It is a given that an expensive meal will taste good. So it is not surprising if it is, only if it is not. On the other hand, it is easier to be impressed by an affordable restaurant. You probably don't expect much or spend a lot, and while there are usually compromises, the right meal can make it your favorite place.
This same experience can happen with smartphones, although you should not eat your phone. If you spend more than $ 500, you'll get a versatile flagship smartphone that is made to meet both hardware design and software. Some cheaper devices are related to fast fast food: they can get the job done, and usually not much else. But having a budget does not mean that you are not lucky.
More and more flagship functions, design and software are coming to cheap phones. Look no further than the $ 399 Google Pixel 3A as proof. It has the same excellent Pixel 3 camera of $ 799, and also much of the same design. This more reasonable price results in a phone that is made of plastic and has hardware that is a bit slower to use than you would expect from a flagship phone. It's hard to beat the value if you just want a somewhat affordable phone with a good camera, but $ 400 is still a lot of money.
So what can you get for half that? Surprisingly, for less than $ 200, you can find phones that look like a more expensive device, built with glass and with the latest Android 9 Pie software, or with a large, clear screen suitable for watching movies and TV program & # 39; s. I was surprised by the many options available for less than $ 200, so I checked out three phones to get an idea of what you get with your money: the $ 189 Nokia 4.2, the $ 179 Coolpad Legacy and the $ 199 Rokit IO 3D.
These three phones have the spectrum of what you can get in this price range, whether it's a large, clear screen, sleek design and software, or future-oriented features that may prove to be more gimmick than practical. They also have a deep sofa with modern features such as a fingerprint sensor, two rear cameras and in some cases support for two SIM cards. Simply put: if you're on a budget, you don't get as much money in your box as you might have thought.
It is reasonable to expect that a phone of less than $ 200 will not give you everything you would find in a more expensive model, but the Nokia 4.2 comes closest. Much of the success relies on the software, which is almost on Android 9 Pie. This phone is part of the Android One program from Google, which manages to bring a less demanding version of the Google Pixel software to affordable phones, with the latest security and feature updates in tow. It will receive Android Q, as well as future platform updates for two years and security patches for three years after the launch. Reliable updates are something that less expensive phones have always missed, so it's impressive to see Nokia's involvement here. I installed my Pixel 3 software backup on the Nokia 4.2 and I felt particularly at home here, although the performance certainly does not respond as quickly to the Nokia.
This phone uses the Snapdragon 439 processor from Qualcomm and has 3 GB of RAM. This is more than enough power for basic tasks such as sending messages, using the phone and browsing through Chrome, but there is usually a noticeable delay when browsing through the menus and opening or changing apps. Games like Pokémon Rumble Rush and PUBG run at jerky but respectable frame rates at low settings.
This ho-hum version also sticks its head in the camera. The phone is slow to take photos and the screen does not offer a reliable viewfinder; it looks much brighter than the photos taken turn out to be. However, the Nokia phone takes the best pictures among the three devices I tested. The photo results of the Coolpad Legacy and Rokit IO 3D are blurry, even when I stand still. Is the Nokia 4.2 as good at taking photos as the Google Pixel 3A? No, but what it can do for less than $ 200 is impressive.
The Nokia 4.2 has a few extra tricks that you don't see every day, even in many of the most expensive phones. The on / off button lights up when you receive a notification. It is easier to see on the other side of the room than most notification LEDs, which are usually implemented near the selfie camera on phones, a place where you cannot see it blinking unless you are there right next to it. Another interesting feature is the Google Assistant button on the left that gives you direct access to the voice assistant without & # 39; Hey Google & # 39; to call. It cannot be reassigned to another feature, which is disappointing, but this is a nice feature to have found its way to a budget-friendly phone.
Of the three devices that I tested, the Nokia 4.2 comes closest to the feeling of being a more expensive and expensive device. The software certainly helps with this, and its glass-covered body looks good and feels good to wear. If you need a cheap device, this can be a good fit, that is, if you can handle the Micro USB charging port. USB-C can be connected so much more easily and the USB-C charging port of the Coolpad Legacy offers faster charging speeds.
A T-Mobile Metro exclusive, the Coolpad Legacy is the better choice if you want a larger, brighter and slightly more colorful display. The Legacy is, in a few other ways, a better phone than the Nokia 4.2, even if I prefer the design and feel of the latter. The Coolpad phone looks like a premium phablet, covered with glass on the front and back. The 6.4-inch, 1080p screen makes Nokia's 5.7-inch 720p screen thinner. Some Verge executives preferred the feel of this device over the Nokia 4.2, and if you like large phones, you may prefer it.
The Legacy has a slightly more capable processor than the Nokia 4.2 (Snapdragon 450 vs. Snapdragon 439), and it's just a bit more spicy during general use. The larger screen with higher resolution of this phone makes it a better choice if you watch a lot of TV programs & movies and occasionally play a game. Just like Nokia's phone, it can handle intensive games such as PUBG, at around 30 frames per second.
Put those extras aside, it didn't understand it all. The cameras take noticeably worse photos than the Nokia 4.2, and part of the speed advantage of the Coolpad Legacy is wasted on Metro by the T-Mobile bloatware. This phone only costs $ 29 if you switch to the courier and you sign up with a subscription of $ 50 per month, although it is otherwise $ 179. But, no matter how you buy it, it comes with eight of the carrier apps that are pre-installed and you can't uninstall them. Most of them are not too intrusive for the experience, with the exception of the MetroZone news app, which sometimes starts automatically when I unlock the phone. This example and Coolpad & # 39; s software in general, which lacks the smooth animations and polish of the Android operating system that arrives in the Nokia 4.2, make the Legacy feel like a budget phone.
I haven't compared the Rokit IO 3D yet, because at $ 199 this is by far the worst value of the bunch. As the name suggests, it struggles with 3D in a way that is somewhat similar (ambitious as an idea, poorly executed) for the RED Hydrogen One. This can display photos that you take in 3D, but the results are not great, and even worse, the screen quality is horrible. It has a 720p screen, such as the Nokia 4.2, but it looks considerably worse with poor viewing angles and noticeable pixelation in text.
The Rokit IO 3D comes with Facebook, Amazon and The Weather Channel apps that are pre-installed and Rokit has also installed some of its own apps. One is a collection of 3D content that uses its 3D display and the other is an account management application that people can use to access the ROK Health service, which claims to provide medical advice over the phone and savings on the phone. invoices from pharmacies. for people who buy the device. These can be useful functions, but I cannot guarantee how long Rokit will work to grow his library of 3D content, or exactly how it plans to help you save money on medicines.
You must stay away from this phone. The MediaTek processor is slow, the screen is terrible, the build quality is worse than that of others and the Android 8 Oreo software is somehow very rough on the edges. If the Rokit IO 3D was $ 100 less, it would be a more acceptable value, but I would not recommend it anymore.
We are not at the point where $ 200 phones are going to win prizes or are a clear choice when compared to more expensive devices. That time may eventually come, but for now it is easy enough to find a device that is suitable and enjoyable to use. The Nokia 4.2 and Coolpad Legacy are some solid examples, but if you are looking for more options, check out our collection of the best cheap phones.
Vox Media has affiliated partnerships. These do not affect editorial content, although Vox Media can earn commissions for products purchased through affiliate links. See our website for more information ethical policy.