Budget-friendly phones just got a big upgrade for 2023

Samsung and TCL’s latest wave of phones under $200, which debuted in CES 2023Much-needed improvements are being made to make it easier to use. Both companies launched cost-conscious phones that start with 64GB of onboard storage, which doubles the 32GB usually seen in smartphones costing under $200. In case TCL 40 seriesSome phones come with up to 128GB – the initial amount often found on more expensive smartphones.

I can’t overstate how important it is to double up on storage. While cheaper phones often have the ability to expand their storage with a microSD card, price-focused shoppers usually don’t want to shell out more money to make their phone easier to use. All the while, we expect phones to run an increasing number of apps that support text messaging, video calls, social media, and games. When I transfer my Android phone backup between devices with 32GB of storage, I have about 3GB of space left. I either have to delete things or get a microSD card.

microSD card handy

A microSD card can expand your phone’s storage, but it’s annoying when you have to spend more money to make your phone work better.

Andrew Howell/CNET

These devices are now getting better cameras, too. And while they probably won’t win any photo contests, the file sizes of photos and videos recorded on these cameras have increased. For example, all phones in the TCL 40 series cost less than $220 and have a 50MP main camera. Higher resolution cameras usually mean larger photo and video files. While storage space hasn’t been confirmed for the $129 TCL 408, the least expensive option of the bunch, it’s been announced that the $169 TCL 40 SE has 128GB of space.

The $200 Samsung Galaxy A14 5G, which replaced last year’s $190 Galaxy A13 and $250 A13 5G, goes even further. The A14’s 13MP front camera has more than twice the resolution of the A13 5G’s 5MP selfie camera. Fortunately, the new Samsung phone comes with 64GB of storage, which is quite an improvement over the 4G A13’s 32GB. The Galaxy A14 also has NFC for contactless payments, which is great to finally see it come at such a low price. Contactless payments have become a standard option for most store purchases and transit systems, and it’s a shame that so many low-priced phones still don’t support it.

Three TCL 40 SE phones



What sub phones still need $200

While I’m thrilled to see less expensive phones with more storage, I’m still hopeful that phones in this price range get better software support and security updates. Samsung is making the best of what’s available right now, with support for two major software updates and four years of security updates for the A14. Other companies like TCL usually offer one major software update and two years of security update support for cheaper phones. It’s annoying because people are holding onto their devices longer, stepping away from two-year phone upgrade cycles and stopping big purchases during economic uncertainty. A device that loses security update support may at least be at risk of vulnerabilities appearing. Although, an argument could be made that since phones cost so little, most buyers can buy a new phone once the phone stops receiving updates.

We’ll be testing these under $200 devices as they become available, and hope to see more functional features like storage boost that can help people get the most out of their phone regardless of budget.

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