24 Feb Best mid-range smartphones 2021: 8 highly recommended picks
Gone are the days of having to buy the very best phone to access high-end features. Nowadays, mid-range phones are often the easiest devices to recommend since they pack the perfect combination of value and performance.
Here at Trusted Reviews, we’ve reviewed a raft of phones that we consider fit into that mid-range space. Whether a device fits into that category isn’t really down to the features it carries, more its price. All these mid-range devices sit below the current crop of flagship-priced phones that come in around the £1000 mark – and following in-depth testing, we believe they offer a premium experience.
All the phones in this list have been put through their paces. This means we’ve used these devices as our main smartphone, porting across all that’s important, with our SIM inside. We look for more than just benchmarks, delving into the important real-world use of these devices too.
If you want a broader look at which Android phones are available, our best Android phone guide covers the spectrum of cheaper, mid-range and flagship devices. Prefer Apple? Our Best iPhone list is for you. For more budget options, head to our best cheap phones list.
1. OnePlus 8T
Another OnePlus winner
- Fast performance makes it ideal for gamers
- Great screen for movie watching
- Charges in 40 minutes
- Secondary cameras are behind Samsung and Apple for image quality
- No IP rating
- No Qi wireless charging
There are a lot of great mid-range options available right now – but our current favourite is the OnePlus 8T. It offers the perfect mix of price and features, with just about every aspect hitting the mark.
This is a truly fast phone, for a number of reasons. First, performance is ace thanks to the Snapdragon 865 chip, 5G and up to 12GB of RAM. Plus, its faster-than-average refresh rate screen makes it a great option for gamers. Playing PUBG and CoD Mobile, the combination of fast refresh rate and super-powerful chip made a huge difference to our reviewer’s K/O count. If that isn’t enough to tempt you, then the inclusion of Fast Charge tech will see battery jump from 0-100% in just 40 minutes.
The main 48-megapixel camera is a capable shooter – although you should opt for the Pixel 5, if the camera is key – and OnePlus has added an ultra-wide lens alongside a macro and monochrome unit too. Software is strong with Android 11 onboard, and you’ll likely see speedy updates, too.
Note that some features have had to be cut to meet the price. For example, there’s no IP rating and no wireless charging – but neither are deal breakers. If those two features are required, then the Galaxy S20 FE below packs them both.
2. Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
All the best S20 features, just cheaper
- Snapdragon 865 in the UK
- Lovely 120Hz panel
- Available in a nice array of colours
- Secondary cameras aren’t great
Although £699 might be pushing the definition of mid-range, when you have flagship devices costing double, it’s simply the situation we find ourselves in. Thankfully, Samsung has crammed many of its best flagship features into the Galaxy S20 FE, without making too many sacrifices.
The highlights here include an attractive 120Hz OLED flat panel offering punchy colours and deep blacks, 6GB of fast RAM and 128GB storage. You’ll also find a triple camera array on the rear of the device, which is headlined by an excellent 12-megapixel camera capable of capturing bright, detailed and intensely colourful photos. Through testing, we found it more than good enough for taking photos for use on social media and video-calling over Zoom. However, we’d still say the Pixel series offers the very best camera experience in this price bracket.
Samsung has also included plenty of features that are often ditched at this price, including Qi charging, an IP68 water-resistance rating and expandable storage.
The real star of the show here is the Snapdragon 865 chipset (there’s also a 4G Exynos 990 version available for £100 less), which not only gives the FE better performance than other European versions of the S20, but superior battery life, too. There’s 5G support to boot – although, as we found during testing, unless you live in an area with 5G coverage, the latter isn’t a huge selling point.
Finally, there’s the FE’s design. This isn’t quite as high-end as that of the S20, since the rear of the device is made of tough plastic rather than glass. But using it as my everyday phone, I found the matte finish attractive – and, unlike most glass-backed phones, it wasn’t a magnet for fingerprints. The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE is also available in a range of eye-catching colours, including a deep blue and striking red.
3. Google Pixel 5
A simple Pixel
- Best camera at this price
- Great battery life
- 90Hz screen
- Bland design
- Faster performance available elsewhere
The Pixel 5 might be Google’s flagship product, but in terms of pricing it remains a mid-range device. This £599 phone isn’t a performance champ like the OnePlus 8T; however, it does have plenty going for it.
For example, the camera is the best on this list by a sizeable margin. Testing it around London, we found the 12-megapixel main unit and 16-megapixel ultra-wide take excellent shots, with lovely colours and fantastic HDR. For the price, this the best camera around.
There’s good, if not class-leading performance, from the Snapdragon 765G chipset and 8GB of RAM, in addition to 5G and an attractive 90Hz OLED panel. Google also continues with luxuries such as a metal body, IP rating and wireless charging.
4. Motorola Edge
A great all-rounder with 5G
- Decent screen
- Great battery life
- Motorola’s software is great
- A little buggy
- Curved screen can be irritating
The Motorola Edge Plus may come packing the true high-end specs, but it is the Motorola Edge that feels the more interesting device. Like the OnePlus 8T which tops this list, the Edge provides 5G support.
Reviewing it, I found the Motorola Edge a striking phone, with it sporting a curved screen that droops heavily over the sides. While the curves makes it slightly more difficult to hold, particularly in the rain, the screen itself is decent. The OLED panel offers users FHD+ resolutions and HDR10 support, which made it one of the best handsets we’ve tested at this price for movie binging – especially if you’re paying extra for HDR quality on services such as Netflix.
Inside the phone sits a very capable Snapdragon 765 chipset, 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. An IP rating and wireless charging are lacking, though.
Using it daily, I found that battery life was great – as you’d expect from a 4500mAh cell, which is larger than the norm for a phone at this price.
You’ll find three cameras on the back, with the 64-megapixel main sensor capable of capturing some excellent photos. Motorola continues its run of delivering a decent software provision here, with nice gestures and handy additions.
5. Google Pixel 4a
A mix of the 4a and 5
- Great camera that’s the same as the Pixel 5
- Bigger display than the Pixel 5
- Decent performance and 5G
- Design a bit bland
- The Pixel 5 packs in more features for not much more money
Sitting bang in the middle of Google’s 2020 range of Pixel phones is the 4a 5G. It’s very much a mixture of the 4a and 5 models, combining the design of the former with the camera and 5G support of the latter.
It’s the biggest of the Pixels, too, coming with a 6.2-inch display. This OLED panel looks great, even if we do wish it had a 90Hz refresh rate. It’s missing wireless charging too, and an IP rating which are two features often missed at this price. Other specs include a 765G Snapdragon chipset, 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. It runs Android 11.
Battery life during testing was good, but it’s the dual camera that really shines. It’s the same unit as included in Pixel 5, which means in tests it proved capable of taking super-detailed shots in all manner of conditions, including low light. If camera is your main focus then this should be very high on your list, especially if you don’t want to spend more on the Pixel 5.
6. LG Velvet
LG’s most tempting phone in some time
- Much-improved design
- Big, bright and colourful screen
- Headphone jack
- Only a 60Hz screen
- Some odd performance issues
The LG Velvet is the brand’s latest attempt at an upper mid-range device and it’s one of its most tempting from the Korean tech heavyweight in years, thanks to an improved design and the addition of 5G.
Like many phones we’ve seen this year, the Velvet is powered by the very capable Snapdragon 765G chipset. And while this device isn’t the fastest around, especially next to the Galaxy S20 FE and OnePlus 8T, it will still get the job done. In addition, it offers a 5G modem, so if you have the right network and contract then you’ll benefit from those faster data speeds.
Other highlights include a big, bright and colourful display along with an actual 3.5m port for plugging in your headphones. You can even tack on the Dual Screen case to expand your view across two displays.
7. iPhone SE 2
A fast and cheaper iPhone
- Excellent performance
- Good cameras for most people
- Great software that won’t confuse non-techies
The iPhone SE 2 is a simple device. It looks very much like the iPhone 7 or 8, but it has the internals of the newer iPhones. It’s fast, packs a good camera and okay battery life.
What really sets this phone apart from other handsets on this list is its size. This is a small phone, whose screen we found was atypically easy to use one-handed during testing.
The SE 2 comes with a physical Touch ID home button, too. Other features worth noting include an IP67 rating, wireless charging and it’s available in an eye-catching red colour, too.
If you’re on the hunt for an iPhone and your budget is less than £500, this really is your only choice if you’re looking new. Of course, there’s also the iPhone 12 Mini available for £699 – however the smaller size might put some off.
8. Xiaomi Mi Note 10
A lot of hardware at a value price
- Smoothly curved glass front and back
- Great zoom cameras
- High-quality 108-megapixel main sensor
- Camera is slow
- Protruding camera housing
- Some software quirks
- Low-light images aren’t best in class
The Xiaomi Mi Note 10 is a mid-range phone with some high-end device design traits. It packs five cameras including a main 108-megapixel sensor, and a generously sized battery that will happily see you through a day.
In some areas, the Xiaomi Mi Note 10 is made to the same standard as a phone costing twice as much. Its sides are metal, and both the front and rear of the device are substantial, curved pieces of glass. There’s no plastic border between the metal and glass, which is highly unusual for a phone costing less than £600.
The Mi Note 10 has a 6.47-inch screen, an OLED panel with a 2340 x 1080 pixel resolution – which is an excellent inclusion for the money. You may find larger screens elsewhere, but you won’t find much better – particularly if the curvy front appeals. Day-to-day, the handset delivered technically sound performance, as you’d hope from a device with a good CPU and 6GB of RAM.
Most of the cameras that feature on the Mi Note 10’s rear are impressive. There’s a 2x zoom, a 3x zoom lens that the phone crops into for 5x images, an ultra-wide unit and a dedicated macro. In our tests, we concluded that only the macro sensor was dud – in almost all situations, the other cameras offered better results. Normal shots were packed full of detail; 108-megapixel shots even more so. We found the camera was unusually good at dealing with the light levels of tricky scenes such as sunsets. However, the camera is also where you’ll discover the Xiaomi Mi Note 10’s most significant performance issues. It’s slow; there’s shutter lag of around half a second, and image processing takes a long time.
How do we select the best mid-range smartphones?
As with any of our other best mobile phone rankings, this list reflects the best that the current smartphone market has to offer, taking into account constraints such as price and feature set. To earn its place in our lineup, each phone undergoes a TR review – we slip in our SIM cards and use each phone as our main device solidly for a week at the very least.
We test performance and battery life claims with both real-world and artificial benchmarks, trial new features and cast a careful eye over every advantage and flaw that these phones possess. The result is a clear, concise review of the latest smartphones to help make your buying decision as easy as possible.
If you’re still unsure, check out our list of the best budget phones.
- Contact via Twitter
- Contact via Instagram
Deputy and mobile editor
Max Parker is the Deputy Editor for Trusted Reviews and Recombu. He also directly manages Trusted Reviews’ mobile, wearables and tablet sections. Max joined Trusted Reviews as a features writer in 201…
- Contact via Twitter
- Contact via Instagram