Best no-nonsense smartphones

19 January 2015

Smartphones these days tend to come with a lot of added bells and whistles. That’s great for some, but if you’re after as simple an experience as possible then there are some straight-forward options out there for you.

These picks all have their own reasons for making the list. They might be easy to use, or have a straight-forward system for interfacing with your computer, or some other way of standing out in this world of often unneeded features.

Motorola Moto X

There are now two phones with the title of ‘Moto X’; one that was released in 2013 and another in late 2014. Both are great, simple phones, but as you might expect the 2014 edition is a little bit better.

The Moto X 2014 edition (AKA 2nd Generation) is a phone based around great build quality and as simple an Android experience as possible.

There’s no proprietary user interface (UI) slapped on top; this is an untainted Android experience. That means there’s no unwanted undeletable apps that slow down your experience. It’s also a good indicator that you’ll get Android updates before just about anyone else.

Thanks to this lack of extra features, Motorola doesn’t have as big an R&D budget to make up for, so its phones are a bit cheaper than their direct competitors.

Admittedly, the Moto X does have a few little embellishments, but they’re useful. The first sounds small, but is great if you spend part of your day with dirty hands. To check if you have messages, or peek at the time, wave your hand over the screen. This will cause it to wake up for a second, before quickly going back to sleep.

Another useful feature is its well-integrated voice detection. Say “OK Google” to wake up your phone, even in sleep mode, and either give it a command (like “set an alarm for 5 o’clock”) or ask it a question.

Finally, if you want to be able to plug your phone in to a computer and add or remove files as you wish without having to deal with a specialised program, any Android is a good pick. Once plugged in all Androids simply show up in the same way an external hard drive or a USB key would. Some of them do prompt you to download a specialised application, but it’s never necessary to actually use it.

If you want a Moto X then you'll have to be patient. Motorola is dragging its heels releasing them in Australia just yet and when it does hit our fair shores you can bet it won't be available on plans. The good news is that if you decide to buy it outright you can switch to a cheaper month-to-month plan and save yourself some cash.


No specific device here: all iPhones are pretty similar and the latest and greatest may not necessarily be the best option if you’re after a simplistic experience. You can read more about picking the best iPhone for you if you’re interested.

Flaws first: the iPhone isn’t a totally hassle-free experience, but no smartphone is. Connecting an iPhone to a computer requires you to install and usually work through iTunes. You’re also probably going to need to buy Apple-branded accessories a lot of the time, like if you need another wall charger. You can always try to pick up a third party one from eBay, but there’s every chance it could stop working the next time Apple releases a software update.

These things considered, when it comes to general use the iPhone operating system is so easy to use it’s almost instinctual. It takes a very short time to learn it so well that it becomes second nature. Some people find it restrictive, but if you’re just after the basic stuff like email, web browsing, apps and pictures then iPhone is a great choice.

One last perk is its popularity. Thanks to there being so many iPhones out there, you have the largest choice when it comes to things like cases, fun accessories (ones that Apple doesn’t have an interest in) and if you can’t figure something out on your phone then chances are there’s someone nearby that can show you on theirs.

Of course, many iPhones are still available on plans, particularly if you're after the latest models.

Motorola Moto G

The Moto G is a phone along exactly the same vein as the Moto X, except that it’s cheaper. The G is an affordable, great phone that delivers incredible bang for buck. If you liked the sound of the Moto X, but don’t think you need the latest and greatest tech in your phone, then the Moto G 2014 edition is a fantastic alternative.

Unlike the X, the Moto G is available in Australia. However, it also is an outright purchase-only phone. Thankfully it's very affordable and by going month-to-month you might even save more money.

HTC One (M8)

The One (M8) and its predecessor, the One (M7), are great phones. They have fantastic build quality, each being machined out of brushed aluminium, and simplistic user interfaces (UIs). On top of this, both phones have what are called “BoomSound” speakers, which give you much louder and better quality audio than any other phone on the market.

One downside is the un-deletable ‘BlinkFeed’ magazine app, but you can always just hide it via the settings menu.

The One M8 is available on plenty of plans across the major Aussie telcos.

Nexus 5

Known as both the “Google” and the “LG” Nexus 5, this phone came out in 2013 but is still a seriously good choice, thanks to its low price and great hardware. It’s still fast, has decent battery life and, being a Nexus phone, operates using an untouched Android experience.

Despite being such an old phone, it’s one of the few handsets out there running Android 5.0 Lollipop; the latest and greatest in Android operating systems.

You can no longer get the Nexus 5 on carrier plans, but you can pick it up online from the Google Play store and other vendors for around half what you’d pay for a new iPhone.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

In almost every respect the Note 4 doesn’t belong here, but except for one thing: its stylus. A fair number of users find the option to jot down notes with a pen rather than a keyboard very useful. The stylus also makes it easier to hit those little on-screen keys if you find such things challenging.

Other than that the Note 4 is certainly a great device, but Samsung handsets are a far cry from the lean, only-what-you-need system of the Moto X. There’s plenty of bloatware and unwanted features to go around, but if you want a big screen and a built-in stylus then the Note 4 (or Note 3, or even Note 2) is worth considering.

The Note 4 is definitely available on plans. This is no cheap phone, so you'll probably need to take the subsidised route.

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