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This article was published on July 12, 2017

I challenged my colleagues to pick a cheap phone for my boyfriend

I challenged my colleagues to pick a cheap phone for my boyfriend
Rachel Kaser
Story by

Rachel Kaser

Internet Culture Writer

Rachel is a writer and former game critic from Central Texas. She enjoys gaming, writing mystery stories, streaming on Twitch, and horseback Rachel is a writer and former game critic from Central Texas. She enjoys gaming, writing mystery stories, streaming on Twitch, and horseback riding. Check her Twitter for curmudgeonly criticisms.

As my boyfriend’s intrepid Windows phone is nearing the end of its life (along with all Windows phones), he wanted my recommendations for a new model. I turned right around and asked my colleagues for help. I wanted to know what tech-savvy people recommend to someone outside that bubble of experience who just wants something that’s cheap and works.

What my boyfriend wanted

For as long as I’ve known him, my boyfriend Mike has used a Windows phone with no front-facing camera and poor app support. While he could put up with it, the Windows phone is dying and fast, and support was lacking long before it was officially cut off. The proverbial straw that snapped the camel’s back was the fact he couldn’t update mobile Skype on his dinosaur of a phone.

I may despise the new Skype update, but the fact remains it’s been our primary source of communication for two years (we’re long distance). Not being able to use it from his phone was a big, sudden hassle.

Mike told me he wanted to get a new phone, preferably for a low price as he is a human being who needs to spend money on other luxuries such as food and rent. His budget was around £200, or roughly $250. He asked me for help picking out a new one.

His requests were simple: he wanted a good front-facing camera, and a decent memory and processor. He wanted to be able to keep up to date on all current connective apps. No plan, just a phone.

I don’t mind helping with tech advice, but I don’t have the world’s broadest experience with smartphones — I’ve been using iPhones for the last eight years, and those don’t come cheap.

But why am I working at a tech website if I can’t ask my colleagues for tech advice? With that in mind, I probed them for recommendations.

What my colleagues said

This felt like a test for my colleagues as much as a mission on Mike’s behalf. As tech journos, we’re used to writing about the latest and greatest in tech — often what’s most expensive. I wanted to see if we could go a little humble, and give someone a value rather than necessarily showing a preference for the bigger names.

I’ve seen them do it before when they review products, but there’s a difference between commending a cheap product you’re taking on its own terms and actively recommending one to a stranger.

Here’s what everyone had to say on the subject:


For US I’d go with the best Moto model … UK – IIRC Xiaomi is available there. So either of those brands [I recommended the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 to Mike based on a look at Abhi’s reviews.]


I’d go with the Moto G5 Plus, which comes with a decent camera for the price, excellent battery, fast charging, and a decent design for $230. It runs near stock Android, which practically ensures that it will run smoothly for a long time, despite not having flagship specs.


[He sent me links to a DooGee X7 and an UMIDIGI Z.]

I’ve had a DooGee before. They’re cheap, but otherwise nothing special. I like them because DooGee sounds a bit like Dookie, and there are a lot of scatological jokes to be made. You don’t get that with a Sony Xperia, right? Oh wait, Sony X-poo-ria. Never mind.

The UMIDIGI Z 5.5 is pretty cheap for the specs. You’re getting a deca-core phone with bags of ram, a lovely screen, and a decent pair of cameras. It’s one of the rare Chinese phones that feels aspirational, even though it’s cheap as chips. And it’s got some pretty decent reviews, too.


Moto G5 … not sure about the camera, but i love the clean android experience. It does offer excellent performance for a phone in this range


My advice is always get a Samsung Galaxy S-whatever. Can almost certainly get a 6 or 7 for that price. [I asked if he’d really recommend a refurbished phone over a cheap newer one, given he was the only one who did.] I would, but only Galaxy or iPhone — used ‘Vette over new Corolla.

At the time of writing, Mike was considering both the UMIDIGI and the Xiaomi. We’ll see which one wins out.

Update: Bryan weighed in with his recommendation of the original Nokia 3310: “It’s got a battery that’ll last 30-40 years with moderate use, and it’s built of the same material as Thor’s hammer. If you drop it, you’ll worry more about the floor. And you can use it as a weapon in a pinch.”

I’m not even sure if the original Nokia 3310 had a camera, but I’m sure the ability to play Snake will make Mike rethink all his priorities.

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