Affordable Flagships & Budget Buys

Affordable Flagships & Budget Buys

Affordable Flagships & Budget Buys


Not everyone can afford a flagship phone like the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra or iPhone 12 Pro, but the good news is that plenty of cheaper devices offer an excellent experience all the same.

Some are half the price or even less, so don’t panic if your bank account is looking a little bare and you’re in need of a new smartphone. We’ve reviewed and ranked the best mid-range phones you can buy today.

We define a mid-range phone as one that costs between £250/$350 (the higher limit of our even cheaper budget phones chart) and £600/$850, on a SIM-free basis. You’ll find anything more expensive than that in our general best smartphone ranking, which tends to focus on flagship fare, along with our pick of the best Android phones.

Mid-range smartphones aim to combine flagship-level features with great value. You may have to compromise slightly on one aspect or another, like the camera or build quality, but it’s often totally worth it to save hundreds – and some of the phones at the top of the price range are flagships in their own right.

Phones from the likes of Realme, Xiaomi, and Poco are prime choices, but note that many of these don’t release in the US and Canada, where OnePlus, Motorola, and Google are better buys. Read past our rundown for more mid-range phone buying advice.

Best mid-range phone 2021

1

OnePlus Nord – Best overall

  • Pros: Excellent software | Great design | Strong all-rounder
  • Cons: Middling specs for 2021 | Oldest phone on our chart

An outstanding affordable buy from 2020, with great performance, 5G, OnePlus’ signature Oxygen OS user experience and a more diverse camera setup than the company has ever used on a phone. What’s not to love?

What the OnePlus Nord really demonstrates is the company’s ability to prioritise the features that users are looking for right now and wrapping them up in an attractive package with a compelling price point.

The only real downside is that the Nord is almost a year old now, and more recent phones have outpaced it on some specs. There’s also the OnePlus Nord CE 5G available, which delivers a stripped-back version of the Nord for a slightly lower price.

Read our full OnePlus Nord review

Specifications to look for in a mid-range phone

It’s difficult to define a mid-range phone by its specification, hence why we’ve opted for a price bracket instead.

Some mid-range phones will take the all-round good-value approach, with capable specs in each area; others will focus on a key trait, such as the camera or display, and promise flagship-rivalling capabilities in that one aspect; others still used to be those flagships, so will offer fantastic specs at a brilliant price, but may be running on slightly older hardware.

One common element is that you’ll likely have to give up on nice-to-haves like wireless charging or a waterproof rating – these still tend to be reserved for the most expensive phones on the market.

Chinese phones are a great choice in the mid-range market because they balance very good specifications with a lower price than you’d expect – but sadly few go on sale in the US. You may have heard of Xiaomi, Realme, and OnePlus offering staggering value, but there are plenty of other less well-known Chinese manufacturers that can also offer a very good deal.

Note that there is one mid-range iPhone on the market – 2020’s iPhone SE – but we don’t think it offers great value compared to Android rivals. Consider it if you know you need an iPhone, but otherwise steer clear.

Try to remember that it’s not always about specs either. We’ve hit something of a ceiling when it comes to smartphone tech anyway, so although these phones may not be as fast as your average flagship, they are almost certainly fast enough for most users. Go for a phone that balances value, performance, features and design in a way that appeals to you and your needs.

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