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Budget smartphones: Cheaper alternatives to the iPhone SE

Many of these handsets cost between $200 and $250. Browse our picks of the best iPhone SE alternatives.
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1 of 12 Jason Perlow/ZDNet

OnePlus X ($249)

The 5" OnePlus X is very affordable smartphone, jam-packed with features, coming in at just $249. Tech specs include:

  • Oxygen OS based on Android 5.1.1 (Lollipop)
  • 5.0 inch 1,080 by 1920 pixels display
  • Quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor
  • 3GB of RAM
  • 16GB storage with microSD expansion card
  • 13 megapixel rear camera
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2 of 12 Jason Perlow/ZDNet

Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 ($189-$250)

You may not have heard of Xiaomi, but they are the 4th largest smartphone manufacturer in the world, and the largest in China.

The Redmi Note 3 has everything you could positively want in a sub-$250 phablet -- a 5.5" 1080p display, an Octa-core processor, 3GB RAM, 32GB of flash memory and a 13MP primary camera with dual-LED flash. The device is also dual-sim capable, so it is ideal for international travel.

We'd recommend this device for US customers, but the radios are not tuned for North American 4G LTE networks yet. We're hoping that the company does this soon. Until then, this device tops our list as best international travel smartphone for the money.

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3 of 12 Jason Perlow/ZDNet

Lenovo K3 Note (less than $150)

Lenovo is more known for its executive-style business laptops than for its smartphones, but don't underestimate this Chinese giant for design and value when it comes to handsets -- they are quickly making waves in their domestic market and in developing nations. The phablet-sized K3 is an excellent deal if you are looking for a smartphone for under $150.

Tech Specs: Octa-core 1.7 GHz Cortex-A53 processor, 2 GB RAM, 16 GB storage, 5.5-inch IPS LCD capacitive touchscreen display, 13 MP primary camera with dual LED flash, 5 MP front camera and Android Lollipop.

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4 of 12 Jason Perlow/ZDNet

BLU Vivo Air (less than $150)

BLU, which is based in Miami, FL, is another manufacturer you probably have not heard of, but is also very popular in developing countries such as India. Like the Lenovo K3 it sports an eight-core processor and 2GB of RAM. Smart shoppers should be able to find it for under $150.00 unlocked.

Tech Specs: Octa-core 1.7 GHz Cortex-A53 processor, 2 GB RAM, 16 GB storage, 5.5-inch IPS LCD capacitive touchscreen display, 13 MP primary camera with dual LED flash, 5 MP front camera and Android Lollipop.

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5 of 12 Jason Perlow/ZDNet

Motorola Moto G 3rd Generation ($200)

The Moto G is not the most powerful handset by far, but probably one of the best handsets for the money, doubly so given that you can buy it unlocked for under $200.

Tech specs:

  • Android 5.1.1 (Lollipop)
  • 5.0 inch 720 x 1280 pixel IPS LCD capacitive touchscreen featuring Corning Gorilla Glass 3
  • Quad-core Snapdragon 410 with 1.4 GHz Cortex-A53 with Adreno 306 GPU
  • 1GB of RAM in the 8GB storage version, 2GB in the 16GB storage version
  • 8/16GB of storage
  • Non-removable Li-Ion 2470 mAh battery
  • 13-megapixel rear-facing camera
  • 5-megapixel front-facing camera
  • Micro SD card support
  • IPX7 certified - water resistant up to 1 meter for 30 minutes
  • Color options: Black and White, but with many accent and trim options
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6 of 12 Jason Perlow/ZDNet

Microsoft Lumia 650 ($199)

The mid-range device is for Windows 10 Mobile buyers who don't want all the bells and whistles available with Microsoft's Lumia 950, such as Windows Hello biometric authentication and Continuum, but need something a little more powerful than the entry-level Lumia 550.

To give the Lumia 650 a touch of luxury and appeal to the business user, Microsoft has wrapped the five-inch OLED display device in an aluminium frame, helping keep it lightweight and slender. Microsoft boasts that the Lumia 650 is 6.9mm thick and weighs 122 grams.

Technical Specifications: Quad-Core 1.3Ghz Cortex-A7, 1GB RAM, 16GB storage, 5-inch capacitive touchscreen OLED display, 8 MP rear camera, 5MP secondary camera. Ships with Windows 10 Mobile.

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7 of 12 Jason Perlow/ZDNet

Asus Zenfone 2 Laser (~$200)

Taiwan-based Asus is more known for its routers, motherboards and personal computers, but it makes some pretty serious smartphones too.

The phablet-sized 32GB Zenfone 2 is priced around $200 and is absolutely loaded with features, along with extremely comprehensive GSM/3G/LTE radio band support.

Technical Specifications: Quad-core 1.2 GHz processor, 2 GB RAM, 32 GB storage, 5.5-inch IPS capacitive touchscreen display, 13 MP rear camera, 5 MP front camera and Android Lollipop.

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8 of 12 Jason Perlow/ZDNet

Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3 (less than $200)

This device is for buyers looking for a 4.7" device under $200 rather than a 5.5" or 5" device.

Technical Specifications: Quad-core 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53 & quad-core 1.0 GHz Cortex-A53 processor, 2 GB RAM, 16 GB storage, 5.5-inch IPS LCD capacitive touchscreen display, 13 MP primary camera, 8 MP secondary camera and Android Lollipop.

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9 of 12 Jason Perlow/ZDNet

Motorola Moto X 2nd-Generation ($200-$249)

Like the Moto G above, the Moto X has nice features for the money. It's also one of the best-priced Verizon phones at under $200 if you buy the CDMA unlocked version.

Technical Specifications: Quad-core 2.5 GHz Krait 400 processor, 2 GB RAM, 16 GB storage, 5.2-inch AMOLED capacitive touchscreen display, 13 MP rear camera, 2 MP front camera and Android KitKat upgradeable to Android Lollipop.

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10 of 12 Jason Perlow/ZDNet

Google Nexus 5X with Project Fi ($379)

The Google Nexus 5X can be used with a GSM carrier or with the Project Fi service. It's the first phone to get the latest version of Android and starts at $379.

Tech specs include:

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 1.8 GHz hexa-core 64-bit with Adreno 418 GPU
  • Display: 5.2 inch LCD at 1920 x 1080 pixels resolution, 423 ppi, Corning Gorilla Glass 3
  • Operating system: Android 6.0 Marshmallow
  • RAM: 2GB LPDDR3
  • Storage: 16 and 32 GB internal options
  • Cameras: Rear 12.3 megapixel camera with f/2.0 aperture and large 1.55 micrometer pixels. 5 megapixel front-facing camera with f/2.0 aperture and 1.4 micrometer pixels
  • Speaker/mics: Single front-facing speaker, 3 microphones
  • Sensors: Fingerprint, proximity, motion, compass, gyro, barometer, Android Sensor Hub
  • Wireless: Bluetooth 4.2, 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac @x2 MIMO WiFi, GPS, NFC
  • Battery: 2,700 mAh battery with fast charging via USB Type-C (up to 7 hours of use with 10 minutes of charging)
  • Dimensions: 147 x 72.6 x 7.9 mm and 136 grams
  • Colors: Carbon (black), quartz (white), ice (mint green)
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11 of 12 Jason Perlow/ZDNet

Samsung Galaxy S6, 128GB Refurbished (approx. $389)

Samsung's flagship from last year, loaded with 128GB of flash storage for you shutter bugs, video wonks and media mavens can now be found at various online sources, unlocked and refurbished for about $389.

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12 of 12 Jason Perlow/ZDNet

iPhone 6 128GB Refurbished (approx. $459)

If you must own an iPhone, forget the SE, which has an anemic amount of flash storage for the money. Instead, get one with plenty of memory, especially if you do international travel. A refurbished, carrier-unlocked 128GB iPhone 6 can now be had for about $459.

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