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Top 5 Budget Unlocked International Cell Phones for Travel

by Todd Haselton | January 22, 2014January 22, 2014 1:00 pm PST

Moto G - Press Image - 007

One of the really compelling trends from CES 2014 was the introduction of brand new phones that offer decent specs and features for super affordable prices. The phones, many of which were from Asus, join other phones that were already on the market like the Moto G and the Nokia Lumia 625. These are unlocked devices, and phones that we think serve as great complementary phones to what you already own. Of course you should be aware that not all destinations use the same wireless bands so you should look to see that phone works in the respective country. Remember not all cell phones are international cell phones and you will need to do some research before your travels.

If your current phone isn’t already unlocked, you can grab one of these, land in another country, buy a new SIM card and get going. With a local SIM card and one of these phones you have the convenience of international cell phones without the hefty data pricing. That helps you save on expensive roaming fees. We’ve heard and read plenty of horror stories of travelers returning home to find massive global roaming charges. While we know T-Mobile offers global roaming included in its package already, this is an option for consumers who that might not apply to. As with a lot of our lists, these aren’t in a particular order.

1. Moto G

The Moto G holds a special place in our heart because it’s the little brother of the Moto X, our smartphone of the year for 2013. It’s also available for just $179.99 contract free, and has very few compromises save for the lack of LTE support and a not-so-impressive 5-megapixel camera. Still, you’ll get Android 4.4 KitKat, a solid 720p display, great performance for the price, and interchangeable back covers to keep the phone feeling fresh. Since you’re traveling internationally with this phone, we recommend the GSM model, instead of the $99 CDMA option available on Verizon. Most of the world’s networks won’t support Verizon’s model.

2. Asus PadFone Mini

Asus really blew our socks off with several new devices during CES 2014, including the PadFone Mini. It deserves a spot on our list because it not only serves as a smartphone, but also as a tablet and an extra battery source. You’ll find an Intel Atom processor under the hood clocked at 1.6GHz, Android 4.3 out of the box, 8GB of expandable storage and 1GB of RAM on the smartphone. The device itself has a pocketable 4-inch 800 x 480-pixel display, an 8-megapixel camera, a 2-megapixel front-facing camera and a 1,170mAh battery. Need a larger size for reading? Plug it into the tablet portion, which features a larger 7-inch screen with a sharper 1280 x 800-pixel resolution and its own 2,100mAh battery that can be used to charge up your phone. As far as international cell phones go this is probably the most versatile one you’ll find. It will launch for $249, which includes the phone and the tablet portion, when it hits store shelves soon.

3. Asus ZenFone 6

Want a phablet? Don’t have a lot of cash to spend? Look no further than the Asus ZenFone 6. It was also introduced during CES 2014 and will only set you back $200 when it launches soon. Asus will sell the phone in a variety of colors, and we were really impressed with the build quality and specs considering the super affordable price. You’ll get a massive 6-inch screen, great for viewing maps while you navigate foreign streets, Android 4.3, 1GB of RAM, a 13-megapixel camera for documenting your travels and a premium design that feels much more expensive than the device’s asking price. We’re most attracted to the red model, though various colors will be available. While we rank this amongst our top budget/travel international cell phones we’re inclined to try this out as a daily driver.

4. Asus ZenFone 4

The Asus ZenFone 4 makes this list because it’s super affordable, though if you want to spend a bit more money you can opt for the ZenFone 5 which has a larger display. It will hit the market for just $99 though, less than the cost of upgrading your seat to a “more legroom” option on your flight, and provides some noteworthy specs. There’s an Intel Atom processor under the hood, a 5-megapixel camera, a 1,170mAh battery, Android 4.3, and 1GB of RAM ready to serve you. For $80 more you should opt for the Moto G, but the Asus ZenFone 4 won’t break the bank and looks like a great option for keeping in your travel bag.

5. Nokia Lumia 625

The Nokia Lumia 625 was announced in July. It’s the only Windows Phone option on this list, but that means free access to Nokia’s global “Here Maps” application, which can save maps for offline use. It’s available in a variety of colors, including yellow, orange, green, white and black, and shells can be swapped out much like with the Moto G. You’ll also find a large 4.7-inch screen, a 1.2GHz dual-core processor, 512MB of RAM, a 5-megapixel camera and a 2,000mAh battery. The Nokia Lumia 625 retails for $289 unlocked, though you can find it for a bit cheaper from our friends at Negri Electronics, where it retails for as low as $211 for an open box, or $242.50 new.

Wild Cards: Moto X, Nexus 5

If you’re willing to spend a bit more money and want to try to access 4G LTE in some markets, especially at home here in the U.S., you might want to consider the Moto X and the Nexus 5. The Moto X is now officially just $399 unlocked, and you can customize it to your fancy, including with a new wooden back panel option for just $25 more. The Nexus 5 will keep you on the latest version of Android and has some awesome powerhouse specs, including a 13-megapixel camera, a quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor and more, while starting at just $349 for 16GB of storage. These are just two of our top unlocked options, and they’ll both serve as fantastic daily drivers, too.

Wrap-Up

Some of the Asus phones come with a caveat: they aren’t on the market just yet. Still, they should definitely remain on your short list of devices for international travel if you aren’t ready to pull the trigger just yet. In the meantime, the Moto G, Nokia Lumia 625 and our Wild Cards also make great choices for a complementary smartphone that you can keep in your bag for travel.


Todd Haselton

Todd Haselton has been writing professionally since 2006 during his undergraduate days at Lehigh University. He started out as an intern with...

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