Best no-contract smartphones for $250 or less (roundup)

No contracts? No problem. CNET takes a look at some of the best handsets you can get on any platform without a carrier commitment.

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As the no-contract model is picking up steam here in the US, and the true cost of smartphones is becoming clearer, the meaning of "budget" has changed. $200 is at the high end of the scale for premium phones on-contract, but a bargain for an off-contract device.

Luckily, the surging popularity of buying a phone up front paired with quite a few strong midrange contenders means there are a few pretty great value Android and Windows phones to choose from for $250 or less. Here are our current favorites.


Colorful and customizeable, you don't have to pay much for the Moto G. Josh Miller/CNET

Motorola Moto G

Though it doesn't have 4G LTE, the Moto G is one of the best affordable smartphones available. With its comfortable and customizable design, the 5-inch device features a nearly-stock version of Android, an 8-megapixel camera and a quad-core processor, and it starts at $180 unlocked. Read the full review here.


With the Desire 510, there's no need to fork over a ton of cash for a decent HTC device. Andrew Hoyle/CNET

HTC Desire 510

Think you need to spend a lot of dough for a handset with a signature look from HTC? Think again. The Desire 510 costs about $80 to $216 depending on the carrier (Cricket Wireless, Boost, Virgin Mobile and Sprint offer it), and it packs a 4.7-inch display, 4G LTE, and Android 4.4. Read the full review here.


If you're looking for an inexpensive LG phone with a flagship look, consider the Tribute. James Martin/CNET

LG Tribute

For $80 without a contract, we were impressed about how well designed and reliable the Tribute was. Compact, stylish and slim, the phone sports a 5-megapixel camera, a quad-core CPU, and nifty software features from LG like its Knock Code unlocking option. Read the full review here.


The Aquos Crystal has a unique design and a low price tag. James Martin/CNET

Sharp Aquos Crystal

Surely the most novel-looking of the bunch, the Aquos Crystal is an inexpensive Android device that makes do quite well without a bezel. Its 5-inch, 720p display runs edge-to-edge, and it's also equipped with a capable 8-megapixel camera and 4G LTE. Interested buyers can nab it for $150 on Boost Mobile or $240 on Sprint without an agreement. Read the full review here.


For Windows Phone users looking for an affordable solution, the Lumia 635 hits the mark. Josh Miller/CNET

Nokia Lumia 635

A bright body, sturdy build, and the Cortana voice assistant are three good reasons to consider the Lumia 635. The 4.5-inch smartphone works well with Windows Phone 8.1, and the 1.2GHz quad-core processor adds a burst of speed not seen in previous budget Windows phones. The 5-megapixel camera also takes decent-enough shots. The handset can be yours for $140 on AT&T, $100 from T-Mobile, or $75 on Cricket after you send in a rebate. Read the full review here.

Editors' Note: This piece was originally published on November 6, 2012 and is updated regularly.

About the author

Lynn La is CNET's associate editor for cell phone and smartphone news and reviews. Prior to coming to CNET, she wrote for the Sacramento Bee and was a staff editor at Macworld. In addition to covering technology, she has reported on health, science, and politics.

 

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