The TechPP Buying Guide is a section where we try to provide you with the best product and service options in certain price bands, relying more on common sense and our own experience than on benchmarks and spec sheets. The guide will be updated every month.
It is perhaps the most competitive price band in smartphones, the one that lies between the beginners and the big players. And it is choc-a-bloc with a number of devices from several brands. But which is the smartphone to go for if your budget is less than Rs 20,000 or approximately USD 350? We try to figure out that one for you.
Before we get into the details, let’s have a look at the top smartphones competing in this category:
- Lenovo Z2 Plus
- LeEco Le Max 2
- Lenovo P2
- Moto G4 Plus
- Xiaomi Redmi Note 4
- Honor 6X
- Lenovo Vibe Shot
- Oppo F1s
- Xiaomi Mi Max Prime
- Asus Zenfone 3 Max
- Coolpad Cool 1
Best camera phone under Rs 20,000: Lenovo Vibe Shot
There are some very strong contenders out here as the camera quality in phones improves significantly as you move up the price ladder. In terms of sheer megapixel count, we are well into the 20.0-megapixel plus category here, with the Moto X Play (Rs 15,499), the Meizu MX 5 (if available) and the LeEco Le Max 2 (Rs 17,999), all of which have 21.0-megapixel cameras – we are sort of inclined towards the Le Max 2 because of its staggeringly good hardware in other departments (Snapdragon 820 chip, 4 GB RAM, and a magnificent 5.7 inch quad HD display). But stealing a march over them are the dual camera duo of the Coolpad Cool 1 (Rs 13,999), which comes with dual 13.0-megapixel cameras, a 5.5-inch full HD display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 652 chip, and 4 GB RAM, and the recently released Honor 6X (Rs 15,999), which has a 12.0-megapixel and 2.0-megapixel rear camera, and has a 5.5-inch full HD display, 4 GB RAM, 64 GB storage and is powered by a Kirin 655 processor (it also has a 3 GB/ 32 GB variant priced at Rs 12,999, which also has the same camera setup).
A very honourable mention also needs to be of the very fast 16.0-megapixel snapped on the Moto G4 Plus, which is a standout performer at its price point of Rs 13,999 and also brings with it the goodness of stock Android and a 5.5-inch full HD display, as well as Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 processor backed up by 3 GB RAM.
For those who love selfies, there is the Vivo V5 (Rs 16,999) which comes with a 20.0-megapixel front facing camera, the Oppo F1S (Rs 16,999), the self-proclaimed “selfie expert” which comes with a 16.0-megapixel one and the Gionee S6s (Rs 14,900) which has an 8.0-megapixel front facing camera with a much-advertised front facing flash. All three devices sport 5.5-inch displays, but we think some people will not be too impressed by the 720p resolutions on the Oppo F1S and the Vivo V5, as well as the MediaTek processors on them. The Gionee S6s throws in a full HD display. If we had to pick one of the three for selfie supremacy, we could go with the Oppo F1S, which was the most consistent of the lot and also had a lot of editing options too. However, in terms of a good phone with a good selfie camera, we think the Gionee S6s has the edge, although the Vivo V5’s 4 GB RAM makes it a smooth performer too. Another option to consider is the 13.0-megapixel front shooter on the Nubia N1 (Rs 11,999), although that has a tendency to over saturate and make everything pink. It is powered by a MediaTek Helio P10 processor, 3 GB RAM, and 32 GB storage and has a very good 5.5 inch full HD display and a very big 5000 mAh battery.
But if we had to recommend a phone purely on the basis of photography muscle to someone in this price band, we would go – surprise – to an old favorite: the Lenovo Vibe Shot. Launched in 2015, it sported a very good 16.0-megapixel rear shooter and a very innovative shooting interface. In hardware terms, it came with a 5.0-inch full HD display and was powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 processor (which worked remarkably well) and had 3 GB RAM and 32 GB storage. It had a dedicated camera button and also a button that let you switch from auto to pro mode. And at its current price of Rs 16,500, it remains THE phone to get for anyone who wants a good phone with a point and shoot level shooter. Oh, and it looks gorgeous too. Notch a win for the veteran here.
Mind you, if you want a newer device, then we would ask you to consider the Honor 6X, which delivers some seriously good photography at its price point. The Coolpad Cool 1 runs it close, too. Check our detailed camera comparison.
Best multimedia phone under Rs 20,000: LeEco Le Max 2
Full HD displays are pretty much the rule in this price tag, so what do you recommend for someone who values great sight and sound? Well, we are handing this one to the LeEco Le Max 2 (Rs 17,999), which sports a 5.7-inch quad HD display and also comes with continual digital lossless audio (CDLA), which delivers a terrific viewing experience and also great sound, albeit through its own USB Type-C headphones (which have to be purchased separately – and hey, there’s no 3.5 mm audio jack on this one). Round that off with its flagship level hardware (Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, 4 GB RAM and 32 GB storage, 21.0-megapixel rear camera) and it is easily the best option out there.
Those looking for an alternative (or concerned about rumors surrounding the company’s well-being and its availability) with perhaps a larger display (the better to watch videos, m’dear) can consider the Xiaomi Mi Max Prime (Rs 19,999), which comes with a massive 6.44 inch full HD display, and is powered by the decently powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 652 processor with 4 GB RAM and a staggering 128 GB of storage (expandable too!). No, it does not quite match the sound quality of the Le Max 2 but it is no mug either and that huge display and storage (not to mention a massive 4850 mAh battery) make it a compelling option for viewing videos and films.
Those looking for a “brand” can consider the Samsung Galaxy J Max (Rs 13,499), which sports a 7.0-inch display, but does not really pack the sort of punch that the others in this section do – that display is a 720p HD one, and the phone comes with a Cortex A7 processor, 1.5 GB RAM and just 8 GB of storage. Yes, it is a big display, but nothing more than that (although it does come with a 4000 mAh battery that lasts almost 3 days). That clearly shows the sheer lack of options from top tier brands in this price segment.
Best phone for gaming and multitasking: Lenovo Z2 Plus
It did not quite do for Lenovo what the Mi 3 did for Xiaomi, but we think the Lenovo Z2 Plus is an excellent phone for its price tag of Rs 17,499 (after the recent price cut). Yes, we know some will prefer the quad HD display of the Le Max 2 (Rs 17,599) and others will point to the larger display of the Xiaomi Mi Max Prime (Rs 19,999), and that both of those worthies come with 4 GB of RAM and good processors.
However, we are of the opinion that more compact devices are better for gaming as they allow you to reach controls more easily and the Z2 Plus’ 5.0-inch full HD display enables it to have a very compact frame. And of course, that Snapdragon 820 processor, 4 GB RAM, and 64 GB storage combination ensure that you have a terrific gaming experience and switch between tasks effortlessly. If we had to pick an alternative, we would go for the Xiaomi Mi Max Prime ahead of the LeEco Le Max 2, as the former is likely to get an update soon that will enable split window operations, which multi-taskers love.
Best battery life: Lenovo P2
There are quite a number of devices with batteries of 4000 mAh and more in this price point, but the battle for the best is between the recently released Lenovo P2 (Rs 16,999) which has a massive 5100 mAh battery supported by quick charging (it actually works faster than OnePlus’ much-talked-of Dash Charge) and the Xiaomi Mi Max Prime (Rs 19,999), which comes with a 4850 mAh battery. Both easily saw off a week of use with just 2-3 charges. In terms of performance, we found not too much separating the two, although we think those preferring heavy duty gaming and/or bigger displays will prefer the Mi Max Prime with its Snapdragon 652 processor and 4 GB RAM combination, which just edges out the Snapdragon 625 processor and 4 GB RAM blend on the P2. However, if just battery life is the main issue, we would go with the P2, as the general performance of both devices is about the same. And not to mention, useful additions like Rapid charging, Theater Max support, super AMOLED display and more on the P2.
Also worthy of mentions here are the Asus Zenfone 3 Max (Rs 17,999), and comes with a 4100 mAh battery as well as a 5.5-inch full HD display, and is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 processor, 3 GB RAM and 32 GB storage; the Redmi Note 4 (Rs 12,999) which packs in a 4100 mAh battery aided by the power efficient Snapdragon 625 processor and comes with 4 GB RAM and 64 GB storage, as well as the Nubia N1 (Rs 11,999), which has a 5000 mAh battery as well as a 5.5-inch full HD display and is powered by a MediaTek Helio P10 processor with 3 GB RAM, and has rather versatile 13.0-megapixel cameras on the front and rear. However, these worthies are not performers in the league of the P2 and the Mi Max.
Best UI/Easy to use: Moto G4 Plus and Lenovo Z2 Plus
When it comes to user interface (UI), it really boils down to stock Android against the rest of the players and for those who love pure Android, well, the Moto G4 Plus (Rs 13,999) pretty much is the runaway winner here, as it not only runs Android without any adulteration but is also a very good device if not exactly as high-end as some of the others mentioned before – it has a 5.5-inch full HD display and is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 processor, 3 GB RAM, 32 GB storage (expandable) and also has a very good 16.0-megapixel rear camera, and a 3000 mAh battery which generally sees off a day of heavy usage.
Running it close however is the Lenovo Z2 Plus (Rs 17,499), which comes with a relatively uncluttered interface and also a very innovative home button that can be used for going back and viewing open apps as well – that running on top of flagship level specs (5.0-inch full HD display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, 4 GB RAM, 64 GB storage), make the Z2 Plus a wonderful device for anyone wanting a powerful phone that is easy enough to use. Special mention also needs to be made of the Xiaomi trio of the Mi Max (Rs 14,999), Mi Max Prime (Rs 19,999) and Redmi Note 4 (Rs 12,999), which all run MIUI 8, one of the best Android UIs around and one which gets updated regularly.
Best phone on a super-tight budget: Xiaomi Redmi Note 4
Yes, we know that this is a guide for the best phones below Rs 20,000, but if you do not want to go all the way to Rs 19,999 and still want a decent phone, we would point you in the direction of the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4, which is priced at Rs 10,999, and for that price, gives you a 5.5-inch full HD display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor, 3 GB RAM and 32 GB storage (expandable), as well as a decent 13.0-megapixel camera and a 4100 mAh battery that comfortably sees off two days of usage. It is compact, well-designed and comes with Xiaomi’s user-friendly MIUI 8 – spend an extra Rs 2,000 and you can get its high-end version. Those seeking an alternative can also go for the camera-centric Honor 6X, which offers those excellent dual cameras, a 5.5 inch full HD display, 3 GB RAM storage and 32 GB storage at Rs 12,999. And if your budget is stretchable a bit further, you can get right into Android flagship hardware territory wit the 3 GB RAM/ 32 GB storage edition of the Lenovo Z2 Plus, which is now available for Rs 14,999, and comes with a 5.0-inch full HD display and is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor – pretty much the best value for money budget flagship out there.
Best phone. Period: Lenovo Z2 Plus
This was really a battle between the two Snapdragon 820 processor and 4 GB RAM toting devices in this price segment – the Lenovo Z2 Plus (Rs 19,999) and the LeEco Le Max 2 (Rs 17,999). And it was a close battle. On paper, the Force was with the Le Max 2 as it has a 5.7-inch quad HD display and a 21.0-megapixel camera as compared to the 5.0-inch full HD display and 13.0-megapixel rear shooter of the Z2 Plus, but on the flip side, the Z2 Plus is easier to handle thanks to its compact form factor, comes with a more efficient fingerprint scanner, better battery life (3500 mAh as against 3100 mAh) a much more innovative UI, 64 GB onboard storage, and a largely glass (even the sides are fibreglass rather than metal) design that stands out (if a trifle prone to picking up smudges). The absence of a 3.5 mm audio jack in the Le Max 2 might also work against it. So all said and done if we had less than Rs 20,000 to spend and one smartphone to spend it on, we would spend it on – drum rolls, please – the Lenovo Z2 Plus.
(Note: the prices are reflections of those in different channels, online and offline. They might vary a little depending on location and time.)