As one of Engadget’s resident mobile geeks, I’ve reviewed dozens of mid-range phones and discovered that a great smartphone doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Years of commoditization have brought features once exclusive to high-end devices—including large batteries, multi-camera arrays, and high-refresh-rate displays—to their more affordable siblings. While there are still some things you’ll only find on flagship smartphones, you no longer have to make as many compromises if you’re looking for a solid device at a lower price. If you have less than $600 to spend, I can help you figure out which features to prioritize when trying to find the best mid-range smartphone.
What is a mid-range phone anyway?
Although the term comes up often in articles and videos, there is no agreed-upon definition for a “mid-range phone” other than a non-flagship or entry-level phone. Our recommendations for the best mid-range smartphones cost between $400 and $600 – any less and you should expect significant trade-offs. But if your budget is higher, you should consider flagships like the Apple iPhone 13 and the Samsung Galaxy S22.
Buying a new device can be intimidating, but a few questions can help guide you through the process. First: which platform do you want to use? If the answer is iOS, that narrows your options down to exactly one phone. (Thankfully, it’s great.) And if you’re an Android fan, there’s no shortage of compelling options. Both platforms have their advantages, so you shouldn’t rule out either one.
Obviously, also think about how much you are willing to spend. Even increasing your budget by $100 more can get you a dramatically better product. And manufacturers tend to support their more expensive devices longer. It’s definitely worth buying something towards the upper end of what you can afford.
Having an idea of your priorities will help you create a budget. Do you want long battery life or fast charging speed? Do you value fast performance above all else? Or do you want the best cameras possible? Although they improve every year, even the best mid-range smartphones still require some compromises, and knowing what’s important to you will make your choice easier.
Finally, pay attention to wireless bands and network compatibility. If you don’t want to worry about that, it’s best to buy directly from your carrier. To make things easier, all of the phones we recommend are compatible with all major US wireless carriers and can be purchased unlocked.
What habit get from a mid-range smartphone?
Every year, the line between mid-range phones and flagships gets blurrier as more and more expensive features and specifications trickle down to more affordable models. When we first published this guide in 2020, it was hard to find $500 devices with water resistance or 5G. Now, the biggest thing you might miss out on is wireless charging. Don’t forget to separate the power adapter as well – many companies have stopped including chargers in their smartphones. Performance has improved in recent years, but it can still be hit or miss as most mid-range phones use slower processors that can struggle with multitasking. Fortunately, their cameras have improved dramatically, and you can usually expect at least a dual-lens system on most mid-range smartphones under $600.
The best mid-range phones for 2023
Google Pixel 7a: The best mid-range Android phone
The $500 Pixel 7a delivers everything we’re looking for in a great affordable phone. New features include a faster Tensor G2 chip, a smoother 90Hz display, and for the first time on one of Google’s A-series phones: support for wireless charging. And with a refreshed design with IP67 water resistance, it looks and feels like the standard Pixel 7, but for $100 less. You also get excellent support thanks to five years of security updates and at least three OS upgrades. The phone’s only downsides are fairly minor, and include the lack of a dedicated zoom lens and mmWave 5G support (unless you buy the slightly pricier $550 model from Verizon).
iPhone SE (3rd generation): The best iPhone under $600
If you can get over its dated design and small 5.4-inch screen, the Apple iPhone SE is the fastest phone you can buy for under $600. No other device on this list has a processor that can come close to the SE’s A15 Bionic. What’s more, you can expect Apple to support the 2022 model for years to come. The company only ends support for the first generation SE after six years. The company hasn’t said how long it plans to keep the latest SE with the new software, but it’s likely to support the device for a similar amount of time.
For all its advantages, the iPhone SE retains the outdated screen. Not only is the SE’s screen small and slow, but it also uses an IPS panel instead of an OLED screen, meaning it can’t deliver deep blacks. Additionally, that display is surrounded by some of the largest bezels you’ll find on a modern phone. That’s not surprising. The SE uses the design of the iPhone 6, which will be a decade old in two years. And if the SE looks dated now, it will only feel more tired in a few years.
Samsung Galaxy A53 5G: the mid-range phone with the best screen for streaming
For the best display possible at this price, look no further than Samsung’s $450 Galaxy A53 5G. It features a 6.5-inch Super AMOLED screen that is ideal for watching TV shows and movies. Additionally, the 120 Hz board is the fastest on this list. Other prominent features of this Samsung phone include a 5000 mAh battery and a versatile camera system. The A53’s triple shooter may not deliver photos with the same detail and natural colors as the Pixel 7a, but it can capture larger scenes with its two wide-angle rear cameras.
Like the other Android smartphones on this list, the Samsung Galaxy A53 isn’t the fastest. At best, Samsung’s Exynos 1280 is a side step from the Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G found in the Galaxy A52 5G. And while the A53 is $50 cheaper than its predecessor, this Samsung phone no longer comes with a power adapter and headphone jack, so the difference may not be much in the end.
OnePlus Nord N200 5G: The best cheap smartphone on a budget
If you only have about $200 to spend on your next phone, you could do a lot worse than the OnePlus Nord N200. For starters, this budget phone has a large 5000mAh battery that will easily last you all day. The N200 also has a 90Hz display and 5G connectivity, which is hard to find at this price. Best of all, it doesn’t look like a cheap phone.
But the N200 is also a good illustration of why you should spend more on a budget phone if you can. It’s the slowest device on this list, thanks to its Snapdragon 480 chipset and measly 4GB of RAM. Its triple main camera is usable during the day, but it struggles in low light and doesn’t offer much versatility other than a disappointing macro lens. OnePlus also has no plans to update the phone after the soon-to-be-outdated Android 12. In short, the N200 probably won’t last you as long as any of the other affordable phones on this list.
Chris Velazco contributed to this report.