If you’re looking for a new-release smartphone with all the tech features, but without a steep price tag, a mid-range model could well fit the bill. While mid-range smartphones don’t attract the same level of media hype as a flagship model release, they can offer a compelling range of features at a far more affordable price.
In fact, many mid-range smartphones incorporate flagship features, such as high-definition displays and speedy processors, as a key selling point. It’s also worth noting that 5G connectivity, a headline feature of many new-release premium models, has also quickly made its way to the mid-range price bracket.
Read on for an overview of key features to keep in mind when shopping for a mid-range smartphone (which we’ve classified as being around $400-$800). Plus a rundown of the specs on offer from some of the best recent releases.
Key smartphone features
Smartphones across all price brackets continue to launch replete with an ever-evolving array of hardware and software features. And sifting through the full range of specs on offer can be an involved process.
There are, however, some key features to keep in mind when weighing up different mid-range smartphones, which we’ve outlined below.
Displays are, of course, one of the more eye-catching and immediately tangible smartphone features. And for many people, they will be a starting point when weighing up the pros and cons of different models.
From budget through to premium smartphones, the clear trend in recent years has been towards larger displays. And in the mid-range market, many new-release models measure in at 6-plus inches, catering in particular for video streaming and mobile gaming.
In addition to the size of the display, it’s important to consider the display technology used. Also the resolution on offer, which is measured in pixels – such as a 1080 x 2400 display.
Displays with a higher numbers of pixels will be able to provide greater image clarity. The ppi (pixels per inch) measurement, referring to pixel density, is a commonly used figure appearing on manufacturer spec sheets.
When it comes to smartphones, it typically comes down to a choice of two operating systems: Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. Android makes up the vast majority of mid-range smartphone operating systems.
If you’re keen on an iOS device, Apple’s iPhone SE falls into the mid-range price bracket. However, it could also be worthwhile considering an older iPhone model. Retailers often stock older iPhone models, which come with cheaper price tags.
New versions of Android are typically released once a year (the most recent version is Android 11), and minor updates are also intermittently issued throughout the year. Smartphones sporting recent Android releases provide the best usability and security benefits.
Cameras are a major selling point for smartphones across all budgets. And mid-range models arriving to market are increasingly sporting multipurpose triple and quad-lens set-ups, incorporating a range of rear- and front-facing options.
If your smartphone is going to be your go-to camera choice, it’s worthwhile carefully considering the different types of camera tech on offer. This includes the range of lenses available, MP resolution, zoom capabilities and the accompanying software.
Of course, the better the camera, the bigger the price tag.
Under the hood
While displays and cameras typically receive most attention, it’s equally important to consider the unseen components that keep smartphones running.
These sometimes unheralded features include:
- Processor – the brains of the smartphone has a hand in pretty much every aspect of its operation. More powerful processors = smoother performance
- Storage – if you’re planning on running a range of apps, and storing photo, video and other types of files, consider just how much internal storage you will need. In addition to internal storage, many smartphones incorporate a microSD external storage slot
- Connectivity – 4G connectivity is standard, but 5G is set to become an increasingly common feature in coming years. Also keep in mind wi-fi and Bluetooth standards, and USB connectivity
- Battery – smartphones sporting a greater battery capacity provide the convenience of allowing users to go longer between charges. Meanwhile, fast-charging capabilities allow for quick battery top-ups
- Security – many smartphones use a range of biometric technologies, such as fingerprint sensors or facial scanning, for security across different applications
While the phone’s design is a matter of personal taste, durability should be a key consideration. And even mid-range smartphones incorporate features such as water and dust resistance.
The following is a selection of new-release smartphones (2020 and 2021 models) around the $400-$800 price bracket.
Xiaomi Redmi Note 9T
The headline feature of Xiaomi’s Redmi Note 9T is 5G connectivity. Xiaomi’s dual-SIM offering, released earlier this year, runs a 5G-capable MediaTek Dimensity 800U octa-core processor.
In addition, Xiaomi states that the Redmi Note 9T’s rear 48 MP main camera, supported by advanced processing hardware and algorithms, provides clearer images, faster imaging speeds and a range of picture modes.
- Display – a 6.53-inch FHD+ DotDisplay (2340 x 1080; 395 ppi)
- Operating system – Android 10
- Camera – rear system: a 48MP wide-angle AF camera, a 2MP macro sensor camera and a 2MP depth sensor camera, with 4K video recording at 30fps; front: a 13MP in-display selfie camera
- Processor – a MediaTek Dimensity 800U octa-core (up to 2.4 GHz) CPU
- Storage – 128GB internal storage; support for up to 256GB microSD external storage
- Connectivity – 5G and 4G; wi-fi 5; Bluetooth 5.1; NFC; USB-C
- Battery – a 5000 mAh battery (15 hours of navigation, 18 hours of video playback, 11 hours of gaming); an 18W fast charger provides for charging to 33% in 30mins
- Security – side-mounted fingerprint sensor; AI Face Unlock
- Design – designed to deliver a stylish look and feel, with a textured polycarbonate back offering improved grip; measures 161.9 x 77.3 x 9.05mm, and weighs 199g; Corning Gorilla Glass 5
Price – the Xiaomi website lists the Redmi Note 9T, available in nightfall black, at $398.99*.
Oppo’s A72 arrived to market in mid-2020. It sports a 6.5-inch FHD+ Neo-Display, which Oppo states delivers “a clearer, more immersive viewing experience” when watching videos and playing games.
The A72’s quad-lens rear camera system includes a 48MP AI main camera and provides for operation in a range of conditions. It also supports 4K video recording, and its Video Anti-Shake function delivers a clearer and more stable picture.
- Display – a 6.5-inch FHD+ Neo-Display (2400 x 1080)
- Operating system – Android 10, with ColorOS 7.1
- Camera – rear system: a 48MP AI main camera, an 8MP ultra-wide camera and two portrait-style 2MP cameras, with 4K video recording at 30fps; front: a 16MP camera
- Processor – a Qualcomm Snapdragon SM6125 (SDM 665) octa-core processor
- Storage – 128GB internal storage; support for microSD external storage
- Connectivity – 4G LTE; wi-fi; Bluetooth 5.0; NFC; USB-C
- Battery – a 5000 mAh battery (talk time of about 34 hours, audio playback of about 50 hours, video playback of about 7 hours); 18 W fast charging
- Security – side fingerprint unlock
- Design – a 3D quad-curve design; measures 162 x 75.5 x 8.9mm, and weighs 192g
Price – the A72, available in twilight black or aurora purple, can be found online for around $448.99*.
Samsung Galaxy A52
Samsung describes its latest A series line, unveiled in the early stages of 2021, as “making powerful innovation accessible to everyone”. The Galaxy A52’s 6.5-inch FHD+ Super AMOLED display is a standout feature.
The Galaxy A52’s multi-lens camera system is another key feature. Its four-lens rear camera set-up including a 64MP main rear camera with OIS (optical image stabilisation), while a 32MP front camera is decked out to deliver high-resolution selfies.
- Display – a 6.5-inch FHD+ Super AMOLED Infinity-O display (1080 x 2400; 407ppi; 90Hz refresh rate)
- Operating system – Android 11
- Camera – rear system: a 64MP OIS AF main camera, a 12MP ultra-wide camera, an 8MP OIS telephoto camera and a 5MP macro camera, with digital zoom up to 10x, UHD 4K video recording at 30 fps; front: a 32MP camera
- Processor – an octa-core (2.3 GHz, 1.8 GHz) CPU
- Storage – 128GB internal memory; support for up to 1TB microSD external storage
- Connectivity – 4G LTE; wi-fi 5; Bluetooth 5.0; NFC; USB-C
- Battery – 4500 mAh (4G LTE talk time of up to 37 hours, video playback of up to 21 hours, LTE internet usage of up to 17 hours, wi-fi internet usage of up to 18 hours, audio playback of up to 127 hours); a 25W Super Fast Charging charger sold separately
- Security – an on-screen fingerprint sensor
- Design – a seamless design with sleek curves, with a rear matte finish; measures 159.9 x 75.1 x 8.4mm, and weighs 189g; rated IP67 for water and dust resistance
Price – the Samsung website lists the Galaxy A52, available in awesome violet, awesome black, awesome white or awesome blue, at $599(*).
The iPhone SE was unveiled in April 2020. The second-generation offering incorporates a range of features that Apple has become known for, including a Retina HD display, which measures in at a comparatively compact 4.7 inches.
Running an A13 Bionic chip, Apple states that the iPhone SE provides a fluid experience. It’s decked out to deliver across a range of tasks, including photography (powering the iPhone SE’s rear single-camera system), gaming and augmented reality experiences.
- Display – a 4.7-inch Retina HD display (1334 x 750; 326ppi).
- Operating system – iOS 14.
- Camera – rear: a 12 MP wide camera, OIS, digital zoom at up to 5x, LED True Tone flash with Slow Sync, 4K video recording at up to 60 fps; front: a 7 MP camera.
- Processor – an A13 Bionic chip.
- Storage – a choice of 64 GB, 128 GB or 256 GB internal storage.
- Connectivity – 4G LTE Advanced; Wi‑Fi 6; Bluetooth 5.0; NFC with reader mode; Lightning connector (comes with a USB-C-to-Lightning cable).
- Battery – provides video playback of up to 13 hours (up to 8 hours streamed) and audio playback of up to 40 hours; provides up to a 50 per cent charge in 30 minutes with a 20 W adaptor or higher (sold separately); wireless charging (works with Qi chargers).
- Security – Touch ID (a fingerprint sensor built into the Home button).
- Design – a durable glass and aluminium design; measures in at 138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3 mm, and weighs 148 g; rated IP67 for splash, water and dust resistance.
Price – the Apple website lists prices for the iPhone SE, available in white, black and Product Red, starting from $749*.
*Further information on pricing can be found at individual retailer websites. This should be used as a starter guide and not considered an actual quote.
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