Android One: Best Phones

Android One: Best Phones

If you’ve been closely following the smartphone industry, chances are you’ve heard about Android One. The ongoing Google initiative, which initially sought to democratize access to Android devices in emerging markets, has expanded to the Western world and shifted focus. The best Android One phones aren’t just affordable, though all of them cost less than $400. They offer the purest Android experience outside of Google’s Pixel series.

The list of Android One manufacturing partners includes heavyweights like HTC, Kyocera, Sharp, and Xiaomi, but also Indian brands like Micromax, Spice, and Karbonn; Indonesian smartphone makers Mito Impact, Evercross One X, and Nexian journey; QMobile; SoftBank and Y!Mobile; and Turkish brand General Mobile. And just this past February, HMD Global and Nokia announced a collaboration with Google that’ll see all of the company’s future smartphones, including flagships like the Nokia 8 Sirocco, Nokia 7 Plus, and Nokia 6 (2018), join the Android One program.

It’s enough to overwhelm anyone, but don’t panic. Our handy guide to Android One and the best Android One phones on the market will get you up to speed in no time.

By Kyle Wiggers

What is Android One?

Android One, simply put, is a hardware and software standard created by Google to ensure that devices regardless of price point and form factor receive regular updates, security patches, bug fixes, and manufacturer support for a period of between two and three years. The waters muddied somewhat after the debut of Android Oreo (Go Edition), Google’s software solution for low-end, low-cost smartphones; there’s a popular misconception that Android One and Android Oreo (Go Edition) are one and the same. But that’s not quite true.

Android Oreo (Go Edition) is strictly software in nature: it’s a special configuration of Android Oreo optimized for devices with less than 1GB of RAM that, with a little tweaking, can be enabled on any device running Android Oreo. Android Go phones also ship with highly optimized versions of Google apps such as Maps Go, Files Go, Gmail Go, YouTube Go, and Google Assistant Go, but they’re hardware agnostic

Android One, on the other hand, is a platform. Android One devices are approved by Google on a case-by-case basis based on performance tests, and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that sign onto the Android One program agree to adhere to strict requirements:

  • Android One phones must receive regular security update for three years
  • Android One phones are guaranteed Android OS updates for two years.
  • Android One phones must ship with the Android interface and Google services intact

If you pick up an Android One phone, you’re guaranteed to get a close-to-stock-Android software experience, regular updates, and a minimal amount of bloatware.  That’s in addition to extras like Google Play Protect, Google’s malware-scanning security suite, and Google apps such as the Google Assistant, Google Maps, YouTube, and more.


The Best Android One Phones

HTC U11 Life

HTC U11 Life & HTC X2

HTC X2 Specifications
Dimensions 149.09 x 72.9 x 8.1mm
Weight  142g
Software  Android Oreo
CPU  Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 (eight ARM Cortex-A53 cores)
GPU  Adreno 508
RAM and Storage  3GB/4GB of RAM and 32GB/64GB of storage
Battery  2,600mAh
Display 5.2-inch Full HD (1080 x 1920) LCD
Connectivity  802.11n (2.4GHz/5GHz)
Bluetooth  Bluetooth 5.0
Ports  USB Type-C
Rear Cameras  16MP camera with f/2.0 aperture, phase detection autofocus (PDAF)
Front Camera  16MP camera with f/2.0 aperture
Colors Brilliant Black, Sapphire Blue, Ice White
Price $349

The HTC U11 Life, which launched in Japan as the HTC X2, is a mid-range smartphone that packs a serious punch. In fact, it’s one of the best Android One phones for the money.

The first thing you’ll notice is the glossy exterior. Thanks to a custom “liquid-glass” combination of IP67-rated polycarbonate, acrylic, and Gorilla Glass shielding, the HTC U11 Life effervescently shines in the sunlight. But the real headliner’s the 5.2-inch Full HD (1920 x 1080) Super LCD screen, which sits above the phone’s front-facing fingerprint sensor and capacitive navigation keys. It boasts great viewing angles, rich colors, and dynamic range, and while it’s a little less responsive than high-end phones such as the Google Pixel 2 and LG V30, it gets quite bright. You won’t need to squint outdoors.

The HTC U11 Life features HTC’s USonic technology, which uses sonar to fine-tune the phone’s audio for your ears. In a nutshell, HTC’s bundled USonic headphones emit a signal that bounces around your waxy canals and records the resulting frequency responses, which the HTC U11 Life’s USonic companion app uses to tweak the equalization settings and minimize background noise. One minor downside: analog earbud wearers can’t take advantage — the HTC U11 Life lacks a 3.5mm headphone jack.

USonic isn’t the HTC U11 Life’s only headlining feature. It’s also got Edge Sense, pressure sensors embedded in the bottom left and right portion of the handset’s sides that act as shortcuts to applications, actions, and utilities. Simple squeeze gestures launch apps such as Facebook, Google Maps, and Instagram by default, and optionally actions like taking a screenshot and turning on the flashlight. More complicated short and long gestures — enabled when Edge Sense is set to Advanced Mode — can be assigned to multiple apps or settings within apps. (You can set a “long squeeze and hold” to open the Google Assistant, for example, and a “short squeeze” to take a selfie.)

The HTC U11 Life’s cameras, unlike Edge Sense, aren’t anything to write home about. The 16MP rear camera (f/2.0 aperture) takes colorful photos thanks to great high dynamic range (HDR) post-processing, but it’s marred by severe shutter lag and a lack of optical image stabilization. And the 16MP front-facing camera, meanwhile, lacks a portrait mode a la the Google Pixel 2.

Under the hood, the HTC U11 Life packs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 630, the same processor in the Lenovo Moto X4 and Asus ZenFone 4. It’s a mid-range octa-core system-on-chip comprising four performance-optimized 2.2GHz ARM Cortex-A53 cores and four high-efficiency 1.8GHz ARM Cortex-A53 cores, and in the HTC U11 Life, it’s paired with 3GB/4GB of RAM (depending on the model) and Qualcomm’s Adreno 508 GPU. The battery’s a bit smaller than some of the Android One competition (2,600mAh), but it charges quickly thanks to an included USB-C wall adapter. (On average, you can expect to get about 3-4 hours of power after half an hour of charging.)

The HTC U11 Life’s other hardware highlight is Bluetooth 5.0. If you have a compatible Bluetooth 5.0 accessory like headphones or a wireless tracker, you’ll see improved data transfer speeds and range compared to Bluetooth 4.2, the previous standard.

In terms of software, the HTC U11 Life runs HTC’s in-house Sense UI atop Android 8.0 Oreo. And uniquely, it ships with three digital assistants: the Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, and HTC’s own Sense Companion. The jury’s out on which is best (for the record, we’re putting our money on the Google Assistant), but it’s nice to have the choice.

Motorola Moto X4

Motorola Moto X4

HTC X2 Specifications
Dimensions 148.4 x 73.4 x 8mm
Weight 163g
Software  Android Oreo
CPU  Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 (eight ARM Cortex-A53 cores)
GPU  Adreno 508
RAM and Storage  3GB/4GB/6GB of RAM and 32GB/64GB of storage
Battery  3,000mAh
Display 5.2-inch Full HD (1080 x 1920) LCD
Connectivity 802.11n (2.4GHz/5GHz)
Bluetooth Bluetooth 4.2
Ports  USB Type-C, 3.5mm headphone jack, dual SIM slots
Rear Cameras  12MP (f/2.0 aperture, 1.4 µm pixel size) + 8MP (f/2.2 aperture, 1.12 µm pixel size) dual rear cameras with PDAF, dual-LED dual-tone flash
Front Camera  16MP camera with f/2.0 aperture, 1.0 µm pixel size
Colors  Super Black, Sterling Blue
Price Starting at $399

When the Motorola Moto X4 launched in mid-2017, it was the first non-Google Android One phone to hit U.S. shores. Since then, it’s gotten competition, but it’s still one of the best Android One phones on the market.

The Moto X4 takes a cue from Motorola’s Moto G series. It’s smooth, glossy, curved IP68-rated plastic body tapers off at the top and bottom, highlighting the 5.2-inch Full HD (1920 x 1080) display situated above the front-facing fingerprint sensor. The screen, speaking of, is an LCD model, and it isn’t as bright and saturated as AMOLED screens like that on the Google Pixel. Nonetheless, it’s sharp and vibrant, with excellent viewing angles to boot.

When it comes to cameras, the Moto X4 has three: A dual rear camera module comprising a 12MP camera (f/2.0 aperture, 1.4 µm pixel size) and a 120-degree wide-angle 8MP camera (f/2.2 aperture, 1.12 µm pixel size), and a 16MP front-facing camera. Thanks to the dual sensors, the Moto X4 can blur the background of photos while keeping the foreground in focus, an effect known as “bokeh”. But picture quality leaves something to be desired: The Moto X4’s photos tend to look grainy and blurry, especially in low light. And the wide-angle camera, which extends the field of view past the primary camera’s rather limited range, exhibits pretty severe distortion at the corners of images.

The Moto X4, like the HTC U11 Life, boasts Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 630 system-on-chip and 3GB/4GB of RAM (depending on the model). The battery’s a sizeable 3,000mAh model, and while it doesn’t rival top budget performers such as the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4, it’ll easily last a full day on a charge. Another plus: It supports Motorola’s TurboPower fast-charging technology, which can deliver an 85 percent charge in just 40 minutes.

What’s really special about the Moto X4, though, is its software. It ships running a customized version of Android Nougat that’s filled to the brim with proprietary enhancements. The Moto X4 can connect to up to four Bluetooth devices simultaneously thanks to the Tempow Bluetooth Audio Profile, and the Moto Key feature lets you unlock third-party apps and devices such as Facebook, Twitter, and laptops with a fingerprint. Moto Display flashes up notifications while the phone’s in standby model, and Moto Actions launches apps and actions with wild gesticulations (a “double karate chop” gesture activates the flashlight, for example, and a wrist-flicking gesture launches the camera).

That’s not all. The Moto X4’s camera app has a built-in object recognition feature that’s akin to Google Lens and Bixby Vision: it can identify books, food, and artwork and serve up useful information about them. Landmark detection, another Moto X4 innovation, uses the phone’s GPS to detect nearby points of interest.

It’s also got Alexa. And unlike the HTC U11 Life’s Alexa app, which must be launched manually before you can begin issuing voice commands, the Moto X4’s version listens for the wake word (“Alexa”) at the lock screen, even when the screen’s switched off.

Xiaomi Mi A1

HTC X2 Specifications
Dimensions 155.4 x 75.8 x 7.3mm
Weight  165g
Software  Android Oreo
CPU  Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 (eight Cortex-A53 cores)
GPU  Adreno 506
RAM and Storage 4GB of RAM with 64GB of storage
Battery  3,080mAh
Display 5.5-inch Full HD (1080 x 1920) LCD
Connectivity  802.11ac (2.4GHz/5GHz)
Bluetooth  Bluetooth 4.2
Ports  USB Type-C, 3.5mm headphone jack
Rear Cameras  16MP camera with f/2.0 aperture, phase detection autofocus (PDAF)
Front Camera  16MP camera with f/2.0 aperture
Colors Black, Gold, Rose Gold, Red, Special Edition Red
Price ₹13,999 (~$215)

The Xiaomi Mi A1 is Xiaomi’s first Android One phone, and it’s the first to ditch the Chinese company’s proprietary MIUI skin in favor of bone-stock Android. Whether you think that’s an improvement will come down to personal preference, but there’s no question that where hardware’s concerned, the Xiaomi Mi A1 is at the top of its class.

The Xiaomi Mi A1 boasts an all-metal body with ever-so-slightly protruding rear camera and clean, curved plastic antenna casings. The fingerprint sensor is on the back, leaving room in the top and bottom bezels for capacitive navigation keys, cameras, and an earpiece.

The 5.5-inch IPS screen isn’t AMOLED, and so doesn’t quite match the black levels of phones such as the Galaxy S9+ and Google Pixel 2 XL. Unfortunately, it’s also not particularly bright, which makes it tough to read in direct light and gives it a slightly washed-out appearance.

The Xiaomi Mi A1’s dual rear camera setup consists of two 12MP sensors, one with a wide-angle lens (f/2.2 aperture, 26mm, 1.25 µm pixel size) and a primary camera with a standard 26mm lens (f/2.6 aperture, 50mm, 1 µm pixel size). They’re able to capture bokeh-style shots with blurred backgrounds and in-focus foregrounds, and pretty detailed photos besides — at least in broad daylight. At nighttime, though, the Xiaomi Mi A1’s lack of optical image stabilization results in excessive amounts of noise.

The Xiaomi Mi A1 is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to internals, too. The phone packs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 system-on-chip, the Snapdragon 630’s precursor, and it’s unsurprisingly a little slower and less power-efficient than Qualcomm’s latest mid-range chips. The octa-core processor has a 30 percent performance disadvantage compared to the Snapdragon 630, and the accompanying GPU, the Adreno 506, is 30 percent slower than the Snapdragon 630’s Adreno 508. Still, despite its relative inefficiency, the 3,080mAh lasts around a full day on a charge. It’s also compatibility with Qualcomm’s QuickCharge technology, and recharges from zero to 100 percent in less than two hours.

The Xiaomi Mi A1’s other highlights include an IR emitter, which lets you control home theater equipment with the Mi Remote companion app, and a 3.5mm audio jack. One minor annoyance is a lack of NFC — you can’t use the Xiaomi Mi A1 to make contactless payments or trigger actions with NFC tags.


Upcoming Android One Phones and Runners Up

Nokia

Nokia 8 Sirocco

The Nokia 8 Sirocco, the crown jewel in Nokia’s new lineup of Android One devices, features a stainless steel, IP67-rated design that Nokia claims has 3.5 times the structural integrity of 600 series aluminum. A curved Quad HD (2560 x 1440) 16:9 OLED screen dominates the front.

The phone’s dual camera module consists of a 12MP wide-angle sensor (f/1.75 aperture) and 13MP telephoto camera (f/2.6) aperture. There’s a 5MP front-facing sensor (f/2.0 aperture) with an LED flash on the front, and under the hood is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 system-on-chip paired with 6GB of RAM, 128GB of onboard storage, and a 3,260mAh battery that’s compatible with Qi wireless charging and Qualcomm’s QuickCharge 4.0 standard.

The Nokia 8 Sirocco will go on sale in April in select markets.

Nokia 7 Plus

The Nokia 7 Plus, an enhanced version of last year’s Nokia 7, features six layers of ceramic feel” paint atop a single block of aluminum. It has a 6-inch Full HD+ (2160 x 1080) 18:9 display,  a Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 system-on-chip paired with 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of storage (expandable up to 256GB). Despite that powerful hardware, the handset’s 3,800mAh battery delivers up to 14.5 hours of battery life.

The phone’s other major feature, a dual rear camera with a dual-tone LED flash, comprises a 13MP primary camera (f/2.6 aperture) and a 12MP secondary sensor (f/1.75 aperture). The front camera is improved from last year’s Nokia 7 — it’s a 16MP fixed sensor with a f/2.0 aperture (up from 5MP), and features Zeiss optics.

The Nokia 7 Plus will go on sale in April later this year in select markets.

Nokia 6 (2016)

The new Nokia 6 features a “seamless aluminum unibody” design, Zeiss optics, a facial recognition feature, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 system-on-chip (upgraded from the Snapdragon 430), and Qi wireless charging. HMD Global says that the CPU and GPU are 80 percent and 60 more powerful, respectively, than the outgoing Nokia 6’s chips.

The 2.5D Full HD (1920 x 1080) 16:9 screen is the same size as last year’s at 5.5 inches, and the cameras’ megapixel counts haven’t been improved from last year’s 16MP (rear) and 8MP (front). But the 3,000mAh battery charges to 50 percent in just 30 minutes, and the phone delivers an impressive 12.5 hours of playback.

The phone will be available in Silver, Blue, and Black with secondary iron, blue, and gold accents when it goes on sale in April (May in the US), and will come in two models: one with 3GB RAM/32GB storage and a pricier model with 4GB RAM/64GB storage.

Kyocera

Kyocera X3

The Kyocera X3 debuted in November 2017, and features a 5.2-inch TFT display, a  Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 system-on-chip paired with 3GB of RAM, a 13MP rear-facing camera, a 8MP front-facing camera, and a 2,800mAh battery,

Kyocera S4

The Kyocera S4, which launched in November 2017 alongside the X3, boasts a 5-inch display, a Snapdragon 430 system-on-chip paired with 3GB of RAM, a 5-inch Full HD display, and a 2,600mAh battery. In terms of cameras, it’s got a 13MP rear sensor and a 5MP front-facing sensor.

Kyocera S2

The waterproof Kyocera S2 has a 5-inch HD screen with tempered glass, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 425 system-on-chip paired with 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal memory, a 13MP rear-facing camera, and a 2MP front-facing camera.

Sharp

Sharp S3

The Sharp S3, the newest Android One phone in Sharp’s lineup, has an IP68 rated body, a 5-inch Full HD screen, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 chip paired with 3GB of RAM, and a 2,800mAh battery.

Sharp X1

The Sharp X1, which is IP68 rated, features a 5.3-inch Full HD display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 435 system-on-chip coupled with 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, and a whopping 3,900mAh battery. (It lasts up to four days on a single charge, the company claims.) Other highlights include a 16.4MP rear camera with LED flash and a 8MP front camera.

Sharp S1

The Sharp S1, which launched in Japan in early 2017, is IP67 rated and has a 5-inch Full HD screen, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 chip with 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, and a 13.1MP front-facing camera and 8MP rear-facing camera.

Sharp 507SH

Sharp’s awkwardly-named 507SH, which was the first Android One phone to launch in Japan, was released under the Y1Mobile brand, a subsidiary of Softbank. It’s based Sharp’s AQUOS U budget phone, and boasts a waterproof body and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 system-on-chip paired with 2GB of RAM. There’s a 3,010mAh battery onboard that’s compatible with Qualcomm’s QuickCharge tech, and 16GB of internal storage.

General Mobile

General Mobile 6

The General Mobile 6 has a 5-inch HD screen, a MediaTek MT6737T chip paired with 3GB of RAM, and a 3,000mAh battery, and a fingerprint scanner. There’s 32GB of onboard storage (expandable via microSD card slot), and a massive 3,000mAh removable battery. The cameras include a 13MP rear-facing shooter and a 8MP front-facing sensor.

General Mobile 5 Plus

General Mobile’s 5 Plus, which launched in 2016, is the company’s second Android One phone. It packs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 octa-core processor paired with 3GB of RAM, 13MP rear-facing and front-facing cameras, a USB Type-C port, and a 3,100mAh battery.

General Mobile 4G

The General Mobile 4G debuted in Turkey in 2015, and it was the first Android One phone with a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. It sports a 5-inch HD screen, a Snapdragon 410 system-on-chip, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, and an LTE-compatible radio.

Lava

Lava Pixel V1

The Lava Pixel V1, which debuted exclusively in India in 2015, has a 5.5-inch HD IPS display, a MediaTek MT6582 1.3GHz quad-core chip, 2GB of RAM, a 2,560mAh battery, a  and 3G connectivity. Other noteworthy specs include 32GB of internal storage, a 8MP rear camera, and a 5MP front camera.

Infinix Mobile

Infinix Mobile Hot 2 X510

The Infinix Mobile Hot 2 X510, which launched in Nigeria a little over two years and later in Indonesia and Lagos, has a 5-inch HD IPS screen, a MediaTek MT6582 1.3GHz quad-core system-on-chip paired with 1GB/2GB of RAM, a 2,200mAh batter, 8MP rear camera and 2MP front-facing camera, 3G connectivity, and extras such as FM radio and a microSD card slot.

BQ

BQ Aquaris A4.5

The BQ Aquaris A4.5 launched in Spain in 2015, and it has a 4.5-inch (960 x 540) screen with a MediaTek MT6582 1GHz quad-core processor, 1GB/2GB of RAM, and 16GB of onboard storage (expandable via microSD card slot). It sports 8MP rear-facing camera and a 5MP front-facing camera, and a 2,470mAh battery.

Cherry Mobile

Cherry Mobile One G1

Cherry Mobile’s One G1 has the distinction of being the third Android One phone released in the Philippines, and it boasts respectable hardware for a low-end phone. It has a 5-inch HD screen, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 system-on-chip, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, and 4G LTE connectivity.

i-mobile

i-mobile IQ II

I-mobile, a small, independent Android OEM, released the IQ II in Thailand three years ago. The budget Android One phone has a 5-inch HD display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 1.2GHz processor paired with 1GB of RAM, and 16GB of internal storage (expandable via microSD card slot). The IQ II also sports a 8MP rear camera and 2MP front camera, and a 2,500mAh removable battery.

Karbonn

Karbonn Sparkle V

The Karbon Sparkle V, one of the first Android One smartphones released in India, has a 4.5-inch (854 x 480) display, a MediaTek MT6582 1.3GHz system-on-chip paired with 1GB of RAM, 4GB of internal storage, and a pair of cameras: a 5MP rear-facing sensor and a 2MP front-facing sensor. At 1,700mAh, the battery’s a bit on the small side, but Karbonn pegs it at 8 hours of talk time and 160 hours of standby time.