Best Android phones for students Android Central 2021
Summer's almost over, school will be back, and — what's that, your kid needs a new smartphone? Whether you're a high schooler's parent or a student getting ready to head back to college, having a trusty Android phone by your side can make life a lot easier. Here are some of our top recommendations, including the Google Pixel 4a as our best overall pick.
- Best overall: Google Pixel 4a
- Best alternative: Samsung Galaxy A52 5G
- Best battery: POCO M3
- Best flagship: OnePlus 9
- Best low cost: Nokia G20 - Polar Night
- Best stylus: Moto G Stylus (2021)
Best overall: Google Pixel 4a
For a student, one of the most important aspects of buying a new phone is buying reliable something without being too expensive. Out of all the phones on the market right now, the one that strikes that balance the best is the Google Pixel 4a.
The Pixel 4a is Google's mid-range successor to the popular Pixel 3a series. Following in the footsteps of its predecessor, it is one of the best mid-range smartphones that money can buy, and one of the biggest reasons for that is the Pixel 4a's camera. Most mid-range phones have fine cameras, but the Pixel 4a captures photos that are just as good, if not better, than some flagships out there. Even with only one rear camera on a phone that costs this little, Google somehow managed to have it kick out genuinely stunning pictures.
Outside of the top-notch camera, the Pixel 4a also delivers a super clean build of Android 10 out of the box that's upgradable to Android 11. Being a Pixel phone, it is first-in-line for guaranteed software updates until August 2023, has a gorgeous OLED display, and a Snapdragon 730G processor that's more than capable for every task you throw at it. Also included here is NFC for contactless payments with Google Pay and a 3.5mm headphone jack!
We wish that the Pixel 4a came with expandable storage and had an official IP rating for dust/water resistance, but there's not much else to dislike outside of those two little complaints. Google knocked it out of the park with this one.
- Incredible camera
- Clean software
- Guaranteed updates
- Colorful OLED display
- Snappy Snapdragon 730G processor
- No expandable storage
- Isn't officially water-resistant
Best alternative: Samsung Galaxy A52 5G
One of the more underrated smartphones currently available is the Samsung Galaxy A52 5G. Samsung is most well-known in the U.S. for its top-of-the-line flagship offerings such as the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Bigwigs aside, Samsung is also a very capable maker of Android phones that don't carry exorbitant price tags. The Galaxy A52 5G is one such device packing a ton of features and specs at a surprisingly low price.
Seeing as how Samsung is known for its displays, one of the best parts about the A52 5G is its vivid Super AMOLED screen. You get a 6.5-inch display with slim bezels and a silky smooth 120Hz refresh rate that is a joy to the eye. We do wish it was just as bright outdoors, though. Students who love to capture their memorable moments will be very happy with the quad-camera setup on the phone. With the right lighting, the 64MP main sensor can shoot some marvelous photos.
Under the hood is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G 5G processor and 6GB of RAM, which translates to great performance for most tasks. You might face a teeny bit of lag, but the overall user experience is quite good. We're also fans of the 128GB of internal storage, 4,500 mAh battery, 25W fast charging, and the in-display fingerprint scanner.
- Crisp 120Hz Super AMOLED display
- Fast enough for most tasks
- Large 4,500 mAh battery
- Good cameras
- 5G support
- Small amount of lag
- Display isn't so bright outdoors
Best battery: POCO M3
The big draw to the POCO M3 is its mind-boggling 6,000mAh battery, which can last for up to three days on a single charge. That's downright incredible, and it could prove to be a lifesaver for especially hectic weeks at campus. When you do need to refuel, you do so with a handy USB-C charger coupled with 18W fast charging. The 4GB/128GB memory options are agreeable, and the Snapdragon 662 chipset delivers reliable performance.
Other specs for the phone are just as solid, including its 6.53-inch 1080p Full HD+ display, three rear cameras, a side-mounted fingerprint reader, an audio port, and stereo speakers. If you grab yourself a POCO M3, do be prepared to deal with a lot of bloatware out of the box.
- Show-stopping 6,000mAh battery
- Consistent and reliable daily performance
- 1080p FHD+ display looks great
- Three rear cameras
- Very affordably priced
- 3.5mm audio jack
- Lacks a wide-angle camera
- Comes with bloatware
- Not compatible with all U.S. carriers
Best flagship: OnePlus 9
We understand that most students aren't looking to spend a tremendous amount of money when buying a phone, but if you want something that offers a high-end experience, the OnePlus 9 fits the bill perfectly. It is expensive, but it has all of the makings of an Android flagship while costing considerably less than similar handsets from the likes of Samsung and Apple.
Hardware-wise, the OnePlus 9 has a lot going for it. The design/build quality is outstanding, and the display is one of the best ones on the market. The phone is outfitted with a 6.55-inch AMOLED panel with a 120Hz refresh rate, and it looks sublime. Other highlights include the three rear cameras, Snapdragon 888 processor, 8GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, and a beefy 4,500 mAh battery that supports blazing-fast Warp Charge 65T wired charging as well as 15W Qi wireless charging.
Making all of this that much better is the OnePlus 9's software, which is OnePlus's custom OxygenOS interface. Based on Android 11, OxygenOS has a super clean design, lots of extra customization options, and features like a Reading Mode and Gaming Mode that you don't find in stock Android.
- Incredible design
- AMOLED 120Hz display looks outstanding
- Buttery smooth performance
- Software experience is top-notch
- 65W wired charging
- 15W Qi wireless charging
- Isn't easy on the wallet
- Lacks expandable storage
Best low cost: Nokia G20
Most students don't have a lot of disposable income, meaning that expensive phones are typically off the table. There are plenty of options on this list that we'd deem very affordable, but if you're trying to spend as little as possible while still getting a good user experience, we think the Nokia G20 is the best in this regard.
The phone looks a lot better than its price tag would suggest, featuring a modern design, sturdy build quality, and slim bezels surrounding the 6.52-inch 1600x720 HD+ display. You get a side-mounted fingerprint sensor, and the back of the Nokia G20 is home to four rear cameras, which is darn impressive given its low price tag.
Speaking of impressive, the Nokia G20's specs are pretty great. You get 4GB of RAM, 128GB of onboard storage that's expandable up to 512GB, a large 5,050 mAh battery, and even NFC for Google Pay. The phone ships with a clean build of Android 11 right out of the box, and looking ahead, you're promised two years of major software updates and three years of monthly security updates — a huge perk if you plan on keeping your phone for a while. The Mediatek Helio G35 chipset isn't the fastest processor in the world, so the performance is fairly slow.
- Large 5,050 mAh battery
- Impressive specs for the price
- Quad camera setup
- Expandable storage
- NFC for Google Pay
- There's a headphone jack!
- 2 years of major platform updates
- Display isn't very great
- No fast charging to go with the big battery
- Mediatek Helio G35 delivers slow performance
Best stylus: Moto G Stylus (2021)
Few phones today ship with a stylus in tow, and we can't understand why. The S Pen is one of the most successful features of the Galaxy Note series, but the sky-high cost of actually acquiring a Note phone makes it inaccessible to students. Ironically, students can probably get the most use out of a stylus. To compensate, we have selected the Moto G Stylus (2021) as the best Android phone with a stylus for students.
Note (hah!) that we're recommending the more reasonable Moto G Stylus instead of the expensive Note 20 as it's something many students will value. It may not be as legendary as the Moto G Power (2020), but the G Stylus is still an all-around great phone. It's got a water-repellent design, quad cameras, a generous 4,00mAh battery, 4GB of RAM, 128GB storage, and a 6.8-inch LCD display. Internally you will find a Snapdragon 678 powering the 2021 iteration of the Moto G Stylus.
Where things get exciting is when you factor in the accompanying stylus that tucks away neatly into the phone's body. The stylus can be used for writing notes, drawing, and even used as a remote shutter button or clicker for a presentation. It is an excellent tool for anyone, but when you take it into the classroom, that's where its functionality shines. It isn't for naught that we've placed this phone on our list of best cheap Android phones.
- Stylus allows for a lot of functionality
- Two-day battery life
- Water repellant design
- Audio port
- Supports all U.S. carriers
- Lacks fast charging
- Only promised to get one major update
Any of the Android phones on this list will serve a student well for this coming school season, but among all of them, we have to give our top recommendation to the Google Pixel 4a.
Google's late 2020 attempt at making a mid-range Pixel device turned out to be a smash hit. The Pixel 4a might have a plastic design and a slower processor compared to its more expensive siblings, but the incredible camera, super clean software, and a surprisingly great OLED display make this a phone that's genuinely enjoyable to use day in and day out.
Among all of that, though, another big reason the Pixel 4a stands out is because of its post-purchase support. Since this is a phone made by Google itself, it's first-in-line ahead of every other Android phone to receive essential security patches and exciting software updates the second they're released. That means you can hold onto the Pixel 4a for quite a few years and still get the best of what Android has to offer.
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Joe Maring Joe is Android Central's Senior Editor. He loves talking about all things tech, but smart wearables are what get him really excited (just ask the drawer of smartwatches in his office). He also likes coffee and goes to Starbucks far too often. Have a tip? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit him up on Twitter @JoeMaring1
Namerah Saud Fatmi is a freelance writer for Android Central. She has a passion for all things tech & gaming and has been an honorary Goodreads librarian since 2011. When she isn't writing, she can be found chasing stray cats and dogs in the streets of Dhaka or slaying dragons in the land of Skyrim. You can reach her on Twitter @NamerahS.
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