In our series of best product guides, here’s the latest update to our recommended Android Smartphone list. All numbers in the text are updated to reflect pricing at the time of writing (November 12th).
It’s autumn and we’re nearing the holiday season – more importantly, every smartphone vendor has released their 2019 devices and we now have a complete overview over the competitive landscape. The biggest change in product offerings compared to Q3 is the new release of Samsung’s Note10 series, OnePlus refreshing their devices with the new 7T series, and lastly Google’s new release of the Pixel 4. Although we’re covering only Android devices here, Apple’s newest release of the iPhone 11 series does have an important impact on the value comparisons we make at this point in time and how the value argument has evolved for the different devices in 2019.
Whilst there are some new devices on the market, Q4 isn’t nearly as attractive a purchase period compared to Q3; many devices released earlier in the year haven’t received any further price cuts compared to Q3, meaning their value proposition has diminished over time as we’re nearing the end of the 2019 product cycle. Although, it’s not the most optimal period in time to buy such an older device, if you really need to upgrade right now or prepare a gift for the holiday season, which one makes the most sense?
In terms of positioning and recommendations from my side, the only thing that has changed in the high and mid-range is OnePlus’ update from the 7 series to the 7T series, with the regular 7T now replacing the 7 Pro as our recommended second option in terms of flagship smartphone. Samsung’s Galaxy S10/S10+ still offer amongst the best overall packages on the market and continue to be of extremely interesting value, and it’s hard to find a similar offering of features and price at this point in time.
Best Flagship Devices: Samsung Galaxy S10/S10+ & OnePlus 7T
Samsung Galaxy S10/S10+
Whilst earlier in summer the OnePlus 7 Pro was a contender in the high-end, and OnePlus has updated the phone to the newer slightly upgraded 7T Pro, it’s the regular new 7T that really steals the spotlight in terms of value propositions. The feature that made the OnePlus 7 Pro such an interesting device and missing from the OP7 was its 90Hz screen. The OP7T now adopts this key feature at a lower price-point which, other than the 1440p to 1080p display downgrade, make it a more interesting buy than the Pro model.
There are still considerations to make as the 7T lacks in some aspects over the S10, such as a lacking 3.5mm headphone jack, and no wireless charging and the camera overall is still a bit weaker, but it’s still the best alternative and competitive offering out there on the market. The 7T can be had for $599/599€.
Best Upper-Mid Range Smartphones: Xiaomi Mi9 / Mi9T, Samsung Galaxy S10e
In terms of mid-range phones, one device that now consistently stands out beyond everything else is Xiaomi’s Mi9 and the newer Mi9T. These are Snapdragon 855 flagship phones, yet one can get it now for the astounding price of 376€ / 325€, prices at which the phones essentially just destroy every other contender in terms of value.
The phone offers a competitive triple-camera system, a good quality OLED screen, and just a sleek design. The only negative I have to mention about it is that it lacks a 3.5mm headphone jack, and only has a mono-speaker setup – both compromises I’d be willing to make for the price.
The issue about this recommendation is that the Mi9 isn’t officially available in North America. One can still easily get the phone on Amazon via resellers, but this will be the global variant and thus will be lacking compatibility with carriers such as Verizon, plus it won’t have any warranty. The real kicker here is that even like this I think the phone is just better value than some other alternatives that are officially available; the Pixel 3a comes in at $399 (3a XL at $479) while the Mi9 as of writing was available for $390. Google’s software might be better and naturally you’re getting official support & warranty – but one would have to chose for themselves if that enough to bridge the enormous hardware differences.
The Galaxy S10e isn’t quite in the upper mid-range as much as it’s on the lower high-end segment. Buyers in the US might have a bit less luck on the pricing as the phone can still be a bit expensive, but in Europe it’s available for new at 520€ which is still a reasonable price. For the premium above the Mi9’s price, you get a better camera and better speakers, a 3.5mm headphone jack. It’s a bit of a steep price for just those features, however it still represents a better package than other phones in the same price-range.
Best Budget Smartphone: Xiaomi Redmi Note 8 Pro
This category of devices is very hard for me to write about due to the sheer size of the market and particular regional segmentation. In particular the US market is absolutely barren of viable options due to the fact that many OEMs don’t officially release their products in this region. This is incredibly frustrating as it’s in this budget segment where we see the vast majority of competition from Asian vendors, providing some of the more incredible value propositions.
Users who are on CDMA carriers (Verizon, Sprint) are just pure out of luck. It’s a tough situation and unfortunately due to the geopolitical as well as bad US carrier situation I think the best sub-$200 phones are probably refurbished previous generation flagship devices.
Xiaomi Redmi Note 8 Pro
This quarter, there’s a bit of a shakeup in our recommendations as Xiaomi’s new Redmi Note 8 Pro is able to steal the crown as the absolute best low-end/value smartphone. The phone is able to sport a new more modern design compared to past Redmi iterations, but where it shines is in terms of its hardware specifications. While the display is still an 1080p LCD – it’s an understandable compromise given the phone’s $224 / 244€ current price tag. It’s one of the rare MediaTek powered phones, and the new G90T is seemingly able to offer excellent performance and power efficiency.
The camera system is dominated by a new 64MP main camera sensor that punches far above its weight in this price segment. There’s also an 8MP ultra-wide-angle lens as well as a 2MP macro lens; these latter two aren’t of the best quality but hey, at this price we won’t complain. Finally, the 4500mAh battery rounds this phone off as a quite outstanding value proposition and Xiaomi really steals the spotlight yet again also in this segment. The best thing about the Note 8 Pro is the fact that’s it’s readily available in the US and Europe on Amazon which makes it a straightforward purchase.