Best Smartphone Choices at a Mid-Range Price (Early 2018)

Essential Phone PH-1

This Synopsis

The expense of the best smartphones hasn’t gotten better with time, despite lower costing alternatives aggressively closing the gap in value. The mid-range has become an exciting space as a result. A few companies, like Huawei and Motorola, have taken advantage of the top-end’s peak in progression by making strides in their well-known mid-end series of smartphones. Sure, paying a mid-range price won’t generally get you the newest innovations, like a variable aperture camera or the slimmest bezels, but one can argue that these things aren’t worth the extra Benjamins that they require.

This Synopsis addresses early 2018 buyers looking for the smartphones that best offer what the top-end does, at a mid-range price ($400-$500). And as a hint, it may very well be a top smartphone from 2017. This list is in no particular order.

The Short List

Essential PhoneLG G6Moto X4Samsung Galaxy A8OnePlus 5THuawei Honor View10
Essential PhoneLG G6Moto X4Samsung Galaxy A8OnePlus 5THuawei Honor View10

The Rundown

Essential Phone (PH-1) ~ $450

The Essential Phone was a new smartphone surprise last year. The startup went all-in to compete with today’s established top-end flagships, with a unique ceramic build and nearly bezel-less design. However, this wasn’t enough to overcome light reception and sales. This caused the phone’s price to steadily drop, and today, it’s at a mid-range spot. This also means that it’s an exceptional value, especially since Essential has been working hard to improve phone via software updates.

Check out our Synopsis on the Essential Phone for an in-depth scoop. Around $450 gets you a 5.7″ QHD, nearly bezel-less LCD display, premium ceramic construction, Snapdragon 835 chipset, 4GB of RAM, 128GB of internal storage, 13MP dual camera system, and a nearly stock up-to-date build of Android 8.1 (Oreo).

Advantages

  • Premium materials and build quality
  • ~ 85% screen-to-body ratio
  • Large base on-board storage capacity
  • Commendable battery life
  • Stock-like Android experience
  • Potential for add-on accessories (like 360-degree camera)

Downsides

  • Average screen quality
  • Camera performance leaves to be desired
  • Notch cutout and wonky custom status bar
  • Software responsiveness could still use work
  • Missing some valued features: headphone jack, microSD card slot, waterproofing

 


LG G6 ~ $420

LG is one of the top smartphone manufacturers, but their devices don’t generally hold their value as well as Samsung or Apple. This often results in a bargain for consumers. If you’re willing to hold off, you can snag LG’s best at a mid-range price. This has been the case with the LG G6 (and the newer LG V30 if you can snag a deal), enhanced by the fact that Amazon partnered with the Korean giant to offer a more “value” Prime exclusive version.

Tip: You can pay even less with the LG Q6 capable mid-ranger, or a little more for the spec’d out LG G6+ through this Amazon Prime partnership.

To recap, the G6 is comprised of a slick glass/metal design, 5.7″ minimal bezel LCD (18:9 and QHD resolution), 4GB of RAM, 32GB internal + microSD storage, dual 13MP cameras (standard and wide-angle), 3,300mAh battery, IP68 protection, and wireless charging.

Advantages

  • Premium construction and ergonomic form
  • Minimal bezels
  • Wide-angle camera
  • Great battery life
  • Dedicated HiFi DAC (G6+ model)
  • Valued features: IP68 protection, microSD card slot, wireless charging

Downsides

  • Older chipset (Snapdragon 821 SoC)
  • Low on-board storage amount
  • Camera glass prone to scratching/cracking
  • Front camera quality is sub-par
  • LG’s software is dated

 


Moto X4 ~ $350

Through a lettering system (E, G, X, and Z), Motorola makes it fairly straightforward to recognize what price range a particular model will fall under. The robust mid-range is the “X” series, and at the moment we’re up to the 4th generation. The X4 has been a very well received, lower-cost smartphone that should be worth our attention.

Also See: Moto Z2 Force + Moto Mods Synopsis

How so? For about $350, it has a lot of the top-notch features you’d find in top-end flagships: premium glass/metal build, IP68 water/dust-proofing, dual cameras (12MP+8MP, with a focus on low-light quality), and there’s even Amazon Alexa virtual assistant integration. Other specs include a capable Snapdragon 630 octa-core chipset, 3GB of RAM, 32GB internal + microSD storage, 5.2″ FHD IPS LCD, and 3,000mAh battery. Not too shabby for $350.

Tip: Moto has recently announced the new Moto G6. It’s also a great value (maybe even better), priced at $100 less than the X4. It’s not out yet (at the time of this writing), but will be soon.

Advantages

  • Premium glass/metal build that competes with top-end
  • Dual cameras that boost image quality
  • Valued features also found on top-end: IP68 protection and microSD card slot
  • Near-stock Android experience
  • Cheapest smartphone on this list

Downsides

  • Yesteryear bezels
  • FHD (instead of QHD) screen resolution
  • Doesn’t have the fastest internals
  • No wireless charging

 


Samsung Galaxy A8 ~ $415

The implication of our list is that last year’s top-end flagships make for some of the best mid-range choices in the current year. But our Samsung recommendation breaks this trend for two reasons: 1) The Galaxy S8 still runs well over $500, and 2) The company has recently announced a new and compelling pair under its mid-range “A” series, the A8 and A8+. We’ve been impressed with this series as of late, as it gives buyers a lot of the Galaxy S experience at a significantly lower cost.

So how does it compare to the S8? The A8 manages a 5.6″ FHD screen (still S-AMOLED, 18.5:9, and slimmed-down bezels), glass/metal build (flat, not curved), IP68 water/dust-proofing, Exynos 7885 octa-core chipset, 4GB of RAM, 32/64 internal + microSD storage, 16MP rear camera (also f/1.7), appropriately-placed rear fingerprint scanner, and 3,000mAh battery. What’s surprising is that it has dual front cameras (8MP+16MP), so you can snap bokeh selfies – a feature not found in the S8, or even the new Galaxy S9.

Also Read: Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ Synopsis

Advantages

  • Premium build comparable to top-end Galaxy S series
  • S-AMOLED and slim bezel display
  • 16MP camera at low-light friendly f/1.7 aperture
  • Dual front cameras for awesome selfies
  • Valued features also found on top-end: IP68 protection and microSD card slot

Downsides

  • FHD (instead of QHD) screen resolution
  • Low base on-board storage amount
  • More bezel than Galaxy S8
  • No wireless charging
  • Price butts heads with today’s Galaxy S8 cost

 


OnePlus 5T ~ $530

OnePlus is now out of “Startup” territory and is somewhat playing with the big boys. Despite gradually moving up in price, the company continues to barrage top-end smartphones offerings with high-end bang for the mid-range buck. Specifically, the 5T managed the same top-notch trends like a 2:1 aspect ratio with narrow bezels, high resolution dual rear cameras (focused on low-light capture), Snapdragon 835 chipset with 6GB or 8GB of RAM. We also can’t forget OnePlus’ snappy, near-stock Android software and the super quick Dash charging.

That said, you’ll still have to forgo extras like a microSD card slot, wireless charging, and IP-rated water/dust-proofing. The 5T is also one of the more expensive options on our list.

Advantages

  • Top-end components for less
  • 6″ AMOLED screen with 80% screen-to-body ratio
  • Very competitive dual camera system
  • Commendable battery life
  • Near-stock Android experience

Downsides

  • FHD (instead of QHD) screen resolution
  • One of the more expensive mid-rangers
  • Missing some valued features: microSD card slot, wireless charging waterproofing

 


Huawei Honor View10 ~ $500

We can’t leave Huawei out of this list. The Chinese giant certainly plays in the high-end smartphone arena, but the low and mid-ranges is where most of the action is. The value of its Honor series has been nothing short of incredible, and this continues today. That is, if you don’t mind Huawei’s heavy EMUI software. This can be a small price to pay when looking at how much smartphone even $199 can get you, with the Honor 7X, for instance.

But if you want to get closer to the high-end, there’s the newly released Honor View10. It has a premium metal build, 6″ display with slim bezels, Kirin 970 (Huawei-made) octa-core chipset with 6GB of RAM, 128GB base on-board + microSD storage, high resolution dual camera system, and large battery (3,750mAh). But it is one of the more expensive options on our list, and cuts a couple corners.

Advantages

  • Top-end components for less
  • 6″ AMOLED screen with 80% screen-to-body ratio
  • Very competitive dual camera system
  • Great battery life

Downsides

  • LCD instead of AMOLED screen, and FHD resolution instead of QHD
  • Missing some valued features: microSD card slot, wireless charging waterproofing
  • Heavy custom software
  • One of the more expensive mid-rangers

 

Final Thoughts

Current Prices on Amazon

There’s a lot more choice when you go down the smartphone price scale. It’s great to see so much competition, forcing companies to give us more for our buck. In the top-end, it’s becoming that we’re ponying up for diminishing returns.

When shopping around the $400-$500 range, you shouldn’t just be looking a new smartphones that are made for the “mid-range”. The prices of the previous year’s top-end are continual dropping, and it often is that while they’re “old”, they can still trump the new mid-end hardware.

Also See: Best Smartphones

Josh is so enthused about tech that he writes about it. After time at several tech publications, he launched The Synops - concise and quality gadget synopses with information that readers want to know and details they want to see. You can also follow him at on Twitter (@joshnor713) and Google+ (+JoshNoriega). Email any inquiries to josh@thesynops.com.

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