Mid-range phones we recommend
I came across a thread in our forums the other day, and it got me to thinking. We here at Pocketnow are all about the specs. We’re spec machines. Spec monsters. As such, we spend a great deal of our time writing, talking, and video-ing about flagships. The latest and greatest! The Lumia 1020. The GS4. The HTC One. We loves us some cores and some RAMs and some 1080p’s.
But not everyone is like that. Some folks – arguably most folks on this spinning blue ball we live on just want a good phone. Something to get them “from A to B” as it were. They don’t need to whip out their phones at parties and get all the ohhs and ahhs.
Heck sometimes you find yourself in a pinch and the Money Fairy has been a bit stingy of late. Sometimes you want to go off contract and not take out a second mortgage. Whatever your situation, I took it to the team and asked them
“What mid-tier phone would you recommend? It doesn’t matter why you’re recommending a mid tier phone, and we all understand the disclaimers involved (It’s only an extra XX to have the latest and greatest, you’re not future-proofing, etc.)”
The Rules were simple: MSRP of $450 or less off contract. $99 or less on contract. No flagships.”
This is a tough question. I would have to say in terms of mid tier phone, I would not recommend Android. At all. Android seems to be designed and built for the best hardware out there and that does not equal “Mid-tier”. Given that, since both operating systems are designed to do more with less, I’d have to recommend Windows Phone or iOS.
Once the iPhone 5S is released, the price of the 4S should comfortably fall within range of the rules as they stand now. But that’s then. Right now, I’d go with the Lumia 820 which can be had on Amazon for less than $300 unlocked. It offers the larger screen, 8 MP camera, and a full gig of RAM. If you want to dip your toe into the Windows Phone 8 water, but you’re not yet convinced, the Lumia 520 can be had off contract for 99 dollars on AT&T as a Go phone. That is not even three tanks of gas. Go get the phone NAO!
I actually prefer some mid-tier to low-end smartphones because often they have features that you don’t find on high-end phones. For example, I used the Nokia Lumia 710 for most of 2012 because it was a smaller device and it had the most ergonomic shape of any phone on the market. It really fit the shape of the hand perfectly and one-handed usability was great. Not only that, but it had removable color battery covers so I could change the phone’s whole mood and feel by snapping on a different backing. The Lumia 820 and 810 had similar advantages which also added the ability to plug in up to 64Gb of more storage for music, videos, and pictures. You can also get replacement battery covers that add wireless charging capabilities and of course a variety of colors that you could swap every day. Today, even the Nokia Lumia 521 has advantages over higher-end smartphones. It uses a widely available BL-5J battery that Nokia’s been using for years and is easy to find for those extra days of battery life. All of those are features that are generally unheard of on higher-end Windows Phones these days.
If you’re not necessarily looking for a mid-ranger on a contract in the US, you prefer an unlocked phone, or one that not (yet) available in the States, two solid options include the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini and the HTC One Mini, both of which we extensively covered here on Pocketnow. Samsung and HTC brought the battle to the non-flagship battleground too, after being fierce competitors with the S4 and the One in the flagship department.
As you’ve probably seen in our videos, both of these mid-range phones are doing an excellent job in keeping up with their flagship siblings, while mimicking, almost to the point of being identical, the hardware design, build quality, and user experience. They’re both solid options for someone not interested in top-notch specs, or willing to spend somewhat less on a phone.
I guess the mid-tier phone that I’d recommend the most is the iPhone 4S. I like Apple’s way of handling budget options, and I wish that every OEM would just extend the life of their previous flagship for another year and make that a mid-tier solution instead of what they currently do. At times when we have mid-tier solutions with qHD displays, 8GB of storage, or a terrible camera, the iPhone 4S is actually the only smartphone that gives you more for your money.
For the same price of most mid-tier phones, you pretty-much get an iPhone 5 on a smaller and more durable chassis. You also get one of the best cameras on a smartphone, since the differences between the 5 and the 4S are minor in that department. You get 16GB of storage, two color options, extras like Siri, great build quality, etc.
Again, if every OEM would retain last-year’s flagship as a budget option, our world would be full of the Galaxy S III, which is still hot, and not the terrible Galaxy Ace smartphones you’ll find everywhere.
This is exactly why I recommend Nexus phones. Generally speaking, the price is right, and you’re getting killer specifications for the amount that you’re spending. Even having used the Galaxy S 4 and HTC One, I still returned to the Nexus 4. No, it’s not as fast, nor is its screen anywhere near as pretty as either of those two flagship phones. It’s fast enough, looks great, and doesn’t have many of the hangups that “skinned” versions of Android include.
So although I wouldn’t really call the nexus 4 a “mid-tier” phone, it’s priced right, and will give you a long and useful life.
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It may have passed for a higher-end phone a year ago, but when LG announced the Optimus F7 during the MWC 2013, it was clearly positioned as a mid-range handset. LG doesn’t win any points from me for its software, but the hardware is solid enough: 4.7-inch 720p display, 2GB RAM, LTE, and an eight-megapixel main camera. The only things that screams “mid-range” are the 1.5GHz dual-core SoC and only 8GB internal flash (though at least there’s microSD expansion).
It could use a more recent build of Android, but if you’re settling for mid-range, having the latest and greatest code probably isn’t top on your list of priorities. At $300 with no contract, it’s also got a price that’s hard to beat for a phone that’s just been released.
The Nexus 4. Hands-down.
Okay, let me backtrack for a second. Many of you may be thinking, “But Taylor! The Nexus 4 is a flagship. It’s not a mid-tier phone!” I politely disagree with that statement. The Nexus 4 was a flagship, a high-end smartphone from Google. But that was last November. It’s now approaching nine-months-old; it’s yesterday’s news. It is now a mid-range offering. It has a mediocre display, a pretty terrible camera, poor battery life, and paltry storage. The only redeeming features are 2GB of RAM, the Snapdragon S4 Pro (which is also quite dated by today’s standards), and … well, it’s price.
Forget for a minute that it’s a Nexus, because we all know that moniker changes everything. If this were any other smartphone, it most definitely wouldn’t be considered a high-end phone anymore. In fact, it would be nearly comparable to the HTC First. There. I said it.
With that said, at $299 for 8GB or $350 for the 16GB model, the Nexus 4 is, without a doubt, the best mid-tier phone your hard-earned cash can buy. And if, for whatever reason, that isn’t an acceptable answer, my vote goes to the HTC First. No-contract, it sells for $439.99 (or $0.99 with an agreement). It may come pre-packaged with Facebook Home, but it’s running a mostly stock version of Android beneath, and the hardware isn’t half bad.
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So now we put it to you, dear reader. What mid-range phone would you recommend to your friends, family, or court-appointed official? What mid range phone do you use right now? Love it? Hate it? Hit us up with some knowledge in da hizzy.