tracfone_thumb2Heard about $20 phones for e-reading? Now get this. Wal-Mart has a pair of $10 Android phones, and many of David’s how-tos for the $20 model may apply.

Almost surely the L15G Sunrise and the LG16 Lucky are e-book capable even if the results won’t be the same you achieve with a $600 model or a Kindle Voyage. Yes, LG makes both of the $10 phones, Ars Technica reports, and both are part of TracFone’s pay-as-you-go cell schema.

The specs for the phones are bare-bones rock-bottom—low-definition LCD, small battery, no camera on the back, about a gig of user-accessible storage, and Android 4.4. They do have an SD card slot, and even include a 4 GB card, for what that’s worth.

They might be bare-bones, and locked into TracFone, and they’re probably insecure as anything thanks to all the Android exploits that have been discovered over the last little while, but they also include the genuine Google Play app store—something that rock-bottom Android devices traditionally haven’t done. $10 is a sale price, with their list price being $60—but even so, that’s the current actual price, with no rebates or activation of anti-virus software required. Anyone with a ten-spot (well, that and a couple of ones to cover sales tax, and another ten-spot or so to cover an airtime card) can walk into a Wal-Mart store and walk out with an Android phone that almost surely can download an e-reader app and read e-books. David even succeeded getting the $20 model to run Moon+ Reader Pro and FBReader with Ivona text to speech. The Kindle app worked as well.

You’re probably not going to be able to do much of anything else with them, thanks to that 1 GB of user-accessible memory—but 1 GB is considerably more memory than even the biggest Palm Pilot had, and e-books don’t take up that much room. And the $10 phones even have user-facing cameras for Skype video-call functionality. You’ll probably not get a whole lot of data use out of a TracFone card, but they should work just fine with WiFi even if you never place a cellular call. You even could stick a bunch of music on an SD card and use it as an iPod Touch substitute without needing to do more than activate it with TracFone once.

As “smartphones” go, these ones might be drooling idiots, but they can, at least, run actual Android software from the genuine Google store. It’s rather impressive to me that TracFone has Android phones at all, now; back when I was first getting into pay-as-you-go cellular, all TracFone had were a number of candy-bar and slider phones that were made to look like smartphones, with color screens and pseudo-apps, but no real smartphone functionality.

This phone would make a great starter for kids just getting into cell phones (especially given that parents could control how much time they had to talk on it by rationing out airtime cards), and would likewise be a decent better-than-nothing solution for indigents who wouldn’t be out a lot of money if it got stolen. Anyone with any more money than $10 would be better off buying something more expensive, but if the choice is between this and a dumbphone, why not take this?

Some of the comments on the Ars article note that the Motorola Moto E is the same price at Best Buy on Black Friday, and is a much better phone. I certainly wouldn’t argue with that assessment, though it may be tricky to get one at that price on that day, especially if you’re not keen on braving the Black Friday crowds. But by the same token, there will be other cheap Android phones available from other sources if you’re not keen on this one. Where there’s one $10 smartphone now, there will invariably be other, better ones, maybe in as little as a year or two.

Are we finally starting to reach $10 e-readers? If not now, soon for sure.

Detail: $20 and shipping was what David paid on Amazon at the time for the LG 38c, also known as the LG Optimus Android phone. Price is now $25 and shipping.


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