Not long ago, cheap smartphones were, to put it not so mildly, junk. For less than $100, you pretty much got what you paid for: a low-resolution screen, a crummy camera and poky performance. No more. Today, you can find some excellent smartphones for $50 or less -- as long as you're willing to sign a two-year contract. If that's a trade-off you can live with, these bargain handsets are worth checking out. The thin-and-light HTC One VX (99 cents in red, $50 in white with a two-year AT&T contract) features a 4.5-inch high-definition display; it runs Android 4.0, which may not be the newest version of Google's mobile software but is almost as fast and powerful. In addition to 4G LTE wireless and 8 gigabytes of internal storage, the One VX has a microSD card slot for adding as much as 32GB of memory. It sports a decent 5-megapixel rear-facing camera and a low-resolution camera on the front.

The Samsung Galaxy Victory ($50 after rebate with a two-year Sprint contract) is also a 4G phone that runs Android 4.0. It has a 4-inch HD display. Its 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera is fine for video chats, and the 5-megapixel rear camera is acceptable for casual shots. The Galaxy Victory boasts a few cutting-edge tools, notably Samsung's S Beam, which in combination with the built-in Android Beam lets you share contacts, photos, videos and links by simply tapping two comparably equipped phones together.

The Motorola Droid Razr M ($50 online with a two-year Verizon Wireless contract) packs a vibrant 4.3-inch HD display; an 8-megapixel rear camera and low-res front camera; and 8GB of internal memory. Surprisingly sleek and slim for a low-end phone, the Razr M runs Android 4.1, supports 4G LTE and includes Android Beam for wireless sharing.

The HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE ($50 online with a two-year Verizon Wireless contract) runs Android 4.0, has a 4-inch LCD display, an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera and a low-res front-facing cam. Despite its advanced age -- Verizon launched the Droid Incredible in July 2012 -- it is a solid, dependable phone. Carriers' so-called free handsets are usually older models making a final run before departing for handset heaven. (Of course, they're not really free because the price of the phone is amortized over the life of the two-year contract.)

Verizon's menu of free phones includes the venerable Apple iPhone 4. Ahead of its time when it launched in 2010, the iPhone 4 is now old hat, with its 3.5-inch display and 3G performance. Still, it's a beautifully designed phone, and Apple's App Store is stockpiled with hundreds of thousands of helpful applications.

(Jeff Bertolucci is a contributing editor to Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. Send your questions and comments to moneypower@kiplinger.com. And for more on this and similar money topics, visit http://www.Kiplinger.com.)