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Skip the flagships; now is a good time to buy a mid-range phone

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Ryan Haines/Android Authority

It used to be that mid-range Android smartphones were a risky proposition, due to underpowered processors, scant amounts of storage, and relatively high prices. It also didn’t help that the Android platform itself needed optimization back then.

Fortunately, things have steadily improved over the years, to the point where there’s never been a better time to buy a mid-range smartphone. You do not believe me? Let me explain.

fantastic hardware

nothing telephone 1 butt in wood

Oliver Cragg / Android Authority

You only need to take a look at the designs and spec sheets today to realize that modern mid-ranges offer some excellent hardware. Sure, most of these devices are still made of plastic, but we see some premium-tier glass-backed devices instead (for example, Poco F4). And even if a phone offers a plastic design, today’s devices also bring innovations like glasstic and even matte plastic finishes.

Modern mid-ranges also tend to offer more durable hardware, with the Samsung Galaxy A53 and Google Pixel 6a boasting IP67 ratings for full water resistance. In fact, it’s not uncommon to find IP53/IP54 splash resistant designs for $400 or less. That’s more than can be said for mid-range phones from just two or three years ago.

Modern mid-range smartphones have come a long way in terms of specifications and design.

Pop the hood and you’ll find some awesome upgrades here too. Modern budget-tier devices come with silicon that is more than capable of playing some demanding games if need be, while everyday tasks are generally smooth as well. It’s also not uncommon to find 6GB of RAM or even more in today’s mid-tier phones compared to 3GB or 4GB in phones from a few years ago. This increased memory allocation allows users to juggle multiple applications at once more effectively, while also opening the door to more advanced features such as high resolution shooting modes and advanced gaming.

We’re also well past the point where a 32GB storage allocation was expected, as 128GB budget phones are now commonplace. The only real downside here is that we’re also seeing some mid-range devices ditching the microSD card slot.

We’ve also seen LCD panels relegated to the sub-$250 level for the most part, with high-refresh-rate OLED displays in the mid-range. Throw in big batteries, reliable main cameras, and a respectable amount of RAM and it’s clear you’re getting a capable phone for $300 to $500.

Even better software

google pixel 6a screen in hand

Ryan Haines/Android Authority

Evolving hardware isn’t the only reason to choose a mid-range phone today over a flagship phone. Several OEMs also offer extended online software update commitments with high-end smartphones.

For example, the Samsung Galaxy A53 offers four operating system updates and five years of security patches. Meanwhile, the Google Pixel 6a brings three OS updates and five years of security updates. The Nothing Phone 1 also joins the party with three OS updates.

That’s not to say upgrade commitments are great across the board today. For example, Motorola phones have woeful support for software updates, while OnePlus and Realme aren’t much better either. But the situation is definitely better than it was two or three years ago, when the Pixel 3a and Pixel 4a lineup were the only budget devices to receive respectable upgrade promises.

Many modern mid-ranges offer high-performance Android skins, while some also offer lengthy upgrade promises.

An update commitment is one thing, but receiving the update is something else entirely. Mid-range phones still take a while to get the latest OS updates, but there are encouraging signs nonetheless.

The Pixel 6a has already received Android 13, while the Samsung Galaxy A53 is scheduled to receive the update before the end of the year. We’ve also seen more brands offering beta software for those who can’t wait for a stable release. For example, Samsung has also been testing One UI 5 beta on last year’s Galaxy A52, Realme is bringing Android 13 beta software to some mid-range phones before the end of the year, and Oppo is bringing its Color OS 13 beta to a variety of cheaper phones before 2022 comes out.


Redmi Note 11 screen against gray ground

Eric Zeman / Android Authority

Another big factor that makes mid rangers worth buying today is that the price is still very competitive for what you get. In fact, the US Consumer Price Index recorded a 22% annual drop in the average value of smartphones. This was because devices got better rather than prices actually falling. It’s still hard to argue against this logic, as these phones have more powerful processors, more cameras, better camera sensors, more RAM/storage, and higher quality screens.

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Either way, the point is that while premium smartphone prices have passed the $1,000 mark and haven’t looked back, mid-ranges are increasingly offering more bang for their buck. And longer upgrade commitments also mean these phones will get better and better over time, getting new features and optimizations for the next three years or more.

Of course, there will still be plenty of people who don’t mind paying a premium for a full-fledged flagship phone, be it for the cameras or state-of-the-art internals. But we’re closer than ever to getting 90% of the flagship experience for a fraction of the price.

Some mid-range phones worth buying

google pixel 6a back - Best budget camera phones

Ryan Haines/Android Authority

Now that we’ve looked at why modern mid-range smartphones are worth buying, what about the recommended devices? We’ve got you covered with a few picks.

  • Samsung Galaxy A53 ($450): Like the idea of ​​a Galaxy flagship but don’t want to spend a lot of money? That’s where the Galaxy A53 comes in, with an introductory price of $450 but frequently available below this price. Expect a capable, if not spectacular, Exynos 1280 SoC, 5,000mAh battery, 120Hz OLED display, and IP67 water/dust resistance. The phone also packs an impressive upgrade promise, in line with Samsung’s flagships.
  • Moto G Stylus 5G 2022 ($399): Motorola has plenty of decent stable mid-range phones, and the Moto G Stylus 5G is one of the best options if you’re in the US. Notable features include a large battery (5,000mAh), a quad rear camera system, a included stylus pen and 128 GB of expandable storage. However, it does have some drawbacks, such as the dull processor, slow charging, and the lack of an OLED panel.
  • Phone Nothing 1 ($499): Nothing’s debut phone nearly beats the price tag, but it’s actually a good first effort. Nothing’s Phone 1 packs a powerful Snapdragon 778G Plus SoC, a solid 50MP+50MP dual camera system, and a 120Hz OLED display. But the phone stands out from almost all other devices thanks to the unique “Glyph” back.
  • Google Pixel 6a ($450): There are plenty of reasons to pick the Pixel 6a, especially considering that it frequently retails below its $450 launch price. Expect the Tensor processor, offline voice typing, excellent camera quality, water resistance and a long-lasting refresh promise. In saying that, you miss out on the flagship line’s high-refresh-rate display, faster charging, wireless charging, and 50MP main camera.

It’s worth noting that there are plenty of more decent mid-tier devices out there, depending on your region. You can check out our roundup of the best cheap phones for a more comprehensive look.

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