For many years, you had two main choices when it came to buying a smartphone: either go all-out with an expensive flagship or settle for something more affordable. Handsets like the Moto G have proven to be really great options for people that want to spend as little as possible, but if you've ever found yourself wanting a higher-end experience without being able to shell out $1000 or more, options have traditionally been pretty limited.
We've seen some brands try to break the status quo — namely OnePlus — but even its last couple of releases have morphed into the pricey smartphones it was once trying to fight against. Thankfully, one of the few silver linings of 2020 saw more companies than ever before put real time and effort into creating high-end flagships that don't cost an arm and a leg.
Yes, we're talking about the awesome rise of value flagships.
Before you dive into the comments section, I'm fully aware that previous years have given us flagship-like devices with reasonable price tags. The Galaxy S10e from 2019 stands out as a good example, as does the OnePlus 7T. But while those used to be few and far between throughout a given year, 2020 ramped up both the quality and quantity of these releases.
Perhaps the best example of this is the Galax S20 FE. It's the least technically-impressive entry in the Galaxy S20 family, but despite that, it holds a strong position as our pick for the best Android phone of the year. On a list that also highlights phones like the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, OnePlus 8 Pro, and even the Z Fold 2, the $700 Galaxy S20 FE is our number one overall pick.
How can that be? Because Samsung created an incredible flagship device that cuts barely any corners, all while still managing to shave $300 off the retail price compared to the regular S20. The S20 FE is still packing a Snapdragon 865 processor, 120Hz AMOLED display, great cameras, and long battery life. The flat display may not be as eye-catching as a curved one and the plastic back could be considered as less "premium" than glass, but nothing about the phone feels like a compromised experience in day-to-day use.
Being able to get that kind of a smartphone for just $700 (opens in new tab) is excellent, but because this is Samsung we're talking about, you can often pick up the S20 FE for $600 or even $550. Over two months after its release, the Galaxy S20 FE still hasn't stopped impressing us.
We also saw Google embrace the value flagship bandwagon this year with the Pixel 5. After spending four years chasing iPhones and Samsung Galaxies, the shift to launching a $700 handset as its top-tier flagship was a big change for Google's hardware division. And you know what? It paid off in spades.
The Pixel 5 may not have the very best Qualcomm processor or the most rear cameras compared to some of its rivals, but it manages to do something that the Pixel 3 and Pixel 4 couldn't: be a reliable and enjoyable smartphone that's free of any game-breaking issues. There's no RAM limitation, battery life is great, and just about every facet of the Pixel 5 allows it to be one of the most pleasant phones of the entire year.
We went as far as to call it "the best Pixel ever" in our Pixel 5 review, proving that companies don't need to use the most expensive components and materials to create an excellent piece of tech.
And then there are all of the other value flagships that made their appearance throughout 2020. OnePlus tried its hand at it a couple of times with the OnePlus 8 and OnePlus 8T, the Motorola Edge stands out as one of the most underrated contenders in this space, and even Nokia threw its hat in the ring with the Nokia 8.3 5G. Some of these value flagships have been better than others, but what's important is that more companies are trying harder than ever before to secure a strong foothold in this emerging niche.
At least for me personally, that's made the smartphone market a lot more exciting than it's felt in years past. If a friend or family member comes to me looking for phone advice, I now have plenty of recommendations to make that'll give them a thoroughly great handset without them needing to pay $1000 or more. Especially in the year we've just endured, this couldn't have come at a better time.
Value flagships are here, they aren't going anywhere, and I'm couldn't be happier.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
The best Android phone of 2020
It may not be the most premium smartphone to come out this year, but when factoring in specs, features, and value, the Galaxy S20 FE stands out as something truly special. This is a legitimate flagship phone in almost every regard, and the fact that it can be yours for $700 or less is still kind of mind-blowing.
I chose the S20 FE, why? Your absolutely right it's the best bang for the 💰, it's that simple folks. It has 97% of the features the S20 series incorporates!
I bought the ZTE axon 10 pro. It's an incredible phone. 12 gb ram 256gb on board, excellent camera under screen fingerprint reader, amoled screen, wireless charging and more. Even an sd card slot. It's superfast too. I paid 349.00 from B&H. To bad ZTE isn't allowed in this country anymore.
$700! I guess your definition of "value" is different from mine.
Agreed. Also the term "value flagship" is an oxymoron.
It's simple, we're getting porked by the manufacturers on pricing, they make $1000+ phones that people aren't buying as much plus they're keeping them longer since it's a mature technology and there's little difference in phones over the last few years. Why pay? BTW...$700 isn't really a value market. It's what we were paying a few years ago.
Come to think of it, 3 year old pricing, 3 year old features, hmmm...maybe I'll buy a 3 year old phone on Swappa for $150 and hang on to it.
I'm loving my S20 FE 5G but some of what Samsung won't allow me to do is making me rethink about I have gotten a Pixel 5 instead? Yeah, yeah I know its not the most impressive phone or feature packed software but it has 2 things I value most, timely updates on par with Apple and the software is enjoyable to use. I've come to realise that I'm actually missing the Pixel.
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