The introduction of smartphones has had a huge effect on people’s expectations of what they want from their mobile handsets. I’m old enough to remember mobiles hitting the mainstream, when the art of text messaging was new and people were considered lucky if they had Snake installed on their phone. Nowadays, it’s a thoroughly different story.

Music players, video, camera, email, instant access to social networks; all these features and more are becoming pre-requisites when the tech savvy populace is deciding which new handset they should buy. However, we don’t all have £4-500 to throw at a top-of-the-range smartphone and it’s fair to say that a lot of us can’t afford the £40-odd a month it costs on a contract, or simply resent the 2 year length of it. Thankfully, there are other options…..

Entry-level smartphones are great for those not used to current technology or have a tighter budget to stick to. They are also a good option if you’ve got children whose school colleagues are lucky enough to be blessed with parents that give in to all demands – it might not be an iPhone you buy them, but an entry-level smartphone will be much preferred over something basic from the bargain basement, such as the Nokia 1661.

We’ve taken a look at what we feel are the best entry-level smartphones out there and have come up with 5 models which all offer slightly different things, but all share a few core features we think are important: a simple interface; fun usability and of course, a good value price-point. Of course, you can’t expect the wondrous feature-sets that you get from the top-of-the-range smartphones, but there’s still more than enough to get excited about.

First in line, is the LG Cookie…..

LG COOKIE

The LG Cookie KP500 is one of the best value phones on the market at the moment and is available on contract across all the major networks, or to buy outright for less than £50.

You can grab yourself an LG Cookie in black or pink colours and you’ll get a lightweight, compact handset with a 3″ touchscreen with stylus, a 3.2 megapixel camera, an FM radio, a media player for music and video, an SD card slot for saving up to 8GB of data and Bluetooth. There’s also an accelerometer built in, meaning the display will rotate as you turn the handset on its side, which is handy for texting or watching videos.

On the down side, there’s no 3G connectivity, although that’s to be expected as it really helps to keep the overall cost down. The camera takes OK pictures which can be used either on the phone, or perhaps for uploading social networking sites, but you won’t get too much detail if you want to blow them up for standard sized prints.

With no Wi-Fi on board, you might struggle to get quick enough internet speeds, despite the available web browser but, if you can live without these features, the LG Cookie is an excellent-performing handset which you can pick up in some eye-catching deals.

SAMSUNG TOCCO LITE

The Samsung Tocco Lite is a feature-rich phone for youngsters who are looking for easy, direct access to social networking sites and is available in black or pink from around £60 outright or bundled with extras on contract.

The Tocco Lite has a 3″ touchscreen, 3.2 megapixel camera with zoom and video recording capabilities, a customizable home screen and basic handwriting recognition functions, with expandable memory support of up to 16GB. There’s an accelerometer present for changing views, an FM radio, a music player and, despite the lack of 3G or Wi-Fi, some good internet functions via the web browser.

You can go straight to various social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Youtube through dedicated widgets and there’s also easy access to Google Mail, Search and Maps. However, don’t expect super-fast download speeds or smooth reproduction of video from Youtube – it’s just not going to happen without 3G or Wi-Fi.

The Samsung Tocco Lite is very similar in spec and design to the LG Cookie, so it’s no surprise that it’s around the same price-point on contract, although slightly more to buy outright. There’s really not much between the two in terms of performance or features – they both offer exceptional value.

BLACKBERRY CURVE 8520

RIM’s Blackberry range of phones are normally found in the more expensive retail display areas, but the Curve 8520 could be worth a look for the business user on a tighter budget. Available for around £170 or free on contract from most of the major networks, the Blackberry Curve 8520 comes with access to Blackberry’s App World and “out-of-the-box” compatibility with Apple Macs.

You can grab a Curve 8520 in black or purple (which I would avoid) and both feature Blackberry’s traditional QWERTY keyboard and a 320×240 pixel resolution display, which shows off photos and movies rather nicely. A trackpad is found sandwiched between the screen and keyboard, which is highly sensitive and not quite as accurate as the trackball that is normally found in the more expensive Blackberry handsets.

The 2 megapixel camera isn’t brilliant, but will be fine for viewing snaps on the phone or loading up onto one of your social networks, which are easily accessible through some excellent apps. The on-board music player is solid – particularly if you’re multi-tasking – and although there’s no 3G connectivity, there is Wi-Fi, so you can download apps or music speedily so long as you’re within range. There is no GPS, but you will get a decent battery life of 5 hours of talk-time.

The Blackberry Curve 8520 is definitely at the top end of the entry-level smartphone market, but still sports a “good value” sign as it offers so much in terms of features and options. The user interface may take the absolute beginner a little while to get used to, but it won’t be long until they’re whizzing through the functions – there’s really nothing to be scared of here.

ALCATEL OT 808

Alcotel’s OT 808 is probably more suited to some members of the fairer, more intelligent sex, although I am assuming that not many boys will be taken by the bright pink colour and design that looks like a make-up compact case. The clamshell handset opens up to reveal a blue, backlit QWERTY keyboard and a 2.4″ screen displaying 128×36 pixels.

At less than £50 to buy outright, the OT 808 is without doubt a budget phone and won’t fit the bill for everyone. However, there are enough features within the handset that should keep beginners happy enough, or even to use as a spare for going out to festivals or camping holidays – places where you don’t want to chance it with your brand new HTC Desire.

You get dedicated social networking, email and instant messaging, a 2 megapixel camera and a music player, FM radio and Bluetooth connectivity. The Opera Mini browser keeps things ticking along and in fact, the general performance of the handset is good – if a little slow. The keyboard is surprisingly good to use; despite the unusual square shape, it’s comfy to type and you’re unlikely to get hand cramps – unless you’re a strapping fella.

The battery life is reasonable, although the benefits of the multi-tasking functionality are tainted a little by the juice running dry that little bit quicker. Like I said earlier, the Alcatel OT 808 won’t be to everyone’s taste but for £50, you could do a lot worse. You can pick one up on some reasonable contracts, too.

NOKIA 5230

The Nokia 5230 is the only entry-level smartphone in our selection that features 3G, although unfortunately, Wi-Fi is the feature that makes way for it. Available in black, pink or white you can buy the 5230 outright for around £150, or for free on some reasonable contracts – from around £15 per month. However, despite its cheap price, the bargain Nokia has a strong feature set.

The 3.2 inch touchscreen displays at 360 x 640 pixels – which is actually more than the iPhone sports – and there’s a stylus supplied, although the touchscreen is also sensitive enough to allow you to use your finger on the full QWERTY keyboard. The Nokia also has some handwriting recognition technology on board.

The music player on the 5230 is excellent, with support for pretty much every audio file format and you can beef up the 70MB of internal memory with up to 16GB on an external SD card. You’re also supplied with an FM radio with room for up to 20 stations, as well as a 3.5mm jack if you want to plug in your own headphones.

There’s a 2 megapixel camera which isn’t up to much, but you do get an A-GPS receiver with Ovi Maps – as well as access to the Ovi Store for all your app requirements. Throw in an excellent battery life of up to 7 hours of talk-time and that leaves the Nokia 5230 as a very decent phone for a very reasonable price that can offer you plenty of fun, features and functions.

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