The top end of the smartphone market is looking ludicrous. Why? because it's increasingly easy to get a perfectly decent phone for £100. Apple phones arguably remain worth the extra spend because of Apple's legendary customer service; smashing the screen doesn't result in you writing the phone off or taking it to some dodgy geezer on the high street for a pricey re-fit. But if you want an Android or Windows phone, it's less and less clear why you need to spend £400 to get one.
The potential advantages are a somewhat better camera, slightly faster OS or bigger battery – perhaps even more storage options. But if you can't or won't pay, don't feel left out: these budget smartphones are easily up to the job. In fact, many Nexus 6 or Note 4 or One M8 users probably wouldn't notice any difference in trading down to one of the following devices.
If you want a budget smartphone, but with 4G, then these are nigh-on identical – they're both made by Huawei, the Kestrel is EE-exclusive. The Kestrel trades front camera quality and KitKat OS, for more internal storage and a slight bump in screen resolution.
Both are around the £100 mark, which, for a 4G phone, takes some beating. Of course, to get there, corners have been cut: the 5MP camera, the fact you have to put up with Huawei's user-interface, the average screen. That said, for 4G, unbeatable for now.
For £120 or so, this has got to be one of the best-looking budget smartphones around. Sony's industrial design has been pretty spot-on for phones for a while now – the M2 is no exception, with metal bevelled edges and square clean faces.
The spec inside matches the exterior well too: the 8MP camera, quad-core processor, and 2330mAh battery are all fairly reasonable. The downsides? The plastic back doesn't last brilliantly, the display's isn't spectacular (960x520, 4.8-inch) and the speaker placement means it's easily muffled while using landscape.
£100 for a very decent, if rather plasticky Windows Mobile (or £120 for the 635 with 4G), makes this pair probably the best mix of low price and decent features if you're going down the Windows Mobile route.
The good points are that it runs Windows 8.1, has a decent quality feel to the body, and the MicroSD goes up to 128GB. The bad? The rest of the specs simply don't match Android phones at this price: there's no front camera and the back is merely 5MP, the RAM memory is a meagre 512MB and display is 4.5 inches and a resolution of 854x480.
Below about the £70 mark, it's increasingly difficult to get a phone that doesn't feel like you're wading through treacle to use the operating system, or where the camera's worth using at all. In other words, the penalties start to make the phone not worth buying. But at £70 there's the Moto E. And it's amazing at that price.
With a 960x540 4.3-inch screen, microSD card slot for storage, 5MP camera, and a reasonable 1.2GHz dual-core processor, it may seem like fairly bog-standard specs – and they are, just on a seventy quid phone. Best of all, it comes with stock Android that's up to the latest version (one of the advantages of having a temporary ownership by Google), and a neat design that's fairly durable too.
Occupying the two top slots, Motorola has clearly cracked the budget smartphone market. The £145 2014 G and its 4G sibling (same price) are brilliant phones for the money. True, that's a bit more than the E or the other budget smartphones in the line-up here. But a little more cash buys you a phone that sits fairly comfortably in the big leagues, at a price a fraction of its rivals.
We're talking a good 8MP camera, 5-inch 720p display, stereo speakers, splash-proof, and quad-core chipset for the 2014 G and 4.5-inch 720p, with 5MP camera and no stereo set against the 4G connectivity for its sibling.
In all, this pair are seriously capable, well-designed and nice-looking phones with nothing that leaps out as a serious compromise. For the money, the Moto G beats all rivals hands-down: king of the budget smartphones.