Finest mid-range smartphone 2023: high worth mobiles examined
On the search for the best mid-range smartphone below $500/£500? You’re in the right place
There was a time when any smartphone short of a pricey top-tier flagship would serve up a disappointing experience. Bland designs, poor build quality, and a slow, stuttery experience all featured frequently in mid-range smartphone bingo. But those days are over – here’s our guide to the best mid-range smartphones in the $300/£300 to $500/£500.
Today, you can buy cracking handsets that are night-on inseparable from smartphones that cost twice as much, covering almost all of your needs without bleeding your wallet dry. From premium builds to nippy performance, all-day battery life, and even decent cameras, there are plenty of handsets out there that more than nail the basics, while capable of serving you well for years to come.
The best mid-range phone to buy today
Apple iPhone SE (2022)
The new iPhone SE (aka the iPhone SE 3, released in 2022) is one of the best-value iPhones ever made. While it looks rather old-fashioned by today’s standards thanks to its home button and thick bezels, it more than makes up for it on the inside — despite costing less than half the price of the iPhone 13, it’s still rocking the same incredibly powerful A15 Bionic processor.
If you prefer dinkier screens for easy one-handed use, then its 4.7in LCD display (sadly not OLED) will be an absolute joy to use, banishing over-stretched thumbs for good. If you don’t mind the fact that it’s only got a single camera, smaller battery, and no Face ID smarts, then this should definitely be a consideration for Apple fans on a budget.
Google Pixel 6a
It might lack luxuries such as wireless charging, but the Pixel 6a is a lesson in budget-minded brilliance. Distilling the two-tone styling of its premium Pixel siblings, the composite shell does a convincing impression of glass. Up front, a 6.1in OLED panel is perfectly crisp and pleasingly vibrant, even if 60Hz refresh rates mean rivals are slicker.
Still, a tensor chip inside bests almost everything in this price bracket. A Google smartphone in the purest form, it flies through Android 12 without a stutter. Same goes for its camera skills: powerful algorithms extract impressive results from the 12MP main sensor. Autofocus is rapid, colors well-judged and almost every still is stuffed with detail. Unless you need a telephoto, this is a heck of a lot of Android phone for your cash.
Motorola Moto G82
Hitting the price-performance sweet spot, the Moto G82 is a welcome reminder that Motorola knows how to nail a keenly priced all-rounder. A surefire steal of a smartphone, it packs a superb OLED panel with high refresh rates, a giant 5000mAh battery and an optically stabilized 50MP main camera – all specs you’d expect to find in handsets costing a good chunk more.
It’s not the last word in performance for the money, and you can get more power for not much more cash. But Motorola’s marvelously minimalist take on Android runs bloat-free and briskly enough, while 30W charging means a full refuel in an hour. Provided you don’t need the option to record 4K video, you’re getting a lot of smartphone here for your readies.
OnePlus Nord 2T 5G
The OnePlus Nord 2T 5G might have a horrifically convoluted name, but it more than makes up for it with a beautiful, premium design, bolstered by quality specs and performance in all the right places. Slathered front and back in gorilla glass, it’s available in gray or a head-turning Jade Fog finish, making it one of the best looking mid-range handsets money can buy.
Ready for super-fast 5G, it’s powered by MediaTek’s powerful Dimensity 1300 processor, which has made a name for itself as one of the best mid-range CPUs currently available. It’s got a triple-camera setup too, though its main snapper will be the one that gets the majority of the legwork done.
Throw in speedy Google, Samsung and Apple-trouncing 80W fast charging, a 90Hz AMOLED display, and a dual-SIM slot for extra flexibility, and you’ve got one of the top mid-range Android picks around.
Nothing Phone 1
Don’t be fooled by the see-through shell: the Nothing Phone 1 is no gimmick. Sure, the transparent design and lighting strips do plenty to catch the eye, but there’s also a capable mid-range handset lurking beneath the surface.
Both the OLED display and 50MP rear cameras punch above their weight, while the construction materials give it the feel of a more premium device. The CPU isn’t class-leading, but it’s no slouch either: running Nothing’s minimalist take on Android 12, it operates smoothly in day-to-day use, with no noticeable slowdowns.
Battery life is a weak point. Powering 120Hz refresh rates and glyph LEDs means the relatively modest 4500mAh cell can just make it through the day. But if you’re keen for a genuinely refreshing take on the affordable smartphone formula, the Phone 1 should sit near the top of your list.
Poco X5 Pro
A better budget gaming phone than its forebear, with a UI that runs delightfully smoothly – not always a given when talking this sort of cash. The Poco X5 Pro is also thinner and lighter than the phone that came before, and brings back great battery life (and fast charging). Adding 4K video recording is welcome, but there haven’t been too many meaningful updates to the camera hardware, so this isn’t the phone for photographers with tight purse strings. The screen doesn’t get quite as bright as the X4 Pro, and the weird-feeling plastic back won’t be to all the buttons. But ultimately it doesn’t make you feel like you’re compromising in too many areas, so find one at the right price and it’s still a good buy.
Realme 9 Pro+
The Realme 9 Pro+ will probably be the best overall choice for most people reading this list (unless, of course, you’re after an iPhone).
Its primary selling points are a 90Hz OLED display, and a best-in-class main camera that genuinely goes to toe with premium flagships come day or night. It can even shoot HEIF 10-bit photos like the iPhone 13 Pro, for smoother gradients and colors for enthusiasts to work their editing magic. Its digital zoom isn’t too shabby either, and the same goes for its 8MP ultra-wide snapper.
As usual the third macro camera isn’t really worth using more than a few times for experimentation, but given the imaging quality elsewhere, that’s fine by us. Powerful enough for smooth gaming with 60W charging thrown in for good measure, this is one of the best mid-range handsets currently available, at a borderline budget price tag.
Poco X4 Pro 5G
The Poco X4 Pro 5G is a cheaper 5G alternative to the OnePlus Nord 2T. With looks that believe it’s mid-range status, its large rear camera bump and “laser-like” reflections help it stand out from the crowd — especially if you opt for the bright yellow model.
Looks aside, one of its best features is its buttery-smooth 120Hz FHD+ AMOLED display, which is up there with some of the top flagships we’ve ever tested. It’s powered by a large 5000mAh battery for all-day stamina too, with speedy 67W fast charging letting you top up in a flash if you do run low.
As with most mid-range handsets, the main camera is comfortably the best one on offer here, and the only one of the X4 Pro’s cameras to offer a dedicated night mode. If a large, speedy-charging battery, crisp display and main camera performance are high on your list of priorities, this could very well be the choice for you.
Xiaomi 12 Lite
Apparently inspired by the current crop of Apple handsets, Xiaomi’s affordable Android mid-ranger goes big on appearances. But its beauty is more than skin deep: with a 108MP sensor headlining the three-lens camera array, as well as a 120Hz AMOLED display and rapid 67W wired charging, it promises top-end treats at a tempting price.
Its build might favor plastic over metal, but the Lite still doesn’t feel cheap. It helps that Xiaomi’s kept branding relatively low-key. What the eye-catching iPhone vibes can’t hide is middling battery life, plus performance that’s bettered by the likes of the OnePlus Nord 2T. Secondary camera results are nothing to write home about, either. But if you’re sold on the styling, the 12 Lite does enough to earn your consideration.
Honor Magic 5 Lite
One of those phones for people who spend more time in Google Chrome than Call of Duty, the Honor Magic 5 Lite is a great looking handset that sticks with a modestly mid-range CPU in order to go big in other areas, like its screen. A 6.67in AMOLED is a treat for the eyes, especially at 120Hz, and the 5100mAh battery is capable of excellent longevity away from the mains.
While its secondary snappers don’t add a whole lot of value, the main sensor does a decent job to justify the price. The super slim dimensions, glass rear and choice of head-turning colors are what give the Magic 5 Lite its strongest appeal, so if you like your tech to make a design statement, it’s a great choice.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
Despite no Galaxy S22 FE seemingly in the works at Samsung HQ, the Galaxy S21 FE remains a formidable option in the mid-range category. It’s got Qualcomm’s mighty Snapdragon 888 CPU running the show, for a start, along with up to 8GB RAM for multitasking shenanigans.
Unlike most of its rivals, it’s got a decent camera setup across the board too, with 3x optical zoom offering the ability to get closer to subjects without sacrificing on detail. There’s even a 32MP camera for selfie lovers, and, of course, the premium design and build you’d expect to find in a Samsung handset.
It’s certainly a lot less garish and more muted compared to some of the competition, and we particularly like the more minimal rear lens setup. At just under £500 though its considerably more expensive, and only offers 25W charging speeds.