Summer’s almost over, school will be back and — what’s that, your kid needs a new smartphone? Whether you’re the parent of a high schooler or are a student getting ready to head back to college, having a trusty Android phone by your side can make life a lot easier. Here are a few of our top recommendations, including the Google Pixel 3a as our best overall pick.
Best Overall: Google Pixel 3a
For a student, one of the most important aspects when buying a new phone is buying something that’s reliable without being too expensive. Out of all the phones on the market right now, the one that strikes that balance the best is the Google Pixel 3a.
The Pixel 3a is the first mid-range phone Google’s released since it ushered in its Pixel series in 2016, and it just might be one of the best mid-range smartphones we’ve seen in quite a while — the biggest reason for this being the Pixel 3a’s camera.
Most mid-range phones have fine cameras, but the Pixel 3a captures photos that are just as good, if not better, than some flagships out there. Even with only one rear camera on a phone that costs this little, Google somehow managed to have it kick out genuinely stunning pictures.
Outside of the top-notch camera, the Pixel 3a also delivers a super clean build of Android 10, is first-in-line for guaranteed software updates through 2021, has a gorgeous AMOLED display, and a Snapdragon 670 processor that’s more than capable for every task you throw at it. Also included here is NFC for contactless payments with Google Pay and a 3.5mm headphone jack!
We do wish that the Pixel 3a came with expandable storage and had an official IP rating for dust/water resistance, but outside of those two little complaints, there’s not much else to dislike. Google knocked it out of the park with this one.
- Incredible camera
- Clean software
- Guaranteed updates
- Colorful AMOLED display
- Snappy Snapdragon 670 processor
- No expandable storage
- Isn’t officially water-resistant
Google Pixel 3a
- $334 at Amazon
- $400 at Best Buy
- $349 at Walmart
A near-perfect balance
Students, look no further than the Pixel 3a as your next phone. It has great specs and features, all at a reasonable price.
Best Alternative: TCL 10L
One of the more underrated smartphones currently available is the TCL 10L. TCL’s most well-known in the U.S. for its TVs, but with the 10L, it’s venturing into the Android landscape. The end result? A handset that packs a ton of features and specs with a surprisingly low price.
Seeing as how TCL has had a lot of years of experience with its TVs, one of the best parts about the 10L is its display. You get a 6.53-inch LCD panel with slim bezels and a Full HD+ resolution, but the story doesn’t stop there. TCL equipped the phone with its NXTVISION technology, giving you access to more vibrant and accurate colors. Simply put, this is one of the better displays you’ll find in this price range.
Under the hood is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 processor and 6GB of RAM, which translates to great performance for most tasks. You may see some occasional stutter here and there, but the overall experience is quite good. We’re also fans of the 64GB of internal storage, 4,000 mAh battery, NFC for Google Pay, and the customizable “Smart Key” that you can configure to perform just about any action you want.
- Crisp display with small bezels
- Fast enough for most tasks
- Large 4,000 mAh battery
- Has NFC for Google Pay
- Comes with a customizable button
- Mediocre cameras
- $250 at Amazon
- $250 at Best Buy
- $250 at B&H
A wonderful surprise
It’s OK if you haven’t heard of the TCL 10L until now — just make sure you don’t overlook it.
Best Battery: Moto G Power
If you’re after a reliable Android handset that has enough endurance to get you through your schoolwork, take a look at the Moto G Power. Motorola’s Moto G phones are always home to some of the best values the market has to offer, and the G Power is no exception.
The big draw to the Moto G Power is its 5,000 mAh battery, which can last for up to three days on a single charge. That’s downright incredible, and it could prove to be a lifesaver for especially hectic weeks at campus. When you do need to refuel, you do so with a handy USB-C charger.
Other specs for the phone are just as solid, including its 6.4-inch Full HD+ display, ample performance, three rear cameras, and the excellent software experience with fan-favorite features like Moto Display and Moto Actions. The lack of NFC for Google Pay is disappointing, but being able to use the Moto G Power on all major U.S. carriers helps to make up for it.
- Lasts up to three days on a single charge
- Full HD+ display looks great
- Three rear cameras
- Motorola’s excellent software
- Compatible with all U.S. carriers
- Doesn’t have NFC for Google Pay
- Only promised one Android update
Moto G Power
- $250 at Amazon
- $250 at Best Buy
- $249 at Walmart
Lots of value, lots of juice
The Moto G Power has a lot going for it. There’s the huge battery, fun cameras, great software, and more.
Best Flagship: OnePlus 8
We understand that most students aren’t looking to spend a tremendous amount of money when buying a phone, but if you want something that offers a high-end experience, the OnePlus 8 fits the bill perfectly. It is expensive, but it has all of the makings of an Android flagship while costing considerably less than similar handsets from the likes of Samsung and Apple.
Hardware-wise, the OnePlus 8 has a lot going for it. The design/build quality is outstanding, partly due to the eye-catching Interstellar Glow and Glacial Green colors that are available. The display is one of the best ones on the market, as the phone is outfitted with a 6.55-inch AMOLED panel with a 90Hz refresh rate. Other highlights include the three rear cameras, Snapdragon 865 processor, 8GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, and a beefy 4,300 mAh battery that supports blazing-fast 30W wired charging.
Making all of this that much better is the OnePlus 8’s software, which is OnePlus’s custom OxygenOS interface. Based on Android 10, OxygenOS has a super clean design, lots of extra customization options, and features like a Reading Mode and Gaming Mode that you don’t find in stock Android.
- Incredible design
- AMOLED 90Hz display looks outstanding
- Buttery smooth performance
- Software experience is top-notch
- 30W wired charging
- Isn’t easy on the wallet
- Lacks expandable storage
- $699 at Amazon
A premium experience through and through
The OnePlus 8 isn’t very cheap, but if you’re after a flagship Android phone, this is the one to get.
Best Low Cost: Nokia 5.3
Most students don’t have a lot of disposable income, meaning that expensive phones are typically off the table. There are plenty of options on this list that we’d deem very affordable, but if you’re trying to spend as little as possible while still getting a good user experience, we think the Nokia 5.3 is the best in these regards.
The phone looks a lot better than its price tag would suggest, featuring a modern design, sturdy build quality, and slim bezels surrounding the display. The back of the Nokia 5.3 is home to a fingerprint sensor and four rear cameras, which is darn impressive given its low price tag.
Speaking of impressive, the Nokia 5.3’s specs are pretty great. You get a Snapdragon 665 processor with 4GB of RAM (the same combo found in the Moto G Power), 64GB of expandable storage, a large 4,000 mAh battery, and even NFC for Google Pay. The phone ships with a clean build of Android 10 right out of the box, and looking ahead, you’re promised two years of major software updates and three years of monthly security updates — a huge perk if you plan on keeping your phone for a while.
- Sleek, modern design
- Impressive specs for the price
- Quad camera setup
- Has a fingerprint sensor
- NFC for Google Pay
- Display is only HD
Best Low Cost
- $199 at Amazon
Spend a little, get a lot
Keeping costs low is important when you’re a student. The Nokia 5.3 delivers every feature you could want while being super cheap.
Best Stylus: Samsung Galaxy Note 10
The Galaxy Note 9 was one of the best phones released last year, and the Galaxy Note 10 is an impressive successor. Note (hah!) that we’re recommending the smaller Note 10 as it’s easier to use in one hand, which is something many students will value.
Despite being smaller than the gargantuan Note 10+, the Note 10 still has all the specs you’d want from a flagship phone, including a massive 6.3-inch display, a Snapdragon 855 processor, 8GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, a triple-camera setup, and a massive 3,500 mAh battery.
Where things get exciting is when you factor in the Note 10’s S Pen. The S Pen can be used for writing notes, drawing, and even used as a remote shutter button or clicker for a presentation. The S Pen is an excellent tool for anyone, but when you take it into the classroom, that’s where its functionality shines.
- Fantastic Super AMOLED display
- Blazing fast Snapdragon 855 processor
- S Pen allows for a lot of functionality
- Big 3,500 mAh battery
- IP68 dust/water resistance
Samsung Galaxy Note 10
- $750 at Amazon
- $950 at Best Buy
- $950 at Walmart
From taking notes in class to drawing something for your art lesson, the Galaxy Note 10 is a phone unlike anything else.
Any of the Android phones on this list will serve a student well for this coming school season, but among all of them, we have to give our top recommendation to the Google Pixel 3a.
Google’s first attempt at making a mid-range Pixel device turned out to be a smash hit. The Pixel 3a might have a plastic design and a slower processor compared to its more expensive siblings, but the incredible camera, super clean software, and a surprisingly great AMOLED display make this a phone that’s genuinely enjoyable to use day in and day out.
Among all of that, though, another big reason the Pixel 3a stands out is because of its post-purchase support. Since this is a phone made by Google itself, it’s first-in-line ahead of every other Android phone to receive essential security patches and exciting software updates the second they’re released. That means you can hold onto the Pixel 3a for quite a few years and still get the best of what Android has to offer.
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Joe Maring Joe is Android Central’s Senior Editor. He loves talking about all things tech, but smart wearables are what get him really excited (just ask the drawer of smartwatches in his office). He also likes coffee and goes to Starbucks far too often. Have a tip? Send an email to [email protected] or hit him up on Twitter @JoeMaring1