera
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

You may see multiple cameras on a cheap Android phone, but make no mistake, they’re not always what they seem. For example, on an iPhone 14 Pro, you have a triple-lens camera system with primary, ultra-wide, and telephoto camera lenses. You may have learned to think that every phone with multiple cameras on the back has primary and ultra-wide sensors, which have become the norm. But that’s not quite the case.

I thought the OnePlus Nord N300 5G had a dual camera system, but that’s not the case at all. Once I got my hands on it, the second “camera” happened to be a 2 MP depth sensor, which honestly didn’t even help the photos much. The Moto G Play (2023) may appear to have a triple camera system, but it’s actually just a single 16MP camera with a 2MP depth sensor and a 2MP macro sensor.

You might think that’s no big deal — as long as the phone can take good photos, right? Well, yes, but I wasn’t even impressed with how the OnePlus Nord N300 5G fared when it came to photos. The images looked a bit too artificial in terms of color, so it was different from what you would see in real life, or it was terribly washed out.

If you care about photo quality, don’t be fooled by those cheap phones and what looks like multiple camera systems.

Why spend money on junk when you can invest it in something better?

The Google Pixel 6 posed on top of the Google Pixel 6.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

I know – the price can be tempting when you can get a smartphone for less than $200 or $300. But sometimes there are too many flaws on the phone, and it ends up being something you might regret. Seriously, if you’re considering picking up a phone because it’s cheap, make sure the specs are at least good by today’s standards. Otherwise, you can take that money and put it into something you’ll really enjoy using.

Yes, I know – what if you just bought a cheap phone as an emergency backup? It might work, but if it’s really an emergency backup phone for calls and texts, you can really consider getting a non-smartphone for even less.

Just because you can get a super cheap Android phone, even as a backup, doesn’t mean you should always.

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