Ameya DalviDec 21, 2018 13:30:58 IST
What good is technology if it's far from the reach of the masses!
That adage stays true in the smartphones segment too. The flagship phones are the poster children for brands but the real business happens in the mid-range segment. The mid-range segment of smartphones has been getting hotter over the past couple of years and 2018 saw it reach never before seen levels. Typically, the segment has been about serviceable phones with a decent mix of features and specifications at an attractive price. But 2018 saw this segment take a dramatic turn. This year, we had phones with flagship SoC, ample RAM, high-quality cameras and designs that could easily belong to the premium segment.
While the start of the year saw the arrival of these highly competent Snapdragon 636 and Mediatek P60 SoC in the lower mid-range segment, the second half of the year saw Snapdragon 660 breach the Rs 15,000 barrier. If that wasn’t good enough, we saw Qualcomm’s flagship SoC Snapdragon 845 first make its way to sub-30K phones, then breach the 25K mark and eventually flirt with the Rs 20,000 budget by the end of the year. The cameras got significantly better too this year.
So let's take a look at the top phones that not just offered the best value for money in 2018 but also made a deep impact and raised the bar in the mid-range segment.
Best value for money phones of 2018 in India
Asus Zenfone 5Z
Asus Zenfone 5Z was the first Snapdragon 845 SoC sporting phone to be priced under Rs 30,000 in India. The fact that its base variant often sells close to Rs 25,000 these days makes the deal even sweeter. Despite the aggressive pricing, Asus did not cut any corners in terms of features or design and posed a serious threat to the OnePlus 6. That doesn’t happen too often. The base variant with 6 GB RAM and 64 GB storage debuted at Rs 29,999 with the top end version with 8 GB RAM and 256 GB internal storage selling for Rs 36,999. Unlike the OnePlus phones, the Zenfone 5Z lets you expand the storage further up to 512 GB with a microSD card.
The glass and aluminium combination makes the phone look elegant and sturdy and has a flagship feel about it. The 6.2-inch Full HD+ notched display is sharp and feels just the right size. 12 MP + 8 MP dual cameras at the back do an impressive job for this segment. The primary camera incorporates a f/1.8 bright 24mm wide angle lens with fairly large pixel size and 4-axis optical image stabilisation. This results in high-quality images in most lighting conditions. It can also record 4K videos at 30 FPS and slow-motion videos at 1080p and 720p resolution at 120 and 240 FPS respectively. As you can see, the Asus Zenfone 5Z is a solid all-round phone with premium looks, very good cameras, the fastest SoC currently available and doesn’t cost a bomb. That translates to excellent value for money.
Xiaomi released their new sub-brand, Poco this year and did what Xiaomi does best with their first Poco phone — broke the market.
While Asus breached the 30K mark for Snapdragon 845 phones with the 5Z, Xiaomi took it down to 21K with the Poco F1. But unlike Asus, Poco did cut a few corners. For starters, the design is fairly generic and the plastic body doesn’t help the aesthetics either. The 12 MP + 5 MP dual camera set up at the back does a good job in average to good lighting but withers away in low light. It also doesn’t come with premium features like optical image stabilisation that one finds in flagship phones. But hey, we are talking about a sub-21K phone and the camera output is better than most phones you get in that budget.
And I repeat, it is powered by Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 845 SoC with 6 GB RAM and 64 GB storage for the base variant starting at Rs 20,999, going as high as Rs 26,999 for its top-end Armoured edition with 8 GB RAM and 256 GB storage. The storage can be further expanded up to 256 GB using a microSD card. If you are a performance buff or a gamer who doesn’t overly care about design or camera output, here’s a phone that lets you play PUBG Mobile in its full glory at close to Rs 20,000. The price to performance ratio of the Poco F1 is hard to beat.
Nokia 7 Plus
The Nokia 7 Plus may not be the phone to beat now but it did shake things up in the mid-range segment at launch. The phone launched earlier this year, much before the Poco F1 or even the Asus Zenfone 5Z arrived. It was perhaps the first phone in India to carry a Snapdragon 660 chip, an impressive upper mid-range SoC. But what stood out was its unconventional yet classy design with copper edges, along with a pair of cameras at the back with Zeiss optics and a stock Android UI with promised OS updates for two years minimum, courtesy of Android One.
The 12 MP + 13 MP camera combination at the back with 25 mm wide angle lens with Zeiss optics and 1/2.55-inch large primary sensor captured excellent images in most lighting conditions. It also provided you with a 2X optical zoom. A sharp 6-inch 18:9 Full HD+ display with narrow bezels and an impressive 3800 mAh battery rounded off the package. The Nokia 7 Plus was one solid all-round phone priced close to Rs 25,000 that ticked most of the right boxes and more importantly, outperformed most phones in that price bracket at launch.
Best mid-range phones of 2018 in India
Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro
Why Redmi Note 5 Pro and not Redmi Note 6 Pro, you ask? Simple! The former was a revelation at the start of this year that raised the bar in the lower mid-range segment. The latter is just an incremental update and not even the best phone in the segment at launch, let alone pushing the envelope. Didn’t deserve the ‘Pro’ suffix either, if you ask me.
Coming back, the Redmi Note 5 Pro was the first phone to introduce the Snapdragon 636 SoC that added quite a processing muscle to phones in this segment. With a 6-inch Full HD+ narrow bezel display, 4 GB RAM, 64 GB expandable storage, metal body and 4000mAh battery, this was the phone to beat in the sub-15K segment in the first half of the year. Did I mention the best in class 12 MP + 5 MP dual rear cameras and a 20 MP front snapper for selfies?
Nokia 6.1 Plus
While Xiaomi set the ball rolling with the Redmi Note 5 Pro, Nokia showed how the same can be made to look way better aesthetically. The Nokia 6.1 Plus remains a landmark phone in terms of design in the mid-range segment. It can easily be mistaken for a phone 1.5 times its selling price. A metal body sandwiched between two sheets of glass with Gorilla Glass 3 protection makes it look extremely classy. It bears a 5.8-inch notched display with Full HD+ resolution with higher pixel density and sharper picture. The notch is quite small but doesn’t miss out on any important sensors. The processing hardware and storage is exactly the same as that of the Redmi Note 5 Pro and the camera performance is at par too, but there is another department where the Nokia surpasses its Xiaomi counterpart.
The Nokia 6.1 Plus is an Android One device, meaning stock Android UI and regular OS updates for a couple of years. The phone has already received Android 9.0 Pie update. All this for a price close to Rs 15,000, and hence, a welcome addition to our list of best value for money phones of 2018.
Realme 2 Pro
If Xiaomi was the first to bring the Snapdragon 636 SoC to phones under Rs 15,000, Oppo through its sub-brand Realme, has done the same to the more powerful Snapdragon 660 SoC. Earlier this year, Oppo seemed to have had enough of Xiaomi’s dominance in the lower mid-range segment and launched their own sub-brand, Realme. After a couple of decent releases, they hit the bullseye with their third launch — Realme 2 Pro. This phone is a great combination of specifications and features at a hard to beat price that has set a new performance benchmark in this segment.
If the Snapdragon 660 SoC wasn’t enough, it has a Full HD+ display with a tiny drop-sized notch that is generally seen in phones twice its price or higher. The 16 MP + 2 MP dual rear cameras are quite competent in most conditions but don’t expect miracles in low light. A 3,500mAh battery keeps it powered for a day comfortably. All this for just Rs 13,990 for the 4 GB RAM/64 GB storage variant. Its top end 8 GB RAM/128 GB storage variant is priced as impressively at Rs 17,990. That has awesome value for money written all over it.
That concludes our list of the best flagship and mid-range phones that offered a great value proposition in 2018.
Let’s hope this segment continues to pleasantly surprise us in 2019 too. I am sure it will.
Here's a list of our other year-ender stories: