Not every smartphone has to break the bank, and there are affordable mid-range handsets capable of offering plenty of features and performance.

Before you settle on the smartphone you think is best, there’s plenty to consider, given that it’s an important purchase. Beyond the obvious Android or iOS comparisons, or looking at screen size and battery life, there are some key takeaways to think about.

The phones listed here are of the mid-range and affordable variety. Choosing between them may not be easy, but there’s not really a bad choice in the mix.

Google Pixel 3a

This is, without a doubt, one of the best bargains available until there are none left to buy. The Pixel 3a very much resembles the flagship model it’s based on, with some key differences being the headphone jack, a slightly larger screen and one front camera (not two). This model has no wireless charging, nor any water-resistance, so keep that in mind. Otherwise, they look and feel very similar.

The Pixel 3a won’t be able to fully match the processing power and performance of its flagship sibling, but still carries its own weight well. The purer version of Android is one of its unsung features, especially with three years of software updates to look forward to.

Camera performance is arguably the best in its class, taking almost everything from the flagship side. Key modes, like Night Sight, Top Shot and Portrait, are readily available to use, with results belying the phone’s mid-range status. Touching the screen feels responsive with the built-in haptic feedback, as is the fingerprint sensor. Battery life also maintains a steady clip for power consumption.

If you want to learn more about the Google Pixel 3a, you can check out the full review right here on the blog. Google is poised to launch the successor Pixel 4a sometime soon, which would then see this phone discontinued. It will still get updates, though.

Apple iPhone SE (2020)

Unlike the first time Apple launched the iPhone SE back in 2016, this new second-generation model is better value out of the box. The simplest way to describe this device is that it is, to some degree, an iPhone 11 packed into an iPhone 8 body.

The build and design are identical to that of the iPhone 8, meaning you get the home button with Touch ID. You won’t get minimal bezels around the 4.7-inch Retina HD display, but you will get a small phone that won’t feel tiny. It also retains the same water-resistance the iPhone 8 has, and supports wireless charging.

There are some iPhone 11 guts inside warranting attention. The A13 Bionic processor is the most integral piece, and should keep the phone going for a while yet. You won’t get the wideband U1 chip Apple uses in the iPhone 11 models, but that’s a feature still dormant right now.

Finally, Apple didn’t totally skimp out on storage options, going with 64GB and 128GB options (including a 256GB variant). Say goodbye to 16GB iPhones forever. Then there’s the camera, which is basically an offshoot of the iPhone 8 camera. You get a single lens in the rear, and another at the front. Some of the software features, like Portrait and HDR, are there, whereas Night mode isn’t. Face ID also isn’t available.

If you’re looking for a bigger phone that is somewhat affordable, you can try the iPhone XR but the new iPhone SE is the best choice on a budget.

Samsung Galaxy A51

Samsung usually makes noise about its flagship devices, but it’s the affordable and mid-range models that sometimes stand out on their own. The Galaxy A51 is one of those, following up on last year’s decent Galaxy A50. I considered that the best overall value of the trio of mid-rangers Samsung launched last year.

This year, there are two, including the Galaxy A71, and again, the A51 is solid value for an affordable phone. It’s not often that a phone in this category gets four lenses in the rear, but that’s the layout. The main lens has a 48-megapixel sensor, while the ultra-wide lens offers a 123-degree field of view. The two other lenses include a 5-megapixel macro for close-up shots, and a 5-megapixel depth camera that works with Live Focus.

For an affordable model, this has a big Super AMOLED screen at 6.5-inches, so real estate shouldn’t be an issue. The front-facing camera is like a pinhole at the top that Samsung tries to blend in to the wider display. It is a 32-megapixel camera, making it pretty hefty in its own right for selfie lovers.

It also has a large 4000mAh battery that should keep it running for a day without any trouble. The 64GB of storage is reasonable, and a microSD card slot offers some expansion beyond that.

Other phones to consider

There are a few other handsets you can keep in mind as you look for the right affordable phone to go with. If your budget is really tight, you can always try something that won’t crack $200. Of those, the Motorola e6 might be worth a strong look, or for something better, the Moto G7. And if that’s too much for your needs, there are even flip phones available.

Outside of that, you can always consider a phone that came to market in 2019, or even 2018, as a potential option. The Nokia 4.2 is a decent choice for less than most comparable phones, though it is last year’s model.

It’s still early in 2020, and more handsets are coming. In the meantime, check out the best smartphones available.

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Editor Cellular/Mobile Technology
I’m a fortunate man in being able to do the fun job of following and reporting on one of the most exciting industries in the world today. In my time covering consumer tech, I’ve written for a number of publications, including the Globe and Mail, Yahoo! Canada, CBC.ca, Canoe, Digital Trends, MobileSyrup, G4 Tech, PC World, Faze and AppStorm. I’ve also appeared on TV as a tech expert for Global, CTV and the Shopping Channel.

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