6 affordable smartphones that don't require a pricey contract

High-end devices usually either cost a lot or lock you into an expensive plan. What you may not know is there are great smartphones that can save you hundreds on device costs and can also allow you to choose cheaper monthly plans.

Great smartphones from brands like Motorola, Samsung, HTC can save you hundreds of dollars

The Moto G, Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime, and HTC Desire 626s are among the reliable smartphones that you can buy for $250 or less. (Anand Ram/CBC)

Simple math: $300 for a high-end smartphone plus $75 a month (multiplied by a two-year contract) equals $2,100.

Simple illusion: The actual cost of the phone is $800, and you're just paying less up front — and locked in to two years to pay off the rest.

This is the wireless game, and it's been said that Canadians pay more to play than other countries.

What you may not know: There are great smartphones that can save you hundreds on device costs and, subsequently, allow you to choose cheaper monthly plans. For example, Telus's off-contract plans start at $50 dollars a month compared to $70 for phones bought on contract.

Granted, if you want high-end, you have to pay for it. The latest iPhone or Samsung Galaxy S series will never come cheap. In fact, Apple doesn't even offer cheap phones.

And, to be fair, high-end phones often have better screens, better cameras and speedier processors. However, that doesn't mean budget-minded devices are slow, featureless and awful to look at. Here are a few reliable choices for $250 or less.

Quick note about "off-contract" vs. "unlocked." Off-contract means the phone is still locked to the carrier it was purchased from. However, new CRTC regulations give Canadians the right to get off-contract phones immediately unlocked, so that you can switch service providers.

But know that not all devices are compatible with every network, so check before you buy.

Moto G (3rd Generation)

$200 to $230 off-contract on Bell, Koodo, Telus, Virgin Mobile and Wind Mobile (coming weeks)

For the last two years, Motorola has made the best value-focused smartphones. Even the very first Moto G punched above its weight class.

The newly announced 3rd generation Moto G continues that tradition with a crisp five-inch screen, LTE connectivity, improved 13 megapixel camera, long battery life and water-resistant build.

Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime

$250 off-contract on Telus, Koodo, Bell, Virgin Mobile, Videotron / Unlocked at Walmart.ca and Canada Computers

If you've used any Galaxy phone, the Grand Prime will be familiar to you. It, too, has an excellent five-inch screen, LTE connectivity and a great battery life. In the hand, it feels solidly built, a plus considering phones in this price range tend to have cheaper materials.

HTC Desire 626s

$240 off-contract on Sasktel, Videotron, other carriers coming soon

Sounds like an old Mazda sedan, but it's the newest mid-range from HTC.

The design mirrors its flashier flagship cousin, the HTC One M9, but its back and sides are rubbery instead of metallic.

Again, you'll find a good five-inch display, battery and LTE connectivity. If you care about selfies, the front facing camera is better than most. However, while the front speakers ape the look of the M9, they are not the same Dolby-quality sound.

Microsoft Lumia 535

$179 unlocked, directly from Microsoft

This five-inch Windows Phone has a very clean design, a holdover from Nokia-designed Windows phones.

The software is responsive and the "tile" interface means you won't notice the low resolution. It also supports two SIM cards, handy for frequent travellers going from network to network. Note: the Lumia 535 will not work on carriers who use AWS networks, such as Wind and Videotron.

However, the recent, massive layoffs in Microsoft's phone division suggest the Windows Phone brand is in bad shape. While there are good quality apps available, you won't find nearly as many as there are on Android.

ASUS ZenFone 2

$250 unlocked, through Canada Computers, NCIX or Newegg

You may have heard of Taiwanese manufacturer ASUS, but you may not know it makes phones.

Its latest, the ZenFone 2, feels high-end for a low price. Compared to the other devices on this list, it has a 5.5-inch display with a full HD resolution, better camera and brushed metal feel, on top of LTE connectivity.

The downside is that ASUS's skin on top of the Android device feels bloated, and the power button is small and awkwardly placed, often missing presses.  

Special mention: Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3

 $350 off-contract on Bell, Telus and Videotron

Again, another relatively unknown (but worth watching) player in the North American Android phone market.

It is not on our list per se because it costs over $300 off-contract on Bell, Telus and Videotron. However, much like the ZenFone 2, it's a high-end device with a good camera, screen resolution and LTE connectivity.

About the Author

Anand Ram

Senior Writer

Anand Ram reviews consumer technology and writes about how it affects Canadians for CBCNews.ca. He is also a writer and editor for CBC-TV's The National with Peter Mansbridge. He has previously written for Financial Post and Canada.com on personal tech and business.

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