If this topic gets any attention and traction it will, obviously, become dated as far as the early posts as time goes on. At the same time, it has the potential to show whether any of the non-majors are making consistently better products than the others.
I have finally convinced my partner to enter the 20th century (even though it's the 21st) and get a smartphone. His main reason for wanting one is to use Waze. He certainly does not need a flagship device either in terms of speed or ultra-high screen resolution. But, he wants a large screen and I've been sticking with a 6" screen as a minimum.
This search has not been easy, and I've already hit several major bumps. I decided to give a BLU Vivo XL3 Plus a try first, and given the price of $140 on smile.amazon.com and the specs, it looked to be perfect, and almost was. I got the first one and it worked perfectly except for one huge thing - you could not make outgoing calls. Any number you dialed put the thing into its own "Do Not Disturb" mode, icon on the status bar on top and all. After spending a great deal of time on the phone with their technical support (which was great, actually) they determined that the device was not working correctly and should be returned, so I did. Thinking this had to be a fluke I did an exchange. Well, device number 2 did exactly the same thing, so back it went for refund. It's a real shame, as it was a joy to hold and was very snappy in its overall performance, but if you can't make a phone call with a phone, well . . .
Next (and currently) I decided to go with a Dougee Y6 Max, with a 6.5" screen. It is a heavy device with a very solid feel to it, much more solid than its $150 price would make you think it would have. The screen is huge, the resolution is great. The performance in virtually every way has been way more than adequate, save one, and a pivotal one: GPS. The GPS in this device is marginal to fair, and I've done everything I can to recalibrate the GPS and the compass. That seemed to work more than well enough for ALK CoPilot to run more than well enough, if slightly jerky, but not Waze. Waze is just acting bizarre, with the car (icon) traveling off the road as I drive, stopping in the middle of "fields" during drives, suddenly jumping to locations that, while "in the area" are nowhere near to where I actually am. When stopped and sitting still, the Waze map will often reorient itself at random, with the street that is, in fact, directly behind me showing up in front of me, or somewhere else relative to the orientation of the car itself other than where it is. I do not have this problem when I'm running Waze with my Galaxy S7, but the screen on that is too small for my partner and it is, after all, my phone. I have yet to see what will happen with Google Maps, but I'm not particularly hopeful. In any case, the ability to use Waze is actually pivotal here.
It's not like smartphone technology is either new or wildly difficult, so I'd imagine there are any number of makers that are not major players in the US market (e.g., BLU, Dougee, Huawei,InDigi, Xiomi, etc.) that make a decent entry level device, but it seems I haven't found it yet. I am trying to keep a budget of $250 or less, as the primary use for this thing will be as a Waze device, phone, and for checking e-mail and/or texting.
If anyone has recently purchased a budget phablet, with a 6" through 6.5" screen, that is behaving well as a phone and a GPS device I'd love to hear about it, particularly if you're a heavy duty Waze user with it.