The Apple iPhone 3GS, the Palm Pre, the BlackBerry Tour. Those are some of the latest releases in the cellular world, and they’re the gadgets everyone wants. Trouble is, they’re quite expensive, about $200 each. That’s a lot of scratch.
Aren’t there any good phones for cheaper — say, under $100? Of course there are.
Cell phone carriers have huge inventories of phones waiting to be subsidized and shipped out the door. Today we’re going to examine eight such offerings from four different carriers. The Big Four carriers — Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint — have plenty of phones under $100. In fact, each has a decent inventory of $99.99 phones, but we’re not going to count them.
It has to be clearly under $100, not just a penny under. We’re also going to avoid marked down PDAs and smartphones, so no to the BlackBerry Curve. Finally, we won’t count refurbished models.
So here are the top phones under $100.
While it’s not quite the iPhone, the LG Dare has a sleek touch screen that will appeal to many users. It’s just three inches, so the phone isn’t too bulky, and provides tactile feedback so you know when you’re pressing something. What’s more, it can even recognize your handwriting. Like the iPhone, it lacks a physical keyboard, so the tactile feedback does help when composing messages. The Dare doubles as a music player, supporting the standard gamut of formats: MP3, WMA, AAC, and AAC+. It also works with the V CAST Music store with Rhapsody. The player allows many of the same functions you’re used to on a desktop player like iTunes.
Plus, there’s an expandable memory slot for up to 8GB. What sets the Dare apart, though, is the camera. It clocks in at 3.2 megapixels, which is above the standard 2 on most phones in this price range. It features many options available on today’s digital cameras, including face detection, video recording, and an image editor. The Dare also has the features that are almost necessary to any good phone these days: Bluetooth, HTML Web browsing, and tons of applications. Price: $79.99 Get it from: Verizon Wireless
Nokia doesn’t have a ton of phones available through US carriers, but when they do it’s usually a goodie (except when it’s one of those entry-level, prepaid phones). The Surge is no exception. It’s a Symbian device, another rarity in the US. The 3G-enabled slider device fits our criteria perfectly.
In addition to the basic music formats supported by the LG Dare, the Nokia Surge is also compatible with AMR-WB and RealAudio. Its built-in FM radio allows you to listen to music you don’t have on the device, as does its streaming radio capabilities. It has just 120MB of memory on board, but can be expanded to 16GB. That expandable memory really beefs up these devices. The Surge’s other features are pretty standard: a 2.0 megapixel camera with 4X zoom, full HTML browser with Flash support, Bluetooth, email, and USB transfers. It also features voice-guided GPS, making your unfamiliar trips just a bit easier. Price: $79.99 Get it from: AT&T
A few years ago the Palm Centro was among the “it” devices in the industry. I remember going to CTIA 2008 and seeing so many people carry them. Beyond iPhones and BlackBerrys, it might have been the most-used phone, at least from what I saw. It’s tough to blame people for loving the device. It’s tiny, measuring just 4.2 inches tall, 2.1 inches wide, and 0.7 inches deep. Add in the touch screen, and you have a recipe for an excellent phone.
Is it a smartphone, though? Maybe it’s considered one, but the Centro is such a consumer-focused device that it doesn’t seem on the level of your typical BlackBerry or Windows Mobile device. It does allow for email, though many consumer phones do that nowadays. Yet it has plenty of other consumer-related features. The camera checks in at a paltry 1.3 megapixels, so this might not be the device for snapping photos. The music player supports all of the standard formats, though it only has 64 or 128 MB of internal memory to play with, depending on which build you get. There is expandable memory, but only for up to 4GB — though there is a way to expand it to 16GB, apparently. Mostly, we picked the Centro because it’s small, it’s function, and has a touch screen. The small keys clearly aren’t for everyone. Price: $49.99 Get it from: Sprint
Sony Ericsson TM506
Finally we have our first clamshell on the list. This is a light-weight option, lighter even than the Palm Centro. It might look like a basic device, and for the most part it is. Yet the Sony Ericsson TM506 packs a lot into that little frame, especially when you consider the price. The camera is the most attractive feature, clocking in at a standard 2 megapixels. Many T-Mobile phones which sell for a higher price have 1.3 megapixels models, so this is good value.
It’s not the best quality, but as we’ll see it’s not common to see 3.2 megapixel cameras on devices under $100. The music player is basic, supporting the normal file formats. The only drawback is that it uses an M2 memory stick, while most of the industry uses microSD. That’s a shame, because packing a decent music player with microSD would really make this device an enormous value. Other features include 3G speeds, which aren’t available on all T-Mobile phones, Bluetooth, and plenty of instant messaging capabilities. Price: $29.99 Get it from: T-Mobile
Samsung Alias 2
The dual flip phone is back, but this time it solves an issue some users found with the first one. Because the phone flips two ways, some have trouble with the keyboard. Some keys have dual purposes, and that can get confusing. The Alias 2 uses e-ink technology to morph the keypad, so you will see a 12-digit pad when in calling mode, and a full QWERTY keyboard when in messaging mode. It’s an excellent improvement.
Like most of the music players on this list, the Alias two supports MP3, WMA, AAC, and AAC+ formats. It has the ability to download from the V CAST store, or you can transfer your own files from your PC with a USB cable. It also has the capability to expand memory to 16GB, meaning you can carry around a hefty music collection. The camera checks in at 2 megapixels with video recording capabilities. It’s nothing special, but definitely passable. Other features include Bluetooth, threaded messaging, mobile Web, and visual voicemail. Most of all, this is cool because of the double flip and the morphing keyboard. Why can’t all clamshell phones do this? Price: $79.99 Get it from: Verizon Wireless
When the Samsung Instinct debuted on Sprint, it was heralded as an excellent touch screen device. Samsung has since expanded the phone’s reach, moving it to other carriers under other names. While it might not be exactly the Instinct, the Eternity is pretty close. It’s a 3G device featuring a touch screen and no physical keyboard. Yet it checks in at quite an attractive price. Like the other touchscreen-only device on this list, the Eternity has a relatively powerful camera, 3 megapixels with 3X zoom. Not only that, but it can video capture for an hour.
You’ll need the memory of course, and that’s taken care of with an 8GB microSD expansion slot. That will also go well with the music player, which supports basic formats. The Eternity also features the basics: Bluetooth, Web browser, and USB connectivity. It is also compatible with AT&T’s Mobile TV, which allows you to watch live broadcast television. That will look good on the Eternity’s 3.2 inch screen with 240 x 400 resolution. Price: $49.99 Get it from: AT&T
BlackBerry Pearl Flip
For our final model, we’re making an exception. We said no smartphones above, but the BlackBerry Pearl Flip masquerades as a consumer phone, so we’ll address it as such. It’s the only BlackBerry flip phone on the market, and while it’s a bit bigger than most clamshells you’ll see, it packs a lot under the hood. Enough that we’re including it here, at least. The real difference between the Flip and other phones on this list is that it features RIM’s signature push email. You can set up any POP email address to push to you real-time, so you’ll never miss a message.
The phone also features a Web browser right up with the models on this list — plus the capability to try new ones. Unfortunately, the phone does not run on T-Mobile’s 3G network, though it does compensate by allowing for Wi-Fi connections. This works with T-Mobile’s HotSpot @Home service, which allows you to place free calls over Wi-Fi connections. The keyboard is a bit funky to those unfamiliar with the BlackBerry Pearl. It’s called SureType, and it features two letters per key. Once you get used to it, it will be even easier than T9 text prediction. Then there’s the media player, Bluetooth, syncing capabilities, and expandable memory. This phone has it all, smartphone or not. Price: $49.99 Get it from: T-Mobile