Best Smartphones

Best Midrange Smartphones from $200 to $400

January 2021 Edition

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When premium phones are out of financial reach and entry-level handsets just don’t make your cut, something in between is the next best thing. This is our updated list of the best midrange smartphones retailing from US$ 200 to US$ 400.

Formulating this category was tricky, since you can’t set an exact price and some of these devices are, in fact, the flagship phones of their respective brands. To simplify things, we chose a price range that simply sits between our other lists for best budget, upper-midrange, and premium smartphones.

Here they are in no particular order:

Samsung Galaxy A42 5G (EUR 349)

Starting this category with what will be the theme for most of this list — 5G-capable phones for less. That’s exactly what the Galaxy A42 5G is. It misses the upper midrange category by a hair but what you’re getting here is everything you’ve come to expect from the Samsung A-Series at this price point but with the benefit of the next gen mobile connectivity.

HANDS-ON: Samsung Galaxy A42 5G

 

Moto 5 5G (INR 20,999/ US$ 285)

Motorola is back in the Philippines and while the razr is their top-of-the-line offering, they kept in mind the midrange market by offering what might be the most affordable 5G-ready smartphone right now. That’s great value right there on top of its Snapdragon 750G SoC and a vanilla Android experience.

FIRST LOOK: Moto G 5G

Pixel 4a (US$ 349)

The one reason why anyone would pick this more affordable pixel over anything else is the camera. And if that’s what you’re here for, then you won’t be disappointed. Google’s computational photography is still at work here plus you get vanilla Android.

WATCH: Google Pixel 4a Unboxing and Review

 

realme 7

realme 7 — PhP 14,990 (US$ 309)

The Pro version is reserved for the Snapdragon chips while the non Pro is equipped with MediaTek. It’s like clockwork now for realme, and this value for money smartphones are what we should expect from them from here on out.

REVIEW: realme 7

iPhone SE (US$ 399)

One of the world’s fastest processors, a fantastic camera, at a midranger’s price. If we told you, we’re talking about an iPhone you probably wouldn’t believe us but here we are. The iPhone SE’s design is dated, but everything about its performance is near-flagship or flagship 2020 levels.

REVIEW: iPhone SE

Huawei Nova 7 SE (US$ 399)

Barely making the price point, Huawei phones are facing a unique problem with the lack of Google Mobile Services. That said, Huawei Mobile Services is making a headway. But the reason the phone lands on this list is because of its 5G capabilities. This is the first smartphone in this category to offer 5G — that has to count for something.

HANDS-ON: Huawei Nova 7 SE

POCO X3 NFC (EUR 269/INR 19,999)

The POCO X3 NFC might represent the ultimate value-for-money phone. It’s what the brand had been known for and they are doubling down on that mantra. The combination of  a smooth 120Hz display, newer Snapdragon 732G chipset paired with Adreno 618 GPU, massive battery, and fast charging out of the box with that price is too hard to pass on.

HANDS-ON: POCO X3 NFC

Samsung Galaxy M31 (INR 15,999/US$ 224)

This battery-powerhouse of a smartphone has never quite made it to more markets, but it has gotten a significant amount of attention thanks to its 6,000mAh battery. Something this long-lasting appears to still be one of the priorities of smartphone buyers.

HANDS-ON: Samsung Galaxy M31

Samsung Galaxy M51 (PhP 19,990)

Samsung appears to have a monopoly of battery beasts in this category with both the Galaxy M31 and now the Galaxy M51 making the list. Both will last you longer than you realize with the Galaxy M51 having better overall performance. Cameras are pretty much on the same level but you’re buying this for the massive 7,000mAh more than anything else.

REVIEW: Samsung Galaxy M51

Best Smartphones

Best of 2021: Favorite gaming smartphones

A little something for every type of mobile gamer

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It’s that time of the year again, ladies and gentlemen! As the year 2021 comes to a close, we’d like to look back at some of the best gaming smartphones out there. Granted, of course, that at this point in time, anything can be a gaming smartphone. For these ten smartphones, they shine in their own way as they bring a different kind of power to the table.

In no particular order, here are the ten best gaming smartphones for 2021! For this year, however, we’d like to break them down into three main categories to suit everyone’s interests.

Hardcore favorites suitable for the best

ASUS ROG Phone 5

Gaming Smartphones

To kick things off, the ASUS ROG Phone 5 is an obvious inclusion on this list especially for the hardcore gamers out there. From inside-out, this device just screams “gaming power” however you want to use it. For those who are unaware, the ROG Phone 5 sports ridiculous hardware inside, a high refresh rate display, great cameras, and a rather flashy design factor.

What makes this phone a cut above the rest, as well would be the peripherals you can use with it to maximize your gameplay. Apart from the Air Triggers, there’s the Aero Active Cooler 5 to keep the heat in check. Also, this phone also supports most ROG peripherals like gaming mice if you want to elevate your gameplay! The ROG Phone 5 provides a full hardcore gamer package in your pocket!

Lenovo Legion Phone Duel 2

Legion Phone Duel 2

Another banger addition to this list is the Lenovo Legion Phone Duel 2, which shines in its own little way. Much like the previous entry, this gaming smartphone packs a punch in terms of gaming performance for the competitive ones. Although, it doesn’t necessarily come with the same set of freebies; what you see is what you get!

With this gaming smartphone, however, it comes with some incredible features to take your creativity to the next level. Apart from just playing the games, with the 44MP pop-up front camera, it gives you a way to stream your gameplay on your preferred platform with a facecam! Of course, the streaming functionality is built into the system so this phone makes gaming and streaming a lot easier.

Xiaomi Black Shark 4

Black Shark 4

If you needed a third option for your hardcore gaming needs, the Xiaomi Black Shark 4 is another great option for a gaming smartphone. Like the first two options, Xiaomi’s dedicated gaming smartphone is no slouch in delivering the performance a competitive gamer will need. Packed with a powerful processor, a high refresh rate display, and great RAM and storage options, it’s as straightforward as it could be when it comes to a true gaming smartphone.

Unlike the other two options above, the Black Shark 4 comes at a rather affordable price point for the hardware it wields. You could make an argument that it’s the more bang-for-your-buck option without sacrificing much in its features and performance. If you’re on a rather tight budget for the holidays, this is a viable option for a mobile gaming machine!

Dedicated for the semi-casual, semi-competitive

As it suggests, the next batch of smartphones put gaming on the spotlight more than the other features it comes with. These devices, in many ways, bring the gaming power to everyone, whether you play to compete or just to have fun. Let’s dive into the phones that made the cut:

realme narzo 30A

Gaming Smartphones

This year, realme continued to build on their dedicated lineup of budget gaming smartphones, the narzo. Earlier this year, they launched the second entry into the lineup in the realme narzo 30A designed for any type of mobile gamer out there. While it comes with features suitable for any use case, it truly shines in its capability to play any game with ease.

Of course, the 4GB RAM it brings will bring more question marks on competitive gaming performance. However, with a few tweaks, even mobile Esports titles will work on this phone with ease. Along with a huge battery, it gives you a ton of juice to continue playing for hours on end. Oh, did we mention that this won’t hurt your wallet, at all?

OPPO A94

Gaming Smartphones

Normally, you don’t associate OPPO with gaming smartphones, but the OPPO A94 managed to be a game changer (pun intended, obviously). On paper, it doesn’t seem quite like the gaming machine as the other options but it packs a punch on the gaming front. Of course, like most options in this category, it comes with a huge, fast-charging battery for longer play hours.

Of course, OPPO’s core as a camera smartphone is not lost in its gaming-centric machine. Its quad camera setup along with a 32MP selfie camera allows you to take great photos and videos during your downtime. It’s quite the all-rounder in that regard, that even semi-casual and semi-competitive players will get a kick out of it.

realme 8

Gaming Smartphones

While touted more as another all-around smartphone, the realme 8 focuses more on how well you could game with it on top of everything else. With a powerful processor and up to 8GB of RAM, you’d expect nothing less than great in terms of gaming performance — especially when playing competitive titles. If you’re more on the casual side, this device serves its purpose incredibly well, and then some.

When you’re not playing full-time (either casually or competitively), every other feature of the phone shines with it. From the big battery to the great quad-camera at the rear, it’s the ideal device for the more all-around type of gamer out there. Also, like other realme devices, this phone comes at a rather affordable price point. 

Infinix HOT 11S

Infinix HOT 11S

Infinix emerged from the shadows as one of the new players in the field, and they came into the light with a bang. To not be left behind in the fray, they enter into the mobile gaming space, as well; their weapon of choice: the Infinix HOT 11S. On the outside, it does look like a gaming device you can brag to your buddies. Inside, it’s a beast in its own right.

Much like its contemporaries, the Infinix HOT 11S sports a rather similar makeup internally. With this, it brings much needed gaming power that both casual and competitive players will enjoy with prolonged use. Outside of the gaming-centric features, it’s also a great smartphone to use when you’re just taking a break from the grind.

Smartphones you can play games on because, why not?

For the third and final category, we’ve included some smartphones here that surely deliver on the gaming front of things. However, these are smartphones that don’t necessarily focus on the gaming aspect too much. Still, if you want to experience all the good things in a smartphone, these ones are worth considering:

vivo V21 5G

gaming vivo

Much like OPPO, vivo wasn’t a smartphone brand that you would think of when it came to gaming smartphones. However, that doesn’t particularly mean that you can’t game on them, and the vivo V21 5G has something to say about that. Consider this phone as more of both a gaming and photography device, with a little bit of flash in there.

The hardware in this device is no slouch with handling most tasks you throw at it, whether for productivity or gaming. Of course, this also comes with a rather large, fast-charging battery to assist in handling all those tasks simultaneously. Along with some powerful cameras and 5G connectivity, it’s a jack-of-all-trades machine that isn’t limited to gaming at its core.

realme GT Master Edition

realme GT Master Edition

Glad to find another mobile game I can somewhat enjoy

At first, the realme GT Master Edition would have been better in the earlier category since realme has put gaming at its forefront. However, this device is different in the sense that, well, it’s not just a smartphone that was gamer-first, everything-second. Instead, it opts to let every little use case shine and be a master in its own right, and the hardware backs it up quite well.

Whether you’re watching gameplay or creating the gameplay yourself, this phone will do it all for you. Even on the gaming front, you still have a high refresh rate display to take advantage of, if you’re keen on elevating your gameplay. Plus, it comes with a great set of cameras that deliver great image quality when it’s all said and done. It’s a device that’s so good at everything that using it for gaming alone is selling it short.

Redmi Note 10S

While it isn’t as remotely powerful as the other options, the Redmi Note 10S is a great option if you’re in need of an all-around performer for both productivity and gaming. Across the board, it’s a great midrange option for anyone looking for a new smartphone, moreso if you need one to play mobile games on. Of course, it also comes with a big battery to satisfy your long-term usage.

What made this phone a viable option for gaming is MIUI’s Game Turbo to help you achieve competitive-level performance. In essence, this allows you to finetune specific games to play close to 60 FPS, which is the preferred way for most people. At a rather budget-friendly price, this device gives you everything you’d want in an all-around smartphone.

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Best Smartphones

His AND Hers: Picking the right Samsung foldable for you

Is it the Z Fold 3 or the Z Flip 3 that’s right for you?

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My husband and I have long been at odds with each other when it came to phones. As an iPhone user who’s chest-deep into the Apple ecosystem, getting an Android phone feels rather blasphemous to me. Meanwhile, as someone who enjoys using the Android interface, my husband Alvin has been quite the Samsung loyalist ever since he got one of the earlier versions of the Note. 

But there was something about this year’s Samsung releases that got even my usually-Apple-focused-interest piqued. Let’s face it: Both of the third iterations of the Z Fold and Z Flip are good looking phones. When both models landed at home, all my former biases against foldables went out the window. Gimmicky? No, not anymore. You get a lot of function with form and it was hard not to get excited – even for me.

Her choice

My first instinct was to gravitate towards the Z Flip 3 right away because of its aesthetic. Yes, I used that word. How millennial of me. The phone is just absolutely chic, especially in the cream color way. However, I tried the Z Fold 3 first for the sake of getting a feel of it. You know what they say, don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it. Also, a friend from Samsung told me that I seem to be more of a Fold girl because of the kind of work that I do on the go.

And she’s right.

The Fold for a content creator

The Fold 3 gave me so much freedom in getting work done while outdoors or sitting in a car on the way to my appointments. Not gonna lie, having the option of a tablet-sized screen really makes a world of difference even when watching Netflix or reading an e-book in the middle of a traffic jam. 

Typing up and editing articles while at a coffee shop is also easier with the Fold 3. I open it halfway to activate Flex Mode, using one side as a keyboard. If you have an S-Pen, you can even watch videos as you take notes on the lower half of the screen. 

It’s truly a powerful phone and I love how you can really feel that as you use it. But with great power comes a bit more weight – I found it to be a little too heavy. Typing on the Fold 3 is a tad cumbersome for my tiny hands. Sure, there’s the front display but somehow, it’s too narrow and the keyboard feels a little cramped. I prefer using my messaging apps on the main screen with the phone resting on top of a table. The keyboard that’s split into each half of the screen works well for me and I’m fine typing longer messages on it as long as I don’t have to hold the phone upright too. 

The Flip and nostalgia

The Fold can do so much for me and I love it. But truth be told, I do find myself leaning towards the Flip 3. Again, because of its looks, sure. Though there’s really something rather exciting about a phone that’s a lot more compact. A phone that gives you some nostalgia for that time when ending a call meant snapping a phone shut. I miss it. There was much more flair back then when it came to something as simple as ending a call. 

I love how the Flip 3 helps me take photos in a more convenient way. Folding it at a 90-degree angle, I can let it stand on its own. No more lugging around a phone tripod. I also enjoy using the split-screen mode. Sure, I can also do this with the Fold where I can even have 4 apps on the screen at the same time but I find that splitting a screen into two is more than enough for me. I am, after all, easily distracted. Let’s not make it worse. I love browsing Instagram and opening up Google Chrome to search for places or clothing featured in some of my favorite influencers’ posts.

The size is also a huge plus. I do love big purses but with the latest trend being micro bags, it makes a lot of sense to have a phone that can fit in most of them – in women’s pockets too. Let’s face it, they’re always made to be much smaller with the Fold 3 hardly fitting in any of mine. 

Using the Flip’s cover display to take selfies is also rather fun. It’s a good size to be able to frame shots better. The same cover display also helps me get to my notifications and read a bit of the messages I got without having to open up the phone’s main display.

His choice

As for Alvin, he was also a little torn between the two phones at first. But of course, we always have favorites. For him, a phone is also something that he needs a lot for his demanding job. He goes from managing one of the biggest teams in their department to going through thick and often times tedious paperwork.

He also needs to be in a lot of meetings, some via Zoom and some in person – with masks on, of course. Work even seeps through the weekend, even while we’re on our dates. So he really enjoys gadgets that allow him to quickly tend to work emergencies. Thankfully, I’m quite the understanding wife who’s also probably trying to squeeze in a few work emergencies of my own while he’s tending to his.

The Flip for the weekends

One thing my husband enjoyed with the Flip is its size when it’s folded. Sure, the Fold also fits in his pockets but the Flip is rather comfortable there. Also reminiscent of the days when everyone had a Motorola Razr – his was silver and I had the gold, Dolce and Gabanna limited edition – he admits that the phone really does bring you back to the early 2000s. 

As someone who’s not that into selfies, the flex mode camera function is lost on him. However, he did note that Zoom calls on the Flip are great. It’s the perfect phone for people who use a lot of social media. He doesn’t really spend much time on such apps but loves to browse photos of dogs, nature, and buildings on Instagram to destress. He says the app fits perfectly on the screen which makes browsing even more pleasurable, unlike in the Fold which leaves a bit of dead space on either side of the main screen. 

It’s a great smartphone to take with you on weekend errands simply because of the size. There’s no denying its convenience while being able to do a lot of things for the owner.

The Fold for the office guy

The Fold is not short of nostalgia either. “I remember when I had the Nokia Communicator,” he said, rather fondly while typing on Flex Mode. “Everyone wanted one and it really made you feel like a professional. This gives off a similar vibe – but much much better and advanced.” See? We do have our biases and unique personalities to tend to. 

From multitasking on the main screen which doesn’t really feel too big in his massive hands, Alvin notes that the Fold also has a better battery life than the Flip. It’s something that he is truly particular with when it comes to phones as he also uses them for reading the news throughout the day. Weirdly enough, he also texts well in the narrow cover display.

Since his work requires him to go through a lot of documents – sometimes on the go – it also pays to have the big, main screen. It makes it harder to miss something. The under-display camera also works well on Zoom calls and the big screen has more space for you to see the people you’re in a meeting with.

Before, Alvin would have to bring his computer and later on his tablet with him whenever he needed to go out. Just in case work needs him and he needs to tend to things outside the office. Nowadays, it’s just him and the Fold 3 and it’s like giving him the best of both worlds.

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Best Smartphones

Best 5G smartphones you can buy today (US edition)

From budget to flagship devices

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5G is the future of cellular networks, and more manufacturers are jumping ship to the 5G bandwagon. In recent years, there had been an influx of affordable smartphones that tout 5G connectivity. Just a few years ago, this feature was relegated exclusively to flagships.

While the pace of adoption continues at a breakneck pace, a lot of places around the globe are still lacking support for the next-gen network. Still, it doesn’t hurt to have the latest 5G-enabled smartphone. After all, significant increase in network speeds and reduced latencies are benefits that one can enjoy in areas with 5G.

Right now, 5G-enabled smartphones are varied across different price points. Here are some of the best among the bunch:

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra (Starts at US$ 1,199)

Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra stands out in more ways than one. First, it has a refined design that makes its camera bump less of an eyesore. Those bumps carry a whopping camera setup headlined by the 108MP wide-angle lens. Second, the Exynos 2100 processor improved leaps and bounds though it is still lacking in some aspects.

Unfortunately, buyers still have to do some researching as Samsung continues its tradition of bundling a Qualcomm Snapdragon (in this case, the 888) in some regions. The performance gap between these processors, though, is not that bad anymore. Finally, Samsung’s latest focus on software updates also means three years of OS and four years of security updates which is a far cry from Galaxy flagships of the yesteryear.

iPhone 12 Pro Max (Starts at US$ 1,099)

The iPhone 12 Pro Max has one big new feature: 5G connectivity. Seriously, it is a groundbreaking feature for those who want to future-proof their Apple flagship. However, there are other thoughtful additions. The flat edges, for example, enable a more comfortable holding experience and brings back memories of the iPhone 5s.

Wireless charging also receives an “upgrade” thanks to the introduction of MagSafe, which also brings potential accessories for the future. The iPhone 12 Pro Max also features a telephoto lens and a LiDAR scanner to differentiate it from the non-Pro models.

OnePlus 9 Pro (Starts at US$ 1,069)

This time around, OnePlus partnered with Hasselblad to improve its smartphone cameras. OnePlus 9 Pro is the first flagship to see the results of this collaboration, bringing with it other flagship-worthy features. Going back to the camera, the brand touts improved shots and revamped camera interface as a result of the collaboration.

Another feature worth discussing here is the improved display, which now uses LTPO technology. Thanks to Qualcomm Snapdragon 888, users can expect fast performance and 5G here.

Sony 1 II (Starts at US$ 1,049)

Sony has been delivering a great flagship in recent years, and the 1 II is a great example of that. Geared for professionals and content creators, there is a lot to love about its triple-camera setup which also includes a specialized lens for better shots. Complementing that superb camera hardware is the wealth of bundled professional apps for taking great photos and videos.

Even better, it comes with a headphone jack which is rare for a modern flagship. As a proper flagship, it comes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865. Sony is known for bundling a 21:9 on its recent smartphones, so expect a tall-and-thin look on this one.

Motorola Edge+ (Starts at US$ 1,000)

Motorola Edge Plus marks the company’s return to making a proper premium flagship years after the Z2 Force. This time around, Motorola spared no expense in crafting its flagship.  As such, the flagship goes head-to-head with established alternatives.

There is a gorgeous AMOLED curved display, an up-to-date Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor, and a capable rear camera setup headlined by a humongous 108MP wide-angle lens. The 5,000 mAh battery is one of the best out there. Finally, a headphone jack that rounds out the positives for the flagship device.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G (Starts at US$ 699)

Samsung originally launched the Galaxy S20 FE with an Exynos processor and without 5G connectivity. Later on, it added another version with 5G connectivity, which is possible thanks to the inclusion of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865. With that version, the Galaxy S20 FE becomes a more tempting device to get for those after flagship features at a lower price.

The combination of a powerful processor with capable cameras, gorgeous AMOLED display, IP68 rating, and more only solidifies this device’s status as a “flagship killer”. Flagship devices now usually starts at US$ 900 and above, so this is indeed a welcome addition to the Galaxy lineup.

LG Velvet (Starts at US$ 600)

With the demise of LG, some may think twice before buying another smartphone from the brand. The LG Velvet, however, makes for a good exception. Launching just last year, it bundles the dual-screen case which is a noteworthy accessory that should give users more screen real estate. The device also tries to break from the ordinary with raindrop rear cameras that almost eliminate those unsightly camera bump.

A Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G processor powers the device, which should provide adequate performance and 5G connectivity for those who need it now. The cameras, by the way, are decent and the same goes for the battery life. It has a headphone jack too — a feature getting hard to find on this price segment.

Google Pixel 4a 5G (Starts at US$ 499)

Last year’s Pixel 4a 5G delivers solid features for the price that it offers, serving as a middle-ground between the budget 4a and the flagship 5. The keyword here is “middle ground”, since the device carries most of the features that make its siblings worth it. For one, consumers get a proper Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G processor which is the Pixel 5’s mainstay.

Consumers also get an extra telephoto camera, which is missing from the budget Pixel 4a. The biggest addition here though is of course, the added 5G connectivity. Overall, the device is the one to get for a clean, stock-like Android experience coupled with a competent camera experience.

Samsung Galaxy A52 5G (Starts at US$ 499)

Samsung is putting more focus on its midrange devices this year, and the Galaxy A52 5G is a clear example of this. Whereas its predecessor last year put on a flashy design, the Galaxy A52 5G is simple yet almost premium looking with a wonderful choice of colors to boot. The feature list is almost exhaustive, and would simply attract budget-conscious buyers. Get this: it has IP67 water and dust resistance which is too much to ask in the midrange segment.

There’s an AMOLED screen, quad-camera setup, a headphone jack, and most importantly, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G chipset with support for 5G connectivity. With that feature list and a budget-friendly price, the Galaxy A52 5G is too awesome to ignore.

Motorola One 5G Ace (Starts at US$ 399)

Motorola is known these days for making budget devices with a pretty decent set of features for the consumers. The Motorola One Ace 5G is an example of this, featuring the popular Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G that delivers excellent performance and 5G connectivity. It is also one of the cheaper device to offer this processor too, proving that one doesn’t have to break the bank when buying a 5G-capable device.

The FHD+ IPS display of this device even has HDR10 support, which would come in handy for Netflix and other video streaming apps. Cameras are decent, and should be fine for most scenarios. Battery life, on the other hand, is outstanding thanks to the battery’s rated capacity of 5,000 mAh.

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