It has been a great year for phones, particularly in the mid-range segment. I got to use all the phones in this category, as well as all the flagships, foldables, and budget phones released this year, and if you're looking to buy a phone for Cyber Monday and need recommendations, you've come to the right place.
I used well over 90 phones throughout the course of 2023, and while I didn't put my main SIM in all the devices — that just wouldn't have been feasible — I tested all the phones that crossed my desk. Right off the bat, the one phone that stood out the most was the Pixel 7a. Google's Pixel A series always delivered a good value, but the brand had a tendency to hobble the hardware; that isn't the case in 2023.
The Pixel 7a doesn't have any hardware shortcomings, and the combination of high-res 90Hz OLED screen, powerful hardware, outstanding cameras, and long-lasting battery make it the ideal mid-ranger. There just isn't any other phone under $500 that gives you quite as much as the Pixel 7a, and the best part is that you don't have to spend $500 to get your hands on one — it's now on sale for just $374.
I used the Pixel 7a as my daily driver for over a month, and honestly, I didn't see any reason to buy a flagship over this device. Sure, I'm using the Pixel 8 Pro and think it is amazing, but would I have bought the device with my own money? No, if I had to buy a phone, it would be the Pixel 7a.
If you've used Samsung for a while and aren't willing to switch to another brand, you should consider the Galaxy S23 FE. The phone launched just over a month ago for $599, but Samsung is already discounting it to $399, making it the best value of any Samsung phone at the moment. The S23 FE basically offers 90% of the features of the Galaxy S23 at just 50% of the cost, and that just makes it a terrific option.
Need a phone that's designed to grab attention? Nothing's Phone (2) has a unique see-through design, and it's now selling for just $559, $140 less than its launch price. The Phone (2) doubles down on LED lighting at the back, and that design is sure to turn heads. But what you'll like more is the internal hardware — the Phone (2) is much more powerful than its predecessor, and it combines that power with a vibrant OLED panel, decent battery life, and highly differentiated software. Oh, and you also get 256GB of storage.
Although Nothing got a lot right with the Phone (2), the cameras aren't quite on par with the Pixel 7a. The phone still takes good photos in most situations, but it doesn't have the same polish as Google. That said, the Phone (2) is much better than its predecessor, and the design really is rather striking. If you're eyeing this phone, make sure you get the dark grey variant — it looks much better in real life.
What if you're in the market for a smaller phone? Your search ends with the Pixel 8. It has all the hardware you need, but it's encased in a chassis that's great for one-handed use. The screen is brighter than last year, it's faster in daily use, and even though the Pixel 7 took amazing shots, the Pixel 8 is able to somehow take even better photos and videos in just about any situation.
The best part is that the Pixel 8 will get seven Android OS updates, the most of any phone today — including all iPhones. Now, even if you don't intend to use the phone that long, the long-term update guarantee means you'll get a good resale value, which wasn't the case with earlier Pixels. The icing on the cake is that the Pixel 8 is now available for just $549 — $150 off its launch price. That is a ridiculous deal on a phone that launched just a month ago.
Google Pixel 8:
$699 $549 at Amazon
The Pixel 8 proves that you don't need to shell out a lot of cash to get a great phone. It misses out on a few camera features from the 8 Pro, but on the whole, you're getting one of the best value packages of the year, and the phone is great for one-handed use.
OnePlus did all the right things in 2023, and while the OnePlus Open isn't getting a discount, the OnePlus 11 is still a fantastic option to consider. The phone has a gorgeous design, one of the best hardware packages you can get today, and the cameras are outstanding. Software has been a big point of contention for OnePlus in the last 24 months, and while the device uses a rebranded version of ColorOS, it is at least fluid in daily use, and has plenty of customizability.
Coming in at $549, the OnePlus 11 is a good choice if you need top-tier hardware and a gorgeous design.
Out of all the phones I used this year, the Pixel 8 Pro is my favorite. Xiaomi's 13 Ultra is a very close second, but seeing as how Xiaomi doesn't want you to buy the phone, it isn't relevant to this post. The Pixel 8 Pro is the ultimate Google phone; it has the latest camera hardware, takes amazing photos and videos in challenging situations, and you get all the software extras — alongside a few exclusives — that make using a Pixel so enjoyable.
I know the Pixel 8 Pro is the predictable choice — we are an Android site, after all — but look, if Xiaomi decided to sell the 13 Ultra in North America and other global markets, I would've chosen that instead. But it doesn't, so here we are. While Xiaomi delivers the best camera package of any phone today — it somehow manages to take better portrait shots than my mirrorless camera — the software isn't as good as what you get on the Pixel 8 Pro, and the phone won't get anywhere as many updates.
That's another reason why the Pixel 8 Pro is so good; it will get seven years of Android OS updates, so if you wanted to, you could use the phone until 2030. It's just not about the cameras either — the Pixel 8 Pro has a bold design with a large camera bar, the 120Hz OLED panel is magnificent, and it has all the extras you need in a high-end phone. The best part? The Pixel 8 Pro is down to $799, $200 off its launch price.
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Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.