In recent years we’ve seen a lot of strong entries in the mid-range, somewhere between budget devices and top-end flagships. These are often some of our favorite devices, but they were failing to fall into our existing “best of” categories. Fortunately, there was a simple enough solution, we created a list to specifically capture these devices, the best budget flagships. These are devices that have specs to compete with the top tier flagships, but don’t come with that top tier pricing.
At the moment this list is comprised entirely of devices that use either a Snapdragon 855 or equivalent CPU (Kirin 980 for example) and are available for less than $600, making them substantially cheaper than flagship smartphones selling for $900+.
ZTE Axon 10 Pro
The Axon 10 Pro won’t necessarily blow you away on any specific spec or its design, but it definitely checks all the boxes. In our full review Nick called it the “new budget flagship king” and so it is. There’s the Snapdragon 855, 8GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, triple-camera array, a microSD slot, and a 4,000 mAh battery. It has a teardrop notch and an embedded fingerprint sensor in the 6.5-inch FHD+ display. All of this and thankfully ZTE has gone minimal on its skinning of Android these days, so it’s a fairly stock experience that should see updates at a reasonable pace. Available for around $500, this is the budget flagship to beat.
The OnePlus 7T is a fast refresh from OnePlus that actually manages to eclipse the OnePlus 7 Pro in a couple areas, while arriving below our $600 cut off for budget flagships. This is one of the first devices launching with the slightly improved Snapdragon 855+ CPU and the OnePlus 7T comes with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage. On the screen front, you’ve got a 6.55-inch AMOLED display that yes delivers 90Hz performance just like the OnePlus 7 Pro. The triple camera array on the back of the phone is similar to that found on the Pro with a 48MP main, a 16MP ultrawide and then a 12MP telephoto (2x rather than the 3x in the Pro). The battery is solid enough at 3,800 mAh and supports Warp Charge 30T. The most visible change from the OnePlus 7 Pro is the teardrop notch as opposed to the pop-up selfie-camera, but that probably isn’t a big deal to most users. All in all OnePlus has put together a really solid upgrade that sacrifices little of what makes the OnePlus 7 Pro great and in some ways improves on it.
The ASUS Zenfone 6 is no stranger to our best smartphones lists, it already appears in our best camera and best battery life categories. It should come as no surprise then to find it on this list given that it also packs a Snapdragon 855 processor and sub-$600 price point. You can read our full review to get all the details, but the value proposition of this phone is fantastic.
The Honor 20 along with the OnePlus 7 might have been reason enough to create this list by themselves, we were so thoroughly impressed with both of these devices at their price point. Unfortunately for the Honor 20 it was caught up in all of the Huawei related trade drama and was a bit buried as a result. Check out our full review of its sibling the Honor 20 Pro for our take on this line of devices from Honor. If you want to spend up a bit the Honor 20 Pro is a fantastic device as well, but from the quad-camera array, Kirin 980 chipset, 6.3-inch FHD+ display, fast charging, and overall build quality the Honor 20 also impressed us on every level. You can find it now for just over $400 and that is an astounding value.
Xiaomi Mi 9
We were at the launch event for the Xiaomi Mi 9 earlier this year and came away impressed with the overall quality of the device and in particular the camera performance for the price. Even at launch, the value was impressive for the specs including of course a Snapdragon 855, 6GB of RAM, a triple-camera array, and a 6.4-inch AMOLED FHD+ display. Now you can find the Xiaomi Mi 9 for just over $400, keeping it out of our true budget smartphones list, but making it one of the best values of all the budget flagship offerings.
Nubia Red Magic 3
While I wouldn’t consider the Nubia Red Magic 3 to be quite as well rounded as the other devices on this list, the gaming PC inspired design (including the RGB light) is unique and the phone is a performance beast. It shares the same 90Hz refresh rate screen with the OnePlus 7 Pro with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage for around $575. The comparably specced OnePlus 7 Pro runs about another $75-$100, pushing it outside of consideration for this list, but unless you are particularly sold on the look of the Nubia Red Magic 3, you will probably be better served by the rest of the features and software support from OnePlus.