Best entry-level smartphones 2019 – buyer’s guide

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Asia gets all the cool phones, but also all the super-cheap, yet very good, entry-level offerings. What the equivalent of $100 buys you in Redmis, Realmes, or even low-end Samsungs in the East is more than enough to satisfy everyday needs. We’re even seeing handsets in this class that offer beefy chipsets that can even cut it for gaming.


Editors’ choice

  • Very powerful chipset for the price
  • Has a fingerprint sensor
  • 4,230mAh battery
  • 32GB base storage, dedicated microSD slot
  • Has a depth sensor secondary cam
  • On the expensive side
  • Stylish looks for the price, GG5 on the front
  • 5,000mAh battery should be plenty, supports 18W charging (but 10W unit in the box)
  • Runs the latest MIUI 11, likely to get timely updates
  • 32GB base storage, dedicated microSD slot, USB-C port
  • 2GB of RAM in the base version could be a bottleneck
  • No fingerprint reader
  • The flipside to the huge battery is the above-average heft
  • Super AMOLED display
  • Efficient and decently powerful chipset
  • Ultra wide cams are hard to find in the segment
  • Has a fingerprint sensor
  • Big battery, 15W fast charging, USB-C port, dedicated microSD slot
  • Android 10 update is uncertain
  • On the expensive side

The Galaxy M10s is the lowest point of entry into Samsung AMOLEDs and it pair the nice screen with a decent in-house chipset. The Exynos is also efficient, and should last a while on the 4,000mAh battery, which you can then top up with the included 15W adapter – the fastest brick you’ll find bundled in this segment.

The M10s has a tick in the fingerprint sensor checkbox, and unlike any other phone for the money, it comes with an ultra wide-angle cam – do you prefer that or the Realme 3i’s depth sensor?

For all its advantages, the M10s occupies the higher end of the entry-level price range. And even so, we don’t believe it’ll be getting Android 10 – Samsung doesn’t have a stellar track record with updates on its cheapest handsets.

Specs

  • Interesting textured back, GG3 on the front
  • 4,000mAh battery
  • 32GB base storage, dedicated microSD slot
  • No fingerprint sensor
  • Bundled with a sluggish 5W charger

Best entry-level smartphones for Western markets

Move a little to the West and Europeans can’t get much for this amount of cash. Even the models that may be actually be available through official channels, come at a premium. And then North America is an entirely different landscape with carrier-specific budget models and a general preference for higher-end devices – after all, contracts make the price of a flagship device less tangible.

Editors’ choice

  • Ultra-wide cams are hard to find in the segment
  • Lightweight and compact due to small screen and battery
  • Has a fingerprint sensor
  • Efficient and decently powerful chipset, 15W fast charging
  • 32GB base storage, dedicated microSD slot, USB-C port
  • 3,000mAh battery is on the small side
  • Cheap-looking plastic build
  • Android 10 update is uncertain

One of the most affordable Galaxies you can get, the A20e isn’t too shabby. It packs a couple of cams, including an ultra wide angle one, and has a fingerprint reader on the back. Samsung’s own Exynos 7884 chipset is good enough for the money, and the bundled 15W charger will quickly top up the otherwise small-ish 3,000mAh battery. It’s got the important stuff covered (RAM, storage, microSD slot) too.

The A20e keeps things compact thanks to its 5.8-inch display, so the battery capacity doesn’t sound like much of an issue – in fact, you may appreciate this Galaxy’s lightness. The A20e gets Samsung’s OneUI so the interface looks like on any other contemporary Samsung, it’s just that we’re not very hopeful it’ll get Android 10. It’s also cheap to the eye and to the touch, but it is cheap to buy too, after all.

Specs

  • Stylish looks for the price, GG5 on the front
  • Has a fingerprint sensor
  • 5,000mAh battery should be plenty, supports 18W charging (but ships with a 10W adapter)
  • Runs the latest MIUI 11, likely to get timely updates
  • 32GB base storage, dedicated microSD slot, USB-C port
  • The flipside to the huge battery is the above-average heft
  • Super cool light-up power button, overall nice design
  • Its small screen means it’s compact
  • Has a fingerprint sensor, NFC
  • Runs Android One, so it has a clean OS with good update potential
  • The 16GB/2GB base version is better avoided
  • Small battery, 5W charger in the box

The Nokia 4.2, being a Nokia, is notably more recognizable than a Xiaomi. It’s got pleasing looks too, and one of the coolest power buttons around – it lights up for notifications. It’s also a compact handset, which isn’t all too easy to find these days. It’s got a fingerprint sensor on the back, and the phone supports NFC too – again, not a given at this price. Android purists will also appreciate the fact that the 4.2 is on the Android One branch – clean UI, speedy updates.

By all means, however, avoid the 16GB/2GB version despite its more attractive price tag – neither is enough, regardless of the Android One argument and the dedicated card slot. Additionally, the Nokia 4.2 comes with a rather small-ish 3,000mAh battery, which you have to charge from a 5W adaptor via microUSB. The Nokia 4.2 is not a trend setter in features and technology but it’s reliable and fits the budget just fine.

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US special

  • Large 6.4-inch Super AMOLED on a budget, GG3 on top
  • Ultra wide cams are hard to find in the segment
  • Has a fingerprint sensor
  • Efficient and decently powerful chipset, big 4,000mAh battery, 15W fast charging
  • 32GB base storage, dedicated microSD slot, USB-C port
  • Low-res display
  • Cheap-looking plastic build
  • Android 10 update is uncertain

The US doesn’t get the A20e, but Samsung sells the A20 proper there and it’s mostly the same phone, but for a few important differences. Chief among them is the display – not only is it 6.4-inches in diagonal vs the A20e’ 5.8 inches, but it’s also AMOLED – nice. It’s not very high-res, though, but it had to fit the budget somehow. The Gorilla Glass 3 protection did make the cut, so that’s good as well.

To go with the bigger display, battery capacity has been bumped to 4,000mAh, and the phone has gotten heavier in the process, but at 169g it’s still among the lighter offerings. A well-rounded entry-level Galaxy with an AMOLED display – that’s it.

Specs

Almost there

  • Reasonably lightweight
  • Efficient and decently powerful chipset
  • 32GB base storage, dedicated microSD slot
  • Cheap-looking plastic build
  • Sluggish 5W charger in the box
  • 2GB of RAM in the base version could be a bottleneck
  • Android 10 update is uncertain
  • No fingerprint sensor

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