Don’t have the cash to splash out on the most expensive flagship phones? We review three of the latest great-value alternatives
We test the Samsung Galaxy J5 (2017), Moto E4 and Nokia 5 to find the best budget phone
While the big-name phone manufacturers would love us all to rush out and buy their latest top-ofthe-range models – preferably, every time they launch a new one – they also cater for those of us who can’t or won’t pay top dollar for a new phone.
Here, we’ve compared three of the latest budget Android smartphones: the Moto E4, the Nokia 5 and the recently revamped Samsung Galaxy J5. These new models can do most of the things that the best smartphones can do, but won’t cripple your wallet.
The cheapest of the three is the Moto E4, which costs £119.95 for the Sim-free model (which means you can insert your own Pay As You Go SIM from any provider and stay contract-free). The Nokia 5 is also affordable, with Sim-free models available from £179.99. If you want the Samsung Galaxy brand, you’ll need to pay a little more – the J5 was originally launched last year but has had its components tweaked for this year’s version and is a little more expensive than its predecessor at £219 Sim-free.
If you don’t mind being tied to a contract, you should be able to get any of these
phones on very affordable monthly plans through your preferred network, but it pays to shop around.
You may expect build quality to be closely linked to price but all three of these phones have the kind of high-quality metal cases you’d expect to see on more costly models.
The Galaxy J5 can’t be faulted and provides a flagship feel at a fraction of the price. At first glance, it looks a lot like Samsung phones of old, right down to the centrally placed Home button, which now doubles as a fingerprint reader. But flip it over and you’ll see improvements over last year’s version. Samsung has managed to get rid of the chunky camera bump of last year’s model, so the rear camera now sits flush with the case. This means you can place it flat on your desk with no risk of scratching the lens. Its all-metal unibody design feels more substantial than the plastic casing of its predecessor, with rounded, “chamfered” edges that allow it to sit snug in your palm.
The Nokia 5 feels every bit as high-end as the Galaxy J5. Its soft round edges make the device easy to hold, and its sturdy aluminium body looks like it should survive a knock or two. It also has a fingerprint sensor built into the Home button.
Even the cheaper Moto E4 comes with a metal body and looks every bit as good as its rivals, with a gently curved, textured back and rounded edges. Its slightly raised glass front seamlessly joins the metal body, with no overhanging lip. Our only gripe is the conspicuous Moto logo not-so subtly placed above the display.
All three phones are equipped with micro-usb charging ports, so if you were hoping to move over to USB-C (which charges devices faster), you’ll have to look elsewhere. Thankfully, none of the phones has ditched the 3.5mm headphone socket, so you can still use your existing headphones with them.
Screen and display
While the build of these phones is able to compete with their top-of-the-range counterparts, there’s a marked drop in screen quality. All three displays have resolutions of 1,280 x 720 pixels. Still, the Samsung Super AMOLED panel is rich and vivid, covering 98.5% of the SRGB standard colour palette and the Nokia 5 does almost as well in this test, managing 92.8%. However, the Moto E4 trails far behind with only 75.7% coverage.
The Nokia 5 is the best for reading in glaring sunlight and has a maximum brightness of 578cd/m2 (candles per square metre), which is one of the brightest screens we’ve ever seen. To put this in context, the maximum brightness of the Moto E4 is 386cd/m2 and Samsung’s is even less impressive at 300cd/m2. This is on the low side and means it wouldn’t be ideal for outdoor use in very bright sunlight, although it’s passable.
Build and screen quality is fairly even between the phones but their performance is noticeably affected by price
While build and screen quality is fairly even between the three phones in this test, the difference in their performance is noticeably affected by price. The most expensive of the three – the Samsung Galaxy J5 – did the best in our tests, helped along by its dual-core Exynos 7870 processor and 2GB of memory. In Geekbench 4’s multi-core test, it scored 3,736, which is an increase of almost 50% over the results we saw with last year’s model. It impressed in single-core performance, too, scoring a total of 800.
The Nokia 5’s eight-core 1.4GHZ Snapdragon 430 processor and 2GB of RAM sound impressive but it failed to match the performance of the J5, scoring 2,845 in the multi-core test and 669 in the single-core test.
The Moto E4 is the cheapest of the three by some margin and only managed a result of 1,529 in the multi-core test and a single-core result of 555. It, too, comes with 2GB of RAM but has a less-impressive quad-core Mediatek MT6737 processor.
Interestingly, we didn’t get the same order of results when running our 3D-gaming tests, where the Nokia 5 produced the best results, running the Gfxbench Manhattan 3.0 on-screen test at 14fps (frames per second). This isn’t fast enough to seamlessly run the most demanding 3D games but it’s impressive for a phone of this price and it knocked the Samsung’s Galaxy J5 into second place with its 10fps result in the same test. Bringing up the rear again was the Moto E4, which only managed 5fps, although it’s still fine for running most casual games.
We test battery life by fully charging the phones, setting their screens to the same brightness, then running a looping video on the devices, measuring how long it takes for the phone to run out of power and shut down.
The test was aced by the most expensive phone – the Galaxy J5 – which lasted for 18 hours and 26 minutes. It’s an impressive result that will easily get you through a day’s use on a single charge and, as a point of interest, is nearly two hours longer than the battery life of Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S8.
The Nokia 5 battery also fared well, lasting 14 hours and 53 minutes, but the Moto E4 wasn’t as impressive, lasting just 10 hours and 20 minutes. However, we reckon that’s still enough to provide a day’s worth of moderate use on a full charge.
Few people these days use a dedicated camera and most of us now take snaps with our phones, so it’s important that it’s a good one. Budget phones are notorious for cutting corners in this area, as was evinced by last year’s version of the Samsung Galaxy J5, which had a tendency to over-expose photos. Despite having similar specs on paper, with a 13-megapixels resolution sensor, the 2017 version is a marked improvement over the old model. The images we took with it were clear and well-defined, with outstanding colour reproduction and very little visible noise. It handled low-light situations very well, while daylight shots were packed with detail. Even tricky subjects such as foliage were captured with outstanding clarity. No doubt about it, this is a much more versatile camera than you’d expect for the price.
The Nokia 5’s rear camera is also a 13-megapixel model. Detail is good, and there isn’t any noticeable smearing, although the default settings produce results that look a little drab. Toggle on the HDR and images suddenly come to life: everything becomes a lot brighter and more colourful. Without HDR enabled, colours are dark, but image detail is good. Lowlight HDR performance isn’t the best, though, with image noise obscuring detail. Turning on the flash improves the lighting and gives much sharper pictures, but also gives everything an unwelcome blue tint.
The cheapest phone of the group once again suffers from its budget restrictions. The Moto E4 is only capable of taking 8-megapixel photos, although in good light you’re generally treated to a clear and vibrant shot with wellbalanced tones. Brickwork – a notoriously tricky test for a budget phone camera – is well defined, too. However, in low light, the Moto E4 doesn’t fare so well. We found it struggled to capture enough light, resulting in grainy shots and ill-defined images. The built-in flash helps cut through the darkness but affects the overall tone. For better images, you’ll have to spend a bit more.
VS Nokia 5
VS Moto E4
Samsung Galaxy J5 (2017)