Best overall

Moto X4

See at Motorola

The Moto X4 is the long-awaited sequel to the Moto X Pure Edition, and at $399.99, it's the best phone you can buy under $400. It has a striking design, clean software, a great display, and a pretty good pair of cameras on the back. It's also one of the few phones in its price range with an IP68 rating.

Bottom line: If you're buying an unlocked phone and have a $400 budget, the Moto X4 is your best bet right now.

One more thing: The model made for Project Fi is the only Moto X4 with Android One, and the only model that's guaranteed to receive updates for at least two years. Given Motorola's poor track record with updates, this is the one we'd recommend buying, though the experience is otherwise nearly identical on both versions.

Why the Moto X4 is the best

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

The design of the Moto X4 is just as nice to hold as it is to look at, thanks to its gentle curves, and it's relatively durable with IP68 water and dust resistance. The software is as close as it gets to stock Android without bearing the Pixel brand (even more so with the Android One variant on Google Fi), but you still get all of Motorola's useful motion gestures for quickly launching functions like the camera and flashlight.

You won't get support for Motorola's extensive collection of Moto Mods like on the Z2 Play, nor is the battery life from its 3000 mAh cell the best we've seen. But the display is terrific, performance with its Snapdragon 630 chipset is smooth and speedy, and its dual cameras can take some really great photos.

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Best for Europe

HTC U11 Life (Android One)

See at HTC

If looks are a priority for you, the U11 Life is a great way to get the eye-catching style of HTC's U11 flagship at about half the price. All it's missing is that stunning Solar Red finish — or better yet, the translucent look on the new U11+.

The HTC U11 Life is available for $300 from T-Mobile in the U.S., but the model we recommend is the $349 Android One variant you'll find globally. In our review, we found performance on the Sense version to be slower and less consistent than its specs (Snapdragon 630, 3GB RAM) are capable of, and just like with the Moto X4, only the U11 Life running Android One is guaranteed to receive at least two years' worth of software updates.

With either model, the U11 Life has some pretty compelling features: IP67 water resistance, a fast fingerprint sensor, HTC's Edge Sense squeeze functionality, and even a pair of active noise-canceling USB-C headphones included in the box.

Bottom line: If you want flagship style on a budget and don't mind losing the headphone jack (or living the dongle life), the U11 Life is a great option.

One more thing: Android One is the only software shipping on global units, so if you do want to use the U11 Life with Sense, you'll need to buy it from T-Mobile in the U.S.

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 over a year old, so if you're considering it today, you will likely have to settle for slow security updates and no more platform updates.

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, but it's not officially available in the U.S.


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Conclusion

The sub-$400 market is both extremely competitive and a little confusing, but there's never been more great options readily available, and with the emergence of Android One, you can finally count of getting consistent updates without having to buy a flagship phone straight from Google. The Moto X4 and U11 Life are both great examples of attractive, affordable phones with premium features like water resistance and fast fingerprint sensors. At the same time, devices like the 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 X4

See at Motorola

The Moto X4 is the long-awaited sequel to the Moto X Pure Edition, and at $399.99, it's the best phone you can buy under $400. It has a striking design, clean software, a great display, and a pretty good pair of cameras on the back. It's also one of the few phones in its price range with an IP68 rating.

Bottom line: If you're buying an unlocked phone and have a $400 budget, the Moto X4 is your best bet right now.

One more thing: The model made for Project Fi is the only Moto X4 with Android One, and the only model that's guaranteed to receive timely updates.

Update, November 2017: The Moto X4 is our new best phone under $400, while the U11 Life with Android One has become our top recommendation for European shoppers.