The Best Phone for the Money

The Best Phone for the Money

There’s never been more competition in the smartphone industry, and there’s never been more choice. But the deluge of new devices hasn’t made picking out the best phone for the money easy, especially with juggernauts like Samsung, LG, and Apple vying for attention with billion-dollar ad campaigns.

If the wealth of choice has you feeling a bit overwhelmed, not to worry. We’ve compiled a list of smartphones that more than justify their price tags with best-in-class hardware, nifty features, and active developer communities.

By Kyle Wiggers

The best smartphone for the money: Our criteria

Picking the best smartphones for the money is a lot easier if cash is no object, but most folks don’t have that luxury — nor does it make sense to spend $1,000 or more when you can get a great smartphone for much less.

That’s why we looked for phones that punched above their weight class. Here’s our criteria for the best smartphones for the money:

  • They deliver on value. Our picks offer compelling features for their price brackets. Whether that’s an innovative design or a wealth of features, these devices distinguished themselves from the rest.
  • They have a supportive community. Our selections are more than just great products in and of themselves. XDA is about community, and we chose the smartphones with large, passionate followings. These phones, regardless of OEM support, are likely to enjoy software updates and mods for years to come thanks to lively development communities.
  • They have great hardware. We chose phones that offer fantastic hardware for the money. They’re not packing run-of-the-mill processors from an off-brand you’ve never heard of; they’ve got the latest and greatest under the hood, translating to fantastic performance whether you’re shooting 4K video or playing the latest games.

Honor 7X

honor 7x

Honor 7X Specifications
Dimensions 156.5 x 75.3 x 7.6mm
Weight 165g
Software EMUI 5.1 (soon EMUI 8.0)
CPU HiSilicon Kirin 659 (four 2.36 GHz ARM Cortex-A53 cores + four 1.7 GHz ARM Cortex-A53 cores)
GPU Mali-T830 MP2
RAM and Storage 3GB/4GB with 32GB/64GB of storage
Battery 3,340 mAh
Display 5.93-inch 18:9 Full HD+ (2160×1080) IPS LCD
Wi-Fi 802.11ac (2.4GHz/5GHz)
Bluetooth Bluetooth 4.1
Ports USB Type-C, 3.5mm headphone jack, dual SIM slots
Rear Cameras 16 MP + 2 MP dual rear cameras with f/2.9 aperture and 1.25 µm pixel size, PDAF, and LED flash
Front Camera 8MP with f/2.0 aperture
Colors Black, Blue, Gold, Red, Gray
Price Starting at $199

The Huawei Honor 7X, the successor to the Honor 5X and Honor 6X, is our pick for the best budget phone on the market. Its unmatched performance, premium design, and impressive cameras give the competition a run for its money.

The Honor 7X features a brushed aluminum unibody design that’s curved, smooth, and minimally reflective. The phone’s top and bottom bezels are identical in size and perfectly symmetrical, highlighting the edge-to-edge FullView display that blends seamlessly with the Honor 7X’s front panel. Said 5.93-inch Full HD+ (2160 x 1080) 18:9 IPS LCD display dominates the front, and while it isn’t colorful as the OLED screens on phones such as the OnePlus 5T, it has the advantage of software support. All told, more than 200 of the Google Play Store’s top games (including Gameloft’s Modern Combat Versus) and 1,500 of the top applications automatically expand to fill the Honor 7X’s screen.

The Honor 7X isn’t the only phone with an 18:9 aspect ratio, but most others including the LG V30, Samsung Galaxy S8, and OnePlus 5T cost hundreds of dollars more. The wider-than-average screen makes a huge difference when you’re watching movies; on 16:9 displays, it’s not uncommon to see letterboxing (i.e., black bars on the top and bottom of the screen) when you’re watching movies filmed in an anamorphic aspect ratio, but that’s not the case on the Honor 7X. Videos fill much more of the screen, resulting in a much more immersive viewing experience.

When it comes to performance, the Honor 7X is at the top of its class. It rocks Huawei’s HiSilicon Kirin 659 system-on-chip, an octa-core processor with four 2.36Ghz ARM Cortex-A53 cores and four 1.7GHz ARM Cortex-A53 cores paired with a Mali-T830 MP2 GPU and 3GB/4GB of RAM. You’ll rarely encounter lag or stuttering on this budget phone, and thanks to the Honor 7X’s 3,340mAh battery, you won’t have to hunt for a power outlet often, either.

The Honor 7X’s cameras — a dual rear camera module with a 16MP primary sensor (f/2.9 aperture and 1.25 µm pixel size) and a 2MP secondary sensor, and an 8MP front-facing camera — capture impressive photos and videos. In Pro mode, the system camera app lets you tweak ISO, color temperature, color filters, and shutter speed, and other settings to your liking. Portrait mode, meanwhile, applies a bokeh effect by blurring the background of photos while keeping the foreground in focus.

The Honor 7X ships with Huawei’s Emotion UI (EMUI), a custom skin atop Android. The aesthetic isn’t for everyone, but we’re a fan of the AI-enabled features, which include real-time scene and object recognition and accelerated language translation. In the near future, the Honor 7X will receive an update to EMUI 8, which will bring Android Oreo and support for Project Treble.

OnePlus 5T

OnePlus 5T Specifications
Dimensions 156.1 x 75 x 7.3mm
Weight 162g
Software Android 8.0 with OxygenOS
CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 (four 2.45GHz ARM Cortex-A73 cores + four 1.9GHz ARM Cortex-A53 cores)
GPU Adreno 540
RAM and Storage 6GB/8GB of RAM with 64GB/128GB of storage
Battery 3,300mAh battery with Dash Charge (5V/4A)
Display 6.01-inch (2160 x 1080 pixels) Full HD+ 18:9 display
Wi-Fi 802.11ac (2.4GHz/5GHz)
Bluetooth Bluetooth 5.0 LE
Ports USB Type-C, 3.5mm headphone jack, Dual SIM Slots
Rear Cameras 16MP (RGB) + 20MP (B&W) dual rear cameras with f/1.7 aperture, LED flash, PDAF,  EIS, and 4K video recording
Front Camera 16MP front-facing camera with f/2.0 aperture
Colors Midnight Black, Lava Red, Sandstone White
Price Starting at $499

The OnePlus 5T, OnePlus’s latest flagship smartphone, improves on the OnePlus 5 in all the right places.

The design is the highlight. The OnePlus 5T boasts an edge-to-edge display with rounded corners, slim bottom and top bezels, and a sandblasted anodized aluminum cover with a matte finish, shielded by triple-coated glass with a fingerprint-resistant oleophobic layer. (It isn’t waterproof, unfortunately.) In tow is an Alert Slider that lets you quickly switch between Silent Mode, Do Not Disturb Mode, and the standard Ring Mode.

The OnePlus 5T’s 6.01-inch Full HD (2160 x 1080) is a first for OnePlus. It has an 18:9 aspect ratio, making it slightly taller than the OnePlus 5, and it’s bright, vibrant, and highly customizable. There are five different screen profiles to choose from, including an adaptive brightness mode, Sunlight Display, that changes the brightness dynamically based on different usage scenarios.

When it comes to performance, the OnePlus 5T doesn’t disappoint. It has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 system-on-chip, which consists of eight cores in ARM big.LITTLE configuration — four 2.45GHz ARM Cortex-A73 cores and four 1.9GHz Cortex-A53 cores — based on the Kryo 280 architecture. (In our testing, the OnePlus 5T exhibited excellent in-app performance and application launch times, trailing behind only the Google Pixel 2 XL in this area.) And the phone’s 8GB of RAM (or 6GB, if you opt for the slightly cheaper model) lets you run as many Android apps in the background as you please without having to worry about closing them manually.

You don’t have to worry about battery life, either. The OnePlus 5T has a 3,300mAh battery that supports OnePlus’s Dash Charge quick-charging technology, which can fully recharge the phone’s battery in thirty minutes. The downside is that it isn’ t fully compatible with the USB Implementer Forum’s USB Power Delivery (USB-PD) standard, which means you’re fresh out of luck if you leave the included charging cable or wall adapter behind.

The OnePlus 5T’s rear camera comprises a 16MP rear sensor (f/1.7 aperture and 1.12 µm pixel size) and a 20MP sensor (f/1.7 aperture and 1.0 µm pixel size), and can apply a bokeh effect to photos that blur image backgrounds while keeping the foreground in focus. When it comes to video, the cameras use a combination of optical image stabilization and electronic image stabilization (EIS) to compensate for shaky hand movements.

The OnePlus 5T’s front-facing 16MP camera, not to be outdone by the dual rear cameras, can shoot in high dynamic range (HDR). It also powers Face Unlock, a facial authentication feature that scans unlocks the phone in 0.2 seconds.

The OnePlus 5T runs OxygenOS, OnePlus’s custom Android skin. The newest Android Oreo-based version features Hidden Navigation Bar, a setting that automatically hides the navigation bar when it’s not in use, and fingerprint swipe gestures. Other highlights include Reading Mode, which uses greyscale mapping to filter out blue light; Gaming Do Not Disturb Mode, which disables notifications when you’re in certain apps and games; Shelf, a slide-in launcher feature with handy shortcuts and contextual info; and Secure Box, which encrypts apps in a fingerprint-protected folder.

If the OnePlus 5T has a major downside, it’s that it’s only available on GSM networks. But it might just be worth switching carriers.

Essential Phone

Essential Phone Specifications
Dimensions 141.5 x 71.1 x 7.8mm
Weight 185g
Software Android 7.1 (Nougat), soon Android 8.0 (Oreo)
CPU Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 (four 2.45GHz ARM Cortex-A73 cores + four 1.8GHz Cortex-A53 cores)
GPU Adreno 540
RAM and Storage 4GB of RAM with 128GB of storage
Battery 3,040 mAh battery with fast charging
Display 5.71-inch Quad HD (2560 x 1312 pixels) edge-to-edge display
Wi-Fi 802.11ac (2.4GHz/5GHz)
Bluetooth Bluetooth 5.0 LE
Ports USB Type-C, nano-SIM
Rear Cameras 13MP (RGB) + 13MP (B&W) dual rear cameras with f/1.9 aperture, LED flash, PDAF, 4K video recording
Front Camera 8MP with f/2.2 aperture
Colors Stellar Gray, Ocean Depths, Black Moon, Pure White
Price Starting at $499

The Essential Phone (or the Essential PH-1), the product of Andy Rubin-backed startup Essential, didn’t take the smartphone world by storm in the way that some predicted. But despite its flaws and controversies, it’s still one of the best smartphones for the money.

The Essential Phone’s gorgeous, ultra-rugged unibody is fashioned from titanium and ceramic. You won’t find any logos, capacitive buttons, or camera bumps here: The front and back surfaces are completely flush with the curved metal antenna bands that run the length of the phone’s sides, save a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor below the dual camera. It’s ultra-minimalist.

The Essential Phone’s display, a 5.71-inch Quad HD (2560 x 1312) 18:9 edge-to-edge LCD panel that extends the full length of the phone’s front (with the exception of a thin bottom bezel), is one of the first with a “notch” — a circular cutout around the phone’s front-facing camera. The Essential Phone’s also one of the few smartphones (other than the Moto Z2 Force) with a modular accessories system — it’s got a custom-designed magnetic connected with USB-based wireless data transfer. One unique add-on is the Essential 360 Camera, a tiny spherical camera that captures 4K videos at 30 frames per second in 360 degrees. (Essential claims it’s the smallest of its kind.)

Under the hood, the Essential Phone packs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 system-on-chip (same as the OnePlus 5T), an Adreno 540 GPU, and 4GB of RAM. The 3,040mAh battery lasts a  “full day”, and it’s compatible with USB Power Delivery, which means it’ll charge rapidly with 27 Watt wall adapters and USB-C cables that support USB PD.

Photography enthusiasts will appreciate the Essential Phone’s 8MP front-facing camera and dual rear camera module, which comprises a 13MP RGB sensor (f/1.9 aperture) with hybrid autofocus (a combination of Contrast, Phase Detect, and IR Laser Assist Focus) and a 13MP monochrome sensor that improves the quality of low-light photos. At launch, tech reviewers criticized the graininess and noisiness of the Essential Phone’s photos and the camera app’s sluggishness, but it’s improved since then. And with the Google Camera HDR+ port installed, it truly shines.

On the software side of things, the Essential Phone’s gotten much better over time. It now ships with Android Oreo and new features, a few of which include fingerprint gestures, a Portrait camera mode that applies a bokeh effect to photos, automatic HDR, 60FPS video recording,

The Essential Phone isn’t perfect. It lacks a 3.5mm headphone jack (Essential provides a USB-C to 3.5mm converter in the box) and wireless charging; it isn’t waterproof; and software instability issues dog even the latest firmware. But considering the reduced price tag ($499 from $699 at launch), continued software support, and broad carrier compatibility (it works with all major carriers in the U.S., including Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint), the Essential Phone is a better value than it’s ever been.

Moto G5S Plus

Moto G5S Plus Specifications
Dimensions 153.5 x 76.2 x 8mm
Weight 168g
Software Android 7.1 Nougat, soon Android 8.0 (Oreo)
CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 (eight 2.0 GHz ARM Cortex-A53 cores)
GPU Adreno 506
RAM and Storage 3GB/4GB of RAM with 32GB/64GB of storage
Battery 3,000mAh
Display 5.5-inch Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) IPS LCD
Wi-Fi 802.11ac (2.4GHz/5GHz)
Bluetooth Bluetooth 4.2
Ports microUSB
Rear Cameras 13MP + 13MP dual rear cameras with f/2.0 aperture, autofocus, and dual-LED dual-tone flash
Front Camera 8MP camera with f/2.0 aperture
Colors Lunar Gray, Fine Gold
Price tag Starting at $229

The Lenovo Moto G5S Plus, an ever-so-slightly improved version of the Moto G5 Plus, may not measure up to flagships such as the OnePlus 5T and Essential Phone. But it’s still a great value: a little under $300 nets you a 5.5-inch Full HD (1920 x 1080) screen, a front-facing fingerprint sensor, and 4GB of RAM.

The Moto G5S Plus trades its predecessor’s all-plastic build for a metal unibody, but it retains the front fingerprint sensor, which sits just below the screen. Unfortunately, it also inherits the microUSB port.

As for the screen, the Moto G5S Plus’s Full HD panel isn’t as sharp as the Full HD+ and Quad HD displays in some of the competition, and it’s LCD instead of AMOLED, which generally means that colors will appear a little less saturated and vibrant than on phones like the OnePlus 5T. But the G5S makes up for those shortcomings with powerful hardware.

The Moto G5S Plus packs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 chip, a slight step down from the high-end Snapdragon 835 in the OnePlus 5T and Essential Phone. Its eight Cortex-A53 cores, aided by 4GB of RAM and an Adreno 506 GPU, can tackle pretty much anything thrown its way. As an added bonus, it’s also power efficient: The Moto G5S Plus’s 3,000mAh battery lasts a “full day” and delivers up to six hours of power in 15 minutes thanks to Lenovo’s TurboPower fast-charging technology.

Perhaps what’s most impressive about the Moto G5 Plus, though, is its cameras. The rear shooter, which consists of two 13MP sensors, can apply a bokeh effect to photos. But that’s not its only trick. It also has an auto HDR mode that’s best in class, and a camera app that lets you adjust the exposure, shutter speed, and other settings. (Worth noting is the front-facing 8MP camera’s LED flash, which provides much-needed lighting in dimly lit environments.)

On the software side of the equation, the Moto G5S Plus runs a close-to-stock version of Android Nougat. (Motorola announced that the Moto G5S Plus would get Android Oreo this year, and it’s already begun soak tests in a few markets.) Other highlights include an FM radio; Moto Display, which flashes up notifications while the phone’s in standby model; and Moto Actions, a combination of fingerprint and physical gesture shortcuts. (The fingerprint sensor optionally stand-in for the software navigation keys, and a “double karate chop” gesture activates the flashlight.)