OnePlus Nord CE 5G
Don’t be deceived by its plastic finish: the OnePlus Nord CE packs some serious specs. Snapdragon 750G silicon provides the grunt to blaze through tasks, happily tackling all but the most demanding Android titles (with a gaming mode to block interruptions and boost performance).
The 6.43in AMOLED display is bright and sharp. With support for HDR10 and 90Hz refresh rates, it’s one of the best panels in this list. A headphone port means you can easily plug in for movies, while that Qualcomm chip also delivers 5G connectivity for speedy wireless streaming. The battery lasts the day as well, with Warp Charge 30T Plus fast charging for refuelling within an hour.
OnePlus’ OxygenOS launcher sits comfortably on top of Android 11, adding plenty of useful features – including a few simple but useful customisation tools that don’t bog it down. It’s also covered by two years of updates and three years of security patches – a reassuring spot of future-proofing that’s rare at this price point.
Probably the weakest link is the 64MP primary camera. It does a decent enough job for day-to-day snaps, but the optics struggle a little in low light.
Redmi Note 10 Pro
Xiaomi made its name with powerful yet affordable smartphones and the Redmi Note 10 Pro is no exception. It’s one of the best cheap phones you can buy right now, with a smart yet sturdy design and solid hardware inside.
Performance comes courtesy of Snapdragon’s 732G processor, which can capably handle everyday tasks, as well as light gaming. It also goes impressively easy on energy, which means the battery should last the day. All that’s missing is 5G support.
Streaming fans will appreciate the Note 10 Pro’s sizeable screen: it’s a proper eye-pleaser for the price. HDR support means the punchy 6.67in AMOLED display delivers vibrant visuals, while 120Hz refresh rates translate into smooth motion.
There’s good news for shooters, too: Xiaomi has squeezed a 108MP whopper onto the back. It can take crisp, bright family snaps, as well as recording detailed 4K home movies. Backing it up is an ultra-wide lens, plus a macro snapper.
Downsides? Xiaomi’s MIUI launcher is back. You still get all the stock Android features, plus a feast of nifty bonus bits – including an Apple-style Control Center. But it also suffers from bloatware and probably won’t enjoy updates well into the future.
Xiaomi Poco X3 Pro
With a mighty Snapdragon 860 chipset and dedicated gaming tools on-board, the Poco X3 Pro is the most powerful phone in this list. Its processor can handle almost anything, even power-hungry games like Genshin Impact (provided you drop detail down to medium).
The 6.67in FHD+ display is an IPS panel rather than OLED, so contrast isn’t super strong. All the same, your peepers should be pleased by its punchy colours and fine details. Adaptive refresh rates max out at 120Hz too, so visuals will be suitably slick when needed.
You get stereo speakers, a headphone port and microSD support for expanding the storage. That’s alongside a responsive edge-mounted fingerprint scanner, NFC for contactless payments and solid Bluetooth. The 48MP main camera sensor also captures sharp snaps of subjects on the move, as well as respectable 4K footage. Pretty much all you could ask for.
In fact, besides the slightly garish design, there’s really not all that much to dislike about the Poco X3 Pro. And while the branding might be an eyesore, the handset is solidly built with Gorilla Glass 6 and IP53 splash-resistance. Note though that Poco phones still use Xiaomi’s MIUI launcher. So while you get bonus bits like the gaming mode and Control Center, you’ll also be lumbered with a shedload of junk – and a question mark over future updates.
Motorola Moto G50
Keeping it in the family, the G50 shares the same plastic construction, hardware layout and general heft as the G30. The trade-off is excellent connectivity, with NFC, microSD card support and a 3.5mm headphone jack – plus the headline addition: 5G.
Similarities with the cheaper G30 continue up front, where you’ll find an identical 6.5in display with an underwhelming 1600×720 resolution and contrast that’s par for the course. But the G50 makes better use of the 90Hz refresh rates: while its chipset might seem less capable on paper, it’s more efficient and better able to keep up with taps and swipes.
You can still expect a short wait with more demanding apps, but the newer silicon delivers a slicker experience than the G30. It’s also largely up to the task for gaming. Frame rates can judder when loading Call of Duty Mobile, but things are perfectly playable once the action gets going. That extra efficiency also maximises the staying power of the 5000mAh battery, regularly going a couple of days without a charge – handy, given the tardy 15W charging speeds.
In most areas, the G50 bests the G30 – but it’s arguably less capable than even the entry-level G10 when it comes to cameras. You get a triple-lens setup, with a 48MP sensor topping the bill. It lacks the raw detail captured by the G30’s main camera and, unsurprisingly, it struggles in low light.
Realme 9 Pro Plus
In many ways, Realme’s 9 Pro Plus is a middle-of-the-road mobile. It’s fronted by a 6.4in AMOLED panel with 90Hz refresh rates. Its battery isn’t the biggest at 4500mAh, but it supports 60W fast charging. And it deploys a solid MediaTek processor to deliver reliable day-to-day performance, aided by a stable software interface.
There are other affordable smartphones that offer better specs for the same or less. But one thing sets the Realme 9 Pro Plus apart: its camera skills. The main 50MP sensor offers flagship-grade photography chops, complete with phase detection autofocus and optical image stabilisation.
The secondary sensors are passable (in the case of the 8MP ultra-wide and 16MP selfie camera) and forgettable (particularly the 2MP macro camera). But that doesn’t really matter when the primary snapper can grab loads of detail, shallow depth of field and HEIF 10-bit photos like the iPhone 13 Pro.
There’s plenty of competition in Xiaomi’s budget stable. Rivals from Poco and Redmi can variously trump the Realme 9 Pro Plus on price, performance and screen quality. But none can top its photography skills in this budget bracket.
Motorola Moto G30
Sandwiched between the cheaper G10 and the better-connected G50, the Moto G30 is a mid-range, middle-of-the-road mobile that offers plenty for those with a limited budget.
Despite its pared-back plastic build, the G30 is hefty at 200g and large enough to poke out of your pocket. That’s mainly down to the 6.5in display which fills the front of the phone. While its 20:9 aspect ratio is nicely cinematic, contrast is average and the 1600×720 resolution disappointing. And though the option to run 90Hz refresh rates is a welcome one, the impression of smoother motion is limited by chipset performance. Even running uncluttered Android 11, switching apps isn’t stutter-free.
With a huge 64MP main sensor, the G30 does have one of the highest resolution cameras at this price point. It deploys nifty algorithms to deliver 16MP photos, using the extra data to strip out noise, boost details and grab more light. It works impressively well in daylight, but less convincingly after dark. Only one of its secondary snappers is worth your time: the 8MP ultra-wide is noisy but usable.
Where the G30 does excel is battery life. Pairing a beefy 5000mAh cell with a power-efficient CPU translates into impressive longevity: 48 hours between charges isn’t hard to manage.
Nokia’s G50 is no speed demon. And while its 48MP main sensor deals well with detail, its multiple cameras are never going to blow you away. Plus you can get more muscle for your money from the likes of Poco, Realme and Redmi. So why would you opt for the plastic-shell Nokia? First, because it’s one of the cheapest ways to get a 5G handset, offering faster connectivity without a premium.
And second, because if you spend most of your time glued to YouTube, the G50’s giant screen is sure to entertain. At 6.82in, it’s larger than what you’ll find on many flagship phones costing five times the price. It’s not an OLED panel and refresh rates max out at 60Hz, but brightness is ample, colours natural and contrast decent.
The entry-level Snapdragon 480 processor was never going to feel especially snappy – and with only 4GB of RAM in support, apps regularly take a moment to open. But you can still play titles like Call of Duty Mobile with too much stuttering.
It helps that Nokia has committed to Android One: the G50 ships with an OS free from CPU-sapping bloatware. It also benefits from a beefy 5000mAh battery that can comfortably last a day and a half between charges. Handy, even if the sizeable cell means the G50 is a weighty thing at 220g.
Samsung Galaxy M32
Budget Galaxy handsets are nothing new, but Samsung’s affordable phones can be a mixed bag. One of the best you’ll find right now is the M32. Offering a similar One UI experience to the wallet-emptying S21 range, it makes precious few compromises to hit the affordable price point.
First impressions aren’t fantastic, thanks mainly to the Galaxy’s plastic shell. Spend a little longer with it, though, and you’ll soon be enticed by its 6.4in AMOLED panel. Though it lacks HDR support, the screen’s as bright, sharp and gorgeous as any of its competitors.
The chip inside does stumble at times, though the M32 can generally keep up with everyday use, provided you’re not a major gamer. There’s no 5G connectivity either, but the budget Galaxy makes up for its absence with impressive efficiency: its 5000mAh battery can power through even the longest of days. Plus you get that rare thing in today’s wireless world – a headphone port.
The 64MP main camera sensor is impressive, too. It can grab pleasingly natural pics and solid family snaps, even in tricky conditions – although rivals like the Redmi Note 10 Pro do better at shooting video.
Realme 8 Pro
Another cheap Chinese handset with unmissable branding on the back, Realme’s 8 Pro is more compact than many smartphones in this list. Which, given its 6.4in display, tells you something about the inflated scale of modern mobiles.
Look past the sloganeering and you’ll find its plastic shell features a textured finish that’s easy to grip and resistant to fingerprints. On the other side, its OLED screen is bright and crisp – although it tops out at 60Hz, so you won’t benefit from the smoothest of motion. There’s no stereo speaker setup, either.
A Snapdragon 720G chipset keeps things running swiftly. The Realme 8 Pro has a gaming mode too, although dedicated players will be better served by the Poco X3 Pro. The 4500mAh cell inside takes a lot to drain, while 50W fast-charging comfortably trumps the competition.
A 108MP primary sensor matches the Redmi Note 10 Pro and Moto Edge 20 Lite for pixel-binning smarts, serving up bright, detailed shots even in tricky lighting. You’ll also find a fistful of filters and effects on tap, including video modes which can change the background to blurred bokeh or monochrome.
Like MIUI, the Realme UI launcher is a meaty thing, packed with extras and personalisation tools. And with 128GB of expandable storage, you’ll be free to download a library of apps and media.
Motorola Moto Edge 20 Lite
Like your Android with a vanilla flavour? Motorola’s Edge 20 Lite shuns launchers to serve up the Google OS in its purest form. The only addition is Motorola’s Moto Experiences app, which adds handy extras like a chopping gesture to turn on the camera flash.
With a MediaTek Dimensity 720 chipset at its disposal, performance is excellent for everyday tasks – and you can easily kill an afternoon killing strangers online in PUBG or Call of Duty. Stamina is likewise excellent, thanks to the efficient silicon and a massive 5000mAh battery. Support for 30W Turbo Power also means the Edge 20 Lite is no slow poke when it comes to recharging.
Front and centre you’ll find another pocket-filling display: a 6.7in OLED number with support for HDR10+ and 90Hz refresh rates. It’s plenty big enough for streaming, gaming and generally going about your business. You also get 128GB of storage on-board, plus the option to expand it with a microSD card – as well as a headphone jack.
As for snapping, the main sensor is a 108MP beast which uses pixel-binning to produce bright but natural snaps. As is common for affordable phone cameras, it struggles in dim light – but Motorola’s AI smarts help you to get attractive pics. There’s also a 32MP selfie-cam for capturing every wrinkle.
Redmi Note 11
It might sit at the bottom of Redmi’s latest smartphone line-up, but the vanilla Note 11 still benefits from Snapdragon silicon, a 50MP main camera and an OLED display with respectable refresh rates. Its matte finish also does a solid impression of a pricier handset.
A Full HD AMOLED display is rare at this price, especially one with a 90Hz refresh rate. It’s not as silky as a 120Hz panel, but it still makes for smoother scrolling. At 6.43in, the Redmi Note 11’s screen is big without being cumbersome. It’s bright and sharp, although it does without HDR.
Of the four lenses, only one is worth writing about: the 50MP main snapper. Feed it lots of light and you’ll be rewarded with detailed stills. Colour consistency drops considerably in low light though, while dynamic range is generally disappointing.
Even with an all-new Snapdragon 680 processor, the Note 11 still stutters, especially when multi-tasking. Battery life is more impressive, thanks to the 5000mAh cell, but you’re still stuck using Xiaomi’s heavy-handed MIUI interface. The Note 11 is still a solid option for buyers on a truly tight budget, but there are snappier rivals if you can find a little more cash.