Best Mid-Range Smartphones

Mid-Range Smartphones

Mid-range phones can be an awkward combination of dodgy software and even worse design flaws. But for those without the cash to splash out on a high-end device, there are some real alternatives out there that can rival many of the high-end phones currently on the market. We’ve pulled together four of the best devices from different manufacturers to try and find the ultimate mid-range phone that you should consider buying.

They include the big Xperia T that offers enough size and power to compete with many of its more expensive companions, as well as the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini which looks to bring all the high-quality features from its much larger sister device into a tiny package. We’ve taken a look at HTC’s best mid-range offering in the One SV, which looks to make great design a must-have, and finally we’ve scrutinized the Motorola RAZR i to see if its software is up to scratch.

 

Sony Xperia T

Sony looks to push the boat out, highlighted by both great features and a superb camera.

The Xperia T is the biggest device in the group test, but a bigger screen doesn’t necessarily correlate to better design. The problem with the Xperia T is that it feels like a budget device; its plastic cover and rubber backplate lack a premium finish. All the usual ports can be found on the right side of the phone, including a clever fl ap that hides micro SD and SIM card ports. You’ll also find a dedicated camera button, something not included on the other phones, but one that highlights the Xperia T’s best feature.

Turning on the phone reveals Android 4.1 and you’ll find all the quirks and features associated with it are included. Sony’s own skin works well and although it still lacks behind the pure Android experience it’s streaks ahead of TouchWiz and HTC Sense. When you buy a Sony phone, you’re also buying into its brand and this is immediately noticeable when you realize the amount of pre-installed software that comes with it. You’ll find apps that will link to your Sony TV, PlayStation and Walkman, but they are completely redundant and eat up a considerable amount of the 16GB of internal storage if you don’t own any of the products. The saving grace for the Xperia T has to be its camera though, as the 13-megapixel offering displays some beautiful images that take full advantage of the 4.5-inch display, even if colours can look a bit drab from time to time.

The Sony Xperia T couldn’t be any more of a mixed bag if it tried. You can’t fault Sony for packing in as many apps and features as it does into the device, but many of them are pointless if you don’t own the corresponding Sony products. Even though the phone is typically mid-range, for your money you’d  expect something more well made than the offering here.

If you’re on the look out for a great camera phone and you can overlook its many problems, the Xperia T is a decent enough choice for those not wanting to part with too much money.

 

Technical Specs

» Operating system……..Android 4.1

» Processor ………………Snapdragon 1.5GHz dual-core

» Storage…………………..1GB RAM, 16GB storage (expandable to 32GB via micro SD)

» Dimensions ……………129.4 x 67.3 x 9.4mm

» Weight …………………..139g

» Display size …………….4.55-inch

» Display resolution …….720 x 1,280 pixels

» Connectivity …………….Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, HSDPA 42.2 Mbps,  HSUPA 5.76, micro USB (via MHL)

» Camera …………………13-MP rear, 1.3-MP front, 1080p full HD video

 

Head to Head

Design and build

The 4.5-inch screen is a nice addition, but is let down by the plastic casing and rubber backplate. For a company that promotes strong aesthetics, this is a letdown.

Features

There’s plenty packed into the Xperia T to keep you interested and you’ll find many decent pre-installed apps available. The 13-megapixel camera is also a big plus.

Battery life

Although the 1850mAh unit handles average tasks well, it soon drains with heavy usage. Being unable to swap it for a second battery is therefore a problem.

Value for money

Without doubt, you’re getting plenty of bang for your buck with the Xperia T. Big screen, plenty of features and a great user experience make this phone attractive.

Verdict

Plenty of pleasing features, but it lacks the polish to compete with other handsets in the category

 

Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini

Does the significantly smaller version of the Galaxy S3 live up to the expectations its bigger brother set?

The Galaxy S3 Mini is a carbon copy, albeit smaller, of the much bigger Galaxy S3 and for the most part it works well. Samsung has adopted its usual plastic chassis onto the Mini, and although the device may look metallic in parts, it isn’t. The plastic build isn’t as premium a finish when compared to some of the other devices in this group test, but it does feel well put together. Fortunately, the backplate is removable meaning you can switch the 1500mAh battery at any point – a defi nite thumbs up over the fitted backplate of the Xperia T.

Samsung tends to have decent, if unspectacular screens, and it follows suit here with a four-inch Super AMOLED offering. Colours look deep and vivid, but there’s slight pixelation if you look closely. For a  device of its size, the 1GHz dual-core processor blitzes through all tasks we set it, and with the Mini shipping with Android 4.1, you’ll have your hands on nearly the latest operating system update.

As with all its Galaxy devices, Samsung has implemented its TouchWiz skin and it offers a mixed bag. The latest version of the skin is the best yet, but clearly lacks behind Sony’s version and the pure Android experience. A positive of TouchWiz, however, is that you do get full access to the Samsung suite of apps, with S Planner being a particular highlight. One of the limitations of a device this small is the impact it has on the camera and the S3 Mini produces distinctly average photos. However, there are plenty of filters and options available for you to customise, and video recording is generally of decent quality.

Samsung has done a terrific job in bringing a smaller version of the gigantic Galaxy S3 to the market, and for the most part, it’s a great little device. It’s small enough not to impact on your everyday use, the processor is superfast and the selection of pre-installed apps is impressive. But, it does lack any breakthrough features that make it a must have.

Technical Specs

» Operating system……..Android 4.1

» Processor …………….. Cortex-A9 1GHz dual-core

» Storage………………….1GB RAM, 8/16GB storage (expandable to 32GB with micro SD)

» Dimensions ………….. 121.6 x 63 x 9.9mm

» Weight ………………… 111.5g

» Display size …………..Four-inch Super AMOLED

» Display resolution …….480 x 800 pixels

» Connectivity …………..Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, HSDPA 14.4 Mbps, HSUPA 5.76, micro USB

» Camera ………….. …. 5-MP rear, VGA front, 720p video recording

Head to head

Design and build

The familiar plastic chassis is in full force here, but it isn’t as ‘high-end’ as we’d like. It’s very well put together, however, so kudos to Samsung for that.

Features

There isn’t an overwhelming selection of pre-installed apps on offer, but the included Flipboard and Samsung suite of apps are great additions.

Value for money

With the Galaxy S4 recently hitting the shelves, expect the S3 Mini to lower in price considerably over the next few months. Look out for a bargain!

Connectivity

Having a removable backplate is a big plus for heavy users on the go, and means swapping the fairly basic 1500mAh battery is an easy process.

Verdict

The S3 Mini is a much smaller device, and it certainly has some nice touches but there’s nothing to make it stand out

 

HTC One SV

HTC looks to blend premium specifications with an affordable price tag, but does it deliver?

When you get your hands on an HTC phone, you know there’s a design treat waiting for you. The SV is a beautiful device. It feels well put together and the black, white and grey layering makes the device feel a lot more premium than both the Xperia T and S3 Mini. Taking a look at the back of the SV will reveal the 4G LTE branding and it’s the only phone here that caters for the new high speeds.

When turning on the device you’re greeted to a 4.3-inch display sporting a LCD 480 x 800 resolution.

It isn’t anything spectacular and suffers from the same pixelation problem as the S3 Mini, but for what you’re paying, it does the job well. One of the best uses of the display is to use it in conjunction with the decent camera that has been implemented. There are some terrific features included and plenty of photo sharing options available as well.

To use all these features you’ll want a speedy processor that can keep up. The One SV is a quick phone and the dual-core processor handled everything we could throw at it with flying colours. Whether you’re doing a spot of downloading, browsing or simply just using the camera, the processor handles it all very well.

The One SV ships with the Ice Cream Sandwich update and runs Sense 4.1, which is by far the best version of HTC’s custom skin yet, and there are some quality features included in this phone. You’ll find new entertainment hubs at your disposal and the default browser has undergone some changes. Sense is far more useable now and HTC has done a great job at updating it into a more user-friendly skin.

For a mid-range device, the One SV excels in most areas. We take our hats off to HTC who has successfully combined plenty of premium features without the premium price to boot. It’s also currently one of the cheapest ways of getting your hands on a 4G-compatible phone.

Technical Specs

» Operating system……..Android 4.0

» Processor …………….. Qualcomm S4 1.2GHz dual-core

» Storage………………….1GB RAM, 8GB storage (expandable to 32GB with micro SD)

» Dimensions …………..128 x 66.9 x 9.20mm

» Weight …………………120g

» Display size ………….4.3-inch Super LCD

» Display resolution …….400 x 800 pixels

» Connectivity ………….4G LTE, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/ g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, HSDPA 42bps, HSUPA 5.76, micro USB

» Camera ……………… 5-MP rear, 1.6-MP front, 1080p full video recording

Head to head

Design and build

The curved back of the One SV helps it feel great in hand. HTC has implemented a plastic body here, but it has a premium look and feel to it.

Features

Sense is still trying to make ground on the pure Android experience, but Sense 4.1 is certainly the best iteration of the custom skin we’ve seen.

Battery life

You can get a fair amount of usage out of the 1800mAh battery, but hardcore users should be sure to carry a spare battery or portable charger with them.

Value for money

For what you get for your money, the HTC One SV is a great investment. It’s also the best solution for those looking to get their first 4G phone while on a budget.

Verdict

As far as mid-range devices go, the HTC One SV is definitely up there. We’d even recommend it over some high-end phones

 

Motorola RAZR i

Motorola aims a shot at the big boys by combining a premium processor and superb display in the RAZR i

The Motorola RAZR i lacks the design features found in the One SV, but it certainly makes up for it in other areas. Each side of the phone is encased with a thick plastic, with the backplate having a nice rubberised feel to it. Despite being one of the smallest devices of the group, it feels noticeably heavier than the rest. This could be to do with the visible screws used to hold different areas of the case in place. It isn’t an ugly device, but it doesn’t have much going for it.

Turning on the device reveals something completely different, however. The 4.3-inch Super AMOLED screen looks amazing and colours really stand out. It doesn’t have the same pixelation problem as the S3 Mini and One SV and runs the Xperia T into a close second for having the best display of the bunch.

Motorola’s custom skin is the lightest in the group and certainly the most Android-like, and it works well for the most part. Browsing is great and thanks to the Intel-powered processor onboard, it handles multitasking extremely well. The only problem we found was when first booting up the smartphone – you’ll notice a bit of lag when you first use it.

Motorola doesn’t fill its phones with unnecessary bloatware, so although you won’t find lots of pre-installed apps on the RAZR, you have plenty of free space to add your own apps through the Play store. The expandable micro SD slot on the right-hand side of the phone means you’ll be able to swap micro SD cards whenever you need to.

There’s certainly a lot to like about the Motorola RAZR i. Not only does it feel well made and has a superb screen, it also feels more like an empty shell that users can fill with the stuff they want on their Android phone. If you can look behind the uninspiring and slightly dodgy design choices Motorola has implemented here, then the RAZR i might be the perfect mid-range phone for you.

Technical Specs

» Operating system……..Android 4.0

» Processor …………….. Cortex-A9 1.2GHz dual-core

» Storage……………….. ..1GB RAM, 16GB storage (expandable up to 32GB via micro SD)

» Dimensions ……………130.7 x 68.9 x 7.1mm

» Weight …………………..127g

» Display size ……………4.3-inch Super AMOLED

» Display resolution …….540 x 960 pixels

» Connectivity ……………Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, HSDPA 14.4 Mbps, HSUPA 5.76, micro USB

» Camera ……………….. 8-MP rear, 1.3-MP front, 1080p full HD video recording

Head to head

Design and build

The rubberised back of the RAZR i is one of few plus points. The phone has an awkward bezel and has several visible screws on show.

Features

Android users want to be able to add their own apps and media to their devices. The RAZR i lets you do this thanks to a lack of bloatware and plenty of spare space.

Battery life

The 1780mAh battery is good enough to get you through an entire day without needing to charge, but hardcore users may need to keep a charger handy.

Value for money

Compared to the competition, the RAZR i isn’t cheap. For the most part, however, you’re getting some great software and an overall very good device.

Verdict

A solid offering that provides everything you could want in an Android phone. Some poor design touches do let it down

 

The winner…

 

HTC One SV

With so many devices falling into the mid-range category, it was hard enough picking the best four devices on offer, let alone choose a winner from the shortlist. In the end, we had to think about the phone that best met our expectations and what the average user wants from an Android smartphone.

After deliberating, the HTC One SV really stood out against the competition for several reasons. It was unmatched in terms of the fantastic design – the various colour layers and gorgeous curved backplate really set it apart. It also is a great example of how custom skins are slowly gaining ground on the pure Vanilla Android experience, and the same can be said not only about HTC Sense, but also TouchWiz and Motorola’s skin too.

It has some nice software touches and a good selection of pre-installed apps too, most of which are incredibly useful, even if you’ll find better alternatives to them on the Play store. Dig a little deeper and you’ll even find a full Android 4.0 experience, with promises of an update to Android 4.2 sooner rather than later.

As we’ve previously mentioned, the One SV is also one of the most cost-effective ways to get your hands on a 4G phone, and for that reason alone makes it worth a look. If you haven’t got the cash to splash out on its bigger companion, the HTC One, the SV will be a more than suitable replacement.

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