Best Value-Flagship of 2017

Best Value-Flagship of 2017

As 2017 draws to a close, we’re doing what comes naturally at XDA: Looking back at the best value phones Samsung, LG, OnePlus, Huawei, and others had to offer, and highlighting the ones that exceeded our expectations.

This is “Value-Flagship” category is an interesting one because it includes devices that have flagship credentials such as premium build quality, dual cameras, and the latest CPU/RAM configurations, but with affordable prices that hit that ~$500 sweet spot.

Our criteria for the best “value” smartphone

Picking the year’s best smartphones is a lot easier if money’s no object, but most folks don’t have that luxury, nor does it make sense to spend $1,000 or more for a phone when you can get a lot of great laptops for less. To help make this decision easier, we developed a three-prong methodology to help whittle down the list.

We looked for phones that punched above their weight class:

  • They had to deliver on value. Our picks offer compelling features for their price brackets. Whether that means an innovative design or a wealth of accessories, these devices distinguished themselves from the rest. We tried to find phones that sell for around $500 new.
  • They had to have a supportive community. Our selections are more than just great products in and of themselves. XDA’s all about community and development, and we chose the smartphones with largest, most passionate developers and development teams. These phones, regardless of OEM support, are likely to enjoy software updates and mods for years to come thanks to a strong development community. It’s nice to have the optionality of changing ROMs or getting easy root access.
  • They had to 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 amazing daily performance whether you’re shooting 4K video or playing the latest games. Additionally, all of these phones are made with premium materials, so in-hand, they feel super high quality.

Runner-up 1: Essential Phone

The Essential Phone is a great handset with a $499 price tag.

Essential PhoneSpecifications
Dimensions141.5 x 71.1 x 7.8mm
SoftwareAndroid 7.1 (Nougat), soon Android 8.0 (Oreo)
CPUOcta-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 (4x 2.45GHz A73 + 4x 1.8GHz A53) SoC, Neural Processing Unit and i7 co-processor
GPUAdreno 540
RAM and Storage4GB of RAM with 128GB of storage
Battery3,040 mAh battery with fast charging
Display5.71-inch (2560 x 1312 pixels) edge-to-edge display
Wi-Fi802.11ac (2.4GHz/5GHz)
BluetoothBluetooth 5.0 LE
PortsUSB Type-C, Nano SIM
Rear Cameras13MP (RGB) + 13MP (B&W) Dual rear cameras with f/1.9 aperture, LED flash, PDAF, 4K video recording
Front Camera8MP front-facing camera with f/2.2 aperture

The Essential Phone, the debut smartphone of Andy Rubin-backed startup Essential Products, didn’t hit all the right notes at launch. But after a permanent discount from $750 to $499, it became a much more attractive proposition.

There’s no mistaking the Essential Phone — the titanium-and-ceramic body and “notched” edge-to-edge display stands out, as does the Essential Phone’s modular accessory system. A series of electromagnetic pins on the phone’s rear snap magnetically to accessories such as the Essential Camera, a 360-degree sensor that can capture 4K video at 30 frames per second. More accessories are expected in the future, like one for wireless charging.

The Essential Phone’s other internals aren’t half bad, either. Under the hood’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, 4GB of RAM, and a 3,040mAh battery that lasts a full day on a charge.

The Essential Phone ships with a version of Android that’s pretty close to stock, but that hasn’t stopped the developer community from taking things to the next level. On the Essential Phone forums, you’ll fine LineageOS-based ROMs, rooting guides, and even a generic Android Open Source Project (AOSP) made using Project Treble, the modularized update framework introduced alongside Android 8.0 Oreo. It’s a cornucopia of resources that’ll make owning an Essential Phone much better now and even years from now.

Runner-up 2: Moto Z2 Play

The Moto Z2 Play is the best phone for anyone who wants to get into modular add-ons with a growing ecosystem of accessories

Essential PhoneSpecifications
Dimensions156.2 x 76.2 x 6mm
SoftwareAndroid 7.1 .1 (Nougat), soon Android 8.0 (Oreo)
CPUOcta-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 626 (8x 2.2GHz A53) SoC
GPUAdreno 506
RAM and Storage4GB of RAM with 128GB of storage
Battery3,000 mAh battery with fast charging
Display5.5-inch (1920 x 1080 pixels) Full HD display
Wi-Fi802.11ac (2.4GHz/5GHz)
BluetoothBluetooth 4.2 LE
PortsUSB Type-C, Dual SIM
Rear Cameras12MP camera with f/1.7 aperture, LED flash, PDAF, 4K video recording
Front Camera5MP front-facing camera with f/2.2 aperture

Lenovo’s Moto Z2 Play may not have gotten as much press as other phones this year, but its $408 asking price makes it one of the better smartphone deals around.

Consider the hardware: A couple of Benjamins nets you a Full HD screen, a fingerprint sensor, a power-sipping Qualcomm Snapdragon 626 processor, and a camera that outshines many of its competitors. But the Moto Z2 Play’s real highlight is support for Moto Mods, Lenovo’s ever-expanding collection of modular accessories. There’s one for just about everything: A mini projector, an Alexa-enabled speaker, a gamepad, and more.

The Moto Z2 Play isn’t lacking in software mods, either. With TWRP and root available as well as plenty of tools and custom apps from the development community, there’s a reason Lenovo’s budget smartphone remains one of our favorites. Check out our Moto Z2 Play forums.

Winner: OnePlus 5T

The OnePlus 5T is our pick for the best value-flagship of 2017.

OnePlus 5TSpecifications
Dimensions156.1 x 75 x 7.3 mm
SoftwareAndroid 7.1.1 with OxygenOS
CPUOcta-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 (4x 2.45GHz A73 + 4x 1.9GHz A53) SoC
GPUAdreno 540
RAM and Storage6/8GB of RAM with 64GB/128GB of storage
Battery3,300mAh battery with Dash Charge (5V/4A)
Display6.01-inch (2160 x 1080 pixels) Full HD+ 18:9 display
Wi-Fi802.11ac (2.4GHz/5GHz)
BluetoothBluetooth 5.0 LE
PortsUSB Type-C, 3.5mm headphone jack, Dual SIM Slots
Rear Cameras16MP (RGB) + 20MP (Monochrome) Dual rear cameras with f/1.7 aperture, LED flash, PDAF,  EIS, and 4K video recording
Front Camera16MP front-facing camera with f/2.0 aperture

The OnePlus 5T was one of the most anticipated phones of 2017, and for good reason: It’s a $500 phone that gives even $1000 flagships a run for their money in several areas like performance, build quality, and charging speed. Simply put, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a handset with an edge-to-edge display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, 6/8GB of RAM, and dual cameras in a comparably polished, affordable package.

The OnePlus 5T has a facial recognition feature that works in 0.2 seconds (which many feel is faster than even Apple’s Face ID), a fingerprint scanner that supports custom swipe gestures, and an electronic image stabilization (EIS) algorithm that compensates for shaky camera movements. OnePlus’s speedy Dash Charge is here too and can deliver a full day’s worth of charge in thirty minutes. Dash Charge is still the champion when it comes to charging speed, even if you’re using the device while charging, which causes other phones to reduce their charging speed to avoid overheating.

OnePlus phones have always been favorites in the developer community, and the OnePlus 5T is no exception. Take your pick: OmniRom, FreedomOS, blu_spark. OnePlus’s flagship certainly isn’t wanting for custom ROMs or kernels, and if the still-thriving OnePlus 3 forums are any indication, it’s just the beginning.

For those reasons, the OnePlus 5T is our pick for best value-flagship smartphone of the year. You’re going to love it now and into the future.

About author

Ronald Comstock
Ronald Comstock

I am a lover of Android and work on the sponsorship team at XDA-Developers, making sure the bills get paid.