GSMArena smartphone shopping guide: November 2013
€200 - €300
Now that we're done with the budget options, we've come to the sweet spot for mass market smartphones. They have HD screens, fast chipsets, 1080p video cameras and enough features overall to satiate all but the geekiest of geeks and power users.
The single-SIM version of the Sony Xperia M didn't make the cut in the previous chapter, but the Xperia M dual is a capable, pretty dual-SIM Android phone. Compared to the Xperia L it has a slightly smaller screen (4" vs. 4.3"), but the emphasis here is on a compactness.
It has the same chipset and while the still camera is a 5MP shooter, the video camera only goes up to 720p. Keep in mind that neither the M or L have great cameras.
This category also houses a few aging (if one-year-old counts as aging) flagships, starting with the Nokia Lumia 920. It doesn't have the monster camera of the Lumia 1020, but it's still a good 8MP / 1080p shooter with optical image stabilization.
Apart from the camera, the specs on the Lumia 920 and 1020 are virtually identical and you'll get the same software. Yes, you do get an LCD rather than AMOLED, but it's among better LCDs we've seen. The 920 may be bulky, but at least it doesn't have the camera hump on the back. Plus, the price difference between the two is big enough to buy a real camera - the Lumia 1020 is more than twice the price of the 920.
The Oppo R819 is another dual-SIM Android and while it's pricier than the Xperia M dual, it compensates with a better screen - a 4.7" 720p LCD. It also has a better camera - 8MP with 1080p video capture. Better still, it's features a stunningly thin 7.3mm body. Despite the slender build, the phone packs a 2,000mAh battery.
The MediaTek chipset with quad-core Cortex-A7 and PowerVR SGX544 GPU is not our favorite, but is certainly fast enough. The only complaint we have here is that the storage is fixed at 16GB.
We mentioned size before and it is indeed an important consideration - some people won't buy a 5" phone even if they can afford it. The Samsung Galaxy S4 mini is one of the more compact smartphone offerings, as it's barely bigger than an iPhone 5s but manages to fit in a 4.3" screen. It has qHD resolution so it's not Retina-sharp, but it's a Super AMOLED, which has its share of fans.
The Snapdragon chipset with two Krait cores running at 1.7GHz with 1.5GB RAM and Adreno 305 provides plenty of processing power for the class and the phone runs a recent Android 4.2 version. The 8MP camera with 1080p video capture stacks up very well against similar cameras.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 mini comes in LTE and dual-SIM versions too, but those are a bit pricy right now.
The Sony Xperia SP balances advanced features and affordability. It has a sharp 4.6" 720p screen and it's almost the same size as a Moto X. Speaking of which, the SP uses a similar chipset to the Moto X with two Krait 200 CPU cores and an Adreno 320 GPU (much more powerful than a 305). It only has 1GB of RAM, though.
The phone has an 8MP camera that records 1080p video, LTE connectivity, 8GB of expandable storage and a sealed 2,370mAh battery. And as with other Xperia phones, the SP's design is quite cool.
The Huawei Ascend Mate is the cheapest worthwhile phablet - it has a big 6.1" screen of 720p resolution, a Huawei-made chipset (quad-core Cortex-A9) and runs Android 4.1, upgradeable to 4.2. The Mate has a huge battery - 4,050mAh - which performed great in our battery test.
The phablet also packs an 8MP camera with 1080p video capture and 8GB of expandable memory. Phablets are a growing segment and offer a large screen for browsing, document editing and gaming along with impressive battery life.
Sometimes smart money is on a former flagship - having been replaced, its price has dropped significantly, but it's still a premium device. The Samsung Galaxy S III is one such phone. It's fairly compact for its 4.8" Super AMOLED screen with 720p resolution and has a very good 8MP / 1080p camera.
The Exynos chipset with four Cortex-A9 CPU cores and Mali-400 is the stuff of geeks' dreams that it used to be, but performs well for a midranger. It runs Android 4.1 and has already started receiving its 4.3 update. The 2,100mAh battery is not huge by today's standards, but you get decent endurance out of it. The 16GB of expandable storage gives you plenty of room for multimedia.
The Huawei Ascend P6 has a stunningly thin 6.2mm body and pleasant metallic back. Design is a strong suit for this one, even if it goes too far with the iPhone obsession. It has a 4.7" 720p screen, Huawei's quad Cortex-A9 chipset and an 8MP camera with 1080p video capture. Despite the slender build, the P6 has a decent 2,000mAh Li-Po battery and even expandable storage.
The Huawei Ascend P6 can be a good introduction to Android for former iPhone users who want a bigger screen - it's thin, light, attractive, and made of good materials, plus the custom Emotion UI is highly customizable and iOS-like at its base. Better still, it's not a huge financial risk to try.
The Nexus 4 is not as cheap as it is Stateside, but it is still a great package for its class. It has a 4.7" WXGA screen and comes with a powerful for its class Snapdragon S4 Pro chipset. Better still, fast Android updates (to stock Android no less) are guaranteed for at least a few years.
The 8MP / 1080p camera isn't the best but it's passable. The bigger problem is the limited storage - 16GB with no expansion slot. That's not great for the price range. Battery life is also less than stellar. Still, pure Android fans don't have many options at this price point.