SINGAPORE - The entry of smartphone players, like Alcatel, Oppo, Xiaomi and ZTE, on the regional and global stage has created a vibrant smartphone ecosystem.
Does more competition mean better prices for consumers? While a race to the bottom of who can offer the most or best for the least money is not always good, in the case of the lower mid-range tier products where the offerings do not differ widely, it seems to benefit the consumer.
When we first started compiling data on budget 4G smartphones last year, most were priced around $600 and offered 4.3-inch screens, dual-core processors, 8GB internal storage and even 8MP cameras.
A few months ago, we managed to round up budget 4G phones that were mostly below $500 and offered 4.7-inch screens, mostly quad-core processors and 8MP cameras.
Today, you can go below $300 and get yourself a decent 4G smartphone with a few small compromises: an average screen size of 4.5 inches, most with quad-core processors, 5MP camera modules, and slightly less storage and battery capacity.
Still , some manage to offer a little more in certain areas, like the Asus ZenFone 5.
Here is a look at six of the latest compact 4G smartphones under $300.
ASUS ZENFONE 5 LTE EDITION
This is the third variant of the Asus ZenFone 5 reviewed in recent months and it is still one of the best smartphones of its class.
The ZenFone 5 ticks almost all the right boxes: design, build quality, handling, interface, overall user experience and imaging performance.
The only two drawbacks are a non-removable battery and the lack of dual-SIM support.
Available from $249, the ZenFone 5 is a good fit for any consumer looking for an affordable 4G smartphone today.
HTC DESIRE 510
The HTC Desire 510 did not meet our expectations. Considering that HTC has delivered quite a few capable smartphones this year, we felt that the Desire 510 is a disappointment.
The device has a simple and familiar design, but there are several design oversights which affect usability. Its glossy rear is an absolute nightmare for consumers who hate fingerprints and smudges, while the placement of its power button is not intuitive.
For its screen size of 4.7 inches, we hate to admit that its WVGA resolution is thoroughly disappointing. Not to mention that the imaging quality from its 5MP rear camera is grainy, while the front camera is only capable of VGA resolution snaps, which is totally unflattering for selfie shots.
While it is the first Android smartphone with a 64-bit processor, we find that the Desire 510 does not maximise the processor's full potential. The only positive things going for it are the smooth user navigation and that you get some decent Sense 6 user interface goodies such as BlinkFeed.
Overall, there is not much going for the Desire 510 at its retail price of $268, when there are better alternatives for less - unless you are a die-hard HTC fan.
OPPO NEO 5
The Oppo Neo 5 combines decent performance in an extremely affordable package. Despite being the most affordable of the lot, the Neo 5 still packs a good design and decent build quality. Handling is good for a phone of its size.
It also has the company's own interface, ColorOS, which offers a different take from the other Android skins and has a few unique features like gesture support to fast-track certain actions.
Considering its price tag and screen size, the WVGA resolution of its display does not stick out as much as a sore point as on the HTC Desire 510.
Looking past that, the other concern would be its limited 4GB of internal storage. You are more than likely to rely on the memory card slot for storing your multimedia content, but if you are faced with some large apps that are not easy to install on expandable storage, then you will soon face limitations on what you can install and experience on your phone.
If you are on a tight budget and do not mind having a different Android user experience, do consider the $219 Oppo Neo 5.
MOTOROLA MOTO G WITH 4G LTE
Although the Motorola Moto G with 4G LTE is the most expensive of the lot ($348 list price), it is still one of the key contenders for an affordable 4G smartphone.
Fortunately, the sub-$280 retail price in stores keeps it competitive with the rest of the products being compared.
Its design, build quality and handling are comparable with those of the Asus ZenFone 5, and offers the closest user experience to a Nexus device as it runs on stock Android.
Thus, the Moto G with 4G LTE will appeal to Android purists and consumers who want an uncluttered Android user experience.
SAMSUNG GALAXY ACE 4 LTE
The Galaxy Ace 4 LTE is Samsung's latest attempt to fend off competition in the entry-level market, but its overall proposition failed to match up to the competition.
Its design looks uninspiring and boring compared to newer designs by Asus, Motorola and ZTE. Moreover, a 4-inch display may be a deal breaker for consumers looking for a slightly bigger display to take advantage of the faster 4G speeds for Web browsing.
Its dismal 0.5MP front-facing camera is a letdown and its dual-core processor occasionally does not match up to the quad-core counterparts in this comparison. Despite these shortcomings, it is one of the few phones in this segment to have Near Field Communication support.
The phone's basic specs, however, might be a blessing in disguise. It has the second-highest battery life from our testing and its footprint is the most compact.
Overall, there is little to justify its $268 price tag, but some of the local retail stores have it stocked for less than $220, and that makes it more bearable.
ZTE BLADE VEC 4G
Of the brands featured here, ZTE is the newest on the block and, believe it or not, the Blade VEC 4G is its flagship smartphone and priced at the sweet spot of $299.
Thin, light, a large 5-inch HD display and the decent overall performance are what the Blade VEC 4G has to offer.
However, there are three potential deal breakers. First, it does not come with a memory card slot, so you have to make do with the 16GB internal storage (actual storage is less). Second, its software launcher delivers an unsatisfactory user experience as it is sluggish. Thus, it has no special software features to offer. Lastly, its camera performance is not up to mark for an 8MP shooter.
It is hard to recommend this phone as it does not offer anything particularly remarkable that the competition does not offer in a better design or at a lower price.
Unless you want to try something new, the ZenFone 5 LTE or Moto G are easily the better options here.
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