Reaching for the right smartphone

Four of the best smartphones that sell for less than $300

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From the November 2015 issue of the magazine.

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The bad news if you’re looking for a new smartphone: high-end devices from Apple and Samsung are pricey and often require an upfront payment of several hundred dollars, plus a multi-year contract with a wireless carrier. The subsidy for the rest of the device boosts the cost of the monthly service fee over the length of the contract. But these days there isn’t a huge difference between mid-range devices and top-of-the-line ones. Mid-range smartphones are often the smarter choices since they can be bought in full for a few hundred dollars—meaning a lower monthly fee. Here are four of the best smartphones that sell for less than $300 without a contract.

Best overall

Motorola Moto G

$199 | Bell, Telus, Virgin, Koodo

Motorola’s third-generation Moto G is the undisputed king of the mid-range, thanks mostly to its price. A full $50 cheaper than most of its competitors, it’s hard to go wrong at $199. The device also sees a major improvement in the camera from last year’s model, with 13 megapixels and better image processing. The 720p screen is a step down from some of the super high-definition displays on high-end phones, but it’s good enough for the price. The Moto G also features a “pure” Android experience that’s free of the unnecessary apps and specialized interfaces found on so many other phones. As an added bonus, the Moto G is waterproof up to a metre and runs on fast LTE networks.

Best software

HTC Desire 626s

$199-$249 | Bell, Virgin, Videotron, Wind

At the other end of the pure Android experience is HTC with its Sense Home features, or built-in software that suggests apps depending on your location, time and previous usage of them. BlinkFeed also pulls in information from various social networks and can even suggest nearby restaurants in a new city based on friends’ recommendations. Pre-installed software can be annoying, but useful.

Best performance

Asus ZenFone 2

$249 | Newegg, NCIX, Canada Computers and Memory Express

Housing an Intel Atom processor, the Asus ZenFone 2 is fast and lag-free, performing at speeds expected from more expensive phones. It also has the sharpest screen of devices in this comparison, but tends to get washed out in bright sunlight. It’s an unusual device from an unusual manufacturer—Asus is new to the smartphone game in North America. Unusual availability, through technology stores rather than wireless carriers, goes with it.

Best design

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

$249-$349 | Bell, Fido, Videotron, Virgin, Wind

Mid-range smartphones often feel a little plasticky, with high-end metal and glass finishes reserved for premium devices. Sony’s entry, however, does the best job at faking it. The Xperia M4 Aqua, with a reflective backing that looks like glass, can easily be mistaken for the company’s stylish Xperia Z4. As an added bonus, it’s dust- and waterproof. Of our sample group, the M4 Aqua looks most like a high-end phone.

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