Best overall: Nokia 2

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Right on the dot at $99, the Nokia 2 is simply the best low-cost phone you can buy. It features a sleek and sturdy design with a metal frame, along with a 1.3GHz quad-core processor and a near-stock build of Android. It's a bit lacking internally, with just 1GB of RAM and 8GB of storage, but the clean software keeps it running smoothly, and you can expand its storage with a microSD card.

The 5-inch 720p display is fairly impressive as well, but where you'll really be wowed is with the 4100mAh battery, which easily manages two days of moderate usage. It also has a surprisingly decent 8MP primary camera, as well as a 5MP selfie shooter.

Bottom line: The Nokia 2 offers clean software and speedy performance for just a Benjamin.

One more thing: Nokia has promised an upgrade to Android 8.1 Oreo soon, bringing the Nokia 2 far more up to date than anything else on this list.

Why the Nokia 2 is best

The ideal package in any price range is a well-built phone with clean and quick software, and the Nokia 2 delivers. With HMD Global already promising an update to Android 8.1 Oreo, it's easily the most up-to-date device below $100, making it even more attractive on the software front than the popular Moto E4.

It's not the flashiest or showiest smartphone, with a relatively generic design, but you don't expect pizzaz when you're paying a Benjamin for a full-featured smartphone. The only thing it's missing — and this is a big one — is a fingerprint sensor, meaning you'll have to revert back to using a PIN for security.

Best on Verizon: Samsung Galaxy J3 Mission

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The Galaxy J3 Mission is an affordable phone from Samsung with a quad-core processor, 1.5GB of RAM, and 16GB of microSD-expandable storage. The 2600mAh battery provides plenty of endurance throughout the day, and the phone ships with Android 7.0 Nougat.

Bottom line: For just under $100, the J3 Mission is one of Verizon's better prepaid offerings.

One more thing: This phone isn't likely to receive many software updates.

Best on Cricket Wireless (AT&T): LG X Charge

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If you want to get a prepaid phone from one of the big four carriers, your choices are limited, but AT&T's Cricket sub-brand has a great selection, including the LG X Charge for $100. It's got a big 5.5-inch HD display, a quad-core processor, Android 7.0 Nougat, and a massive 4500mAh battery.

Bottom line: The LG X Charge's huge battery will outlast any other phone in Cricket's lineup.

One more thing: Don't expect many updates with this phone. That's the price of prepaid.

Best on MetroPCS (T-Mobile): Moto E4

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The Moto E4 is one of the best deals around, coming in at just $59. With it, you get a 1.4 GHz Snapdragon 425, 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of storage. The 5-inch 720p display barely draws any battery from the 2800mAh cell inside, and the 8MP camera isn't half bad either.

Bottom line: The Moto E4 offers stock Android and speedy performance at a shockingly low price.

One more thing: The Moto E4 is actually $119 upfront with a $60 mail-in rebate. Unfortunately, this is how almost every phone at MetroPCS is sold.

Best on Boost Mobile (Sprint): Moto E4 Plus

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You probably aren't surprised to see another Moto phone on this list, because they're just the pinnacle of value. For $79.99, you get a fast fingerprint sensor, some light water resistance (but not IP68, so don't go dunking the Moto E4 Plus in a pool), and a ridiculous 5000mAh battery with fast charging.

Bottom line: You won't find a bigger battery and cleaner software experience for the money.

One more thing: If Boost's pricing were available on the unlocked Moto E4 Plus, it would easily be our top overall pick.

Best for Android Go: Nokia 1

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The Nokia 1 is HMD Global's newest cheap phone, and it offers tremendous quality for under $100. The value proposition is the combination of clean, fast Android Oreo Go Edition software with capable hardware from the new keepers of the Nokia brand, so expect fast updates and smooth performance despite the limited spec sheet.

Bottom line: If you want a smooth, clean Android experience with quick updates, this is the phone you want.

One more thing: You can customize yours to fit your style thanks to removable back covers.

Conclusion

The Nokia 2 is the best overall device, largely thanks to its clean software and high-end build quality, but customer discounts could land you a better deal depending on your carrier.

Updated April 2018: Added the Nokia 1 as your best option for Android Go.