Finding an affordable unlocked smartphone. Our winner is the Sony Xperia XA2.

Now that the days of carrier subsidized smartphones have largely come to a close, many of us are considering purchasing our mobile devices outright. Shelling out nearly a thousand dollars for the latest flagship hardware is a tough pill to swallow. Spending $35.00 a month on the financing plan can also leave a nasty taste in your mouth, especially if you need multiple devices. What other options are out there?

Several manufacturers have responded by producing some decent hardware for between two and three hundred dollars. My teen son’s hand me down gave up the ghost this week so I suddenly found myself with a reason to take a hard look at the options in this price range. I started where I always do; with a ton of research.

There are a surprising number of entrants in our price range but as always, a good list of requirements will help narrow them down. Besides all the standard WiFi, Bluetooth, etc. smart phone stuff. We also needed LTE support, a fast processor (teens = games), the newest version of Android with a proven update track record, and a decent camera. Optionally, we also wanted biometric security, because typing in a password sucks, and NFC is nice, too.

The requirement that really narrows down the field in a hurry is the Android version. From my research I deduced that one of the ways these mid-tier devices are being differentiated from the top-tier devices is that many of them are running outdated operating system versions with no upgrade path. A lot of the devices I looked at were still on 6.x or 7.x and had no listed date for an Oreo (8.0) update. Several of the “off brand” makers appear to never update their devices. You’re stuck with whatever was on it when it shipped, unless you have the skills to root it and install a custom ROM. For a lot of us this won’t matter much, but if you like to play games and run many apps, it’s a concern. Developers eventually stop supporting the older OS versions because they have too.

The next most limiting category is the processor. Current flagship level devices have Octa-core (8 processing units on the chip) monsters that push almost 3 Gigahertz on each core. The closer you are to this spec the better your device will perform with the newest apps. Again, many of the lower-tier devices cut corners here by going with only quad-core 1.X Ghz chips. If you mostly send texts, take calls, and browse the web these lower end CPUs are fine but don’t expect Facebook and Twitter to scroll fast and you’ll also be left out in the cold when it comes to intense games.

Keeping our requirements in mind, I narrowed down the list to three contenders, rather than filling this page with their specs I’ve just linked to them so you can look for yourself.

The Moto X doesn’t have Android 8.0 on it out of the box but the update for it is already available. Motorola used to be a major player in the smart phone market. Their Droid series was top of the line, but after being bought and sold several times in the last few years, the brand has been somewhat tarnished. The phone itself was fine, but the styling was pretty bland and we didn’t like the launcher very much.

Nokia has recently separated from Microsoft and is trying to establish itself in an already crowded market. The specs and styling on this one look good and it’s getting some positive on-line reviews but we couldn’t find one in a store to get hands on with it.

In the end we chose the Sony. For my teen, one of its biggest selling points was the styling; it is a sharp-looking mobile that is available in four different color schemes. The next most important stand-out to him was the audio equalizer and amp, a feature that is lacking in most devices at this price point. I liked that it had Android Oreo on it right out of the box and that it’s predecessor the XA1, had also been updated.


We purchased the Sony at Bestbuy for $319.00. It’s a good value at this price. The phone has a nice screen, great audio, the latest version of Android, a snappy octa-core processor, 3 Gigabytes of RAM, 32 Gigabytes of onboard storage and it can take a memory card. It also has a 23 megapixel back camera, and 8 megapixel front camera, a fingerprint scanner, and an FM radio.

Both cameras work well enough in well lit rooms and outside but get poorer results in low light. There are multiple reports of issues with call quality in other on-line reviews but ours doesn’t have this issue at all. I’ve also seen reviews that say the WiFi randomly turns off but again, this issue hasn’t afflicted our unit.

Overall my son and I have been very happy with the XA2. A word of warning, there are not very many cases specfically made for this device. There are some, but you’ll probably have to order them on-line (we did).

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