Is a $250 Smartphone Worth It?

Is a $250 Smartphone Worth It?

Flagships usually get all the attention but can you get a decent phone for $250? Take a look at the new Moto G and you’re getting a lot more than the price tag might suggest. With a five inch screen and curved back the Moto G feels good in the hand especially with the new textured rear cover. It’s also IPX7 water resistant, you won’t want to go swimming with it but it’s totally fine getting wet. Just make sure the removable back is properly sealed, this is where you’ll find your SIM and MicroSD card slots. You can also customize the phone in Moto Maker, allowing you to pick the color, back cover and accent at no extra cost.

Move over to the Asus Zenfone 2 and we’ve got a much bigger 5.5 inch display. It’s about the same size as an iPhone 6 Plus but it is a fair bit thicker. You’ll find capacitive back, home and multitasking buttons along with the volume rocker on back. This works nicely but having the power button on top is awkward and the button itself are small and usually take a couple tries to actually press. Pry off the back and you’ll find a MicroSD and dual SIM card slots which is a cool extra feature.

With the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 the first thing you’ll notice is just how thin and light it is. It has the same sized 5.5 inch screen but it comes in over three millimeters thinner than the Zenfone and it’s even lighter than the Moto G. It might not seem like a big deal but with large phones like this it makes a difference. You won’t find a removable back but you do have a tray for a SIM and MicroSD card.  Usually budget phones don’t have the greatest screens but you won’t find much to complain about here.

The Moto G has a five inch 720p display that’s good, viewing angles are reasonable and colors are decent. The Zenfone steps things up with a 5.5 inch 1080p screen and Asus includes an app to fine tune the colors although the screen doesn’t get as bright as I’d like. The clear winner though is the Idol 3, on paper it looks similar with a 5.5 inch 1080p screen but it’s a terrific looking display with great colors, solid viewing angles and it gets much brighter than the others. This would be great on a phone at twice the price.

When it comes to audio they each handle things a different way. The dual front facing speakers of the Idol 3 easily take this one, it’s right up there with the very best like the HTC One. As far as specs go the Moto G is a little outgunned here, the Zenfone has a powerful Intel Atom processor and the Idol 3 has a whopping eight cores.

Take a look at Geekbench and the Zenfone takes a big lead thanks to that Atom CPU and when you look at graphics it’s not even close with the Idol 3 and Moto G falling far behind. In actual use there isn’t as huge a gap, even with relatively weak specs the Moto G feels snappy thanks to the 720p screen and basically stock build of Android. You’ll find a few additions like Active Notifications to check what’s up at a quick glance but otherwise this is about as close to a Nexus as you can get.

The Idol 3 also works well in normal use, it has a slightly more skinned version of Android Lollipop but basically all of the customizations are either cosmetic or easily uninstallable bloatware. With the Zenfone performance definitely isn’t an issue but the software is. There’s an enormous amount of junk that ships on the phone and Asus have done a fairly major overhaul of Android, nothing is necessarily terrible but there are lots of small, annoying changes that really add up.

Is a $250 Smartphone Worth It?

Even with the big differences in power the group does very well for battery life with the Idol taking the win but all three come in around the seven hour mark. One other area worth mentioning is the single stream 2.4 gigahertz Wi-Fi on the Moto G. This isn’t a huge problem for most people but my apartment has notoriously poor Wi-Fi reception making the dual band Wi-Fi on the Idol 3 and Zenfone far more reliable. Get into cameras and on paper all three are closely matched with 13 megapixel sensors. The Zenfone isn’t half bad but it can’t keep up in this comparison. Many of the shots I took looked a bit washed out with inaccurate white balance. There was also a bit of noise sometimes even in great light but there is a lot of detail and with the option of manually controlling the camera you can get a nice shot.

The Idol 3 can also deliver solid results. It tended to underexpose a bit but the color is much more realistic to my eye. Even though it has 13 megapixels it doesn’t quite have the same level of detail as the other two, it’s not bad but if you zoom you’ll see a bit of softness in the image. Motorola hasn’t exactly had a great track record with cameras lately but the Moto G has been a pleasant surprise. There’s a ton of detail and colors are very natural, things like dynamic range are the best here and the HDR mode is really impressive, it brings a lot of life to images without going overboard. My biggest problem has to do with the overly simple camera app that snaps your shot when you tap the screen or uses an imprecise control wheel to set exposure. It took me a few tries before getting several shots which was frustrating.

All three cameras shoot 1080p video but here there’s really no contest. Both the Idol and Zenfone deliver passable results but the Moto G gives much sharper video and renders colors better than the others. As the cheapest phone here the Zenfone delivers the highest performance but makes some odd hardware choices and goes overboard on the bloatware. The Moto G delivers a great camera, solid battery life and an excellent software experience but the superior screen and speakers along with the nicer hardware and better performance of the Idol 3 give it the slight edge in this one. The big takeaway is that you can a really solid phone for $250, you’re getting eighty percent of the flagship experience for a third of the price.


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