When your budget maxes out at $400, the Google Pixel 3a is the best phone you can get. That’s because it offers the same core experience as the higher-end Pixel 3, which costs nearly twice as much. You get the same software and features, and the exact same camera experience. The only shortcomings come in the hardware and a couple of the specs — a fine trade-off to save hundreds of dollars.
Best Overall — Google Pixel 3a
The Pixel 3a strikes a really good balance between hardware, specs and experience. Yes it’s made out of plastic, but it’s really well executed. Yes it has cut specs compared to the Pixel 3, but it fits right in with the phones at this price. Its features, too, match the competition. But unlike the other phones, the Pixel 3a has great Google software that’s filled with nice little features and guaranteed to get updates for years.
But what really sets the Pixel 3a apart from the competition at this price is its camera. Where it’s completely acceptable for a sub-$400 phone to have an “okay” or “capable” camera, the Pixel 3a has an outstanding camera — because it’s the exact same as the high-end Pixel 3. That means you’re not only getting far and away the best camera at $400, you’re getting one of the best cameras period. Even the selfie camera is directly comparable to the Pixel 3’s, which is one area where mid-range phones typically cut costs.
- Flagship-level camera
- Simple and useful software
- Guaranteed software updates
- Cheap feeling plastic build
- Weak battery life
Google Pixel 3a
$400 at Amazon
A core Pixel 3 experience — and camera — for hundreds less.
The Pixel 3a is Google’s take on a mid-range phone, and it’s exceptional. It has the same software, feature and camera experience as the much more expensive Pixel 3, and strategically cuts back in the hardware and specs to hit an enticing price point.
Runner Up — Nokia 7.1
The Nokia 7.1 feels the most complete and flagship-like of any of its phones, yet it’s affordable at about $300. It has surprisingly solid metal hardware, plus a big HDR display on the front and strong battery life from a 3060mAh cell. The hardware also has all of the nice-to-have features: a fingerprint sensor, headphone jack, and an SD card slot.
A Snapdragon 636 processor, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage are stout for today’s needs, and even into the future. And that’s important because Nokia’s Android One-based software will be updated frequently for the next couple of years.
Nokia’s cameras have traditionally been weak, and that’s no different with the 7.1. The 12MP + 5MP rear cameras get the job done, but this is one area that reminds you you’re using a less expensive phone.
The only real caveat to take into consideration here is that the Nokia 7.1 will not work on Verizon or Sprint. We recommend looking at one of Motorola’s recent affordable unlocked phones if you need compatibility with either one of those carriers.
- Fantastic build quality
- Big, colorful display
- Great battery life
- Android One software
- Questionable camera performance
- No Verizon or Sprint compatibility
- Getting old, limiting software update future
$350 at Amazon
A great all-around phone with everything you need in an affordable package.
Nokia knocked it out of the park with the new Nokia 7.1. It looks and feels like it belongs in a class above, and adds to that hardware with a gorgeous display, excellent battery life, and much more. Performance and camera quality can be a little questionable at times, but for just $350, you’re getting far more than your money’s worth.
Best for Less — Moto G7
The G7 checks all of the boxes for less than $300, with solid specs, great software performance and a good-looking screen in an attractive casing. You’re missing out on NFC and get just average battery life, but most people will take that trade-off. Motorola has practically defined this price segment since the original Moto G, and it’s clear why when you see the Moto G7.
And depending what country you’re buying in, you have a few other G7 model options with a bigger battery for a little more money or slightly scaled back features for an even more enticing price.
- Simple and useful software
- Big screen
- Capable cameras
- Uncertain software update future
- Weak battery life for its size
- No NFC
Best for Less
$300 at Amazon
A value leader for under $300.
It comes as no surprise at this point that the latest Moto G is an incredible value for anyone who has a max budget of $300. The G7 offers a big screen, solid performance, great software and attractive hardware for the price point. The only notable downside is squarely average longevity coming rom a relatively small 3000mAh battery.
Get it on sale — Moto Z3 Play
For the initial price of $499 the Moto Z3 Play didn’t have a chance, but for well under $400 it’s worth considering. The Mods may or may not be a huge draw for you, but even without them, this is a rock-solid phone with all of Motorola’s typical improvements, a good screen, solid performance, and strong battery life.
Later on down the road, you could add a couple Mods to your collection and make it feel fresh all over again.
Get it on sale
Moto Z3 Play
$400 at Amazon
A real competitor now that it’s available at a deep discount.
The Moto Z3 Play debuted at a far too high of a price, but with some price cuts that put it under $400, it’s a worthy competitor. It has impressively good build quality, Motorola’s little software touches, and a Mod ecosystem that’s appealing to some people.
Best Outside the U.S. — Honor 8X
Honor is a brand that often undercuts its competitors to gain market share, and you, the customer, benefit from that. The Honor 8X is a tremendous and powerful phone priced around £200, and you’ll love what it offers for that price.
The Honor 8X has a huge 6.5-inch display, nice-looking design, massive 3750mAh battery and capable cameras. It’s tough to argue with any of that when you’re spending this little.
Best Outside the U.S.
£190 at Amazon UK
A fantastic value device with a huge battery.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a phone with better value for your dollar (or pound, in this case) than the Honor 8X. Thanks to its massive 6.5-inch display, huge 3750mAh battery and 20MP camera, this is one heck of a phone.
The sub-$400 market is both extremely competitive and a little confusing, but there have never been more great options readily available. The Google Pixel 3a clearly stands out as the best possible value for the money at $400, because it’s based on the much higher-end (read: more expensive) Pixel 3. That means it has the same software, features and camera as the high-end Pixel 3, but at a considerable discount.
Sure it’s made of plastic, and the screen isn’t as nice, but at this price point you kind of expect those shortcomings. When it comes to the actual experience of using the phone on a day-to-day basis, those missing specs and features fade away and you just experience Google’s fantastic software and flagship-level camera.
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Daniel Bader is the Managing Editor of Android Central. As he’s writing this, a mountain of old Android phones is about to fall on his head, but his Great Dane will protect him. He drinks way too much coffee and sleeps too little. He wonders if there’s a correlation.
Andrew Martonik is the Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central. He has been a mobile enthusiast since the Windows Mobile days, and covering all things Android-related with a unique perspective at AC since 2012. For suggestions and updates, you can reach him at [email protected] or on Twitter at @andrewmartonik.