Help Me, Tom's Guide: What Are Good Alternatives to ZTE's Phones?

If you think you're having a rough year, try being ZTE. The Chinese company began 2018 as a well-regarded phone maker, particularly for supplying dependable budget models to U.S. carriers. Before you could blink, though, ZTE found itself at odds with U.S. officials, first over alleged ties to the Chinese government  and later for its part in selling telecom equipment to Iran and North Korea.

Honor 7X

Honor 7X

U.S. officials, ruling that ZTE had failed to live up to the terms of a plea agreement over trade ban violations, barred U.S. companies from doing business with ZTE. That includes suppliers that make the parts ZTE uses in its phones, not to mention Google, which builds the Android OS. As a consequence, ZTE halted operations this past week.

Wondering where that leaves you, the U.S. phone shopper? Because reader KerryT certainly is in our forums:

"I was considering upgrading one of my kids to a mid-range phone and he likes the specs on some of the ZTE phones like the Blade Z or the Blade V8. After what happened, we're looking at alternatives. I considered a Huawei and a mid-range Moto phone, but I'd like to hear suggestions please!"

The Blade V8 would have been a fine choice: We were certainly impressed by its battery life when we reviewed the phone, and ZTE was among the first phone makers to fit a pretty good dual-camera setup into a $200-or-so device. Still, with the company ceasing operations, we can understand why you might be skittish about buying this otherwise solid budget model.

If you're looking for something with specs similar to those found in the Blade V8, your best bet is the Honor 7X, a $199 phone that outdoes ZTE's effort in several ways.

For starters, Honor gave the 7X an extra-wide display with an 18:9 aspect ratio — a design more phones are adapting these days. That means your budget device won't look out of place among more expensive models like the iPhone X and Galaxy S9 that also boast that wide aspect ratio. You'll get dual rear cameras and good performance with this phone, though we wish the battery life was a little better. (Lasting 9 hours, 21 minutes on our battery test, the Honor 7X falls about a half hour shy of the average smartphone.) Honor is addressing one of our big complaints about the 7X by updating the phone's operating system to Android Oreo.

MORE: Honor 7X Review: The Next Great Smartphone Value

However, Honor is owned by Huawei, another Chinese phone maker that's having its own problems with the U.S. government these days. If you'd rather steer clear of those kinds of issues entirely, where do you turn?

Because ZTE phones have been a favorite of prepaid carriers — and Boost, Cricket and MetroPCS continue to sell ZTE models — we perused the virtual aisles at those carriers to see if any suitable replacements caught our eye. Probably the best of the bunch is the Galaxy J7 Prime from Samsung, available through multiple carriers as well as unlocked. (The unlocked version has the better rear color.) You can find better specs in similarly priced phones — though many of those models come from ZTE and Huawei — but the J7 Prime has a good display and a retro charm in this era of elongated designs.

Other carrier options include the Alcatel Idol 5, available via Cricket. The specs on this phone are nothing to write home about and we weren't impressed with the VR experience the phone promises with an optional headset, but you'll get a great display, fast charging and a stylish-for-its-price design. We haven't had a chance to review the LG X Charge available at Boost, but we were impressed by the battery life on its predecessor, the LG X Power. And the Charge boasts a larger battery (4,500 mAH to 4,100 on the Power).

KerryT mentioned Motorola as an option, and we're very impressed by the Moto G5 Plus, which packs premium features into a $200 device. If you don't want to spend that much, the Moto E4 Plus delivers epic battery life for less than $200, and the biggest trade-off you'll have to make is the skimpy 16GB of storage on the phone.

Moto G5 Plus

Moto G5 Plus

But unless you need a phone right now, we'd advise holding off on those Moto models. The next generations of the G and E series have already been announced, and we like what we see after some hands-on time with the $249 Moto G6. The 5.7-inch G6 has a Full HD+ display, dual rear cameras and a fingerprint sensor upfront. We wish Moto hadn't downgraded from the Snapdragon 600 series to a Snapdragon 450 processor, but we'll see how the phone holds up when we get it in for testing.

MORE: Best Cheap Unlocked Smartphones

And that's partly why right now is such a difficult time to to buy a smartphone. While Motorola has announced the G6 and E5, along with a couple of other new phones, those won't start rolling out until June. So you have some options now that ZTE has closed up shop — it's just that not all of them are available just yet.

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Credit: Tom's Guide

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.