In our series of best product guides, here’s the latest update to our recommended Android Smartphone list. All numbers in the text are updated to reflect pricing at the time of writing (September 28th).
We’re now past summer and nearing the cloudy months of fall. Usually at this point in time we’re seeing a ton of news about Apple’s latest iPhones, however this year that’s all been postponed.
What hasn’t been postponed are fresh rounds of price drops for many of the most sought after flagships on the market, with now many of the popular devices seeing considerable reductions from their launch MSRPs.
2020 has been about 5G devices as well as high-refresh rate displays, combined with the adoption of many-camera modules as well as bigger sensors. Pretty much every vendor has followed this formula to date, with many vendors such as Samsung or OnePlus executing the best this year.
In the mid-range, things have been quite shaken up by the release of reasonably priced phones with the new Snapdragon 765 SoC. OnePlus’ release of the Nord marks the company’s return into the sub-$500 market, while Xiaomi’s release of the Mi 10 Lite offers incredible value for its minuscule price. The Pixel 4a also has shaken up the mid-range in the US market offering value that no other device is able to.
Let’s review which devices make most sense at this point in time in the year, across different price segments:
|AnandTech Android Smartphone Recommendations:
(Street-price at time of writing)
|Segment||Option #1||Option #2|
|High-End||OnePlus 8 Pro
( $899 / ~818€ )
( S20+ 5G $998 / 903€
( S20 5G $799 / 773€)
( 399€ )
|Xiaomi Mi 10 Lite
( 283€ )
|Mid-Range (US)||Last-year refurb flagship
( Galaxy S10: ~$430 )
( $349 )
|Best Low-End||Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 Pro
( $249 / 263€ )
|Best Low-End (US)||Motorola G Power (2020)
( $235 / 194€ )
At the top-end, OnePlus with the 8 Pro still takes the lead in terms of providing an excellent overall package thanks to its outstanding specifications that ticks off most of the feature boxes you’d expect in a flagship smartphone. This September we’ve now seen the phone see a price drop of roughly $/€100 which means that’s an even more interesting value proposition. Samsung’s S20 and S20+ also fall into this category representing amongst the best of 2020, seeing even more notable price drops in the months since the phone’s release.
In the mid-range, the addition of the new OnePlus Nord makes it a rather obvious choice given its 399€ price tag, offering a solid phone that really can only be described as-second best in its features compared to a flagship phone. The Xiaomi Mi 10 Lite is a closer follower and actually undercuts the Nord at a staggerlingly low 283€, but gives up the 90Hz screen in return.
For US users, all these Snapdragon 765 haven’t been released yet. At this point in time I wouldn’t recommend any phone, or buy a refurbished last-year flagship, however Google’s new Pixel 4a now represents a quite solid value at $349 and is a very viable choice in an otherwise very limited US market. We’re only a few days away from the newer Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5 devices – although at this point in time we’re adopting a wait & see approach as to Google’s newest phones.
At the low-end, international users are still best-served by a Redmi Note 9 Pro. US users can fall back on a Motorola G Power 2020, posting similar value.
Best Flagship Devices: OnePlus 8 Pro & Galaxy S20/S20+
The high-end flagship market is where things have changed the most over the last few months. There had been some really big expectations with this generation of phones, but the one vendor that personally surprised me the most in terms of seemingly being able to deliver the best all-round package was OnePlus, in the form of the new 8 Pro.
The OnePlus 8 Pro essentially checks every single feature box in a phone today, ranging from a new generation 1440p 120Hz to a new Snapdragon 865 that offers the best performance and power efficiency amongst Android devices today.
The phone’s new design – although some would call it maybe boring or uninspiring, is in my view an excellent evolution over last year’s 7 Pro as it’s now more lightweight and thinner.
Particularly on the camera side we saw OnePlus surprise us with a camera setup that not only keeps up with the competition, but arguable is amongst the best implementations this year so far.
The biggest argument for the OnePlus 8 Pro is that even at a higher price point than usual, starting at $899 / 818€, it’s a much better value phone than anything else out there as essentially it has no obvious weakness. Particularly European and other markets where Samsung offers the Exynos 990 S20’s, the OnePlus 8 Pro with its Snapdragon chip seems a much better choice.
Samsung this year made a big kerfuffle with its new S20 series, particularly the ultra-high-end Galaxy S20 Ultra and its camera capabilities. Unfortunately, I don’t really think the Ultra was able to carve itself any place in the market, especially at its current $1123 price point.
The S20+ and S20 on the other hand seem quite reasonable devices. From a hardware perspective, these are excellent phones, but Samsung’s camera software processing this year really held their potential back. Especially the Exynos 990 based variants of the S20 series are worse devices, incurring performance and efficiency compromises compared to the Snapdragon 865 models in markets such as the US.
Still, they’re good phones, even if outshone by the OnePlus 8 Pro. The smaller Galaxy S20 particularly remains quite a rare device in the market as there’s not many vendors left putting out flagship phones in such form-factors, and prices have already started dropping as the S20 can be had for 644€ if you opt for the 4G version.
Recently Samsung also released the S20 FE which is an odd-ball device. There are two views on this phone from my side: for the US market, it’s actually an interesting device due to the fact that flagship phone prices aren’t as reduced as in other markets. The S20 FE comes in at $599 right now on Amazon which is a pretty fair and reasonable price compared to the S20 series which starts off at $799. The only thing that you’re losing here is the 1440p screen and you get a lower quality telephoto camera module – both reasonable compromises depending on the user.
Outside of the US, I don’t feel like the S20 FE can justify itself. In Europe it costs $730 for the 5G variant – and at that price I don’t see why anybody would choose it over the 773€ S20 5G – the Snapdragon 865 SoC being really the only plus of that matchup. The 4G versions are also not worthwhile as their long-term value will quickly drop in the following years.
Best Mid Range Smartphones: OnePlus Nord & Mi 10 Lite – Obvious Value Choices
The mid-range has been greatly shaken up by the release of new generation Snapdragon 765 phones. The biggest proposition of these phones is that you’re investing in a future-proof phone thanks to the 5G connectivity – besides the fact that they offer an overall excellent value in by themselves.
The new OnePlus Nord seems a new fantastic phone to this category and represents the company’s return in the sub-€/$500 market, something we’ve been missing given ever-increasing flagship pricing over the years.
The phone can be generally summed up as being a very well-rounded package that features the second-best of everything. The S765 provides good levels of performance although there are obvious differences to the more expensive flagships. The OLED screen’s 1080p resolution is plenty satisfactory but still manages to showcase a 90Hz refresh rate. On the camera department, it features the same camera setup as on the OnePlus 8 and OnePlus 7 series – albeit this is very much an average performing unit.
Still, at 399€ for the 128GB variant this represents quite a fantastic value simply due to the fact you’re buying a future-proof 5G phone that will retain its value better than if you were to buy a 4G device at this point in time.
The Xiaomi Mi 10 Lite is another Snapdragon 765 device with similar formula as the Nord. Both phones are extremely similar up to their camera systems. The primary differences are found in the display as the Xiaomi lacks a 90Hz refresh-rate display, but does add in a headphone jack in return.
The Xiaomi undercuts the Nord by >100€ coming in at 283€ for the 64GB version and only 288€ for the 128GB variant, again, some pretty incredible prices for a well-rounded phone that offers 5G connectivity and also represents a more future-proof investment.
Best Mid-Range US: Refurbished Flagships, or Pixel 4a
As a European editor it’s always astounding to me when I’m writing up these guides as the US market always shocks me as to how limited it is in terms of options. Neither OnePlus nor Xiaomi currently offer their mid-range devices in this market. In fact, I’m not even aware of any reasonable priced Snapdragon 765 devices that are available and compatible with the networks.
OnePlus has communicated that they might launch the Nord later in a few months, so it would be prudent to maybe wait out for availability.
Google’s recent release of the new Pixel 4a has signifcantly changed the mid-range landscape in the US market as essentially the phone has little to no competition at its $349 price range. Sporting a still respectable Snapdragon 730G chipset, the very same primary camera as on the Pixel 4, and an OLED screen means this is an extremely solid package you’re getting. Only drawbacks over other mid-range options is the lack of 5G which means the phone will hold value for a shorter amount of time compared other (non-available) devices. Google will be addressing this with the newer upcoming Pixel 4a 5G and the Pixel 5 – however these two phones will also come at a higher price point.
The reason the Pixel 4a isn’t recommended for other global users is simply the fact that the phone won’t be available till October 1st – a really odd choice on Google’s part, and certainly a reason why the phone might not perform as well overseas.
Alternatives to the Pixel 4a, it would be to buy a refurbished or find a good deal on a previous generation flagship device, a refurbished Galaxy S10 goes for around $434 at the time of writing which seems to be a perfect no-brainer choice.
Best Budget Smartphone: Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 Pro / Motorola G8 Power
This category of devices is very hard for me to write about due to the sheer size of the market and particular regional segmentation. In particular the US market is absolutely barren of viable options due to the fact that many OEMs don’t officially release their products in this region. This is incredibly frustrating as it’s in this budget segment where we see the vast majority of competition from Asian vendors, providing some of the more incredible value propositions.
The situation has been slightly been improved with Motorola’s range of low-end phones. Devices like the 2020 variant of the G8 Power represent a good value, although essentially, they’re beaten in every regard by the more competitive Chinese alternatives from vendors such as Xiaomi. For customers on CDMA carriers such as from Verizon or Sprint, the Moto is the only choice.
In the month of May, we replaced our low-end recommendation from the Redmi Note 8 Pro to the newly released Redmi Note 9 Pro and continue this recommendation through July. Like its predecessor, it brings to the table some incredible value at a price point of currently only 263€. The new phone upgrades the SoC to a Snapdragon 720 which houses two Cortex-A76 cores as its performance cores, paired with 6GB of LPDDR4X. The only real thing really betraying the phone as a low-end unit is the fact that it still houses an LCD IPS display in a time where most have transitioned to OLED screens.
The camera system is dominated by a new 64MP main camera sensor that punches far above its weight in this price segment. There’s also an 8MP ultra-wide-angle lens as well as a 5MP macro lens; these latter two aren’t of the best quality but hey, at this price we won’t complain. Finally, the 5020mAh battery rounds this phone off as a quite outstanding value proposition and Xiaomi really steals the spotlight yet again also in this segment. The best thing about the Note 9 Pro is the fact that’s it’s readily available in the US and Europe on Amazon which makes it a straightforward purchase.
If you’re a CDMA carrier in the US or if you care about warranty, the Xiaomi isn’t an option and the only reasonable fall-back choice here is the Motorola G8 Power 2020. The phone features a Snapdragon 665 SoC, featuring Cortex-A73 cores, which would be quite significantly less performing that the A76 cores of the Redmi Note 9 Pro.
On the camera side, the Motorola also offers less impressive specifications as we have a rather small 1/2.8” sensor with 16MP resolution. The display is a comparable 6.4” IPS LCD unit at 2300 x 1080 resolution which is still plenty satisfactory at this price range. The Moto G Power can be had for $235, and is actually also available in Europe as the G8 Power at a competitive 194€, although again I would rather recommend the Xiaomi for 50€ more as you get a lot more value out of your purchase.