Which is the best mid-priced phone you can buy?
While there’s a general understanding of what mid-range means in relation to smartphones, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the definition has undergone something of a transformation in recent years.
This is due primarily to the sheer competition waged between modern phone makers. As phones like the iPhone XS and Galaxy Note 10 series from Samsung get more expensive, the gap between the price ranges widens.
The result is a richly competitive mid-range space offering an impressive amount of bang for your buck from a number of established manufacturers.
With this in mind, we’ve tested the best mid-rangers out there right now and compiled this list so you can get the right phone for you. Read on for a full look at each model.
- Best value flagship: Xiaomi Mi 9
- Best performance: OnePlus 7T
- Best for features: Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro
- Best camera: Google Pixel 3a
- Best for GoPro fans: Moto One Action
- Best for gaming: Red Magic 3
How we select the best mid-range smartphones
Just as with any of our other best mobile phone rankings, this list is designed to reflect the best that the current smartphone market has to offer, taking into account constraints like price and feature set. We review every phone we consider before it can be placed in a line-up such as this, slipping our SIM cards in and using each phone as our main device solidly for a week at the very minimum.
We test claims on performance and battery life with both real-world and artificial benchmarks, and we trial new features and cast a careful eye over every facet and flaw that these phones might possess – all in the pursuit of providing a clear, concise review of the latest smartphones, to make your buying decision as easy as possible.
If you are still not sure, check out our list of the best budget phones.
Related: Best mobile phone deals
1. Xiaomi Mi 9
Best budget flagship of 2019
- Versatile camera experience
- Superb value for money
- Fantastic performance
- Excellent screen
- Slightly temperamental fingerprint sensor
- No IP certification
The Xiaomi Mi 9 is unquestionably formidable. It has Qualcomm’s latest and greatest chipset, the Snapdragon 855, plus it packs in all sorts of other goodies including fast wireless charging, HDR visuals and a triple rear camera array, headed up by a 48-megapixel primary sensor.
The Mi 9 embodies the Daft Punk sentiment of Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger, albeit with less of the cool factor that its rival, the similarly priced OnePlus 7, has accumulated over the years.
The Mi 9 is able to go up against the might of Apple and Samsung for a lot less, and that’s something to keep in mind when you’re searching for a new smartphone.
- Read our full Xiaomi Mi 9 review
2. OnePlus 7T
An excellent bit of hardware
- Super smooth Fluid AMOLED screen
- Speedy charging
- Powerful performance
- Camera still not industry leading
If you don’t fancy the Mi 9, the OnePlus 7 is your next best option. The phone uses the same Snapdragon 855 chipset as the Xiaomi, can be specced with up to 8GB of RAM and has impressively long-lasting battery life.
Based on its appearance and performance, it’s essentially a halfway-house between last year’s OnePlus 6T and this year’s OnePlus 7 Pro. You get an improved in-display fingerprint sensor, a dewdrop front-facing camera set into a beautiful OLED screen and a precision-engineered glass and metal body, along with signature OnePlus traits like its Oxygen OS user experience, 20W Fast Charge tech and a physical alert slider.
You lose out on the Pro’s swanky 90Hz display, triple rear camera and 30W Warp Charge capabilities but this phone still performs like a champ and would serve you well over a couple of years or potentially more thanks to OnePlus’s commitment to software updates.
- Read our full OnePlus 7T review
3. Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro
An excellent, affordable smartphone that’s easy to recommend
- Excellent design
- Great camera
- Snappy performance
- The interface has some quirks
- No waterproofing
- No wireless charging
Looking at the new Mi 9T Pro and its specs, it all seems too good to be true. With this model, Xiaomi is going after the Honor 20 and OnePlus 7 , combining flagship specs and slick design with a mid-range price. Unlike the competition, however, the Mi 9T Pro has a headphone jack, not to mention a Super AMOLED Full HD+ full-screen display, meaning there are no notches or hole punches in sight. The phone costs just £399 and is significantly better than any other similarly priced devices packing flagship specs.
The Mi 9T Pro delivers an excellent gaming experience and performance in general. Thanks to a Snapdragon 855 processor coupled with 6GB RAM, the phone powers through benchmarks and games alike. While it doesn’t quite stack up to dedicated 2019 gaming phones from a numbers point of view, it isn’t far behind, and compared to the best of 2018 – the Razer Phone 2 and ROG Phone, the Mi 9T Pro wins out.
The software is the worst thing about this phone, and even this is still perfectly useable. The phone’s annoying quirks, for example, include scanning for viruses every time you install an app. While this sounds great, it doesn’t merely scan in the background; it takes you to a different screen. You can remove this feature, however, and also reinstate an applications tray with a custom launcher, two things we did – after which the experience went from a 60% to a 90%, but if you’re not prepared to tweak the UI to suit you, some elements might get a bit frustrating.
If you need a new phone that won’t break the bank, it’s a no-brainer. The Xiaomi Mi 9T is one of the easiest phones out now to recommend, combining exceptional value for money with a premium, accessible design, powerful internals and a very good stills and video camera. The phone’s all-screen display and under-display fingerprint scanner are also highlights at this price, and the fact it has a headphone jack makes it something of a unicorn among flagship-specced devices in 2019.
- Read our full Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro review
4. Google Pixel 3a
The perfect antidote to the £1000 smartphone
- The best camera you’ll find at this price
- The best screen you’ll find at this price
- Great size
- Headphone jack
- No IP certification
- Lack of wireless charging
There’s so much to like about the Google Pixel 3a and it’s comfortably one of the best phones you can buy for £399.
The highlight here is the camera. Like the much pricier Pixel 3, the 3a packs a 12-megapixel f/1.8 camera with a load of Google’s excellent AI software on board. You’ll find phones with more megapixels out there but unless you end up paying a lot more you won’t get a camera that can take snaps this good.
Camera aside, the Pixel 3a packs a glorious screen too. It’s an OLED panel with punchy colours, excellent viewing angles and no notch to speak of.
Sacrifices are made in some areas and if you want every spec and feature going you’ll probably want to pick up something else – the Xiaomi Mi 9, for example. There’s no IP rating or wireless charging, the mid-range Snapdragon 670 chipset is merely OK and the body is made of plastic.
- Read our Google Pixel 3a review
5. Moto One Action
A solid affordable Android with an unusual GoPro-like action camera feature
- Neat action camera feature
- Bright, good-looking screen
- Enough power
- Fairly large punch hole
- Plastic back
- Camera is not a revelation
The Motorola One Action is an affordable Android phone with the added unusual feature of a super-stabilised wide-angle action camera. This lets you shoot very smooth-looking footage while running or cycling.
If this isn’t your main priority, it’s worth noting that this is a solid phone and, at £219, offers a great alternative to value-packed Honor and Huawei phones – particularly if lingering question marks over those brands’ long-term Android support worry you.
Battery life could be a little better, however, and its build is not as impressive as the G7 Plus. The Motorola One Action’s screen is mostly excellent, with just a couple of irritations. The big punch hole limits how much of the display can be used for video, although this is app-specific, and the Motorola One Action’s auto brightness mode is another quibble. You might also expect the Motorola One Action to run perfectly, given its stripped-back software, but it’s not quite perfect at launch, and there were a few little glitches and moments of misbehaviour in the camera app. These all seem minor issues, though, that will soon be ironed out with a software update or two.
The Motorola One Action’s most unusual feature is the ultra-stabilised wide-angle action-cam-style video. Compared to the standard camera, which already has pretty solid software stabilisation, the improvement is real. This action camera feature removes most of the up-down swaying you get when shooting video when running, or even walking. The effect is almost as smooth as that of a low-end gimbal, which actively controls the position of the camera, counteracting any minor movements you make while still letting you pan around. There’s less judder than with the normal camera and while the video is a little soft, it’s perfectly usable.
Some of the Motorola One Action’s supposed advancements are slightly thin but this does seem a more well-rounded phone than the spec-hungry One Vision. And, while the action camera won’t appeal to everyone, you can’t go far wrong here – although Motorola’s own phones offer compelling alternatives if great battery life or a high-end feel are top priorities.
- Read our full Moto One Action review
6. Red Magic 3
One of the best-value gaming smartphones out there right now, backed up an assortment of interesting accessories
- Great gaming accessories
- Massive battery capacity
- Fan keeps phone cool
- Incredibly good value
- Superb performance
- Refresh rate not as good as pricier rivals
- Enormous size makes typing awkward
- Camera lacks versatility
This handset is by no means lacking in specs – rocking a Snapdragon 855 processor, up to 12GB RAM and an Adreno 640 GPU but creator Nubia included one extra feature to blow its competitors away, fitting a turbo fan for active cooling. Throw in an enormous battery, built-in capacitive shoulder triggers, an RGB light strip and a fiercely competitive price, and you’ve got one of the very best gaming smartphones currently available.
The 6.65-inch display may make the Red Magic 3 a struggle to squeeze into the pocket of your skinny jeans but it does ensure a lovely widescreen visual feast. And with a 90Hz refresh rate, the Red Magic 3 provides a super-smooth visual performance for fast-paced games. This grants it a big advantage over the likes of the Black Shark 2, which can only muster 60Hz, but can’t quite match up to the 120Hz panels utilised by both the Razer Phone 2 and the forthcoming Asus ROG Phone 2.
The internal turbo fan may seem like an odd addition to a smartphone, but Nubia claims that pairing the fan with the phone’s liquid cooling tech improves CPU clock speeds drastically compared to passively cooled gaming phones. This showed in our results as the Red Magic 3 suddenly started seeing even better processing scores than the Black Shark 2. It also prevents the phone from becoming uncomfortably hot to hold and the noise is so faint it’s unlikely to distract, especially if you’re plugged in using headphones or enjoying loudspeaker audio from the decent pair of front-facing stereo speakers.
Nubia has launched a pair of controllers with the Red Magic 3, as well as a case that lets you clip them onto each side of the phone and the Red Magic Adapter, which clips onto the phone’s Gaming Port and allows you to hook up an Ethernet cable for a more reliable internet connection. The adapter has a headphone jack and USB-C port, which is incredibly useful since clipping on the controllers will block the original ports on the handset. At £41.90, however, only hardcore mobile gamers need apply.
With ultra-powerful components running the show, the Red Magic 3 is easily one of the most powerful Android phones out there right now, and our pick for the best mid-range phone for gaming.
- Read our full Red Magic 3 review
Still not sure what to buy?
- Best Android phone – our guide to the latest and best Android-specific phones
- Best Samsung phone – what’s what in the world of Samsung
- Best budget phone – what to buy if cost is a consideration
- Best camera phone – phone snappers ranked for you
- Best Apple iPhone – our guide to the right iPhone for you
- Best phablet/big phone – our guide to the best of the bigger phones
- Best smartphone – where to start