Time was when buying a cheap phone meant having to make do with a really sluggish device, running an old version of Google's operating system that locked you out of the most exciting apps on the platform.
Happily, times have changed as more and more mobile makers have jumped aboard Google's Android bandwagon. Now established as by far the most popular phone platform in the UK, prices have been driven downhill.
For the £100 mark, you can easily put a pay as you go Android smart phone in your pocket that you won't be embarrassed to show off in public.
Spend your pennies wisely and it's possible to bag a mobile with a 1GHz chip and a screen pushing 4 inches. Stretch your budget just a little further and you can grab a dual-core chip too.
If you can't afford £100, there are cheaper 'droids out there -- although it obviously follows that the less cash you spend, the less exciting an experience you should expect.
Around the £90 mark, there are some solid options with chips in the 600-800MHz range. It's really worth stressing that there can be a considerable difference in performance at the cheap end of the Android market, so spend your money wisely.
Even the cheapest brand-new 'droid should be running Android version 2.3 these days, known as Gingerbread. With most top-end phones arriving with the latest 4.1 Jelly Bean software on board -- and even the lower end of the mid-range mobiles packing 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich -- there's no excuse for anything less than Gingerbread.
Having Gingerbread means you'll miss out on some specific features of the more recent software. You won't be able to download Google's Chrome for Android browser and Android additions like Google Now and built-in photo editing won't be available. But frankly, with a budget this small, you're better off owning an adequately powered Gingerbread phone than frustratingly under-powered ICS.
Pretty much all budget Androids will be skinned with the mobile maker's own software sitting atop the operating system -- but some come swaddled in such a heavy wrapper that it really degrades the experience, slowing it down and/or making the interface much more cumbersome than it needs to be. Expect to encounter the ugliest and most annoying Android skins on operator-branded phones.
On the surface, such phones may offer fairly impressive hardware for the money. But all too often, the trade-off is extensively branded, fiddly and sluggish software -- meaning that, overall, the device is really irritating to use. If you're considering an operator-branded phone, trying before buying is essential to avoid disappointment.
On the hardware front, cheap 'droids sport a range of chips, starting at a lowly 600MHz (or less) and rising to a respectable 1GHz. Ideally, you should bag the most powerful processor you can afford -- unless it's bogged down by a really awful Android wrapper.
An 800MHz chip should provide enough power for Web browsing and social networking. If your needs are limited, you don't need to stretch your budget too far.
For sub-£100, don't expect to find multi-core chips -- at least not yet. If you can eke a few more quid out of your wallet, there are some nippy dual-core handsets in the £100-150 range. Multi-core devices are typically better at multi-tasking. So if you want a smart phone for rich Web browsing or gaming, try to save up for a dual-core pocket rocket.
Like the processor, screen size will also vary considerably depending on how much you spend. The largest pane you should expect to trouser for around £100 is likely to measure around 4 inches on the diagonal. Most of the phones in this price range won't be so generous -- 3, or 3.5-inch displays are pretty common. Smaller screens will mean hitting the wrong letters on the keyboard and prodding small links in web pages will be much more challenging. Those of you with chunky fingers should think hard about screens below 3.5 inches.
Screen resolution will range a lot. Simply put, the more pixels, the better, as low-res screens are tiresome to look at for long periods, with on-screen content appearing fuzzy. Really low-res screens (sub-150 pixels per inch) are seriously unpleasant on the eyeballs -- and may even give you a headache. Avoid if at all possible.
Regardless of how cheap the phone is, you should still expect a capacitive -- rather than the old-fashioned resistive -- touchscreen display. You might still encounter the odd resistive screen, at the bottom end of the price range, but they're best avoided as they're much more clunky to use. Cheap capacitive screens can feel rubbery to the touch but at least they don't require a stylus/fingernail to poke and prod them.
Another smart phone essential -- even for budget shoppers -- is a camera. Your budget blower should certainly come with a snapper slapped on its rear. At the lowest prices, you might only get a 2-megapixel camera -- good for nothing but really basic pics. But spend a few pounds more and you might be rewarded with 5 megapixels. The photo quality of budget Androids won't be anything to write home about but some 5-megapixel handsets can produce decent, colourful snaps -- fine for uploading to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Tips for making the most of your money
One handy tip for budget shoppers is to hunt for an Android with a microSD card slot so you can affordably expand internal storage. That way you can buy a handset with a small amount of built-in memory -- hopefully meaning your initial outlay is lower -- and bulk the storage out on the cheap with your own SD card.
Above all, do your research before splashing your hard-earned cash. Reading reviews is great but there's also no substitute for getting your own fingers on a phone. Take a trip to your local mobile shop to check out your options before parting with the contents of your piggy bank.
Make sure to check out how much older phones are going for, too. You might find higher-end mobiles from a couple of years ago for a bargain price on Amazon or similar. Some of these might provide more power than more recent low-end phones, but make sure to properly compare what each offers.
Here's the best of the current crop of bargain Android phones, as reviewed by CNET UK.
Additional reporting by Natasha Lomas.