The holidays are coming up and if you’re thinking of getting a phone for a loved one, or nabbing one for yourself, this year has seen an abundant supply of fantastic phones with relatively affordable prices. Yes, high-end phones still exist, like the iPhone 12 Pro Max and the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. But as people become more cost-conscious during the COVID-19 pandemic, phone-makers have responded by launching phones at lower prices.
Most of these phones are variants of well-known flagships and may skip out on some features. But overall these phones offer top-notch performances and are packed with great cameras, fast processors and brilliant screens. Many of them also connect to the next-gen mobile wireless network, 5G.
To see our top picks for this year, check out the list below. Note that you can almost get a better deal on these phones if you purchase through a carrier, as they often have promotions and discounts. But if you want a quick and easy way to gift a phone, getting an unlocked version is the best way to go — just swap in an existing SIM card and you should be good to go. We’ve linked to the unlocked version of each phone, and they should run on most of the big four US wireless carriers, unless specified otherwise.
The iPhone 12 (and its higher-end iPhone 12 Pro counterpart) received one of our highest scores ever. It features the powerful and fast A14 Bionic processor, dual rear cameras, 5G and a magnetic “MagSafe” feature that allows it to connect to other mobile accessories.
As the “fan edition” of Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S20, the S20 FE packs many premium specs like triple rear cameras, water resistance, a powerful processor and 5G. But it’s much more affordable than the original S20, and costs $699 in the US (or £699, AU$1,149 in the UK and Australia for the 5G models).
If you want a 5G phone that doesn’t cost too much, the Pixel 4A 5G is one of our top picks. Available for preorder and shipping out Nov. 19, the $499 (£499, AU$799) handset has a solid battery life, fantastic dual rear cameras and robust software support from Google. There’s also the Pixel 5, which has a great 90Hz display, but it costs more at $699 (£599, AU$999).
The OnePlus 8 is one of our favorite OnePlus phones of the year, and we prefer it over pricier OnePlus devices like the 8 Pro and 8T. The device features 5G, a 90Hz display, an enduring battery life and a top-of-the-line processor. The unlocked model is currently on sale from OnePlus and costs $699 (£549, or about AU$1,000) for 256GB of storage.
Available in the US for $445, the One 5G is one of the best, most affordable 5G phones available. This cheap smartphone option has a total of six, yes six, cameras, a 90Hz high-refresh rate display and fast-charging technology. It’s available now in the US on AT&T and is coming to Verizon at a later date.
Priced at s $729 (£699, AU$1,1999), the iPhone 12 Mini is the cheapest and smallest iPhone 12 you can get. It features a comfortable 5.4-inch display but has nearly identical specs as the iPhone 12 including the new MagSafe feature, the A14 processor, wireless charging and water resistance.
In addition to its main Galaxy S20 phones, Samsung has a more cost-conscious A series line of phones. This year it launched the Galaxy A51 5G, which has four cameras including a selfie camera, an in-screen fingerprint sensor and expandable memory. CNET reviewed the non-5G version that originally went for $399 (£329, AU$599) though we’ve seen it go on sale in the US for as low as $280.
Released in August, Google’s Pixel 4A costs $349 (£349, AU$599). The 5.81-inch Google Pixel phone only comes in one color (black) and features a headphone jack, a slightly larger screen and a bigger battery than last year’s Pixel 4 and 128GB of storage right off the bat.
After a four-year gap between the 2020 iPhone SE and the previous one, Apple packed its most budget phone with a bunch of upgrades. That includes wireless charging, better camera specs and water resistance. (Unfortunately, if you prefer wired headphones, it doesn’t have a headphone jack.) If you’re looking for a new iPhone but want to save as much money as possible, the $399 (£419, AU$749) iPhone SE is your best bet.
If you’re looking for a cheaper Note 20 alternative, the Moto G Stylus features a stylus that you can store inside the phone along with a built-in Notes app to help with productivity. Available in the US and currently priced at $250 from Motorola, the phone also features triple-rear cameras, 128GB of storage and a robust 4,000-mAh battery.
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