A wild Pikachu appears. Photo by Sadie Hernandez.

Back to school shopping guide: Cheap smartphones that work with Pokemon Go

A wild Pikachu appears. Photo by Sadie Hernandez.

Pokemon Go has taken the entire world by storm, making catching of colorful cartoon monsters the first augmented reality mass phenomenon. So, playful people of all ages are asking themselves how they can get their hands on a smartphone compatible with Pokemon Go for as little money as possible.

Incidentally, the Pokemon craze coincides with this year’s back to school season. This means that a bunch of fairly young kids may ask for smartphones just to keep up with everyone’s favorite pastime. Whether Pokémon go itself justifies buying children smartphones is a separate issue, and it’s hard to blame teachers and schools for trying out policies like handing in phones during school hours.

But what we do know for sure is that smartphones are becoming essential tools, both for acquiring knowledge and social contacts. So, let’s have a look at some cheap, good smartphones and how well they run Pokémon.




Cheap smartphones are the new universal computer

Almost all high-end, large-brand Android and iOS devices released after 2013 meet the game’s requirements. But new high-end phones can easily put a 500-800 euro ($550-880) dent in your wallet.

That’s why we’ve compiled a list of budget, mid-tier phones that are confirmed to fill all the requirements. All these phones run Android with Google’s Play Store: Essential services for safe and easy access to the latest, official version of Pokemon Go.

It’s worth taking every chance you can get to point out that it’s phones like these that are bringing the internet to all kinds of people around the world, even in places where PCs were a rare sight.

Screenshots of Pokémon go

 

Minimum Requirements

Pokemon Go places certain requirements on the hardware and operating system of the phone. Without fulfilling these, no Pokémon for you.

  • Android version 4.4 to Android 6.0.1
  • GPS, preferably with the A-GPS feature and the typical Google Location Services
  • A fast internet connection over 3G or 4G.

These are indeed minimum requirements, and with these features, you’re still missing one of the most important features of Pokemon Go!

 

What a hunter really wants

These are the key points for a first-class Pokémon Go smartphone:

  • A gyroscope is optional but required for the AR (augmented reality) mode, where you can see the Pokemon in the back camera view.
  • 2 GB of ram should be considered a minimum requirement with a modern Android OS. The game does run with 1-1,5GB but you might not be able to install it from Play Store.




You can play Pokémon Go without the gyroscope, but you’ll only see the pokémon on a forest background while trying to catch it: you can’t “look around”. You’ll be surprised how many phones below $400 lack gyroscopes, so read on to find out which ones will work.

A phone with less than 2 GB of RAM will probably be listed as incompatible on the Play Store, though we’ve heard of phones with 1.5 GB beeing deemed compatible by Play Store.

Playing the game with less memory works to some extent, but you might run into repeated crashes below 1 GB.

If you have a phone that refuses to install Pokemon Go from the Play Store, you can still install it as an unofficial .apk package you find… somewhere on the net. But you really shouldn’t do this, for security reasons. Android phones leak a lot of information to advertisers as it is, so please don’t risk giving criminals access to your child’s camera, microphone, and GPS!

Good catches with all the features

ZTE Blade S6

The ZTE Blade S6, for EUR 180 ($200)

 

Motorola Moto G G4

The Motorola Moto G 2016 version (4th generation or “G4”) and it’s Plus -version (better camera) for EUR 230 – 270 ($250-300 ) work quite well, though it could have a faster GPU. Earlier Moto G’s are not fully compatible.

 

LG Nexus 5X

The (LG) Nexus 5X, for about 270 € ($260). Google Nexus phones have usually been a safe bet.

 

Huawei Honor 7

The Huawei Honor 7 for about EUR 330 ($300) is an affordable semi-high end phone if you aren’t bothered by Huawei’s user interface rework.

 

LG G4

The LG G4, for about EUR 360 ($340) (not the stylus version).

 

Budget-friendlier Androids for Pokemon Go

  • There are a number of really cheap Chinese Android phones, but the operating system support will be even worse and shorter than major-brand Androids. Sadly, this includes the more expensive OnePlus series, that struggles with very buggy post-release updates.
  • This search result on gsmarena.com can help you on your way if you do some research

New phones that will not meet all the requirements due to missing a gyroscope include the Huawei P8 Lite version, LG G4 Stylus, ZTE Blade X9 and the Samsung Galaxy E7. Many other phones in the EUR 150-230 range seem to run Pokemon Go (without the AR mode) though they have less than 2 GB of RAM. These include phones like the Samsung S5 Mini, Galaxy J5,the Galaxy On -series and the LG K10 and K7.

The hardware in these phones is quickly getting obsolete, possibly preventing Play Store installation now or in the future. Your milage may wary: Regardless, you’ll end up with a phone that will feel sluggish in a year or two.




If you’re only getting the phone for your child as a toy, you could probably go with a Chinese phone like the EUR 130 ($110) Oukitel K4000 or even any EUR 80 Android 5-6 Chinese model as long as it has a powerful processor like a Snapdragon and your child can live without the AR mode.

That being said, the AR mode and catching creatures in your everyday environment is a big part of Pokémon Go’s allure. Balancing between feature cost and risk of breakage can be pretty complicated. It’s worth pointing out that hardcore players often don’t use the AR mode (aside from sharing pictures) because it consumes more battery.

You can also get most 2014 semi-flagships Androids used online for around eur 100-150 , but you need to double check the requirements.

The Oukitel k4000, a less than ideal but workable phone for Pokémon Go.

The Oukitel k4000, a less than ideal but workable phone for Pokémon Go.

 

What if I can’t stand Android?

Those with reservations about Android (security, privacy, etc) could also try finding a used iPhone 5 or later. The iOS ecosystem comes with its own set of limitations, but hand-me-down iPhones retain a lot of value. Apple delivers operating system updates, including security fixes and new features for around five years for each phone.

Do these things concern you? If your only option is to get a cheap Android for your kid, consider mitigation options like free mobile device management, which lets you impose restrictions on mobile devices. A Finnish company called Miradore offers that service, under strict Finnish privacy law.

Happy hunting! And remember: Whatever phone you choose, it’s always good insurance to invest in a “ballistic” case for your smartphone, preferably one that is thick and rubbery, and bounces a little. The thin ones are mostly for decoration and preventing scratches.

Lilja Tamminen Lilja Tamminen is an economics and policy consultant and freelance writer.  Always eager to try exciting news technologies, with cultural implications, she’s witnessed several decade-long developments of technological concepts, which society now takes for granted. She shares her thoughts on Finnish society mostly in Finnish on her blog and on Twitter.

Title image by Sadie Hernandez.




0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *