Remember when a phone was just a phone, instead of a personal multimedia, satellite-navigating, mobile-broadband computing device? Well, it still is if you have less than £25 to spend. But buying on a budget doesn't mean you have to sacrifice call quality, decent battery life or sheer ease of use.
There's only place to start when you're buying a cheap phone and that's with your budget. Steer clear of shiny new handsets offered for 'free' -- you're almost certain to get locked into a long, painfully expensive contract. Shop around for the cheapest contracts or embrace pay as you go deals, and make sure that you compare 'extras', like data charges, if you're a heavy Web user.
Face up to the fact that you can't have the complete package, and concentrate instead on truly essential features. Almost all phones today have a browser but, if all you're going to do is check the occasional headline, sports score or film time, you don't need 3G connectivity or a huge screen. Having said that, any display smaller than 56mm (2.2 inches) or with less than a 320x240-pixel resolution is going to be extremely unpleasant for surfing the Web. Touchscreens probably won't be an option but, if they are, they'll be sluggish and of the less sensitive resistive variety, lacking support for intuitive multi-touch gestures.
One of the cool things about budget phones is that they come in all shapes and sizes, including clamshells, sliders, Qwerty phones and weird one-offs aimed at teens. Expect plastic, lots of plastic and a bit more plastic, and buy any custom accessories as soon as possible: these phones have shelf lives shorter than probiotic strawberry yoghurt on a summer's day.
Instead of genuine apps such as smart phones have, many cheaper handsets come laden with widgets for popular services like Facebook, Twitter, Skype and even BBC iPlayer. Don't sniff at these -- because they're usually made just for that handset, they can be easy to use. But they won't get upgraded very often, if at all, so choose one that already has the key functions you want.
When it comes to multimedia, set your expectations back in time by about 5 years. There will probably be an MP3 player, but getting your tunes on the phone is likely to be a pain, and you'll probably need replacement headphones that cost more than the handset just to make your music sound halfway decent. Cameras will be slow, dull and grainy, and might not shoot video at all.
On the flip side, most budget phones have easy-to-access memory-card slots (they're cheaper to include than a generous dollop of built-in storage) and battery life can be exceptional. You can get days and even weeks between charges.
One new development is the appearance of budget (sub-£100) Android phones. While it might be tempting to join the smart-phone revolution, remember that they will be mostly lower-specified or no-brand handsets that struggle to keep up with uber-powerful devices like the HTC Desire.
After all, sometimes a phone should just be a phone. Talking of which, here are five of the best budget blowers available now.