Not that many years ago, buying an Android phone off-contract for $250 would assure you of a terrible experience. Buyer's remorse was almost inevitable, and the only way to avoid it was to spend two or three times more on a "proper" android phone. My, how times have changed. A new era of Android has dawned, and the price of solid mid-range devices has come down dramatically. It's not all roses, though.
Let's take a look at what you gain and what you lose with these budget-friendly Android phones.
The How and Why
One of the primary reasons you can get a device like the Asus Zenfone 2, Alcatel Idol 3, or Moto G for well under $300 is that chipset makers have finally caught up to Android's software requirements. Mid-range SoCs like the Snapdragon 410, 615, and MediaTek Helio X10 have enough power to keep Android running smoothly in most instances. Most of these chipsets even support LTE. NAND flash and memory has come down in price dramatically as well.
There has also been a shift at the top of the market that has sent some OEMs looking for a new angle. It's actually very difficult to make a $600 smartphone and turn a profit while competing with Samsung, LG, and the other big players. Even some notable names in Android have had trouble competing in the premium bracket as of late (see: HTC). So what's an OEM to do? Well, go cheap, sometimes with the help of hardware partners.
There's an interesting dynamic playing out in the supply chain right now that has pushed hardware costs even lower than they might otherwise have been. Intel is looking to make a name in phones, and its latest generation Atom SoCs are actually quite good. Qualcomm is stumbling right now with the toasty Snapdragon 810, so Intel has partnered with OEMs like Asus to get its chips into budget phones quickly and cheaply. The price of a device like the Zenfone 2 might not have been as reasonable were it not for Intel's aggressive moves as of late.