Is a cheap phone any good?

My answer is a BIG yes. Based on my experience using one of them, a cheap phone is damn good. It has not failed my expectation at all.

After using a cheap phone [Zenfone Max Pro M1] for a little over two years, I felt guilty having spent $500 on Samsung Galaxy in 2013. I accidentally dropped the Galaxy into beach waves while taking photos [but still working] and carelessly left the phone at the airport in Sydney before boarding on an airplane.

My current cheap phone, Zenfone Max Pro M1 priced at $130. The phone has never disappointed me at all for the last two years. It loads fast, lasts longer, has a big screen and adequate storage, gets a decent camera, and most importantly doesn’t break my bank.

In this article, I will tell you my personal experience using a cheap smartphone for tow years.

Let’s first we determine what I mean by cheap phone.

What is a cheap phone?

However, before we discuss about the quality of a cheap phone, we need to determine what is considered a cheap phone.

Obviously, price is what determines whether a phone is cheap or not. The price needs to be at certain price range and is affordable for most people.

While the term cheap is subjective depending on our income, it really is based on how much money we are willing to spend on a phone.

There are smartphones that go up as high as $1000 and go down as little as $50.

Phones in the price range of $700 – $1000 would be considered flagship phones. Phones priced between $300 – $600 are considered midrange while those below $300 are low-end phones.

Phones at low-end categories varied in price considerably. Therefore, my focus today would be the low-end phones that cost you less than $150. This is based on my experience using phones in this category.

I don’t think phones priced below $100 can withstand time due to limited RAM installed. Smartphone manufacturers have to sacrifice a lot of features to make a profit in the $100 market.

Unless you buy them for other people who rarely use phones, I don’t suggest you purchase phone less than $100 price point for yourself.

While I used to buy phones at a mid-range price ($400-$500) nowadays I only spend on a smartphone below $200. My family also buys phones priced below that price point.

Why? Because phones at this price are now really good and still perform well even after two years of usage. Thanks to the emergence of quality budget phone makers from China such as Xiaomi, Oppo, Huawei, and Asus.

Why I bought a cheap phone?

buy cheap phone

In late 2018, I had to buy a new phone because the older one (Redmi Note 2) can no longer perform well in the most app I used. It crashed very often and the battery is drained so fast. Even though I don’t have problems with the camera quality and phone display.

The problem was limited RAM and storage. My Redmi Note 2 only has 2 gigabytes of RAM and 16 gigabytes of storage which is tiny in 2020 standard.

I can no longer use many apps simultaneously at the same time, had to keep deleting rarely used apps, and frequently moved my files to my computer.

I learned from my old phone that battery, RAM, and storage are the most important features for my next phone, not the camera. At least based on my usage because I rarely take photos with my phone. Let alone selfies [I don’t feel confident taking photos of myself].

I also did not want to spend more than $150 for my new phone. Not because I can’t pay for more but I just want to test if the phone at that price range would withstand the time.

Based on my experience with my previous phone, the cheap phone still performs best for at least three years before I notice some problems with battery and performance. I bought my Redmi Note 2 in 2016 and it starts to feel lagging by the end of 2018.

App gets updated on regular basis and the size of the app is getting bigger and bigger than the previous versions. In turn, a phone requires more space because the app uses more storage. Many current apps also run in the background and eat up all of my RAM when opening many apps.

Thus, I accepted that my previous phone was no longer adequate to my need. I need to buy a new phone. A phone that ticks all the boxes I feel important [Keep on reading I will tell you my criteria]

After doing extensive research on the budget phone at the price range of $150 [both online and offline]. My options came down to Redmi Note 5 by Xiamoi and Zenofe Max Pro M1 by Asus.

While Redmi Note 5 is manufactured by Xiaomi which has years of experience making budget phones, Asus just entered the budget phone in 2018. However, I trust this Taiwan company because my laptop is Asus. I know they made consumer product with high quality standard.

I also believed Asus did not want to have their reputable names become negative because of their smartphone lines.

Finally, my decision fell to Zenfone Max M1 by Asus

At that time, the phone went up for sale in its official store which is about $20 less than Xiaomi. I bought the Zenfone Max M1 for $130 and still happy with the phone until today.

What do I get in a cheap phone?


The phone at the price of $150 can get you quite decent specs.

Due to my need, I want a phone to have at least 4gb of RAM and 64gb of storage. The battery need to be big so I don’t have to charge my phone in the middle of day. I also wanted to have a Snapdragon processor because at that time MediaTek tend to drain battery so fast.

I don’t really tinker the camera and display. Fingerprint was a bonus and design may or may not be attractive.

The Zenfone Max Pro M1 gave me all the thing I was looking for a phone for only $130.

Processor. The processor is actually a midrange processor, Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 (14 nm). The processor consists of an 8 Kryo 260 processor clocked at 1.8 GHz and 1.6 GHz respectively. It has Adreno 509 as the graphic. You can see the complete specs on the Qualcomm website. This is the same processor used by pricier phones such as Motorola Moto G7 Plus ($350), Nokia 7.1 ($262), and Sony Xperia 10 Plus ($306).

RAM. The RAM is 4GB which is enough for me considering my previous phone was only 2GB of RAM. The RAM itself is an LPDDR4-2666 memory controller (1333 MHz). I have never felt slow performance so far with this phone and rarely crashed. Not many vendors are generous enough to provide 4GB of ram at an affordable price of $130.

Storage. The phone storage is 64GB. This is four times the size of my previous storage despite the same price. I have so many applications installed and take about 5 photos every day. I only had to transfer my data to my computer every six months. It also has an expandable memory slot should I want to add more storage [which I did add an additional of 64GB in the second year].

Battery. The battery is big for this phone. It has one of the biggest battery at that time. The phone is equipped with 5000 mAh non-removable battery. The phone comes with 10W charger which is enough considering I only charge my phone before going to sleep. I notice that I can use the phone two days without charging.

Camera. The camera is not at the top of the line. It has two cameras on the back and one camera on the front side. The standard camera is 12 Mpx OmniVision OV13855 while the wide-angle camera is 5 Mpx Hynix HI-556. The front camera is 8 Mpx OmniVision OV8856. I don’t use the phone for photography because I have a DSLR for that. However, I do snap pictures of my family here and there and capture documents for reference. Especially, ever since I installed the pixel camera app on my phone, the processing quality of the camera improved significantly especially low light and portrait photos.

Security Feature. The cheap phone has a decent security feature, a fingerprint at the back. Do I need an on-screen fingerprint? No, not at all. For practical use fingerprint on the back is much more intuitive and easy to access. When we take our phone, we usually have our index finger on the back. By having a fingerprint at the back I could easily reach it with my index finger and unlock my phone easily before I see the screen. Some reviews [these are the people who review high-end smartphones] claim it is luggish and slow but I never experience so. The phone unlocks quite fast with a single tap.

Display. I am not pixel piping persons and I believe many people don’t unless you are tech-savvy. In real-world usage, I never feel it got blurred or lacks details unless I compare it to my sister’s iPhone which cost her $650. The following is the specs of my phone:
Size: 5.99 inches, 92.1 cm2 (~76.2% screen-to-body ratio)
Resolution: 1080 x 2160 pixels, 18:9 ratio (~404 ppi density)

Pure Android. Finally, it runs on almost full android so it does not have bloated software which runs in the background and slow your phone. It also gets updated to Android 9 [Still waiting for Andorid 10].

However, sadly, Asus quit the budget phone market and enter the gaming phone segment instead. They shifted their focus onto the ROG (Republic of Gamers) phone.

They stop innovating and perfecting their Zenfone Max lines despite customers like me are satisfied with it. I guess they can’t compete with other vendors who have years of experience in the budget phone market like Xiaomi and recently Realme by Oppo.

How well cheap phone perform after two years


Even after two years of usage, the I bought for only $130 dollar is still lightning fast. I felt that it can continue to perform well for another year. I have so many apps on the phone; some of which I have not used for almost a year.

The phone, in my opinion, does not get hot unless you play a game. Again, I didn’t buy the phone for gaming purposes. I use the phone pretty much for communication, document storage, and information.

I use some social media on my phone and check them on a regular basis such as WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. I send emails, talk to other people, upload videos, or pictures on social media. I also read the news on chrome and google news.

When I am outside and in a new place, I would use google map and ride hailing app such as grab, gojek and uber. I also gradually use document related app such as dropbox, google drive, office and docs.

Even I sometime experience crashed [once a month at most] I don’t feel the crash to be annoying. This usually happens when the number of tab in google chrome is extensive [up to 400 sometime] or the number of apps I open almost 30 [which is very rare in my case].

The fingerprint operates well and very responsive. I am able to unlock my phone with a single tap.

In term of camera, I have to admit that the camera is not very good. However, since I installed the pixel camera, the quality of photos has improved significantly. This is true when I take portrait and low light photos at night.

My friends who have more expensive phones by Samsung or Oppo even amazed at the quality of my phone [taken with pixel camera app]. They even thought that my phone must be very expensive.

In term of RAM, 4GB still serves me well. Originally, I wanted to have 6GB but I think within the next 3 years the phone battery may degrade even if the RAM is still good. I still love my budget phone until today.

Its battery does not seems to degrade. The phone can still last two days based on my usage. However, when I went out with my family, I use GPS a lot and take pictures using pixel, the battery usually drained before I went to bed.

Google camera pixel is know to drain battery fast based on my experience with Google Pixel 2. Due to small battery pixel 2 has, the battery died in afternoon if I use it to snap a lot of pictures.

In conclusion, if you are willing to pay 150-200, you will get cheap phones that is good enough for our normal usage and can perform well even after two years. You don’t have to feel bad if one day you break or loose it though.

And if you want to upgrade to a new model, you don’t feel guilty because your current phone was not expensive. Because I bet if we have two phones we rarely use the old one. I experience it myself. Unless you buy new phone with different purpose in mind like for gaming and work.

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