When you think about prepaid phones, perhaps you conjure up some obscure models and brands you wouldn’t normally see advertised by major smartphone makers like Apple or Samsung. That’s because a prepaid phone is just that: Prepaid in advance. Because there are no subsidies — you also pay for your talk and text in advance — many people assume that only cheaper phones are sold for the prepaid market. That concept is so past tense. Today, any phone, regardless of make or model, can be prepaid, as long as you’ve got the money, honey.
Why choose a prepaid phone? With a contract, you agree to pay for service after you use it. With prepaid service, you purchase what you think you need ahead of time. If you run out of prepaid time, you just add money to your account. A prepaid phone may cost more up front because you must also purchase your unlocked phone, but with a prepaid plan there are no surprises. You are free from multi-year contracts, which is great for people who need to plan their budgets carefully or who may not have a good enough credit rating for a long term plan. If you’re not happy with the service, you’re free to walk with no penalties. It’s also great for people who use their phone only occasionally or for emergencies.
There are some downsides to prepaid plans. If you switch to a different carrier or let your plan expire, you could lose your phone number. With certain low-cost pay-as-you-go phones, you may not get all the fancy features of more advanced smartphones. With some plans, if you do not use the phone or purchase more minutes within a specified time frame, your account could be deactivated. As with cell phone plans, look out for hidden fees like those for daily access, downloads, texting, roaming, or other routine services. Prepaid service doesn’t get unconditional love from carriers: If there is an overabundance of network traffic, contract customers may get priority over prepaid plans.
If you are in the market for prepaid cell phone service, we’ve put together a list of phones that you might want to consider — ranging from the top-of-the-line, near $1,000 models, down to a handset that’ll cost you less than $100.
Samsung Galaxy S10
The Samsung Galaxy S10 at 6.1 inches — one of the most expensive prepaid options — is also one of the best, fully featured smartphones available. It sports a nearly bezel-free dynamic AMOLED display at 3,040 x 1,440-resolution that emphasizes brilliant, detailed viewing, but wrapped in a slim body. The phone’s ultrasonic fingerprint ID uses sound waves to detect your fingertip in 3D to secure your phone and data. The Galaxy S10 offers wireless power sharing, letting you wirelessly power up another Samsung device with your smartphone. An intelligent battery optimizes usage based on your personal habits to deliver all-day performance.
The S10 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor backed by 8GB of RAM, with 128GB of storage space and a slot for a MicroSD card to expand it further. The camera is another huge attraction, featuring three lenses on the back, arranged horizontally. The camera features a 12-megapixel lens with a variable f/1.5 to f/2.4 aperture, a 12-megapixel telephoto lens with a f/2.4 aperture, and a 16-megapixel ultra-wide-angle lens with an f/2.2 aperture. Complementing the screen is a pair of Dolby Atmos-supported stereo speakers — and a headphone jack. If you fancy almost the same package, but bigger, and more expensive, then the S10 Plus is also excellent.
Apple iPhone XR
The iPhone XR is the mid-priced Apple selection featuring a colorful casing in red, blue, yellow, coral, and black or white. With its 6.1-inch LCD screen at 1,792 x 828 resolution — which is not super high — the Liquid Retina Display nonetheless looks sharp and distinctive, though the closer you look pixels will start to come into view. The XR is powered by an A12 Bionic chipset and 3GB of RAM. The processor makes iOS 12 operations fluid for swiftly tapping and swiping through multiple apps.
The XR camera has a 12-megapixel lens with an f/1.8 aperture and optical image stabilization for shooting 4K video at 60fps and recording stereo sound. The camera app performs admirably in capturing detailed, well-exposed photographs and low-light scenes and features Smart HDR. You can use the Portrait Mode without a secondary lens. The iPhone XR’s 2,942mAh battery gives you at least a full day and more of battery life for browsing the web, taking pictures, streaming music, and playing games.
Apple iPhone 6s
The iPhone 6S, which debuted in 2015, is one of the most popular older Apple iPhones. It’s built with an A9 chipset, an M9 coprocessor, and 2GB of RAM, and still has the physical home button as well as a headphone jack. In comes with 16GB, 64GB, or 128GB of storage. Its aluminum casing is tough, built from superior Series 7000 aluminum. The iPhone 6S camera is a respectable 12 megapixels with the front-facing camera at 5 megapixels and can shoot 4K resolution video. It also features 3D Touch via its pressure-sensitive screen that can detect levels of pressure on the display. Press lightly to peek into apps for a pop-up preview of their contents — a harder press opens the app. Considering its age, most available handsets will be refurbished for between $130 and $160 give or take.
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Google Pixel 3a
The Google Pixel 3a is a smart and solid choice at an affordable midrange price. It features a 5.6-inch OLED display with a 2,220 x 1,080-pixel resolution that’s sharp and legible. The casing is finished in plastic instead of glass, and thought light, it still feels solid in the hand. Google’s Pixel 3a makes a high-quality smartphone camera affordable with Google’s A.I. that produces fine images from a single 12.2-megapixel lens. There’s also a capable 8-megapixel front-facing camera. You get a decent 64GB of storage inside, and while there’s no space for a MicroSD card, you do get a 3.5mm audio jack and a USB-C port for fast wired charging. To round out the features, there’s a 3,000mAh battery to see you through an average day with change.
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Moto G7 Power
If you’re both on a budget and seeking the longest battery life possible, the Power variation of the Moto G7 is the name of the game. The Moto G7 Power is a low-priced phone with a glossy, curved plastic back and frame and some very nice touches. It features a 3.5mm audio jack, a USB-C port, and a volume rocker with a power key. The texture on the power button makes it easy to find by feel. Its 6.2-inch IPS LCD has a resolution of 1,570 x 720 — which is skimpy and none too sharp — but it’s still easy to read with adequate brightness. It operates with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 632 processor backed up by 3GB of RAM. It has only 32GB of storage, but there’s a MicroSD card slot if you need more room. The main camera is a single 12-megapixel lens with an f/2.0 aperture and HDR. The Moto G7 Power camera performs nicely in favorable environments, capturing plenty of detail and vibrant colors. It also handles close-ups quite well if they’re properly lit. However you use it, the Moto G7 Power will keep going, thanks to its beefy 5,000mAh battery.
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Moto E5 Play
If you’re into simple, plain, basic, and cheap — and there’s absolutely nothing negative about that — the Moto E5 Play may be the phone of your dreams. Not everyone craves flashy looks or camera work and you won’t find them from this plastic-backed, big-bezeled phone. What you will get is a handset that is fairly durable with decent battery life that delivers most of what smartphone users seek. The phone has a pleasing textured black pattern and you can pop the back to access the SIM slot, removable battery, and MicroSD slot. The 5.2-inch LCD display has a 16:19 aspect ratio with a 1,280 x 720 pixel resolution, which appears sharp and colorful, though it fades in direct sunlight. The unit is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 425 or Snapdragon 427, depending on the carrier and packs 2GB of RAM. The 8-megapixel camera on the Moto E5 Play struggles in low-light, but its 2,800mAh battery will definitely get you through the day.
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