Best overall

Moto Z Play

See at Motorola

The Moto Z Play already has a sequel, but that doesn't matter: at $399.99, this is the best phone under $400 you can buy. Why? It's got everything you need in a flagship, including a great big screen, excellent performance, unbeatable battery life (seriously, this thing goes two days no problem) and support for Motorola's growing line of Moto Mods accessories.

Bottom line: If you're buying an unlocked phone and have a $400 budget, the Moto Z Play is your best bet right now.

One more thing: The unlocked version will only work on T-Mobile and AT&T in the U.S.; there's a Verizon version available for slightly more money.

Why the Moto Z Play is the best

The phone to get if you want bang for your buck.

Phone prices are rising. That's just a fact. So when you can find a best-in-class product, even if it's not new on the market, you jump at it. The Moto Z Play was recently permanently discounted to $399.99, and that's a perfect price for this near-flawless phone.

It starts with the excellent build quality, made of metal and glass, and extends to the incredibly smooth performance from the Snapdragon 625 processor and 3GB of RAM. You also have a very good 16MP rear camera, and a 5MP front camera with selfie flash. But the best part about this phone — oh, that the software is great, too — is the 3,510mAh battery, which lasts seemingly forever (but really about two days of heavy use). That can even be extended with one of Motorola's useful Moto Mod batteries packs.

Best looks

Honor 8

See at Amazon

Do you like shiny things? The Honor 8 is plenty shiny for those of you attempting to add more sheen into your life. I mean, just look at the blue color featured here. It's even more gorgeous in person, and it doesn't cost an arm and a leg.

The Honor 8 is Huawei's second attempt at entering the U.S. market. It's got a 5.2-inch 1080p display, a 3000mAh battery, 4GB of RAM, and Huawei's in-house developed Kirin 950 processor. The Honor 8 also has dual 12-megapixel rear-facing cameras, both of which work in conjunction to produce the best possible photo you could want. As we discussed in our review, it's plenty capable of being your primary shooter.

The only drawback of the Honor 8 is that Huawei's EMUI is a bit of a doozy to get used to. Its default launcher doesn't offer an app drawer, so you'll have to find another launcher if you're used to having one. It also comes with a bit of bloatware and extra apps you might find redundant alongside Google's offerings, though you can thankfully uninstall and deactivate them at will.

Bottom line: If you're looking for last year's flagship performance at an affordable price point, the Honor 8 is an impressive little package.

One more thing: The unlocked Honor 8 is only compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile's networks, along with their associated prepaid MVNOs.

Best audio experience

ZTE Axon 7

See at Amazon

You might have forgotten that ZTE is a major player in the U.S. smartphone wars, but that's okay. The good news is that the company is the brains behind the very impressive Axon line and the Axon 7 is a worthwhile choice if you don't mind dealing with a clunky Android interface.

The ZTE Axon 7 offers a 5.5-inch Quad HD AMOLED display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 3250mAh battery. It also has a 20-megapixel rear-facing camera, though it's not the best shooter in low light environments. But if you're an audiophile, the Axon 7 might make your ears perk up.

Bottom line: If you're tired of the same old smartphone brands in your life, the ZTE Axon 7 might be that "something new" that becomes your "something constant."

One more thing: The Axon 7 is equipped with the bands necessary to work on a network like Verizon Wireless, but your best bet is to be an AT&T or T-Mobile (or their prepaid brands) subscriber before purchasing this device.

Best for even less

Moto G5 Plus

See at Amazon

The Moto G5 Plus is a wonder of cost-cutting in the right places. For either $229.99 (2GB RAM/32GB storage) or $299.99 (4GB/64GB) you get one of the most well-rounded budget phones out there. Featuring an excellent 5.2-inch display, a great 12MP rear camera, and awesome software touches, the Moto G5 Plus is truly a remarkable achievement.

Bottom line: You can't go wrong with the Moto G5 Plus, one of the best budget smartphones available right now.

One more thing: The Moto G5 Plus has a smaller, cheaper sibling in the Moto G5.

Conclusion

The sub-$400 market is both extremely competitive and a little confusing. Smartphone prices are rising across the board, so it's difficult to know whether you should buy last year's flagship or this year's budget device. The Moto Z Play falls kind of in the middle, since it's still fairly new, but has been permanently discounted as we await its more expensive sequel. At the same time, devices like the Honor 8 and Axon 7 continue to offer tremendous value for the money, while the newer Moto G5 Plus redefines what it means to be a top-tier budget device.

Best overall

Moto Z Play

See at Motorola

The Moto Z Play already has a sequel, but that doesn't matter: at $399.99, this is the best phone under $400 you can buy. Why? It's got everything you need in a flagship, including a great big screen, excellent performance, unbeatable battery life (seriously, this thing goes two days no problem) and support for Motorola's growing line of Moto Mods accessories.

Bottom line: If you're buying an unlocked phone and have a $400 budget, the Moto Z Play is your best bet right now.

One more thing: The unlocked version will only work on T-Mobile and AT&T in the U.S.; there's a Verizon version available for slightly more money.

Update, June 2017: The Moto Z Play is our new best phone under $400, while the Moto G5 Plus has taken over from the G4 Plus.