Best Budget Android Smartphone Pixel 6a 5a Samsung

Google Pixel 6

Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

If this were only a few years ago, I’d have trouble recommending a decent budget or mid-range Android phone. Recently, phone makers have paid particular attention to this segment of the market, launching sub-premium models that offer most of the benefits you get from their flagship counterparts.

That’s great news for Chad, the latest Gizmodo reader featured in our “What Gadget Should You Buy” series, in which we help folks find the best devices for their specific needs. Chad is in the market for a budget-to-midrange Android smartphone that costs somewhere between $300 and $600 and operates on Verizon’s network. It needs to run social media apps like Twitter and TikTok, play music saved directly on the phone (Chad, we need to talk about streaming services), and power other basic tasks while podcasts (like Gadgettes, I assume) play in the background.

Chad attends concerts and festivals, so a good camera is mandatory for capturing the sights and sounds of these often difficult-to-shoot events. He also doesn’t want a phone filled with bloatware (though Verizon will inevitably add a fair share). Our reader didn’t include any other requirements, but said his current Motorola G7 Plus has the “worst fingerprint scanner I have ever used,” so I’ll try to rectify that annoyance below.

The Pixel 6

First, I’m going to cheat a bit and go straight to the top of Chad’s budget by recommending the Google Pixel 6. It starts at $599, has a fantastic camera, and the under-display fingerprint scanner works just fine. I’ve been using one for the past few months and already recommended it to several other folks. It’s not perfect, though: the phone is large and Google still needs to iron out the occasional software bug.

I also need to throw in a word of caution here: the Pixel 6 for Verizon costs $700—putting it outside of Chad’s budget. The Verizon version is $100 more expensive because it includes bands for the network’s mmWave 5G technology. I recommend just paying $600 for the unlocked version that supports sub-6GHz bands only.

That isn’t much of a loss: mmWave is super fast, sure, but only available on certain street corners in certain neighborhoods of a few supported cities. My bigger concern comes from Verizon customers who report SIM card issues and updates being delayed, though it seems these problems have been mostly resolved.

Pixel 6a and 5a

Another option is to wait for the Pixel 6a, which will likely replace the Pixel 5a 5G when it arrives in the coming weeks or months. Expected to cost around $450, the Pixel 6a will save Chad a few hundred dollars and fit comfortably within his budget. We don’t know too much about the phone, but Google’s current budget-friendly device, the Pixel 5a 5G, is the best value on the market. Its eventual successor feels like a safe bet.

If Chad can’t wait and doesn’t want to blow his entire budget, that aforementioned Pixel 5a 5G remains an excellent choice (oh look, more Verizon issues. Here is a fix via PhoneArena). It has fantastic cameras, a large OLED display, and, if you ask me, a rear fingerprint sensor that works better than those fancy ones hiding below the screen.

I realize I’ve recommended three Google options without mentioning any other brand. I wouldn’t normally give someone such narrow options, but I’m going to double down on this one. I’m feeling particularly confident because our resident smartphone expert Florence Ion agrees: Chad should go Pixel.

Chad Should Skip Samsung

Why? We’re skipping Samsung—the leading Android phone maker—because its device doesn’t fit Chad’s “no bloatware” requirements. Things have improved, but Samsung still slaps a stylized skin on Android and preinstalls a suite of apps some users won’t ever touch (you can always uninstall these, FWIW). He could go with a Motorola, but their cameras aren’t particularly capable in low-light conditions, like at a festival. The same shortcoming applies to TCL’s surprisingly good budget devices, like the TCL 20 Pro 5G.

And that takes us to OnePlus. If Chad chooses against Google for whatever reason, he should probably turn to the OnePlus 9. For me, it is a rung below the Pixel devices for the same reason as so many others: inferior low-light photography. However, the OnePlus 9 5G currently goes for $599 and is damn close to being a flagship phone. Compared with the Pixel 6, the OnePlus 9 has longer battery life, faster charging, a more powerful Snapdragon 888 SoC, and a 120Hz display.

Again, getting the OnePlus 9 to connect to Verizon’s 5G is a hassle, as PCMag notes, but it might be worth the frustration for a phone with very few downsides.

Would you recommend something else? Let us know in the comments! And if you need help deciding on which gadget to buy, then fill out our simple questionnaire.