Nobody wants to spend their money on a crappy phone. But to be honest, brand new $1,000 flagship devices are overkill for many people. Phones that cost between $200 and $600 often sport the premium features that actually matter, like fast charging, high-quality displays, long battery life, and powerful cameras.
Shopping for a Phone in 2020
Before we get into the weeds, we should cover a few of the features that you should expect from a phone in 2020. After all, some of the devices that we’ll look at today are year-old flagships, and others are mid-range options that intentionally omit less-necessary features (like wireless charging) to keep costs down and quality high.
- Battery Life: New phones should have a 3,000 mAh battery (or larger). In most devices, a battery of this size guarantees at least 10 hours of regular use before you need a charge. For reference, the Moto G8+ and Galaxy A50 sport 4,000 mAh batteries, which are the biggest of any phone on this list.
- Charging: New phones support the USB-C power standard, which is faster and more reliable than the old Micro USB standard. All of the phones in this article charge at speed of 15-watts or better. (If you’re buying an iPhone, the charging speed and reliability of Apple’s Lightning cable will be comparable to that of most Android phones).
- Display: All of the phones in this article have acceptable displays with decent refresh rates. In fact, the majority of them sport fancy OLED displays (the only exception is the Moto G8+). If you’re obsessed with display quality, we suggest setting your eyes on the OnePlus 7T, which has an AMOLED display and a 90Hz refresh rate.
- Camera Quality: Manufacturers rely on software to improve the quality of their phone cameras. This means that big-name brands, like Apple and Google, tend to sell the best cameras on the market. That said, the OnePlus 7T is known for having an impressive camera for the price.
- Storage: Phone storage doesn’t matter as much as it used to. But if you aren’t interested in using a cloud service, or you like to store a lot of apps and media on your phone, then keep storage options in the back of your head while you shop. Also, look out for phones with Micro SD slots for expandable storage.
- Water and Dust Resistance: The Google Pixel 3 and the Samsung Galaxy S9 have an IP68 certificate, which means that they’re fully dust resistant and can withstand immersion in 5 feet of water for half an hour. The iPhone X has an IP67 rating, so it’s fully dust resistant and can sit in a 3-foot pool of water for half an hour. (The other phones in this article, including the Pixel 3a, are not rated for water or dust resistance).
- Biometrics: Fingerprint scanners are standard for phones. But only some of the phones in this article have in-display fingerprint readers. And if you want face or iris scanning, you’ll have to stick with the iPhone X, the OnePlus 7T, or the Galaxy S9.
Processing power and RAM is also an important factor in a phone’s speed and performance. But that’s a difficult subject that can’t be explained in a bullet point. Instead, we’ll mention the processor that’s in each phone, and we’ll go into detail if the processor is notably fast or slow.
Now that you know the big features to look out for, let’s get into it. Here are the best phones that you can get for half the price of an expensive flagship.
The OnePlus 7T ($570)
Let’s start with the OnePlus 7T. Last year, we named it the Best Value in Smartphones Today, and it’s still one of the most impressive devices on the market. It’s known for its buttery-smooth performance, thanks to a pretty QHD+ AMOLED display, a 90Hz refresh rate (most phones stick with 60Hz), and a lightning-fast Snapdragon 855 processor.
But this thing isn’t just looks. Its camera is notably good for the price, and it has a fancy in-display fingerprint sensor. It also charges at a speedy 30 watts—good news, considering that the OnePlus 7T is loaded with a large 3,800 mAh battery to make up for its power-hungry 90Hz display technology (in the end, it has average battery life).
As we mentioned earlier, the OnePlus 7T doesn’t have a water or dust resistance rating, and it can’t charge wirelessly. But it does come with 256 GB (or 128 GB) of storage, which is better than you can say for some $1,000 flagship phones.
OnePlus 7T HD1900 256GB, 8GB, Dual Sim, 6.55 inch, 48MP Main Lens, Triple Lens Camera, GSM Unlocked International Model, No Warranty (Frosted Silver 256GB+8GB)
The OnePlus 7T's beautiful AMOLED 90Hz display puts more expensive devices to shame, and its processing power and camera quality are impressive for the price.
The Google Pixel 3 ($433) and Pixel 3a ($320)
Google Pixel phones are known for their affordability, their ease of use, and their wonderful cameras. The Pixel 3, while only being a year old, is already sold at bargain-bin $400 prices. It sports one of the best cameras on the market, along with a fast Snapdragon 845 processor. It has an AMOLED display, a rear fingerprint reader, and a 2,915 mAh battery that charges at 18 watts (in other words, it has a decent battery and charges fast). This phone is comparable to the Galaxy S9, but it has a better camera and costs nearly $100 less.
As for the Pixel 3a, it’s just a total steal for the $320 price. This thing takes kickass photos that are comparable to the Pixel 3, it charges at 18 watts, and it has a 3,000 mAh battery that seems to last forever. On top of that, the 3a has a decent OLED display, a rear fingerprint sensor, and a headphone jack. This all comes at the expense of wireless charging, a slower Snapdragon 670 processor, and no water or dust resistance rating. But at $300, who cares? It’s amazing that Google even sells the 3a—it’s just that good.
Google also sells a Pixel 3 XL and Pixel 3a XL. Each model of the Pixel 3 series is sold in 64 GB and 128 GB flavors.
Google - Pixel 3 with 64GB Memory Cell Phone (Unlocked) - Just Black
The Pixel 3 and 3a are impressively cheap, and they're loaded with better cameras than any other Android device.
The Galaxy S9 Series ($500) or a Galaxy A50 Phone ($285)
Samsung’s phones are known for their premium look and feel. They’re often loaded with top-of-the-line features and fancy processors, and they carry some pretty hefty price tags. Still, devices from the S9 series or the budget Galaxy A series run for under $500, and they may be worth the money if you’re fixated on Samsung products.
Phones from the Galaxy S9 series are built with curved AMOLED displays and super-fast octa-core processors. The basic S9 has a 3,000 mAh battery, while the larger S9+ has a 3,500. Both phones charge at a fast 15-watts (with 10-watt wireless charging), and at the end of the day, they have decent battery life. They also have rear fingerprint sensors, face and iris scanning, relatively high-quality cameras, and headphone jacks.
If you aren’t obsessed with build quality, then the Galaxy A50 may be a better option than the S9. At just under $300, it has a fancy OLED display, a notched camera, an impressive 4,000 mAh battery, 15-watt charging, and support for wireless charging. Its camera is solid for the price, and it even has an in-display fingerprint sensor. The A50’s only serious downfall is its clunky-ish performance (it has a slower Exynos processor and limited RAM), and low build quality (it feels a bit cheap and doesn’t have a dust or water resistance rating).
The S9 and S9+ are sold in 64 GB and 128 GB varieties. The A50 also comes in 64 GB or 128 GB. All of these Samsung phones offer expandable storage.
Samsung Galaxy S9 G960U 64GB Unlocked [Midnight Black]
Samsung's Galaxy S9 and A50 devices are a solid option for anyone who wants Samsung quality without spending a fortune on a new flagship.
A Refurbished iPhone X ($412) or XR ($430)
When people need a cheap iPhone, they usually go for the iPhone 8. It still works well, it only costs $200, and hey, it’s an iPhone. But in 2020, the iPhone 8 feels a little out of date. For that reason, we’re going to focus on the refurbished iPhone X instead.
A brand spankin’ new iPhone X will still run you about $1,000. But at half the price, refurbished units are a total steal. The iPhone X still sports one of the best cameras on the market, its Face ID features are lightning fast (although it doesn’t have a fingerprint reader), and its buttery smooth Super Retina HD display (with help from the A11 chip), is to die for. The iPhone X is optimized to play nice with its relatively small 2,716 mAh battery, and at the end of the day, it has decent battery life.
The refurbished iPhone X is sold in 64 GB and 256 GB varieties, but it does not have expandable storage. And in case you’re wondering, Amazon also sells refurbished iPhone XR units in 64 GB, 128 GB, and 256 GB flavors. Keep in mind that refurbished devices aren’t covered under Apple’s warranty or Apple Care (although the device that we’re linking to has a 90-day guarantee through Amazon Renewed).
Apple iPhone X, US Version, 64GB, Space Gray - Fully Unlocked (Renewed)
A refurbished iPhone X costs half the price of new units. It sports one of the best cameras on the market, and its one of the least expensive entryways to the Apple ecosystem.
The Moto G8+ ($205)
The Moto G8+ is a stupidly inexpensive phone with a massive 4,000 mAh battery and 18-watt charging. And that’s really the selling point of this phone. Because the Moto G8+ uses older LCD technology and a lightweight Snapdragon 665 processor, its massive battery manages to achieve a 30 to 40-hour battery life.
It’s worth noting that the G8+ has a modern-looking selfie camera, and a 48 MP main camera that takes decent photos for the price. It doesn’t look like an outdated phone, and it even has a fingerprint reader (on the right side of the phone, for whatever reason).
The G8+ is sold with 64 GB of storage, but it does have an expandable storage slot.
Moto G8+ plus | Unlocked | International GSM Only | 4/64GB | 25MP Camera | 2019 | Blue | NOT compatible with Sprint or Verizon
The G8+ is one of the best budget phones on the market. It has a modern look, a decent camera, and a massive battery that charges at 18 watts and manages to achieve a 30 to 40 hour battery life.
The Sony Xperia 10 ($250) or Xperia 10 Plus ($280)
Sony’s Xperia 10 and 10 Plus devices are also notable for being ridiculously inexpensive. But unlike the G8+, the Xperia 10 is geared more toward media consumption than battery life. Its Full HD+ (not OLED) display is built with a 21:9 aspect ratio, so you can revel in a cinematic experience while watching Netflix on the go.
Xperia 10 devices also have a dual camera system to produce photos with a Bokeh effect (where backgrounds blur in a way that mimics your natural depth of field). But these unique cinematic and artistic features come at the cost of some performance.
The Xperia 10 runs on a clunky Snapdragon 630 processor and just 3 GB of RAM. It has a small-ish 2,870 mAh battery that lasts for less than 10 hours, and the Xperia 10 Plus’ 3,000 mAh battery doesn’t last much longer. Still, both devices charge at 18-watts, which ain’t too shabby.
Sony sells the Xperia 10 and 10 Plus with 64 GBs of storage. Both devices offer expandable storage.
Sony Xperia 10 Unlocked Smartphone - Us
The Xperia 10 and 10 Plus aren't the snappiest phones, but they're built with cinematic 21:9 displays and a dual camera system for artistic Bokeh photos.