A hundred greenbacks is a respectable chunk of change, but when it comes to personal electronics like the ultrapersonal smartphone, $100 on contract (before taxes and fees) is a darn good deal. Since the smartphone operating system remains the same across handsets from the most entry-level to the most premium, what a price hike usually gives you is a step up in features -- like LTE or wireless charging support, a faster processor, and more-premium camera components, for example.
Here are some of today's top picks for carriers with two-year contracts -- I'll give T-Mobile phones their own roundup, since the carrier has just switched over to no-contract plans. Smartphone prices fluctuate all the time because of slow sales or short-term promotions, so keep your eyes peeled for more deals.
This article was originally published on October 2, 2012, and updated on May 8, 2013.
HTC One (Sprint); released April 19, 2013
You'd never expect a fantastic flagship like the HTC One to sell for $100, half its full retail sticker price, but right now, Sprint is proving its commitment to customers who might otherwise flee to more LTE-rich pastures. The One has a stunning visual design, a strong camera, and one of the fastest processors available anywhere. On top of that, its external speakers put other phones to shame. Read the full HTC One review.
Sale-savvy shoppers know that there's nothing like a newer, shinier model to drive down the price of a perfectly good product. That's exactly what happened with the Samsung Galaxy S3 when Samsung revealed its brand-new Galaxy S4 model. The GS3 may be a year old now, but with a fast processor, an excellent 8-megapixel camera, and the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean update, it's nothing to sneeze at. Read the full Samsung Galaxy S3 review.
With the iPhone 5 now on sale, the iPhone 4S gets an automatic deep discount to $99 on all its postpaid networks. Its 3.5-inch screen may look shrunken next to the 5's new 4-inch face, but this phone still has the power that made it the blockbuster it was last year: a brilliant screen, a terrific camera, and a robust operating system that will support iOS 6 and even more software tricks. Its smaller screen size and absent 4G LTE speeds are the more pertinent drawbacks. Read the full iPhone 4S review.
HTC, Facebook, and AT&T conspired to make the First an affordable, interesting, and nearly stock Android smartphone for a reasonable $100 on contract. The big appeal? Facebook Home, an app experience that re-skins your home screen with Facebook friends.
This handset debut would have made sound sense except for the fact that the Facebook Home app experience is also available for the HTC One X, which costs the same price and serves up better features. Now that AT&T's slashed the First to $1 this moderately sized Android Jelly Bean device with a 5-megapixel camera is suddenly the bargain we always knew it could be. Read the full review of the HTC First.
Originally $199 on contract, the HTC One X has held steady at $99. It may not boast the quad-core processor of the HTC One X+ or HTC One, but it has a high-end camera and screen, a very fast chipset in its own right, Android 4.0 (upgradable to Jelly Bean), and LTE speeds. Read the full HTC One X review.
The $49.99 Pantech Discover has an interesting ergonomic design and 4G LTE speeds. It's also Pantech's most ambitious effort, with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and a dual-boot mode that offers you a simpler version of Android as training wheels in addition to Pantech's custom ICS interface. Unfortunately, the 12.6-megapixel camera isn't entirely up to snuff, and there's no Google Now, if that's your thing. However, the phone's $50 price is hard to beat for everything else you get. Read the full Pantech Discover review.
LG Spectrum 2 (Verizon); released October 30, 2012
What has Android 4.0, zippy 4G LTE speeds, and wireless charging capabilities? LG's Spectrum 2, a smart midrange handset that comes in for just about 100 bucks. The feature-packed 8-megapixel camera may not blow your socks off, but all in all, the Spectrum 2 is a pretty decent little package for a reasonable amount of dough. Read the full LG Spectrum 2 review.