While it’s relatively easy to keep track of key high-end smartphone releases, things get a little more complicated when it comes to low-end handsets. Picking up an affordable, but still capable, handset can be a minefield – but there are a few gems out there. Read on, as Gizmag takes a look at five of the best budget (sub-US$200 off-contract) handsets you can buy in 2014.

Asus Zenfone 4

The entry level Zenfone is great if you're looking for a small, stylish smartphone that won't break the bank. The handset's 4-inch display isn't huge, but it is relatively sharp for this category, packing 233 PPI pixels per inch (PPI).

While a 4 GB storage option is standard for low-end devices, the Zenfone's standard 8 GB offers a little more space than most. The handset is also fitted with a microSD card slot, meaning you can easily expand its storage.

Though this is a 2014 device, it doesn't run the latest version of Google's mobile OS, instead making do with Android 4.3 Jelly Bean. That said, Asus has promised a future update to Android 4.4 KitKat. The device is priced at $150 (unsubsidized and off-contract, as all of these prices will be).

Sony Xperia M

The Xperia M was launched in 2013, and while it doesn’t quite excel on the spec sheet, it does come in a fairly thin and light package, measuring just 9.3mm (0.37 in) and weighing 115 g (0.25 lbs).

The device’s 1 GHz quad core processor isn't exactly a speed demon, but most other specs, including 1 GB RAM and a 4-inch 854 x 480 display, are solid. If you’re a fan of Sony’s smartphone stylings, then the Xperia M is a good, wallet-friendly way to get your fix.

Sony originally set the price for the handset at $250, but today you can pick it up for around $150.

Nokia Lumia 635

If you’re not a fan of Google’s Android operating system, then you’ll want to take a look at the Windows Phone 8.1-toting Nokia Lumia 635. Microsoft’s mobile operating system uses a significantly different design language to iOS or Android, opting for bright-colored live tiles and clipping text in eye-popping ways.

The handset is thin at 9.2 mm (0.36 in), but the spec sheet is a mixed bag. The Snapdragon 400 processor is solid for a budget device, but it carries just 512 MB RAM, half that of every other handset here.

The display isn't quite as sharp as some of the other devices here, featuring the same 854 x 480 resolution as the Xperia M, but over a more expansive 4.5-inch screen, lowering the pixel density to 218 PPI.

When it comes to connectivity, the Lumia 635 has an ace up its sleeve with the inclusion of an LTE radio – a real plus for a budget handset.

The handset retails for $130.

Motorola Moto E

Motorola has put a lot of effort into the budget smartphone space in the last year, launching two low-cost but capable handsets. The Moto E is the most wallet-friendly of the two, and despite its $130 price tag, it excels in a number of areas.

The first of these is its display. With a resolution of 960 x 540 over 4.3-inches, the screen here isn’t going to win any awards, but a pixel density of 256 PPI is good for the category, and the 1,980 mAh battery should lend the device some solid battery life stats.

Motorola makes almost no changes to stock Android with its Moto devices, meaning that the UI isn’t slowed down by custom graphics – a real bonus for a low-end handset.

Motorola Moto G

You can think of the Moto G as an upgraded Moto E (and vice versa), with the handset packing a more powerful Snapdragon 400 quad core processor (the same one you’ll find in the Lumia 635) and an impressive 4.5-inch, 1,280 x 720 display with 326 PPI. That’s the same pixel density as an iPhone 5s, but the Moto G starts at just $180.

The Moto G also offers the most expansive built-in storage in this bunch, with a choice of either 8 or 16 GB, but there’s no microSD card slot like the rest of the handsets here. The Moto G comes standard with 3G and HSPA 21 Mbps support, but you can also pay $40 extra to buy a version that supports 4G LTE data speeds (known as the Moto G LTE).

Though the Moto G just might be the best option in this group, right now isn't a great time to buy it. Motorola has shot out invitations to a press event on September 4, where it will likely announce the Moto G2.

For a detailed look at the Moto E and G, check out our full comparison. If you're in the market for something a little more high-end, then we've got you covered with our 2014 smartphone comparison guide.

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