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Nord, Moto G and Realme: The budget smartphone 5G revolution is already here

We’ve had 5G in the UK for over a year now. But it’s only recently that we’ve started seeing bargain devices start to offer the next-gen connectivity, and for me that’s a far more exciting development than any new flagship with the tech.

Three of the most exciting to grace our desk so far have been the OnePlus Nord, Moto G 5G Plus and Realme X50. The Moto G 5G Plus and Realme X50 are two phones that cost a mere £299, yet they bat so far above their price-range that it almost feels unfair. The OnePlus Nord costs a little bit more at £379, but it offers a svelte design and an OLED, rather than an LCD, display.

These three devices are ideal entry points if you’re eager to try 5G without splashing out £500+ for something like the LG Velvet or even more on the Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus.

All three phones are built upon the same chipset, and pack feature lists that have many similarities. They focus on the basics, ditching luxurious additions like IP ratings and wireless charging. The Snapdragon 765G enables the 5G and it’s a very capable chip you’ll find in phones far pricier than these. It might not produce benchmarks scores that’ll match the flagship Snapdragon 865, but in real-world use, there’s enough grunt here to make the phones feel fast.

Related: OnePlus Nord vs OnePlus 8

But what’s really impressive is that, unlike many cheap phones, the new wave of affordable 5G handsets aren’t one trick ponies. They all offering loads of other high-end features that make for very complete devices. Both the OnePlus Nord and Moto G 5G Plus have 90Hz displays, while the X50 goes a step further to 120Hz. I think adding this is great for a cheaper device, as it makes the phones feel that bit faster when you’re scrolling and swiping. Every little helps, as they say.

You’ll find 30w charging on the Realme X50 and OnePlus Nord, while the 20w charging on the Moto G 5G Plus doesn’t take much over 90 minutes to give the beefy 5000mAh battery a full charge. Again, this feels like a feature that probably would have been reserved for top-tier devices in another year.

There are, of course, still reasons to pay more if you want to. I have been shooting with the Moto and Realme for the past week and while the 48MP cameras on both are good, they’re nothing more than that. That’s fine, and a trade-off that you’re going to have to make – unless you’re talking Google or Apple, you still need to pay top-dollar for truly excellent optics. The OnePlus Nord uses the same camera, again 48MP, as the OnePlus 8 and we weren’t huge of that in our review.

You’ll also notice a slightly cheaper feeling phone if you pay less than £300. These two are plasticky and smudgey, with neither feeling thin or svelte. Again, it’s a worthwhile sacrifice.

Related: Best cheap phones

The outlier in this equation is the Pixel 4a – a phone that has been rumoured to be released every month since May. If the rumours are true, the Pixel 4a is going to, on paper, feel severely lacking against these competitors. 5G looks unlikely, 60Hz is set to be the display refresh rate of choice and I doubt Google will push up the charging standard further than what we have on the Pixel 4.

But then the Pixel 4a will likely sell itself on an unmatched camera at its price and quick software updates. Is a flagship camera worth more to you than 5G that might not work where you live or a display that refreshes a bit quicker? It’s a tough question that has become even tougher after being so impressed by the Moto G 5G Plus and Realme X50. Still, I remain very excited about Google’s affordable offering.

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