With dozens of big manufacturers unleashing a slew of devices every year, choosing a new smartphone isn’t necessarily an easy task. Making matters worse, there seem to be fewer differences between any given gadget in terms of performance and features with each passing year.
Now, the best smartphone on the market for you isn’t necessarily going to be the one you need to throw the most money at to own -- the flagships. Those flagship ‘top tier’ devices are increasing in price too, now often costing more than or close to $1,000 and that’s just not affordable even on wireless contract with a payment plan.
It bears pointing out that in the mid-range and value categories, the word “best” is subjective. Here at Android Headlines, we spend a lot of time playing with and examining every smartphone that hits the market. So while it’s a subjective matter, we’re also well informed about what’s great and what’s not so good.
So without further ado, here are the ten very best smartphones we could find that are available now and which fall below the somewhat restrictive, arguably unnecessary ‘premium’ cost barrier.
10 Huawei P30 Lite
At just $262.99 on Amazon as of this writing and powered by a relatively powerful Kirin 710 SoC backed by 128GB storage and 4GB RAM, Huawei's P30 Lite really deserves to be placed higher in the recommendations.
The reason it isn't ranked higher comes down to the fact that there is no guarantee the Huawei P30's more affordable sibling -- or that more premium counterpart -- will ever see sustained updates. Setting aside problems the OEM has been having in the west and its rollercoaster ride between being banned outright and allowed to do business with U.S. companies, this is a brilliant handset.
Beyond pure specifications, the Huawei P30 Lite delivers a long-lasting fast-charging battery, dual-SIM capabilities, and Android 9 Pie just for starters. A triple camera array allows the P30 Lite to follow in the footsteps of its pricier namesake gadget too, with modern amenities such as a fingerprint scanner and large 6.1-inch nearly bezel-free OLED display panel at the front.
While not officially available via any U.S. carriers, the global 4G LTE-enabled GSM variant is available to purchase in the region in all three of its style-savvy colors.
9 Nokia 7.1
The oldest handset on the list, Nokia's Android One-equipped Nokia 7.1 is among the most premium gadgets Nokia has ever launched and released for sale in the U.S. but it only costs $299 on Amazon and brings quite a lot to the table with it.
The Nokia 7.1 features a capable mid-range Snapdragon 636 SoC and that's backed up by 4GB memory and 64GB storage running completely pure Android 9 Pie. Those aspects are going to be the biggest draws for users as is the fact that this handset will keep getting updates a while longer thanks to its participation in the Android One program and that includes regular security updates.
USB-C, NFC connectivity for quick mobile payments, Bluetooth 5.0, a fingerprint sensor, and a few advanced camera features are packed into the Nokia 7.1's full HD+ 5.8 PureView display-topped frame too. So despite only coming with reasonably decent cameras and moderate battery life, this is going to be a device that's still worth considering for those that don't want to spend quite as much as it will take to pick up other gadgets listed here.
8 Xiaomi Mi 9 SE
Landing on the market back in February as the younger sibling of the Xiaomi Mi 9, the Xiaomi Mi 9 SE is a mid-range handset powered by one of Qualcomm's best middle-of-the-road processors. It also comes bearing a fifth-generation in-display fingerprint scanner, a screen-to-body display ratio of 84.1-percent, and among the most unique color configurations available for those who want a gadget with real personality. Blue, Violet, and Dark gradients are available.
With a whopping 6GB RAM and 128GB storage, the Xiaomi Mi 9 SE is a bit more capable than others on this list in many ways -- especially when it comes to truly intensive apps and multitasking. With a cost just short of $314 and a full HD+ screen size of just 5.97-inches it's among the least expensive and smallest, too.
The biggest caveat to the Xiaomi Mi 9 SE is that like many other Chinese-built handsets, it simply isn't widely available and it isn't meant for use in the U.S. in any official capacity. The above-mentioned characteristics of this device and its low cost coupled with a tri-camera setup at the back and a respectable 20-megapixel snapper at the front make this 4G handset one that's well worth considering, irrespective of that fact.
7 Razer Phone 2
Razer Phone 2 is not only considered by many to be one of the best values in mobile. It's the only dedicated gaming smartphone with a price tag suitable for the value market -- at just shy of $500.
Last year's premier flagship chipset, the Snapdragon 845, is also packed beneath the Razer Phone 2's metal and glass facade with 8GB of RAM and 64GB of storage with a wireless-charging compatible 4,000mAh capacity battery. The display that glass in question is topping is just an LCD panel rather than OLED or AMOLED but that's hardly going to be a big deal since the refresh rate comes in at a still-staggering 120Hz.
That all stacks up to drive an almost pure version of Android for super buttery visuals, especially when playing mobile games. A uniquely-styled frame, rated at IP67 for dust and water resistance means that play doesn't have to stop for a bit of rain or a windy day outdoors either. Meanwhile, a dual 12-megapixel camera is neatly accented by 8-megapixels at the front for more day-to-day use.
This is going to be the one to pick up if mobile gaming prowess is an absolute must without leaving the mid-range category.
6 ASUS Zenfone 6
The ASUS ZenFone 6 is a smartphone that, at first glance, doesn't stand out from the crowd and its €499 price tag wouldn't seem to give any indication that it does either.
The device comes in a fairly standard candy bar shape, with a logo on the back just below the fingerprint scanner, a nearly bezel-free 6.4-inch full HD+ Gorilla Glass 6 screen. Also on the back, buyers will find yet another device for which the widely popular Sony flagship IMX586 48-megapixel dual Quad Pixel camera sensor is in play.
A closer inspection of this handset, which doesn't appear to have any official support in the U.S. but is available pretty much everywhere else, that camera isn't the usual fare though. Instead of a standard selfie snapper, ASUS stepped out of the box to place its primary shooter on a rocker that can be kicked forward completely or to a variety of degrees.
That makes the ASUS ZenFone 6 camera useful for selfies or for use with proprietary specialty shooting modes in other configurations. That also means that there's no traditional selfie camera taking up space in either a notch or a punch hole, giving this smartphone one of the highest screen-to-body ratios in its bracket -- at 92-percent.
Moreover, that's rounded out with the best available smartphone chipset and a respectable amount of both RAM and storage.
5 Sony Xperia 10/10 Plus
Priced at just under $350 and $430 respectively, the Sony Xperia 10 and 10 Plus are real contenders in the mid-range segment of the Android ecosystem. They're also not quite like the others on this list in that they envision large full HD+ resolution display panels -- at 6-inches and 6.5-inches, in this case -- quite differently from other OEMs.
The internal specs are nothing to scoff at with Sony's middle-of-the-road offerings either, thanks to the use of Qualcomm's Snapdragon 630 and Snapdragon 636 backed by either 3GB or 4GB RAM and 64GB storage. Batteries in the devices are laudable too at 2,870mAh and 3,000mAh for the Xperia 10 and 10 Plus but the screens are the real differentiator.
Those are significantly taller than other handsets at a ratio of 21:9, allowing for a more natural view when apps are used in multi-windowed modes. Sony's experience in other areas of the tech world shines through here too, with the company bringing together its various units to include some of the best audio and camera capabilities around.
4 Samsung Galaxy A50
Samsung’s Galaxy A50 is among the first of the South Korean tech giant’s 'A-series' devices to be brought to the U.S. and, aside from its $350 price tag, only just barely qualifies as a mid-range handset.
That's because the device's oversized 4,000mAh capacity battery, dual-aperture camera array -- including a 123-degree ultra-wide-angle lens -- and 6.4" Super AMOLED edge-to-edge Infinity-U display panel are just the beginning of features more well-suited for a flagship. Unlocking the handset is going to closely resemble its Galaxy 10-series' top model too, thanks to an in-display fingerprint scanner.
Samsung has also equipped this budget-friendly powerhouse with its Android 9 Pie-based OneUI for intuitive, easy interactions with the operating system and apps.
Plenty of storage space is provided to house all of those applications as well, backing up a respectable level of memory that's on par with some of last year's flagships as well as a rock-solid processor. For Samsung fans that need a new mid-ranger, this is going to be the one to buy for now.
3 Moto Z4
The Moto Z4 is a mid-range semi-modular smartphone with a $499 price tag unlocked and a near-stock Android 9 Pie experience.
It’s also guaranteed to get an update to Android Q, according to Motorola -- even if no further firmware updates are expected -- and will do 5G networking on Verizon’s network with the purchase of a moto mod. Bearing that in mind, the ability to link up magnetic attachments for a better camera, battery life, or other extra functionality like projecting movies or capturing 360 photos and video is not what sets the Z4 apart.
That comes down to its 2-day battery life and strong performance compared to last year’s model, as well as the inclusion of a camera that really seems to be looking to rival Google’s Pixel handsets -- up to and including low-light shots.
For photography buffs who want a bit of expandability or added capability via add-on gadgets, coupled with a brilliant screen and a truly unique design language, the Moto Z4 is going to be a great option.
2 OnePlus 7
Starting at just under $532 on Amazon, for now, the OnePlus 7 has mostly been overshadowed by the more expensive and more drastically changed -- compared to last year's OnePlus 6T -- OnePlus 7 Pro. In fact, it looks almost identical to that previous handset and delivers the same specs in terms of RAM, with double the storage at 256GB.
That means the OnePlus 6T may be the better deal for those that don't need the latest processor, although it certainly doesn't make the OnePlus 7 any less worthy of consideration in the mid-range price bracket.
Unfortunately, OnePlus also made the decision to go all-out with a top-tier Snapdragon 855 SoC this year, used a notch instead of the mechanical pop-up camera in the larger device, and has not promised availability everywhere -- including in the States.
Summarily, that all has driven up the usual price point to approximately $600, making it difficult to justify recommending this smartphone for those in the market for a true value-focused smartphone too. The specs and pricing here mean that OnePlus has, at least for this generation of devices, effectively left its "flagship killer" origins well behind itself, in favor of just releasing a flagship.
Having said that, at its current pricing, it definitely deserves its number two spot on this list.
1 Google Pixel 3a/3a XL
Google’s Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL may have struggled to hold momentum in the months since its launch but the search giant hit a home run with its mid-ranger sister series.
Not only are the Google Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL easily the best value in mobile devices today, regardless of which variant is purchased. They are also arguably going to be the best mobile devices that money can buy to suit just about anybody’s needs.
Touting practically identical specifications, the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL are equipped with moderately powerful octa-core processors, ample RAM, and plenty of storage. They each also feature the same best-in-class cameras and software found on their older siblings, while keeping the headphone jack abandoned by those more expensive gadgets.
The key difference between the handsets lies in the Pixel 3a’s 5.6-inch FHD+ OLED display and 3,000mAh battery, as compared to its larger counterpart’s 6.0-inch panel and 3,700mAh battery. The larger gadget also abandons the often unfavorable notch in favor of larger bezels.
That’s all coupled with modern features such as a truly trendsetting night photo mode called “Night Sight,” squeezable active edge functionality, and a promise to always have the latest Android firmware version and security. Each operates on any of the major carriers in the U.S. and plenty of others worldwide too, so there can really be no doubt these are the smartphones to buy for value at just $399 or $479 direct from Google.