The best budget smartphones are the ones that don’t really make their compromises felt. There have been quite a few phones to fit the bill in recent years, including Huawei’s Lite models, the new Nokia range, and Xiaomi’s Redmi series.
Xiaomi is one name that repeatedly pops up when talking about budget phones, having a reputation as a leading value for money player. But you’d be forgiven for shrugging at the newly announced Redmi S2. After all, the company already has the Redmi 5/Note 5 family, the Redmi 5A, the Mi 6X, and Mi A1 in its extensive stable of affordable, yet handy phones. So what’s one more budget phone, right?
The Redmi S2 certainly warrants your attention, however, as it’s part of a new wave of affordable, capable smartphones.
For starters, the 999 yuan (~$157) phone offers a dual-camera setup (12MP plus 5MP), and a 16MP selfie shooter. Then there’s the performance department, featuring a mid-range Snapdragon 625 chipset, 3GB or 4GB of RAM, and 32GB or 64GB of storage.
It’s not unheard of to find dual cameras, high-resolution selfie shooters, or mid-weight internals on a sub-$200 smartphone. But Xiaomi manages the rare feat of combining all these features into one device. The company’s previous budget champ, the Redmi 5, comes in at a cheaper 799 yuan (~$126). It’s comparable to the Redmi S2 but lacks dual cameras, a high-res selfie snapper, and offers 2GB RAM/16GB storage at this price-point.
In terms of compromises, the Redmi S2’s weakest link might be the 6-inch screen, which is only 720p. But even here, Xiaomi has softened the blow by adding a tall 18:9 ratio. Fans of pixel-dense displays might be disappointed with the 269ppi screen, but several pricier phones are still using 720p displays anyway (e.g. Moto G6 Play, Asus Zenfone 4 Max).
The 3,000mAh battery is also par for the course on budget phones. Heck, even your average flagship phone has a battery size in this ballpark.
Xiaomi isn’t the only company putting out great wares for the budget market, as Huawei’s Honor 7A is another great bang-for-your-buck phone.
It’s even cheaper than the Redmi S2, at 799 yuan (~$127), but makes a few more compromises to reach this point. That means an older Snapdragon 430 chipset, 2GB of RAM on the entry-level variant, and an 8MP selfie camera. You’ve still got a stand-out budget phone though, offering a 5.7-inch 720p 18:9 display, 13MP plus 2MP dual camera pairing (it’s a single camera in the U.K.), and a rear fingerprint scanner.
Asus joined the race to the bottom last month as well. The company launched the Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1 in India, coming in at 10,999 rupees (~$163). And it certainly means business when you look at the spec sheet.
There’s a new, mid-range Snapdragon 636 processor, a 6-inch full HD 18:9 display, between 3GB and 6GB of RAM, 32GB to 64GB of storage, a rear fingerprint scanner, and a massive 5,000mAh battery that should put flagships to shame.
The camera department isn’t half bad either, serving up a dual-camera setup (13MP plus 5MP), an 8MP selfie snapper, and 4K recording capabilities.
The gap between flagship and budget is shrinking at a faster rate than ever before, as premium features (such as dual cameras and 18:9 screens) cascade into more affordable categories. Compromises will inevitably be made in order to reach lower price points — that’s just the way the industry works. But the Redmi S2, Honor 7A, Zenfone Max Pro M1 and others show that you don’t really need a flagship in 2018.