You need a new device but (rightly) think spending north of $800 is insanity, right? Well, you’re not alone. An entire segment of budget flagship devices has sprung up and they’re surprisingly good! Today we’re taking a look at the best phones you can purchase if you have between $300 and $500 to spend.
Without further ado, here’s our list.
The OnePlus 5T is simply one of the best values in phones today. The “budget flagship” has better specs than many on this list with. It comes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor and 6 GB of RAM with 64 GB of storage. For a few dollars more, you can bump that up to 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage.
Those excellent specs don’t mean anything if the software isn’t great too. Luckily, OnePlus’ own OxygenOS version of Android is one of the best skins on the market. Combining the simplicity of stock Android with subtle tweaks and features, Oxygen OS offers Toyota reliability and Lamborghini speed.
OnePlus has released two devices for the last couple of years. This year saw that OnePlus 5 and 5T. So, what’s the difference? Not too much. The OnePlus 5T has a larger, 6-inch 18:9 AMOLED display. If you’re into bigger phones with huge screens, you’ll love the OnePlus 5T due to that very display. It’s big, bright, and has great color reproduction. OnePlus also changed up its dual-camera setup, but the changes were pretty minor. While not the best camera on the market, the OnePlus 5T can still take some great pictures.
The OnePlus 5T isn’t perfect, but it does fill the void left by the death of the Nexus program. You can get a great flagship device with close to stock Android for a fair price. If you’re not a fan of the software that comes on the OnePlus 5T (it is running Android 8.0 Oreo), you can flash any number of custom ROMs currently under development.
OnePlus recently stopped selling the OnePlus 5T since the release of the OnePlus 6 is imminent. Right now, the only place you can pick one up is through a third-party retailer like GearBest or used on Swappa. If you’re looking for a device today, the OnePlus 5T is still a great choice, but you may want to wait for the 6 to go on sale.
Honor View 10/V10
Huawei’s sub-brand Honor released one of the best phones of the year in the Honor View 10 (also called the Honor V10 in some markets). The $499 device combines high-end specs, simple yet elegant design, and a great camera to offer great value to customers.
One of the most impressive aspects of the Honor View 10 is the display. The display itself won’t blow anyone away, but Honor somehow managed to get a 6-inch 18:9 display on the device and keep the front-facing fingerprint scanner too. The button sits just below the screen and can also go back and open the multitasking menu via swipes and taps. We’ve seen this tech in phones from Motorola, but never on a phone with this aspect ratio.
Just because you’re spending a little bit less on a device doesn’t mean you should miss out on the best processor available. Honor included the Hisilicon Kirin 970 chip, Huawei’s in-house flagship processor, in the Honor View 10. The chip also includes a dedicated Neural Processing Unit (NPU) that helps the phone process AI-related tasks. Not bad for $500.
Not only do you get a great processor, but the rest of the specs are impressive too. There’s 6 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage standard. A 3750 mAh battery keeps the show running all day, and a dual 16 MP + 20 MP camera provides great pictures even in low light.
So, what’s the biggest problem with the Honor View 10? Availability. Right now it’s next to impossible to get the phone in the United States without importing it. The best you can do is finding a unit on third-party sites like eBay or AliExpress. Honor says the View 10 is launching “this year” in the US, but we don’t have any specifics yet.
The Essential Phone has had an interesting journey. The phone was teased in early 2017 by Android co-founder Andy Rubin. It wouldn’t ship for another five months, but the hype around it built to a fever pitch. And then…. disappointment.
While the Essential Phone is a fantastic phone, missed deadlines, broken promises, and leaking customer data killed the shine on the device. But, that’s all in the past. What matters now is the device you can purchase today for a touch under $500.
When picking the best looking phones on the market, the Essential Phone should be near the top of your list. The almost all screen design looks absolutely gorgeous. Sure, the notch isn’t for everyone and we’d prefer AMOLED over LCD, but the phone looks great and feels fantastic in the hand.
The Essential Phone runs stock Android and received frequent updates. It’s one of the first major devices to get an Android 8.0 beta while flagships from Samsung, LG, and others are stuck on Nougat. In a world where OEM skins seem to rule the day, the Essential Phone’s software is a breath of fresh air.
Moto Z2 Play
This one was kind of tough. Motorola has two fantastic devices we could’ve chosen for this list, the Moto Z2 Play, and Moto X4. While our first indication was to go with the X4, we eventually decided on the Z2 Play for its Moto Mod support.
If you’ve never heard of Moto Mods, they’re modules you can stick on the back of supported Motorola phones. They add a number of different tools and functions like a projector, a battery pack with wireless charging, or an Alexa-enable speaker. Motorola has made an admirable effort to make modularity the new normal, and while other OEMs haven’t caught on quite yet, we love the added value Moto Mods bring to the Moto Z2 Play.
Even though the Z2 Play has a smaller battery than its predecessor, it still gets fantastic battery life. The 3,000 mAh battery provides all-day battery life and Motorola’s rapid charging will top you off when you need a bit more to get through the night.
The device comes with a great looking 1080p display, 4 GB of RAM, and 64 GB of internal storage that can be expanded via microSD card. For a budget device, there sure are some excellent internal specs here!
BlackBerry put out one of the most surprising devices in 2017 with the KEYone. We know people who absolutely swear by the device and refuse to let go of their physical keyboards.
If you were to focus solely on specs, you’d miss out what makes the KEYone special. Sure, it has a midrange processor (Qualcomm Snapdragon 625) and a standard amount of RAM and storage (4 GB and 64 GB respectively). But that keyboard. The KEYone is one of the only devices on the market to feature a physical keyboard and for those of us who grew up with them, typing on those buttons feels like home.
The keyboard is there to attract business class customers who are used to BlackBerry phones of old. But, BlackBerry also focused on software features that will appeal to enterprise customers as well. The phone has second to none security features for those who work with sensitive information.