A hundred greenbacks is a respectable chunk of change, but when you consider what a piece of machinery a smartphone can be, $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 break usually gives you is a functional set of hardware features, but not the top of the line.
Here are some of today's top picks for carriers with two-year contracts ( see our favorite off-contract deals here). Smartphone prices fluctuate all the time because of slow sales or short-term promotions, so keep your eyes peeled for seasonal deals.
Editors' note: This article was originally published on October 2, 2012, and is updated periodically.
HTC One Remix (Verizon); July 2014
For $50 on a limited-time Web deal or $100 regularly, the smaller, leaner version of the HTC One M8 is a beautiful, capable midrange Android 4.4 KitKat phone with a very good 13-megapixel camera. For my money, it's the most advanced smartphone you can get for the on-contract retail price, especially if you can nab it for the $50 promotional fare. Read CNET's full HTC One Remix review.
LG G2 (AT&T, Sprint, Verizon); September 2013
There's nothing to scoff at in LG's flagship model from last year. The quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, 13-megapixel camera, and 5.2-inch 1080p HD display are all incredibly robust, and can stand up to today's fast phones. Seasonal discounts on top of the lowered fee keep the G2 well within the $100 on-contract range, more than half off the price of this year's LG G3 flagship. Read CNET's LG G2 review.
HTC One M8 for Windows (Verizon); August 2014
All the HTC One M8's aluminum good looks and high-end specs are finally open to Windows Phone users in this gorgeous device that costs $100 full retail -- that's half the price that Android users pay for the exact same hardware. While Verizon customers could get the also-good Nokia Lumia Icon for free on a discount, those looking for a luxe design have found it here. AT&T will also carry the phone, though the carrier hasn't released pricing or availability details yet. Read CNET's full HTC One M8 for Windows review.
Motorola Moto X (AT&T, Sprint, Verizon); August 2013
Now $0 to $50 depending on the carrier, the Moto X isn't the most premium smartphone in the land, but it does hit that sweet spot of specs, design, comfort, and performance. We especially like the 4.7-inch Android phone's touch-free voice commands and ergonomic hold. With a successor just around the bend, watch for AT&T's $50 price to drop. Read CNET's full Moto X review.
Samsung Galaxy S4 (AT&T, Sprint, Verizon); April 2013
It may not have the heart-rate monitor or splashy new wallpaper of this year's S5, but last year's Samsung Galaxy S4 has enough power in its 13-megapixel camera, 1080p HD display, and quad-core processor to keep you going for a long time. Savvy Sprint and Verizon shoppers can get it for free on promotion, but AT&T customers will need to pay $80. Read CNET's full Samsung Galaxy S4 review.
iPhone 5C (AT&T, Sprint, Verizon); September 20, 2013
Ranging from $0 to $100 depending on the carrier's promotional pricing at the moment, the colorful iPhone 5C has a 4-inch display, an 8-megapixel camera, and Apple's A6 processor. It's a solid performer, and one that offers some discount pizzazz for iOS fans. Read the full iPhone 5C review.
Apple iPhone 5 (AT&T, Sprint, Verizon); September 2012
Wait! The iPhone 4S is the current runt of the iPhone litter, and free now with a two-year contract, but don't get that phone. Instead, wait until the iPhone 6 launches, the 5S gets a deep discount, and the iPhone 5 becomes the next free-with-contract handset. It won't be as fast or fancy as the shiny new thing, but with Siri, a strong camera, and a pocket-friendly size, the iPhone 5 still has plenty of smarts.
Of course, if you're willing to spend a little more money, you'll also get more. Here's our list of the best phones overall.