Best Budget Android Phone in UK



The most coveted and popular phone of the moment is the Apple iPhone 4S, but even if you find a contract that's offering it for free, it'll mean tying yourself into paying around £45 a month for the next two years. Smartphones running Google's Android operating system are much cheaper, and there are lots of models available.

Here, we've looked at seven Android phones that you can get for free, and not one of them will cost more than £21 per month on a fixed term contract.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro

One of the biggest complaints about touchscreens is that typing on them is slow and inaccurate. This is because a flat screen offers none of the tactile guidance that a physical keyboard does, so it's much easier to hit the wrong key.

The Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro has dealt with this problem by providing a slide-out keyboard that's a pleasure to use. Push it out and the screen will switch from portrait to landscape mode and you can type with ease. The layout is logical, and the matt finish on the keys means your fingers don't slip about. They can be a bit stiff, but this gives the buttons a definite resistance, so you know for sure when you've pressed them.

The latest release of the Android OS is version 4.0, but we don't expect to see it on budget phones for some time. This phone runs Android 2.3. There's a whole bunch of extras that Sony has layered on top, some of which are useful (BBC iPlayer, Adobe Reader, OfficeSuite and an app called Timescape that brings together updates from social-networking updates) and others less so. Some of these can't be removed, which is a bit annoying, but they don't take up that much room on the device ( 30MB of its available 420MB) so there's still plenty of space for your own add-ons.

There's a 5-megapixel camera built into the device and we found it took surprisingly good shots. The detail of pictures is high, although the color loses some vibrancy compared to most of its rivals.

You can get the Xperia Mini Pro for free on a two-year contract for just over £15 per month, which is a total outlay of about £368. This is pretty good value for money considering the overall quality of the phone. If you'd prefer a shorter contract, you can pay £20.42 a month over 18 months, which will cost the same amount overall.

Verdict

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Ease of Use




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Overall




Smartphones have loads of interesting features, but typing even the shortest messages on a touchscreen can be a chore. By having a physical keyboard that slides out from behind the screen, the Xperia Mini Pro essentially solves the problem outright. The phone has a good hardware specification though the keyboard adds significantly to the weight and bulk of the device. With Android 2.3 installed and some useful (and, unfortunately, not-so-useful) software add-ons, this is a great phone at an attractive price.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray

It's not got the biggest screen among this group, but the Sony Ericsson's Xperia Ray makes up for that with its resolution. At 480 x 854 pixels, it’s as good as any of its rivals, and better than the LG Optimus Black, despite its significantly smaller size. The only downside is that these cramped conditions make typing tricky.

Its battery life was impressive, and only beaten by the Motorola Defy. It lasted 36 hours and 39 minutes, which will easily keep you going for the day if you've fully charged the device, but may not be enough to guarantee a second day of intensive use.

The phone comes installed with Android 2.3, which runs smoothly and efficiently, despite the lack of a dual-core processor. It has 1GB of built-in memory, and comes with a 4GB MicroSDHC memory card included in the box.

The 8-megapixel built-in camera takes excellent photos, and even manages well in low light, thanks to its LED flash. However, its video capability wasn't quite so impressive, and the colors didn't appear as vibrant as in the still pictures.

One of the most notable features of the Xperia Ray is its superior design and build quality. The sturdy aluminum frame has a plastic back cover that's been rubberized, so it won't slip out of your hand. The large Home button makes it easy to switch back to your home screen after you've finished using an app, and it's this button you also use to unlock the phone.

Like the Xperia Mini Pro, it's got some superfluous software bundled with it that you can't get rid of, but this is a small drawback in an otherwise impressive phone.

Verdict

Features
 



Performance
 



Ease of Use
 



Value for Money




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This is a slick, well-constructed phone. Despite the lack of cutting-edge internal hardware, it runs Android 2.3 extremely well, and provides some top-quality extras, including an 8-megapixel camera and 4GB memory card. The small screen packs a visual punch, though it isn't great for typing. The battery was second only to the Motorola Defy's, and the build quality and design are fantastic. The only real downside is the pre-installed software which you have no choice but to keep.

Motorola Defy

Smartphones can be delicate, and the last thing you want when you're tying yourself into a lengthy contract is a device that falls apart the second you slide it out of your pocket. Motorola has recognized the importance of a sturdy build and equipped the Defy with a scratch- and impact-resistant screen made from Gorilla Glass (www.corninggorillaglass.com), and a dust-proof and water-resistant (to lm) case designed to withstand the elements.

The screen is generous for this group at 3.7in, allowing a resolution of 480 x 854 pixels. The glass spans the entire device and integrates touch-sensitive buttons, which makes the phone feel compact and pocketable. It's prone to smearing, though.

The phone is well specified with an 800MHz processor, though we found it occasionally felt sluggish. Running Android 2.lleaves it lagging slightly behind the other phones, but all the essential Android features are still present.

To make up for this, Motorola has bundled a lot of extra software. Its Swype program lets you drag your finger around the keyboard to form words, rather than prod individual letters, which makes touchscreen typing much faster. Motoblur does good work combining contacts and calendars from various sources, and there's an office suite, a fi le manager and a DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) server browser too, for streaming media to the phone.

The battery lasted 50 hours in our test, which is remarkable, and makes it by far the best in our test. It means you should be able to get a couple of days out of the battery between charges, and on a serious smartphone, that's practically unheard of elsewhere.

Verdict

Features




Performance




Ease of Use
 



Value for Money




Overall




The Motorola Defy is an attractive phone in many respects, not least in its pricing. The hardware is impressive, offering a rugged, good-quality build that's designed to last, along with a good-sized screen. Its software is impressive too, with many built-in extras that add breadth to Android's basic offering. And the battery life ~ unrivalled in similarly priced phones. That you can get all this for free on a £20-per-month contract makes it a very attractive option.

HTC ChaCha

HTC's ChaCha looks a lot like a BlackBerry, with half its case devoted to a keyboard and a smaller (2.6in) screen at the top, which has a decent resolution but feels a bit cramped. It's specifically designed to tie in with Facebook, with the keyboard used for typing status updates (though, obviously, it can also be used for non-Facebook typing). There's a Face book key that performs specific tasks depending on what you're doing, so it'll upload a photo if you're in the camera mode, or tell your friends what you're listening to if you're in the music player.

HTC has upgraded its Android 2.3 installation with some interesting extras aimed at social networkers, such as notifications being shown in your contacts list when someone updates their status. The performance felt a bit sluggish, though, and the battery life was unimpressive next to the other phones.

Verdict

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Value for Money




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This phone has a handy keyboard that will make anyone familiar with a BlackBerry feel right at home. It leaves less space for the screen, though, and this makes some tasks, like browsing websites, fiddler than on other phones

LG Optimus Black

The LG Optimus Black looks a lot like an iPhone, with a glass facia that includes screen and touch-controls. The large 4in screen sports a sharp 480 x 800 pixel resolution that's extremely bright and has a good contrast.

The single-core 1GHz processor does a surprisingly good job of keeping Android 2.3 smooth and responsive. LG has decorated the interface with its own icons, but most of the underlying apps remain Android's own, which is a good thing. There are a few extras too, including an office suite, PDF viewer, an app to seek out streaming media servers and a techsupport app that lets LG's engineers fix your phone remotely.

The standard Android keyboard has been replaced, though, which actually makes typing on the device a bit fiddler and you can't switch back to Android's own system.

Verdict

Features




Performance
 



Ease of Use
 



Value for Money




Overall




This is a stylish phone that performs well. The screen is bright, has excellent contrast and is the largest on offer in the Group Test. The Android keyboard, however, has been replaced by LG's own, which doesn't work as well.

Samsung Galaxy Pro

The Samsung Galaxy Pro has a full QWERTY keyboard but its screen is slightly larger than HTC ChaCha's at 2.8in. However, the 320 x 240 pixel resolution is very low, so everything looks a bit blocky, which doesn't compare well to other phones' screens. The keyboard isn't as easy to use as the ChaCha's, and though the phone is lighter, the build quality doesn't feel as sturdy. The touchscreen responds instantly to finger control, but this was one of the few things it had going for it.

The phone comes with Android 2.2 installed and includes a selection of business tools, such as ThinkFree Office, which lets you edit documents created in popular office suites. However, the low-resolution screen makes working with the software impractical.

Verdict

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Performance
 



Ease of Use
 



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Overall





A keyboard is great if you do a lot of typing, but the ChaCha's is better than this one. The compromises made on the screen, which is larger than the ChaCha's but has a significantly lower resolution, make much of its features hard to use.

Orange Barcelona

The Barcelona is another handset with a BlackBerry-style physical keyboard. As with the Samsung Galaxy Pro, the small (2.6in) screen is hampered by a low resolution of 320 x 240 pixels. This isn't big enough to display a whole web page, so you'll find yourself scrolling the website around the screen to read it.

The hardware is at the budget end, with a 528MHz processor and a 3.2-megapixel camera. Still, it's the cheapest phone on test, and it still has GPS, an accelerometer, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

Orange has made a lot of changes to Android, bringing its own selection of tools to the front. This wouldn't be so bad if they were useful, but most of them make Android less easy to use or simply link to pages on the Orange website

Verdict

Features
 



Performance
 



Ease of Use
 



Value for Money




Overall





The Orange Barcelona's screen is as small as they come and has a disappointingly low resolution to match. The rest of the hardware isn't highly specified, but you'd expect that from the cheapest phone in our test.

Battery Life

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Comparison


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Final Verdict

The budget end of the Android world seems littered with Sony Ericsson's devices and the company nets both Gold and Silver awards in this Group Test. The sliding keyboard of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro gives Android users a vastly improved typing experience without compromising on screen space. It performs brilliantly, too, and is available for free on a £15.32-permonth contract from T-Mobile.

The gap between the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray and the Motorola Defy is small enough to make the second-place call a tough one, but the Ray just nabbed it with a lower price. If you tend to be a little on the rough side with your mobile equipment, the Defy is a sturdier device, and offers some protection against water and dust. It also has the best battery by a considerable margin




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