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.
It is one of the trickiest smartphone price segments, lying bang in the middle of the mid-segment and the premium. And it features many devices that can claim to lay siege to the best phones out there in just about any department – and is notable for the presence of the flagships of most major Chinese players. But which is the smartphone to go for if your budget is less than Rs 30,000 or approximately USD 450? Nimish Dubey and Akriti Rana try to figure out that one for you.
Best looking phone: Honor 8 (Sapphire Blue)/ Xiaomi Mi 5 (Black)
Yes, this is a new category, but we reckon that the more you spend on a phone, the more its looks start to matter. And if you are busting close to thirty grand (USD 450) on a phone, it better be good looking. Which is why we have this category. There are some very good looking phones here, but in the end, we think it boils down to three devices: the Nubia Z11 (black and gold, Rs 29,999), the Xiaomi Mi 5 (Black, Rs 22,999) and the Honor 8 (sapphire blue, Rs 29,999). Yes, we know some will wonder why the OnePlus 3T didn’t cut it, but we think it looks too much like an HTC – been there, seen that.
While the near zero bezel looks of the Nubia Z11 and make it very striking, we actually have a split vote on the winner – Akriti thinks that the sapphire blue Honor 8 with its brilliant blue back is simply gorgeous and stands out from the routine, Nimish prefers the slightly more restrained black Mi 5, feeling that all glass back makes it look classy. Both are super slim (the Honor 8 is 7.5 mm and the Mi 5 7.3 mm) and very compact and will turn heads. And are very well specced too – both have full HD displays, good processors (Kirin 950 and 4 GB RAM on Honor 8, Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 and 3 GB RAM on the Mi 5), and good cameras (dual 12.0-megapixel camera on the Honor 8 and 16.0-megapixel on the Mi 5). A VERY honourable mention here also goes to the Sapphire Black edition of the Asus Zenfone 3 (Rs 21,999), whose blend of glass and metal put Asus right up there in the stylish phone stakes, even though some might be less than impressed by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 and 3 GB RAM combination at that price point.
Best camera phone under Rs 30,000: Honor 8/ Nubia Z11/OnePlus 3T
With bigger bucks come better cameras. As you get close to Rs 30,000, camera quality on phones starts getting close to the point and shooter territory. There are some very good camera phones out there but at the end, we broke it down to three major contenders: the Honor 8 (Rs 29,999) which has dual 12.0-megapixel cameras (f/2.2), the Nubia Z11 (Rs 29,999) and the OnePlus 3T (Rs 29,999), both of which have 16.0-megapixel shooters, with f/2.0 apertures. All three are extremely capable cameras in terms of capturing color and detail. While the Honor 8’s dual camera set up (one is color and one is monochrome) lets you play around with aperture and get better details and colors, it lacks optical image stabilization, which both the Z11 and OnePlus 3T have.
The Z11 in our book was the best camera in this price band when it came to macro/super close up shots, even though it had a slight tendency to over-saturate colors. The OnePlus 3T, on the other hand, was all about lethal realistic consistency, churning out very good shots in good light conditions day in, day out. However, its menu was rather sparse compared to the number of shooting options in the Z11 and the Honor 8. We also felt that its low light performance was not quite on par with the other two (the Honor 8’s dual camera scored heavily here).
So which should you pick if the camera is what matters to you? We will simplify it: for bright colors (sometimes brighter than even reality) and close-ups: the Nubia Z11; for great detail and good low light: Honor 8; and for most realistic colors and good detail: the OnePlus 3T. And if selfies make a difference, the 16.0-megapixel shooter on the OnePlus 3T gives it an edge, although we also liked the very capable 8.0-megapixel shooter on the Xiaomi Mi 5 (Rs 22,999). If we HAD to narrow our options to one single device, we would in all probability go for the Nubia Z11 for its more comprehensive camera menu and superior low light performance, not to mention its expandable storage (the OnePlus 3T maxes out at 64 GB).
But if photography for you is synonymous with shooting yourself (we mean selfies!), then we would recommend the Vivo V5 Plus (Rs 27,980), which might seem a little underpowered with its Snapdragon 625 processor, but comes with 4 GB RAM, 64 GB of storage, a very iPhone-like eye-catching design, and most important, dual front facing cameras – one a 20.0-megapixel one and another a 8.0-megapixel one. Both combine to deliver some stunning selfies, with great depth of field and bokeh. And even the rear 16.0-megapixel shooter takes decent shots. If you want to stick to a high-configuration device without giving up your selfie joy, then the OnePlus 3T it is, with its 16.0-megapixel “shoot yourself” camera.
Incidentally, if low-light photography is your thing, then we would even recommend a veteran, the Nexus 5X (Rs 24,999), whose 12.0-megapixel camera is easily one of the best low light performers we have seen, even though its Snapdragon 808 processor, 2 GB RAM and 16 GB storage seem archaic when compared to the Snapdragon 821 chip, 6 GB RAM and 64 GB storage on the OnePlus 3T, the Snapdragon 820 chip, 6 GB RAM and 64 GB storage of the Nubia Z11 and the Kirin 950, 4 GB RAM and 32 GB storage on the Honor 8.
Best multimedia phone under Rs 30,000: Nubia Z11
This is a cakewalk. If you are looking for a phone which delivers on great sight and sound, we must vote squarely for the Nubia Z11 (Rs 29,999). The phone features a full HD 5.5-inch edge to edge, near bezel-less display and scores heavily in the sound department too with support for Dolby Atmos and surprise surprise, a pair of excellent headphones in the box, something that is getting increasingly rare these days. The Snapdragon 820 processor paired with 6 GB RAM and 64 GB storage (expandable up to 256 GB) ensures it delivers a flagship-level performance.
In terms of sheer display brilliance, the OnePlus 3T’s 5.5-inch AMOLED display is every bit as good and some might be impressed by its newer Snapdragon 821 processor, but the phone gives ground when it comes to sound (and hey, no earphones in the box). For those chasing pure audio ecstasy at this price point, there is also the Asus Zenfone 3 (Rs 27,990) which comes with SonicMaster sound, a 5 magnet speaker construction, and an excellent pair of headphones in the box, but is relatively underwhelming in the processor department (Snapdragon 625 processor). We also must mention the Le Eco Le Max 2 (Rs 17,999) which was the winner in this category for our buying guide for sub-Rs 20,000 (USD 300) phones, but whose quad HD 5.7-inch display, Snapdragon 820 processor and 4 GB RAM make it cast a formidable shadow even in this category.
A veteran that pops up rather surprisingly is the HTC One Me. Some might frown at its MediaTek processor, but those who love watching videos are just going to love the magnificent 5.2-inch quad HD display and dual front-facing stereo speakers. There is a very good 20-megapixel camera on board as well. And well there is HTC’s traditional eye-catching design to round it all off, but where it stumbles is on a dated OS (Android 5.0 pre-installed) and a relatively modest 2840 mAh battery.
Best phone for gaming and multitasking: OnePlus 3T
This is basically a battle between the two 6 GB RAM toting devices in this price segment (we know that there is a 6 GB RAM edition of the LeEco Le Max 2 as well, but it has not been in the market for a while) – the OnePlus 3T and the Nubia Z11, both of which cost Rs 29,999. While both pack in formidable hardware – the OnePlus 3T has a Snapdragon 821 processor, and the Z11 a Snapdragon 820 one, and both come with all the connectivity bells and whistles you would wish from a high-end device, not to mention 64 GB of onboard storage – we think the OnePlus 3T scores in terms of overall smoothness thanks to its less cluttered Oxygen OS.
The Nubia Z11’s UI is more feature rich and colorful but it can get a trifle overwhelming – it all gets too much sometimes. No, we did not see a massive difference in terms of handling games in both devices but when it came to switching between apps, we felt that the OnePlus 3T just seemed that little bit snappier. Which is why we are giving it the thumbs up in this category.
Best battery life: Moto X Force/ Moto Z Play
While there are a number of 4000 mAh-and-larger batteries in the lower price segments, battery sizes seem to diminish as we go up the price ladder, perhaps because manufacturers end up sacrificing battery size on the altar of phone slimness – 3000-3400 mAh is the rule here. But if you are looking for a device that combines a large battery with good performance, we are going to ask you to go for the Moto X Force, which after being launched at Rs 49,999 in early 2016 is now available for as low as Rs 24,999 at some places, and comes with not just a large 3760 mAh battery with support for Turbo Power charging, shatterproof 5.4-inch AMOLED display, but also a Snapdragon 810 processor, 3 GB RAM and 32 GB and 64 GB storage options, and a 21.0-megapixel camera. We easily saw off close to two days on the device’s battery.
However, if you want something newer, you can also consider the Moto Z Play (Rs 24,999) which comes with a 3510 mAh battery, with support for fast charging, and has a 5.5-inch full HD AMOLED display. Some might not be too impressed by its Snapdragon 625 processor, but it is a wizard at managing battery life – we got close to two days on a single charge. Of course, it also has 3 GB, 32 GB storage, a decent 16.0-megapixel camera and of course, also gives you the option to play around with Moto Mods. Of course, both phones come with stock Android.
Another Moto device in the mix is the veteran Moto Turbo (which is available for a price in the vicinity of Rs 30,000 now). It features a 5.2-inch quad HD display and comes with a large 3900 mAh battery with support for Turbo charging for faster charging. However, its Snapdragon 805 processor and 3 GB RAM combination makes it look slightly dated. On the flip side, you do get the joys of Stock Android and smooth operation. Well worth a look, we think, if battery life really matters to you.
Best UI/Easy to use: Moto Z Play, Xiaomi Mi 5, OnePlus 3T
This really is a choice between stock Android, a relatively minimal UI and a feature rich one. If you are a stock Android fan, we think the Moto Z Play (Rs 24,999) is your best option. Yes, there are devices with more powerful processor and RAM combinations than its Snapdragon 625 and 3 GB blend, but on the flip side, it runs Android smoothly and is assured an update (and of course, there is the Moto Mods angle).
If you are looking for a powerful device with a relatively uncluttered interface, then we would go for the Oxygen OS on the OnePlus 3T (Rs 29,999), which just flies on the Snapdragon 821 processor allied with 6 GB of RAM and 64 GB storage and also packs a very good 16.0-megapixel camera. But if you are looking for a feature-rich interface which still runs smoothly, we will vote for MIUI 8 on the Xiaomi Mi 5 (Rs 22,999), which delivers a pleasantly smooth experience and gives you many more features as well as some very good hardware (5.15 full HD display, Snapdragon 820 processor, 3 GB RAM, 32 GB storage).
Best phone on a super-tight budget: Xiaomi Mi 5
This is really a no-brainer for those who do not want to venture too far north of Rs 20,000 and yet want a flagship-level performance. The Xiaomi Mi 5 was the first phone to run the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor and allied it with a super sleek design (it is in our best-looking phones segment), 3 GB RAM, 32 GB storage and a very good 16.0-megapixel camera as well as a 3000 mAh battery. It did have some bugs in it initially but those have since been ironed out and for good measure, the device has got a price cut as well and is now available for Rs 22,999.
We also would like to draw your attention to the winner of our sub-Rs 20,000 phone category, the Lenovo Z2 Plus, which offers the same processor with 4 GB RAM, a 5.0-inch full HD display and 64 GB storage for Rs 17,999, although its 13.0-megapixel shooter is not quite in the class of the one on the Mi 5.
Best phone under Rs 30,000. Period: OnePlus 3T
This is the great battle between the two Chinese warriors – the OnePlus 3T and the Nubia Z11. While both sport impressive specs (6 GB RAM, 64 GB storage, very good 16.0-megapixel cameras) and even have the same price tag (Rs 29,999), we think that the OnePlus 3T takes the title because of its slightly superior processor (Snapdragon 821 as compared to the 820 on the Z11), larger battery (3400 mAh as against 3000 mAh), and finally its cleaner UI based on Oxygen OS. The OnePlus 3 was the benchmark against which almost every flagship was compared and the OnePlus 3T carries forward that tradition. Mind you, if you are a very “camera” person, we do think you should also factor in the Z11 and the Honor 8.
(Note: the prices are reflections of those in different channels, online and offline. They might vary a little depending on location and time.)