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Best budget phones 2016: Moto G vs Galaxy J5 vs LG X Screen vs Wileyfox Swift

Looking for a great value smartphone that's £150 or less SIM-free, or around £10 to £15 per month on a monthly contract? Here's our pick of the best budget mobiles you can buy in 2016 in the UK, compared to see which is best for you: Motorola Moto G vs Samsung Galaxy J5 vs LG X Screen vs Wileyfox Swift.

At a glance

Phone Motorola Moto G (2015) Samsung Galaxy J5 (2016) LG X Screen Wileyfox Swift
Screen size 5-inches 5.2-inches 4.93-inches 5-inches
Screen resolution 720p 1080p 720p 720p
Processor Snapdragon 410 Quad-core Quad-core Snapdragon 410
Memory 1 or 2GB 2GB 2GB 2GB
Storage 8 or 16GB + microSD 16GB + microSD 16GB + microSD 16GB + microSD
4G? Yes Yes Yes Yes
NFC? Yes Yes Yes No
Cameras 13MP/5MP 13MP/5MP 13MP/5MP 13MP/5MP

Design

These four budget phones sport a very different look and feel, although they're all a similar size, hovering around the 5-inch mark. As such they're all just about usable one-handed, although the LG X Screen is the easiest to operate with a single mitt thanks to its notifications button in the toolbar. This pulls down the notifications bar with a quick tap, saving you from stretching your thumb up to the top of the screen.

Wileyfox’s phone goes for a serious, businessy design, although the soft-touch rear feels nice in the palm and the fox head logo looks suitably funky. Meanwhile the X Screen and the Galaxy J5 share a very similar plastic frame, with silver edging and a matt rear. Thankfully they're tough enough to tolerate a few bumps and scrapes and they don't look half bad either.

If you’d prefer a more vibrant design, check out the Moto G with its range of coloured backs that can be swapped out on demand. And as an added bonus, the Moto G is water resistant so you can happily dunk it in the bath or some other watery location. None of the other phones here boast the same waterproofing.

Screen and media

If watching video on the go is your bag, all four handsets are capable media machines, boasting HD displays. However, our pick of the bunch is Samsung's Galaxy J5, which packs a Full HD 5.2-inch screen that’s both crisp and colourful. That makes it the most spacious panel here and the sharpest too.

The Galaxy J5 also sports the most vibrant screen here. That Super AMOLED panel isn't as rich as some other Galaxy displays, but colours are still punchy compared with the more subdued hues on the other phones here. Viewing angles are also strong, so you can happily share videos with a mate or two.

The Moto G and Wileyfox Swift both sport 5-inch 720p screens which also do the job, despite being smaller and not quite as crisp. You won’t exactly be squinting to make out details and HD movies still look pleasingly sharp. And the LG X Screen's main display is also a 720p panel, although colours are almost washed out and viewing angles are narrow.

All four handsets pack 4G support for buffer-free video streaming and a microSD memory card slot to carry around a sizeable media collection.

Features

While the Moto G sports a mostly vanilla version of Android, which makes for a clean and simple experience and no app duplication, the X Screen and Galaxy J5 have been tweaked and fiddled with by LG and Samsung respectively.

The Galaxy J5 isn't quite as feature-packed as more expensive Samsungs, but the Korean giant has added in a few own-brand apps like S Health for tracking your fitness, as well as Sammy's own apps store. Personally, we rarely use these apps, especially as they tend to be inferior versions of Google apps that also come pre-installed.

LG's additions include a sketching tool that allows you to scribble on the X Screen's desktop, which is handy when you're on a call and need to make a note, and the usual battery/performance tools that most phones now come packing. However, the X Screen's biggest (and most unique) feature is the tiny secondary screen which sits immediately above the main display. This has loads of uses, including notifications support while the phone is hibernating, quick access to your favourite contacts and so on.

Check out our review of the LG X Screen's second display for more info.

Finally, the Wileyfox Swift boasts the latest version of Cyanogen OS, which is quite similar to Android in layout but packs some impressive security and personalisation features on top. Check out our Cyanogen OS review for our full thoughts and the best features.

Besides that, these phones boast very similar features. LTE support is present and correct in all three cases and there’s NFC on the X Screen, Moto G and Galaxy J5, but not on the Wileyfox Swift.

Performance and battery life

The Wileyfox Swift doesn’t quite live up to its name when it comes to performance sadly, with the Snapdragon 410 processor struggling on occasion when loading apps. It’s not quite a chugger, but it’s noticeably the slowest handset here.

Conversely, the Moto G runs as smooth as butter off a baby’s backside despite packing the same processor - likely a result of running vanilla Android. The Galaxy J5 also enjoys smooth performance with an octa-core Snapdragon 615 chipset stuffed inside, as does the LG X Screen. We've played the latest games on these phones and they run just fine, with a respectable frame rate.

As for battery life, the Swift is again the lame duck in this race, just about scraping through a full day if you don’t lean on it too hard. The Moto G and X Screen can last just over 24 hours while Samsung's Galaxy J5 keeps on going and going, lasting close to two full days between charges.

If you want to stream video non-stop, you can expect 4.5 hours of life from the Swift, 5 hours from the X Screen, 5.5 hours from the Moto G and - impressively - over ten hours from the Galaxy J5.

Cameras

The Moto G is the winner in this category, packing the same great 13-meg camera as the otherwise-disappointing Nexus 6 handset. That pleasingly streamlined interface is easy to use and with the excellent auto mode you’ll just need to point and shoot for sharp, clear results.

The Wileyfox Swift, X Screen and Galaxy J5 also pack 13-meg snappers, which perform well for budget cameras, shooting photos that are crammed with detail and pleasing to view back on a big screen. The Galaxy J5 boosts colours to make them stand out, while the other phones here produce more natural hues. And the best snapper in low light is the X Screen's, which captures quite bright photos even in dark environments (although they are still quite grainy, like the shots taken with the other phones here).

If you like to shoot home movies, any of these cameras will do the job, offering video recording up to Full HD resolution.

All three phones also sport 5-meg selfie cams, which capture your mug in plenty of detail. Our pick is the Galaxy J5's, however, which boasts a front-facing LED flash - perfect for those nightclub selfies.

Verdict

All four phones in this budget round-up represent strong value for money, but each has its own particular strengths and weaknesses. Movie fans will prefer the enlarged, super-sharp Full HD screen and impressive longevity of the Galaxy J5, while anyone after a colourful and fun portable pal should check out the Moto G, which also boasts the best camera here.

We really like that second screen on the X Screen, which offers unintrusive notifications and time-saving shortcuts. Or if privacy and personalisation is more important to you, the Wileyfox Swift enjoys some smart and unique features thanks to Cyanogen OS.

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