In 2022, smartphones costing under $500 are some of the most capable devices, with OEMs mixing and matching components to create some of the most comprehensive packages. Add to it the unique advantages offered to help the device stand out, and you'll see that customers, now spoilt for choice, have a complex situation at hand.
Hence, this article looks at a few of the best devices in this category — known as the mid-range — to see what is on offer and how one of them might be the perfect fit for your wallet and pocket.
Google Pixel 6a
The Google Pixel 6a makes its way to the market, flaunting the Google Tensor SoC and following in the footsteps of the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. If you're looking for a smartphone that is well-rounded in more ways than one with a choice set of compromises, at $449, the Pixel 6a is a device that's easy to recommend.
A compact phone by 2022 standards, the Pixel 6a ships with a 6.1-inch FHD+ 60Hz OLED display with Gorilla Glass 3 protection and an under-display fingerprint scanner. While the refresh rate and protection standard might feel like shortcomings, the rest of the package on this smartphone does make up for it.
The Google Tensor handles any processing required by the user and is critical when it comes to maximizing the camera hardware — a 12.2 MP Wide and 12 MP Ultrawide on the rear and an 8 MP front shooter — producing the best photo results in the segment. And to top it off, powering the 5G-enabled modem and internals is a 4410 mAh battery with support for 18W charging.
The Google Pixel 6a is a phone worthy of the successor title for its asking price. Yes, some reviews and recent reports have pointed out issues with the device, but they're likely to be addressed, just as Google has done with the other two phones that are a part of the Pixel 6 series. The Pixel 5a — its predecessor — was a remarkable gadget, and this model follows in its footsteps without many a misstep.
The decision to maintain the same design language as the current flagships and include the same chipset are both positive, and we think the entire package is well worth it if you're looking for the best camera performance and software support at par with most of the competition.
Note: Google Pixel 6a will receive three major Android updates and five years of security patches.
Google Pixel 6a
The Google Pixel 6a arrives with best-in-class features and certain hardware featured in its flagship brethren — the Google Tensor chip and the top-notch camera software are both head turners. The design language introduced with the Pixel 6 series is also visible on the smartphone, and at $449, it makes for a package that's easy to recommend.
Nothing Phone 1
Following the Google Pixel 6a and its approach of putting all its eggs in the camera and software basket is the [Nothing Phone 1]((https://pocketnow.com/nothing-phone-1). A device that prefers distributing its budget — or eggs — equally amongst all metrics used to measure a smartphone's value. If the Nothing Phone 1 were officially available in North America, the device would likely be our top pick within this collection because of its hardware and clean software experience that make for a great buy.
If you convert the device's European pricing to the United States Dollar, it comes in under $500, which for its specifications, is a steal. On the front is a 6.55-inch FHD+ 120Hz AMOLED display which, as mentioned inour full review of the Nothing Phone 1, is an incredible panel. Its viewing angles and colors are well balanced, and there's enough control within the Settings app to cater to your liking.
Nothing chose to package the Snapdragon 778G Plus within this smartphone to handle performance. The output on offer here is by no means comparable to the results you get from an 800-series chipset, but it's no slouch either. The smartphone will easily handle any task, and the bundled 4500 mAh battery allows for a full day of use before you need to look for a charger. The included support for 33W fast charging will have you ready to get going in a few minutes over an hour.
The cameras on this phone aren't bad, but they're also not its strongest suit. The primary 50 MP Wide camera can produce great results, but the 50 MP Ultrawide has been a mixed bag. Nevertheless, if you're looking for a device with some of the niceties of a flagship smartphone without breaking your bank, this device is worth keeping an eye on.
Nothing Phone (1)
Phone 1 is Nothing's first-ever smartphone. It comes with a 6.55-inch 120Hz OLED display with slim bezels, Qualcomm's custom-tuned Snapdragon 778G+ processor, LEDs on the back, Dual 50MP camera sensors, and more.
Samsung Galaxy A53
With the Google Pixel 6a and Nothing Phone 1 putting themselves into the market as great options to buy at the $449 price, the Galaxy A53 has its work cut out to make itself seem a worthy alternative. Fortunately, it does have the spec sheet to back itself. Similar to the Nothing Phone 1, this smartphone features a 6.5-inch FHD+ AMOLED display with a refresh rate of 120Hz. And knowing the panel is from Samsung means you can rest easy about its quality.
Apart from its display, the other strong points the Samsung Galaxy A53 boasts of are its cameras and long-lasting software support. While the camera hardware consists of additional sensors that aren't of the highest quality, the ones that do the heavy lifting are more than capable. Samsung Galaxy A53 ships with a 64 MP primary camera with OIS, a 12 MP Ultrawide, a 5 MP Depth, and a 5 MP Macro. On the front, you'll find a 32 MP Wide camera.
As for software updates, Samsung is second only to Apple as it promises four years of OS upgrades for this device — that's better than Google's promised three for the Pixel 6a. But if you're planning on extracting intensive performance, we'd say you might be better off looking elsewhere. While the Exynos 1280 packaged here isn't a weak processor, devices with SoCs from Qualcomm or MediaTek will keep the device feeling more springy after a couple of years of use. Lastly, powering the hardware on Galaxy A53 is a 5000 mAh battery with 25W fast charging.
Overall, if you don't mind Samsung's flavor of Android and would much rather have a device with an assortment of features built into its software, the Galaxy A53 isn't a device that's hard to recommend. You may even be able to find some attractive trade-in offers for the device on Samsung's official website that will make buying the device a cheaper affair.
Samsung Galaxy A53
Samsung Galaxy A53 packs in a 6.5-inch Super AMOLED Display, the Exynos 1280, and a 5000 mAh battery alongside a decent set of camera sensors. For $450, it offers a combination that is a perfect balance of price and specifications.
iPhone SE 3rd Generation
2022 also gave us a new version of the iPhone SE. While the rumored larger size or iPhone XR-like design didn't materialize for Apple's budget-oriented phone, it did get an internal bump, allowing it to package the A15 Bionic in its chassis and 5G capability. If you want to get an iPhone without incurring too much cost or want to experience the newer software without giving up on the trusty home button, this is the device to pick.
It's not hard to bash the iPhone SE for its old hardware as it still ships with the 4.7-inch 60Hz Retina LCD and camera hardware that hasn't changed much in years. Still, if you look at its overall package and how it provides a return on investment with its ability to be used for years, it makes a compelling argument.
It comes with a 12 MP Wide camera on the back and a 7 MP front shooter, both of which can capture memories — though the device struggles in dimly light scenarios because there's no Night Mode. When focusing on performance, the A15 Bionic — Apple's flagship processor from 2021 — will ensure no tasks are tough to accomplish. It can even play the most graphically intensive games without breaking a sweat. And to round off the package, Apple has even bettered the battery life with this generation, claiming it will provide better endurance than its predecessor.
In our eyes, at $429, the iPhone SE is for someone who wants to keep using an iOS device and doesn't feel bothered by the small screen. If you're not in that boat and need more from your device, perhaps the slightly more expensive iPhone 12 mini might be worth keeping an eye on.
iPhone SE (2022)
iPhone SE 2022 arrived with 5G support and the A15 Bionic SoC, offering the unparalleled performance of the iPhone 13 at a low cost. It is the most affordable iPhone available and comes with new camera features and improved battery endurance over its predecessor.
Poco F4 5G
Next on our list is a device from Poco, the Chinese manufacturer which raised interest by delivering smartphone packages that were termed highly competitive. Its first device, the Poco F1, set the tone for many of its predecessors. And after a short outward foray, with the Poco F4 5G launch, the brand is again selling a device that overcomes many others in terms of value.
The Poco F4 5G comes with the Snapdragon 870, a 6.67-inch FHD+ 120Hz OLED display, a 4500 mAh battery with 67W charging, and a triple camera array whose primary sensor features OIS; all of this is bundled for €399 ($405).
The proven processor provides flagship-grade performance without the higher-end chips' heating troubles. At the same time, the camera hardware on this smartphone features OIS on the primary 64 MP sensor, a rare feature in this segment. It even ships with other quality-of-life improvements, like Dolby Vision support for its display and an IP53 rating.
The Poco F4 5G marks itself as the most incremental upgrade the series has seen yet, but it's also one of the most robust devices to come out of Poco. So, if you don't mind the hassle surrounding an imported device, it might be worth keeping an eye on.
Poco F4 5G
OnePlus Nord N20 5G
While effectively a 5G phone only on T-Mobile networks, the OnePlus Nord N20 5G is a phone to consider, even in its 4G flavor, for anyone shopping in the sub-$300 market. It comes with a 6.43-inch FHD+ AMOLED display, Snapdragon 695, a 64MP primary camera, and a design that doesn't allude to the fact that it only costs $299.
But remember, there are a few factors to keep in mind while getting the phone. The display, which is one of its strongest suits — owing to its excellent color reproduction — is only limited to 60Hz, and its primary camera, while having numbers to boast, isn't the best at capturing images, with performance being just par.
Apart from this, the phone features another notable advantage over most of its competition, with 33W fast charging that allows it to top up to 50% in just 30 minutes. The Moto G Stylus — a true rival to this device — comes with a 10W unit and is significantly slower at juicing up to 100%.
Obviously, due to its price, not everything is sunshine and rainbows with the Nord N20. But in the North American market, where it's not always easy to find affordable yet good-looking devices for $300, the OnePlus Nord N20 beats most of its competition. Though, we'd like to say if you can spend a little bit more, try and upgrade to some of the other devices on this list, notably the Pixel 6a or the iPhone SE.
OnePlus Nord N20 5G
The new OnePlus Nord N20 5G is now available for purchase, and it's one of the best and most affordable devices for those who want a great device without having to break the bank.