Unless you’re a tech enthusiast, there’s really no reason to buy a new cellphone annually. While phones generally do get better each year, nowadays those improvements or new features aren’t exactly aspects of the phone that the average user really needs, or will even use.
As 5G networks continue to grow in coverage and quality, you might have to upgrade to catch up, but for now, widely-available 5G is only slightly better than 4G LTE, and it’s probably not the right time to upgrade just based on the new network technology.
However, there are still plenty of reasons why you might need a new smartphone, the main one being simply that your current phone is broken or not working right. The good news is that having to buy a new phone doesn’t have to mean spending $1,000 or even $700.
There are several capable and adequate budget smartphones out there, but if you want a truly great phone for under $400, look no further than the Google Pixel 4a and Apple iPhone SE.
Google Pixel 4a
Google introduced the budget version of its flagship smartphone with the Google Pixel 3a in 2019. This year the a-series got an upgrade in specs and a lower price.
The Pixel has been on the top of many best-of lists primarily due to its industry-leading camera software, and with the Google Pixel 4a, you’ll get to take advantage of that software for just $350. Whether you are in well-lit spaces, or you take advantage of Night Mode in darker areas, you’ll get some of the clearest pictures from the 4a. You’d be hard-pressed to find a phone in this price range that has a better camera.
The Google Pixel 4a also features a 5.8-inch OLED display with minimal bezel and an unobtrusive punch-hole selfie camera.
You might feel the cheapness in its polycarbonate (plastic) body as opposed to the glass or metal you find with higher-end phones. Still, the Google Pixel 4a packs a bunch of great features in a very affordable device.
Starting at $399.99 the iPhone SE (2020) just barely makes the cut for a great phone under $400. Apple released its first entrant into the budget segment of smartphones in 2016 with the first iPhone SE.
Unlike with its flagship devices, Apple hasn’t released a new SE every year. In fact, it wasn’t until earlier this year before the second generation SE was finally released. Unlike the Google Pixel 4a, which takes a lot of design queues from modern flagships, the budget-friendly iPhone SE models itself after older devices, looking an awful lot like 2018’s iPhone 8.
It might feel old, but many users will enjoy the compact size (compared with large modern devices).
No phone in the price range can outperform the iPhone SE, which boasts the A13 Bionic chip — the same processor that powers the high-end iPhone 11 devices. This is a multitasking machine that should be able to handle just about anything you throw at it.
The 2020 iPhone SE also features wireless charging that is near impossible to find in a sub-$400 device.
You might miss Face ID with the SE, but then again, facial recognition isn’t all that great of a feature when we’re constantly wearing face masks. Instead, the SE can be unlocked with a front fingerprint sensor.
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