Think you need the best phone when you head back to class? Premium handsets are designed to deliver everything you would want. Flagship smartphones are supposed to be the best a company can bring to market. It’s not just the specs, but also the design, functionality and user experience that help make them the elite models they’re supposed to be. Best screens, best processors, best cameras, and best software.
But you don’t always have to go the flagship route if you don’t want or need to. There are great smartphone options, with the features you need and very good cameras, suitable for any budget now that we’re back to school. This list is to help give you some context on what’s available and what to keep in mind before you make the call.
Apple iPhone 14
The iPhone 14 comes in four different models. You can go the flagship route with the iPhone 14 Pro or 14 Pro Max. The Max may be the biggest of them all, but the regular Pro is the more functional of the two because of its comfort and operatibility. It’s easier to use one-handed, fits in more pockets. Mind you, if you want to go even smaller, you could always consider the iPhone 13 mini.
The iPhone 14 Pro has a 5.8-inch Super Retina XDR OLED display made of tougher sapphire glass framed by stainless steel edges. If you’re upgrading from another iPhone that has the home button, don’t fret too much about it. You can use Face ID or a PIN code in lieu of a fingerprint sensor. By now, the gesture controls to navigate iOS are intuitive and easy to grasp.
The iPhone 14 Plus is as big as the iPhone 14 Pro Max, so if you want size without the extra bells and whistles, that’s one way to go. Apple did not make a mini version of the iPhone in 2022, choosing to go bigger this time.
All the iPhone 14 models have improved camera performance, including video. Action mode will be easier to capture moving subjects. Cinematic mode gives videos the Hollywood treatment. Low-light photography also gets a boost, and there are plenty of third-party apps to shoot with.
No matter what you’re studying, the App Store likely has something to help make class and homework easier. And if you have a Mac or iPad, the integration is better than it was before.
This is the best value you can find if an iPhone is what you’re looking for. The latest iPhone SE has the same A15 Bionic processor equipped in the iPhone 14 models (not the Pro though), yet brings back the fingerprint sensor from past models. You can look at this like an iPhone 8 design with the guts of an iPhone 13.
The 4.7-inch Retina HD display is vibrant and includes a 12-megapixel rear camera to shoot photos that are on par with at least the iPhone 11. Wireless charging, fast wired charging and an IP67 waterproof rating round out what is one of the best mid-range phones available.
If you did want something with a bigger screen and a second rear camera lens, you could always go the way of the iPhone 11 or iPhone 12. They are more mid-range options within Apple’s phone lineup, and more affordable options outside of the Pro models.
Samsung Galaxy S22 lineup
The Galaxy S22 phone trio is worth considering if you’re after something more high-end on the Android side. The differences between the Galaxy S22 Ultra and the Galaxy S22+and S22 are varied. The S22+ and S22 offer real value compared to the S22 Ultra, sporting similar specs in a number of areas.
Where they differ is in the S Pen. The S22 Ultra comes with one, including a holster, like the Galaxy Note series used to. Unfortunately, the other two phones don’t, and neither is the pen compatible with them, either. Samsung built in more unique functions for the pen, like controlling the camera app without touching the phone. Jot down notes from a lecture or class and then turn them into text you can use in a Word document.
All have gorgeous screens to look at, though if you were looking for more of a one-handed size, the S22 is easily still the best bet. Nothing really changes with Samsung’s One UI software on any one of these three phones. You’ve got great performance, plus up to four years of Android updates, plus five for monthly security updates.
The Ultra has the larger image sensor for the main camera, capable of shooting 108-megapixel images (whilst using that particular mode). The S22+ and S22 share the same camera specs, both capable of capturing quality images
Google Pixel 6a
When you want a Google Pixel phone on a budget, the Pixel 6a is a good place to start. While this phone is very similar to the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, it only comes in one size. It is water-resistant, though doesn’t support wireless charging. But it does come with 128GB of internal storage and 6GB of RAM, which is great for a mid-range affordable phone like this. Plus, you get a nice screen to look at, and better battery life than the other Pixels.
The camera is the jewel of the Pixel 6a, capturing some of the best images in its class. You get an ultra-wide lens to go with the main wide lens, both of which can shoot great photos in varying conditions. Night and low-light shots are outstanding, in most cases, while video often comes out looking good. Super Res Zoom can step in to help get decent shots at 2x zoom. Portrait shots—both from the rear and front cameras—are superb.
Once you do get a shot and you want to remove people or objects from it, you can always use Magic Eraser in Google Photos. It uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help wipe them out and blend in other elements in the image. It would be as if they were never there.
Samsung Galaxy A53
When it comes to more budget-friendly Samsung devices, the Galaxy A53 is top of the list. It’s fairly sizeable with its 6.5-inch Super AMOLED screen and polycarbonate body in the back. While not a premium phone, it does look and feel like something more elegant.
This is the kind of phone that just works. It doesn’t stand out for the best specs or performance. It simply does a little of a lot of things, and does them well. When it comes to messaging, social media, browsing, media streaming, and some casual gaming, the Galaxy A53 is well suited to all of that.
The 128GB of storage is on the lower end these days, but you can always use the cloud to expand on that. There are four cameras in the rear to take photos, plus the one in front for selfies. Image quality won’t match what the Galaxy S22 handsets can manage, though you should find photos come out looking good.
Battery life also holds up well, lasting longer than the Galaxy S22 phones do. No wireless charging support, unfortunately, and no wall charger in the box. The lack of a charger is common nowadays, and is the story with all of the phones on this list.
Finding the phone for you
The list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning some of the other unique handsets available. If your budget is tighter, yet still want some of the goodies available in flagship is worth a look. Take a look at the latest smartphones available now, as well as all the best back to school products you can find today.