High-end smartphones too rich for your blood? Never fear: there are thrifty alternatives for every major platform – and we've assembled them all below. Don't agree – or have a better suggestion? Let us know in the comments box below.
The stunning Samsung Galaxy S3 (read the review) is our favourite Android flagship so far, closely followed by the HTC One X (read the review) and Sony Xperia S (read the review). Bought SIM-free, these smartphones will set you back £520, £480 and £450 respectively – all serious amounts of dosh, however you slice them.
But wait – you don’t have to raid your grandmother’s jewellery box to get your hands on a stellar Android smartie. Consider instead the Orange San Diego (read the review), manufactured by little-know Taiwanese firm Gigabyte. It rocks a fantastic 4-inch 1024 x 600 screen, zippy 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor, serviceable 8-megapixel camera, 16GB of built-in storage and a battery that serves up over five hours of constant use. There’s even NFC!
Sure, the build quality and design won’t win any awards, the screen isn’t as retina-piercingly punchy as the above trio and it uses Android Gingerbread rather than Ice Cream Sandwich (an update is coming, however), but at £200 on a PAYG deal it’s an absolute steal. Stay classy, San Diego.
Android – Orange San Diego
We could wax lyrical for hours about how fantastic the iPhone 4S (read the review) is, but it comes with a premium price tag (£500 and up) to match its glorious design and rock solid performance.
You could of course opt for the iPhone 4 (read the review), which starts at £430 for an unlocked 8GB version, but if we’re talking true thriftiness why not go for the £320 iPhone 3GS (read the review), three years old and still an excellent device – and capable of running iOS 6. The screen’s no Retina Display, it’s true, and the camera is positively primitive compared to the latest generation of mobile snappers, but the core features are still available: a fantastically user-friendly and slick interface, the best selection of apps around and build quality that puts most new phones to shame.
£251, Mobile Phones Direct
The Nokia Lumia 900 (read our review) is the de facto king of all Windows Phone Mango handsets, and as such commands the princely sum of £450. For that you get a gloriously large screen and lovely polycarbonate unibody.
But penny pinchers amongst you should look further down the Windows Phone line-up – not at the obvious Nokia Lumia 710 (great value though it is, as our review points out), but the HTC Radar (read our review). Available on PAYG for £251, it’s significantly cheaper than the Lumia 900 – yet it’s sleekly styled, surprisingly fast for a 1GHz phone and benefits from a couple of HTC’s twists on Window’s interface, such as the home screen’s weather live tile.
iOS – iPhone 3GS
£200, Carphone Warehouse
The Bold 9900 is the sweetest, juiciest BlackBerry on the bush (read our review): powerful, skinny and possessed of both a top notch QWERTY keyboard and a responsive touchscreen. At £500, you’re paying for that quality.
If it’s a cheaper messaging master you’re after, the BlackBerry Curve 9360 should be high on your list. £300 less than the Bold 9900, it lacks a touchscreen but crucially carries the features for which most of us value a BlackBerry: a full QWERTY keyboard for swiftly tapping out messages and emails, as well as BBM as an ultra-cheap alternative to text messaging.
The Samsung Galaxy Note (read our review), with its powerful dual-core CPU and huge 5.3-inch screen, has created a new category of mobile device: the “phablet” – part phone, part tablet. A pretty horrific term, yes – but the Android-powered Note has managed to carve itself a niche where none existed before.
If you want something similar but don’t have £600 to shell out on the Note, well – actually there’s not much out there that comes close. We quite liked the Dell Streak 5 (read our review), but it’s discontinued and by now, outdated. The Amazon Kindle Fire (read our review) is nice and cheap, but not available in the UK and certainly not a phone. You could wait for the inevitable release of the Galaxy Note 2, which should cause the original's price to drop, but until then you’re probably going to have to make do with a large screen phone like the HTC Sensation XL (available from £410 on PAYG) or the HTC Titan (read our review). While neither can really be considered phablets – and neither have an equivalent to the Note’s S-pen stylus, both have huge 4.7-inch screens.
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