Google calls latest Android OS KitKat
Google calls latest Android OS KitKat

When the new iPhone 6 models were released last week, there was yet another collective gasp when the non-contract prices were announced. With the entry level model starting at $749, the usual grumblers complained that this is an insane price to pay for a smartphone, and there’s something to that. (Never mind that it’s over $1,000 for the fully-loaded iPhone 6 Plus model.)

It’s worth noting that in the past many shiny and fresh smartphones — both iPhone and Android — have boasted similarly cringe-inducing prices. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t less-painful options out there, even without a contract.

These options can be especially attractive when you have to secure a number of handsets simultaneously for your team, and you don’t necessarily need tech that’s right on the bleeding edge. Recently, I looked at a new lower-cost Moto E, which gives you a reasonable amount of power for an all-in price of $179,  though of course, there are some compromises.

Since then, I’ve had the chance to look at another pair of lower-cost Android 4.3-equipped alternatives that have recently made their Canadian debut.

Alcatel OneTouch Idol 2 S $299 without contract ($0 with two year contract from Bell or Virgin) Priced just over $100 higher than the previously-mentioned Moto E, Alcatel’s OneTouch Idol 2 S clearly shows just how far an extra $100 goes in the world of mobile. It comes with a 5-inch screen boasting a 720p display, and features a 1.2GHz quad-core processor, which makes it feel pretty peppy overall. There’s an 8-megapixel rear camera onboard, as well as a 1.3-megapixel camera for videoconferencing. Unlike the Moto E, the Idol 2 S sports LTE, which means you’ll get fast data transfer even when you have to step away from the WiFi.

Alcatel Idol 2 S
Alcatel Idol 2 S

One of the things that most impressed me about the Idol 2 S, though, was the form factor: At only 126 grams, it doesn’t feel too heavy, and despite the larger screen size, the thin design (it’s only 7.5 mm thick, which is only half a millimeter thicker than the new iPhone) means it never feels overly cumbersome in the hand. The one big downside, again, is the lack of onboard memory.

The phone only comes with 8 gigabytes onboard, but as with many other memory-challenged models, it comes with a MicroSD slot that can bump the phone up to 32 gigs. Bottom line: The Idol 2 S is quite a capable phone that feels a bit like a luxury. Budget an extra $20-30 for a 32-gig MicroSD card, and you’re still coming in at $50-75 less than the more upscale Nexus 5.

ZTE Grand X $149.95 without contract ($0 with two-year contract with Bell or Virgin) China-based ZTE is a newcomer to the Canadian marketplace, and the Grand X is its first phone for sale here At a nickel under $150, this first handset comes in at a pretty attractive price. As with the Moto E, however, there are a few compromises to note. Like the Idol 2 S, the Grand X features a 5-inch screen with 720p resolution, and it even comes with Gorilla Glass. It also comes with SRS audio, which means overall it’s not a bad choice for watching video content. There’s also a quad-core processor onboard.

ZTE Grand X
ZTE Grand X

On the other hand, the camera is less capable here: the rear camera is 5 megapixel and the front-facing cam is only 1 megapixel, and the optics aren’t what you’d see on a higher-end model…in short, photos probably aren’t going to be as crisp as you’d like. And if you’re looking for faster data connectivity, the Grand X doesn’t have LTE, which means that when you’re in the field you’ll be waiting longer for your email and webpages to load over the network.

There’s only 4 GB of onboard memory, though as with the Idol 2 S, you can boost it to 32GB by adding a MicroSD card. Unfortunately, that card slot is hidden behind the removable rear panel of the phone, which means cracking the whole phone open when you want access to the memory.

One nice bonus though: once you have that rear panel off, the battery is user-serviceable, which means you can double your runtime if you want to carry an extra battery. The Grand X is also just a little bit larger in every dimension than either the Idol 2 S or the Nexus 5 (it’s 9mm thick), and at 145 grams, just a bit heavier, too. It’s still not unwieldy, but it’s not quite as sleek as the high-end model — nor is it intended to be.

Bottom line: The Grand X gives you a surprising amount for such a low price. Just be prepared to live with a bit less in the camera and connectivity department.

For administrators deploying very basic Web/email devices, these two units may be worth a look.

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