Five of the best budget smartphones for 2015

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It's easy to be seduced by high-end tech, but you might be surprised by how competent the budget smartphone has become in 2015

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When it's time to pick out your next smartphone, it's always tempting to look at top shelf handsets like the Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+, iPhone 6s or LG G4, but is it always worth spending the extra for premium tech? Here are five smartphones that make a pretty good case for going budget.

Moto E (2nd generation)

First up is Motorola's budget superstar, the Moto E. The phone may fall far from the high-end, but its specs and overall experience are outstanding for its price range.

It has a reasonably sharp – well, for its price range, at least – 4.5-inch display (245 pixels per inch) and a solid 5 MP ƒ/2.2 aperture camera on the back. It runs stock Android Lollipop, so you get the experience Google intended, without any manufacturer UIs on top.

The Moto E's design is similar to the company's higher-end models, though it unsurprisingly feels less premium in the hand. The build is simple and solid, but good enough for this price range. While there's only a single 8 GB storage option, at least a microSD slot is included, so you'll easily be able to complement that space.

There are both 3G and 4G LTE variants of the second gen Moto E. The processor you'll find varies as well, with the 4G device packing the more powerful chip.

Starting full retail price: US$120

Moto G (3rd generation)

As Motorola's slightly higher-end budget device, the 2015 Moto G also provides an excellent balance of specs and price point, offering 4G LTE connectivity, a 5-inch 720p display, quad core Snapdragon processor and either 1 or 2 GB RAM (depending on which storage capacity you choose).

With the Moto G in hand, it's easy to forget that the handset falls into the budget category. Its plastic build won't blow you away, but it does feel well-made, and it provides a smooth and lag-free experience. There's also a textured finish on the rear cover, which is grippy and tactile under the fingertips.

Just like the Moto E, this third generation smartphone runs a stock version of Android Lollipop, and it's even water resistant (IPX7), letting you safely soak it in up to 1m (3.3 ft) of water for half an hour.

Starting full retail price: $180

Microsoft Lumia 640

Taking a step away from the Android ecosystem, we come to the Lumia 640, a 5-inch 720p smartphone running on Microsoft's Windows Phone 8.1 OS, arguably the best-looking mobile software around. And it's still scheduled to receive a Windows 10 update at some point.

The Lumia 640 is 4G LTE-enabled with 8 GB internal storage included, alongside a single gigabyte of RAM and a quad core Snapdragon 400 processor. The shiny, colorful plastic build lines up with its Lumia lineage, though it does feel cheaper in the hand than its rivals.

Available in a choice of three colors, the handset has an 8 MP rear camera, and there's a microSD card slot, letting you add an extra 128 GB.

Starting full retail price: $129

HTC Desire 510

Switching back to Android, the Desire 510 offers 4G LTE connectivity on a budget. It runs on the same quad core Snapdragon chip you'll find in the Lumia 640, with either 4 or 8 GB internal (and expandable) storage and 1 GB RAM.

The design of the handset is simple and clean, following the same lines (though not the same materials) as the high-end One MX lineup. In hand, it's a nondescript slab of dark plastic, reminding us that build quality is the first thing OEMs skimp on in all these budget phones.

The asking price is rock bottom here though, so we can't complain too much.

Starting full retail price: $100

OnePlus One

Moving from one end of the scale to the other, the first generation OnePlus handset is finally available for mass purchase (you previously had to wait to receive an invite to buy). It's pricier than every other handset here, but at $249, it offers nearly-high-end specs and just about squeezes into budget territory.

The OnePlus One's 2014 flagship specs include a 5.5-inch 1080p panel, a Snapdragon 801 chip, 3 GB RAM and 16 GB internal storage (there's also a pricier 64GB version available). You'll find the latest version of Android on board (augmented by the highly-customizable CyanogenMod), as well as 13 MP (ƒ/2.0 aperture) and 5 MP front and rear cameras.

The handset has great battery life, and the build feels slick and solid, though not as glamorous as its high-end competition. It's pricier than the rest of the devices here, but there aren't many phones that match the OnePlus One's value.

Starting full retail price: $249

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