You can get a fantastic Android smartphone at just about every price range, and that’s even true at a lower budget. At $500, your options are seemingly endless with many devices delivering the value of phones that cost much more. There are all kinds of Android smartphones you can buy in this range, and the one that stands out the most is the Samsung Galaxy S9 with its gorgeous build quality, beautiful display, and top performing camera.
Our Pick – Samsung Galaxy S9
This former Samsung flagship has luckily skidded into the sub-$500 range, making it a steal for many people. It offers everything you want from a smartphone: gorgeous display, stunning hardware, next-gen features, and a fantastic camera. No other phone under $500 matches that feature-set because every other phone makes concessions the Galaxy S9 doesn’t.
The display, in particular, is the best you can get. Back in early 2018 when this phone came out, it was considered the best display on a smartphone with its vibrant AMOLED panel and high-resolution density. Not much has changed in the time since. Few other affordable smartphone displays eclipse the 1080p range, let alone offer an AMOLED panel. Then throw in features like wireless charging and a high-end 12-megapixel (MP) camera, and the Galaxy S9 quickly becomes a no-brainer purchase.
Not everything is perfect with this phone. It’s over a year old, which means it may not get any future updates past Android Pie. That’s certainly something worth considering, but given everything it offers, it’s hard not to take the Galaxy S9 over other phones in this price range given they have similar drawbacks. We’ll also take off some points for the dedicated Bixby button that just gets in the way.
- Former flagship
- Beautiful AMOLED display
- Premium industrial build quality
- Impressive camera
- Over a year old
- May not get future Android updates
- Dedicated Bixby button
Samsung Galaxy S9
A marquee Android flagship gets a massive discount
There are newer phones around, but the Samsung Galaxy S9 is the best value for a phone under $500. It offers everything you want from a flagship, yet it costs a fraction of what it originally retailed for.
Best Camera – Pixel 3a XL
Google took a different turn in announcing the Pixel 3a XL, a mid-tier device that offers many of the best Pixel line features in a much more affordable package. That means that you’ll get a sleek software experience, constant updates, impressive build quality, and of course, a fantastic camera that is arguably one of the best on any phone, period.
The Pixel 3a XL carries the same camera found in its more expensive Pixel 3 brother. The 12.2MP main shooter with f/1.8 and optical image stabilization, combined with software magic Google has working in the background, takes some truly spectacular shots. Detail and color are accurate and vivid, and you’ll also get to take advantage of Night Sight, which turns dark and usable photos into perfectly good ones.
Aside from that, you also get an amazing OLED display and the iconic two-tone Pixel look, with the colorful power button on the Clearly White and Purple-ish options. Where Google cut some corners was with the plastic (or “polycarbonate”) body and the Snapdragon 670 chip that although perfectly usable, isn’t as powerful as the 800-series found in the more expensive Pixel devices.
- Best camera for a budget phone
- Streamlined Android software
- Impressive OLED display
- Plastic body
- Speakers aren’t great
- Snapdragon 670 chip isn’t overly powerful
Pixel 3a XL
A great smartphone camera becomes very affordable
The Pixel 3a XL is Google’s introduction to the mid-tier line of Android phones and it brings some truly breakthrough features to the affordable market with a best-in-class camera. The impressive OLED display and update-to-date software with promised future updates make the phone even more appealing.
Best Value – Honor View 10
Honor, Huawei’s affordable line, has been around for some time now and has sadly been ignored by most. Yet with devices like the View 10, it deserves much more attention for what it delivers in the mid-range market. A mix of style and function, the View 10 is a complete smartphone with just about every feature consumers will want out of a great mid-tier device.
It starts with its beautiful 6-inch display on the front. Sure, it’s not truly bezel-less with two minimal bezels at the top and bottom, but this evades annoying notches and provides a perfect location for the fingerprint scanner in the bottom bezel. Huawei also outfitted the phone with its high-end Kirin 970 processor and stuck in 6GB of RAM, so you know you’ll get zippy performance.
Moving on to software, the Honor 10 View already received the Android 9 Pie update, but even that can’t hide EMUI, Huawei’s clunky Android skin that is a little too overbearing. Huawei also didn’t do itself any favors by including a monochrome sensor in the dual-camera system instead of a telephoto or ultrawide sensor like other camera systems.
- Beautiful 6-inch display
- Front-facing fingerprint scanner
- Powerful Kirin 970 processor
- Big bezels
- EMUI software is clunky
- Second camera is monochrome
Honor View 10
Honor is quietly one of the best Android budget phone brands
You may or may not be familiar with Honor, but you should be. It makes some of the best mid-tier Android smartphones including the fantastic View 10, which almost took the top spot with everything it offers.
Best Software Experience – Moto G7
We’ve reviewed the Moto G7 and we know first hand how impressive it is. It isn’t the best in any one area. Some phones have a better display while others have a better camera, but it comes close enough to deliver a great experience on a multitude of levels. The display looks beautiful, the software is clean and intuitive, and the hardware just feels like this phone should cost way more than it does.
Whereas most OEM software tweaks are annoying, Motorola delivers some pretty useful ones. Its One Nav gesture bar is super useful, delivering better gesture controls than what Android 9 Pie does with its pill-shaped swipe button. Moto Display and Moto Actions also make simple things like accessing the camera or turning on the flashlight easy and convenient.
Motorola went all out to deliver a great affordable device, but it made some sacrifices. It is hard to ignore the horrible Motorola branding on the chin and fingerprint scanner. And like other affordable phones, the dual-camera system isn’t anything to get excited about. It takes decent photos in good lighting, but capture anything in a low-light setting and you may as well not even take the picture.
- Streamlined Android software
- Premium build quality
- High-quality display
- Great gesture bar
- Ugly Motorola branding
- Camera is okay
- Speaker sounds washed out
Best Software Experience
Feature for feature, it’s the best budget Android phone
Holding the Moto G7 for a second makes clear why it is seen as one of the best budget Android phones. From hardware to software, it blends the most important features in an amazing package.
Best Big Display – Sony Xperia 10 Plus
Sony made some big improvements to its Xperia line with the Xperia 10 Plus, delivering all of the new features with an expansive display that is perfect for consuming content. At 6.5-inches and 21:9 aspect ratio, it makes watching movies a true cinematic experience. This is aided by the high-quality 2520×1080 LCD display that has been calibrated to deliver visually-stunning and color-accurate content.
It all comes in an impressive aluminum unibody that feels amazing in the hand. The trend for smartphones has been to go with glass, but Sony stuck with an aluminum body because it is both premium and durable. The rounded edges are only interrupted by a side-mounted fingerprint scanner that doubles as the power button that works instantly to unlock the phone.
Sony did something different in putting the bezel of the display all in the forehead instead of the chin or a notch, but that led to an odd look. It doesn’t get in the way and provides room for an LED notification light, something that’s rare nowadays, but it takes a while to get use to it. You also won’t be blown away by the camera. It takes good images in good light with nice detail and color, but the dynamic range isn’t the best and it can underexpose images at times.
- Expansive 21:9 display
- Sturdy aluminum unibody
- Side-mounted fingerprint scanner
- Odd-looking forehead
- Low-end Snapdragon 636 processor
- Camera is limited
Best Big Display
Sony Xperia 10 Plus
If you want a mid-tier device with a big screen, go with the Xperia 10 Plus
In a world where big screens are the norm, some people want the biggest screens possible. Luckily for them, devices like the Sony Xperia 10 Plus exist that deliver the big screen and way more in a premium body for the mid-tier market.
Want to save money on a smartphone? Setting a budget at $500 ensures that you will find the perfect device with the best features, all without spending a ton of money. Here’s when the door opens for devices with stunning designs, gorgeous displays, and even top-performing cameras.
The Samsung Galaxy S9 is the one that checks off everything on our wishlist for a $500 smartphone, largely due to happenstance. Samsung likes to discount its phones after release, so much so that a flagship device like the Galaxy S9 can sneak under the $500 threshold in under a year, delivering an unmatched experience. From the gorgeous display that can still compete with the best displays on the market to its high performing camera, the S9 is an absolute steal.
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Born and raised in Southern California, Danny grew up on a steady diet Pixar, Star Wars and Steven Spielberg movies. Unbeknownst to him, this was the catalyst for his interest in writing. Down the road, the colorful iPod Mini jumpstarted his interest in technology and has been glued to it ever since.
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Author: Danny Zepeda