Five of the best mobile phones – whatever your budget

Young woman using her mobile phone

You don’t need to splash out more than £1,000 to get a great mobile phone. Photograph: Cecilie_Arcurs/Getty Images

When it comes to buying a new phone some enthusiasts reckon you need to spend £1,000-plus to buy a good one. But the truth is that you can get great phones at almost any price.

With so many different brands, models and capabilities to choose from it can be difficult to know which to buy. So here’s a guide to some of the best phones at different price points, so you don’t end up buying a dud.

Under £50

Nokia 105

Nokia’s 105 comes in various different models by year, but they’re all basically the same.
 Nokia’s 105 comes in various different models by year, but they’re all basically the same. Photograph: Nokia

RRP: £25 – deals from £15

If you just want a phone to call and old-style text, then the Nokia 105, costing just £15-odd, is worth looking at. Whether it’s for the epic battery life (35 days’ standby), you need a backup phone, a party phone, a festival phone or simply because you want a smartphone-free life, the Nokia 105 is everything you remember from the Nokia of old.

It has an FM radio, charges via microUSB, has a headphone socket and a 1.8in display, on which you can even play Snake or Crossy Road. It has space for all your contacts and 100s of SMS, because you might be that popular.

Press the up key twice to turn on a flashlight to find your keys. There’s no camera, though, which some might see as an advantage. It’s not a “rugged phone” but it’ll survive the odd spill no problem with its hardy plastic body. And it only weighs 73g. One caveat is that it’s only 2G and as networks move to 5G, 2G coverage may suffer.

If you need more, Nokia has a newer 3G version of the reborn 3310 at £50 or even the 4G 8110 aka “the banana phone” at £45. Nostalgia trip included.

Verdict

Harking back to a simpler time, the Nokia 105 is dirt cheap and gets the job done

Under £150

Xiaomi Mi A2

Xiaomi’s Mi A2 punches well above its weight at this price.
 Xiaomi’s Mi A2 punches well above its weight at this price. Photograph: Xiaomi

RRP: £259 – deals from £149.99

Xiaomi, once described as China’s Apple, isn’t a household name in the UK, but perhaps it should be. Known for excellent phones at rock-bottom prices, the Mi A2 is no exception. Available in several versions including a “Lite” model, the one to buy is the full-blooded Mi A2 with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage for £159.50 straight from Xiaomi.

You get a good-looking 5.99in full HD+ LCD screen, solid Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 processor, with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. Best of all you get Android One software, which means no unwanted apps or bloatware, a clean Android experience and snappy performance, plus at least two years of software updates straight from Google.

The dual camera on the back won’t win you any photography awards, but will do for the odd snap of people or landscapes. The battery should last a day, and it has quick wireless charging via the modern USB-C port. The fingerprint scanner on the back makes unlocking it a breeze and it even supports Bluetooth 5 (useful for modern wireless headphones) and dual-sim for two network connections at once (great for traveling). There’s no headphone socket, though.

Verdict

Bloat-free Android One software, snappy performance and modern features often reserved for phones at much higher price points make the Xiaomi Mi A2 a bargain.

Under £300

Nokia 8.1

Nokia’s 8.1 has a good balance of features, build and cost.
 Nokia’s 8.1 has a good balance of features, build and cost. Photograph: Nokia

RRP: £380 – deals from £280

Made by HMD, a firm set up by ex-Nokia people to make new Nokia phones, the Nokia 8.1 is not quite your Nokia of old. Overpriced at £380 on launch, but just about right at £100 less, the Nokia 8.1 nails the basics and adds a little bit of polish.

Under the hood you have Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 710, which is a step up from the 6-series in much of the competition, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, plus a microSD card slot for adding more space. It runs Android One too, which means no bloat and snappy performance, plus at least three years of updates straight from Google.

The 6.18in LCD is pretty good too, with an iPhone-like camera notch at the top, while the metal and glass sandwich construction feels more modern and premium, although you’ll probably need a case to keep it that way. A fingerprint scanner on the back takes care of unlocking the phone, there’s Bluetooth 5 support and 18W fast charging via USB-C.

Battery life is a good day of fairly heavy usage (games, video and lots of messaging), longer if you’re only a light user.

The 12-megapixel camera on the back is a cut above many at this price, but falls short of the modern miracles mastered by the top tier of phones.

Verdict

Good performance, software, build and camera make the Nokia 8.1 good value at less than £300

Under £500

Google Pixel 3a

Pixel 3a next to its larger sibling the Pixel 3a XL.
 Pixel 3a next to its larger sibling the Pixel 3a XL. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

RRP: £399 – deals from £350

Google’s cheapest Android phone is one of its best, offering most of what makes its top-end Pixel 3 good but for about half the price.

You get a good-looking 5.6in FHD+ OLED display in a solid-feeling but light polycarbonate body. The back of the phone is two-tone, with a glossy panel at the top. There’s a USB-C port in the bottom for fast charging and the lesser-spotted headphones socket in the top.

A an excellent fingerprint scanner on the back takes care of unlocking the phone, while Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 670, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage keeps things clocking along for about a day.

The Pixel 3a has two big advantages over everything else at this price. The first is Google’s great software, with three-years of updates, day and date with the release of each new Android version, where some other manufacturers take over six months to update their phones.

The second is Google’s stellar camera, which matches flagship smartphones in both picture quality and night sight. Nothing comes close at under £500.

Verdict

Cracking camera and excellent software with rapid updates make the Pixel 3a a winner at £400

Under £1,000

OnePlus 7 Pro

The OnePlus 7 Pro comes in 4G and 5G versions, which are identical apart from mobile broadband speed.
 The OnePlus 7 Pro comes in 4G and 5G versions, which are identical apart from mobile broadband speed. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

RRP: £649 – deals from £600

Simply put, if you want the best phone right now that’s the OnePlus 7 Pro. Available in both 4G and 5G variants, the OnePlus offers the fastest, smoothest experience available even though it’s almost half the price of some rivals.

It starts with the giant, notchless 6.67in QHD+ AMOLED screen which is the best in the business: super bright, super sharp and with a 90Hz refresh rate (versus 60Hz for the competition) making everything super smooth. A best-in-class fast and accurate fingerprint sensor under the screen takes care of unlocking duties, while the selfie camera literally pops up from the top.

Performance is equally stellar, with Qualcomm’s top of the line Snapdragon 855 chip, at least 6GB of RAM and 128GB of UFS3 storage (which is faster than the competition too). The battery will last well into your second day between charges, with very fast cable charging when needed.

OnePlus’s slick Android OxygenOS is excellent too, and updated rapidly for at least three years. The triple camera system on the back is great too, although bettered in some areas by Huawei’s £899 P30 Pro and Apple’s new £1,049 iPhone 11 Pro.

One caveat is that it’s massive, so not for those who want a small phone; it is due to be replaced in October too, so it might be worth waiting for that.

Verdict

Big, fast and slick, the OnePlus 7 Pro is a joy to use

The ethical alternative

Fairphone 3

By buying the Fairphone 3 you’re helping to change the smartphone industry for the better.
 By buying the Fairphone 3 you’re helping to change the smartphone industry for the better. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

RRP: €450 – deals from £420

If a fixed budget or flashy features aren’t your primary driver, the Fairphone 3 offers something others can’t: being ethical.

Made by a Dutch co-operative, the Fairphone 3 is the most repairable phone available, with a removable battery and modules you can unscrew and replace yourself (including the screen if you smash it).

It’s also produced in the most fair way currently possible, including ethical sourcing of raw materials where possible and bring made by people paid a living wage. Some materials cannot currently be sourced from conflict-free zones, so the firm has various schemes in place to help solve these issues, having succeeded with a Fairtrade gold initiative.

The phone isn’t bad either, with simple, bloat-free Android software, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 632, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage plus a microSD card slot and a 12-megapixel camera on the back.

Verdict

Fairphone 3 isn’t just another smartphone: it’s an entirely different way of thinking about how a phone and its creation fits into the world.

[“source=theguardian”]