The $600 - 800 smartphone tier is one of the most competitive markets today. As increased competition drives the price of these flagship-level smartphones down, consumers reap the rewards of advanced features, premium builds, powerful processors and high-resolution displays. But which offers the most bang for your buck? We find out.
+ Huge battery that can be used to charge other phones, DTS audio suite.
- Display could be better.
HUAWEI MATE 8
The Huawei Mate 8 is a beautifully designed 6-inch phablet with an all-metal Champagne Gold build. The sides of the phone have chamfered edges, and there’s a very slight curve to the rear that makes it more comfortable to hold. Despite having a huge 6-inch display, the Mate 8 doesn’t feel much bigger than other phablets in the more standard 5.5 to 5.7-inch range, thanks to its incredibly thin 1.7mm bezels. This gives the phone a nearly 80 percent screento- body ratio.
There’s a round fingerprint scanner on the back of the Mate 8. Unlike earlier Huawei phones that had a square sensor, the Mate 8’s is slightly recessed and perfectly round. It’s not a button, so you don’t have to press down on it to unlock the phone. Above the fingerprint scanner there’s a 16-megapixel camera with an f/2.0 aperture, 27mm focal length and Sony’s IMX 298 sensor. The bottom edge of the phone houses a micro-USB port as well as the speaker grille. The speaker is a little underpowered, but with a good pair of headphones plugged in, the integrated DTS audio suite delivers a rich sound and an enjoyable listening experience. A dual SIM card tray, with the second slot doubling up as a microSD card slot that accepts up to 128GB cards can be found on the left side. Both the power button and the volume rocker can be found on the right-hand side.
The Mate 8 has a 6-inch Full HD 1,920 x 1,080 pixels resolution (368 ppi) IPS-NEO LCD display. The screen is bright enough to use under direct sunlight, but it doesn’t have the best contrast or color reproduction.
The Mate 8 runs on Huawei’s 16nm HiSilicon Kirin 950 octa-core chipset, which uses a quad-core 2.3GHz Cortex A72 and a quad-core 1.8GHz Cortex A53. The battery is a huge 4,000mAh unit. In fact, the battery is so big you can actually use the Mate 8 as a powerbank and charge other devices with it.
AT A GLANCE
DISPLAY 6-inch 1,920 x 1,080 pixels IPS-NEO LCD (368ppi)
PROCESSOR HiSilicon Kirin 950 (quad-core 2.3GHz Cortex A72 & quad-core 1.8GHz Cortex A53)
DIMENSIONS 157.1 x 80.6 x 7.9mm
The Mate 8 uses the same circular fingerprint scanner as the Nexus 6P.
The phone’s ultra-thin 1.7mm bezels give it a much smaller footprint.
+ Gorgeous AMOLED display, flagship-level processor with 6GB RAM, Alert slider.
- No expandable storage.
Previous OnePlus phones have mixed plastic and metal but the OnePlus 3 is the company’s most premium offering to date with an all metal and glass design. Combined with its 7.4mm thick frame and slightly curved rear, the smooth anodized aluminum makes the 5.5-inch phone a delight to both look at and hold. On the front of the device there’s a chamfered bezel that runs around the screen that adds to the premium design. Below the display, there’s an oblong home button that doubles up as a fingerprint scanner, flanked by two customizable soft keys that light up when pressed. The power button can be found along the right side, while the left side the volume rocker and a unique alert slider that lets you toggle between three sound profiles, and on the bottom, a USB Type-C port.
The OnePlus 3 uses a 5.5-inch Full HD 1,920 x 1,080 pixels resolution (401ppi) optic AMOLED display made by Samsung. The screen is gorgeous with excellent contrast and deep blacks. Early versions of the OnePlus 3 had inaccurate colors, but this has been fixed by an OTA software update that brings the display much closer to the sRGB standard.
On the back of the device there’s a 16-megapixel, f/2.0 rear camera with phase detection autofocus and optical image stabilization, while on the front you’ll find a 8-megapixel selfie camera.
The OnePlus 3 runs Android 6.0.1 with OxygenOS layered on top. For the most part OxygenOS is very similar to pure Android, with a few extra levels of customization available.
The phone is powered by Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 820 processor and a whopping 6GB RAM. You get 64GB of storage, but unfortunately, there’s no expandable option. Inside, there’s a 3,000mAh battery that fast charges with OnePlus’ Dash Charge technology, which will get you to about 60 percent charge in 30 minutes.
AT A GLANCE
DISPLAY 5.5-inch 1,920 x 1,080 pixels Optic AMOLED (401ppi)
PROCESSOR Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 (dual-core 2.15GHz Kryo & dual-core 1.6GHz Kryo)
DIMENSIONS 152.7 x 74.7 x 7.4mm
On the bottom of the OnePlus 3 is a USB Type-C charging port.
The fingerprint scanner is one of the fastest around.
+ Huge battery, VOOC fast charging.
- Mid-range processor.
OPPO R9 PLUS
Design-wise, the Oppo R9 Plus looks exactly like a slightly larger Apple iPhone 6s Plus, with the same shape and aluminum design, right down to the antenna lines on the back. The only real difference is an oblong Home button. Like an iPhone, the Home button doubles up as a fingerprint scanner, and the power button can be found on the right side, while the volume rocker is on the left. One big difference between the two phones is that the R9 Plus has expandable storage, in the form of a MicroSD card slot that doubles up as the second nano-SIM slot.
The R9 Plus has a 6-inch Full HD 1,920 x 1,080 (367ppi) AMOLED display. The display boasts vivid colors and fantastic contrast, as well as exceptional brightness that makes it easy to use even under direct sunlight. The only negative worth noting about the screen is that the auto-brightness sensor is a bit aggressive, but this can easily be disabled.
On the back of the R9 Plus is a decent 16-megapixel f/2.0 camera with a Sony IMX298 sensor and phase detection autofocus. On the front you’ll also find a 16-megapixel selfie camera, which is pretty good but not quite as good as Sony XA Ultra’s selfie camera, as it doesn’t have OIS or a dedicated LED flash.
Inside the R9 Plus is an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 652 processor with 4GB RAM. This is a mid-range processor, so benchmark performance isn’t quite up to the standard of Snapdragon 820-based phones. The phone runs on Android 5.1 with Oppo’s ColorOS 3.0 on top of it. Fitting with its iPhone appearance, ColorOS 3.0 looks just like iOS, with the app tray removed and all apps appearing on the home page. Many apps, like the camera and compass, are even visual clones of their iOS counterparts.
The R9 Plus has a massive 4,120mAh capacity battery and uses Oppo’s VOOC flash charging, which we’ve found to be the fastest charging solution around. Despite its massive size, the R9 Plus will reach 75 percent charge in just 30 minutes.
AT A GLANCE
DISPLAY 6.0-inch 1,920 x 1,080 pixels AMOLED (367 ppi)
PROCESSOR Qualcomm Snapdragon 652 (quad-core 1.8GHz Cortex-A72 & quad-core 1.2GHz Cortex-A53)
DIMENSIONS 163.1 x 80.8 x 7.4mm
The 16-megapixel front camera is ideal for selfies.
The home button doubles up as a fingerprint scanner.
+ Similar looks to Samsung’s flagship S range, gorgeous Super AMOLED display.
- Pretty big rear camera bump, mid-range processor.
SAMSUNG GALAXY A7 (2016)
Samsung’s A range sits just below its flagship S series and offers consumers a flagship design and high-end features at a more affordable price. The 2016 A7 looks very similar to Samsung’s Galaxy S6, but with less rounded corners. There’s a Gorilla Glass 4 panel on both the front and back, which provides both protection and a premium look and feel. Around the sides and top, the phone has an aluminum frame with beveled edges.
Like the S6 and S7, there’s a fingerprint scanner on the home button. The scanner is accurate and just as fast as the ones found on the mentioned flagships. It’s also compatible with Samsung Pay.
On the left side of the phone there’s a dual-SIM card tray, with the second SIM slot doubling up as a MicroSD card slot that is compatible with cards up to 256GB. Internally, you only get 16GB storage.
The A7 has a 5.5-inch Super AMOLED display, however, unlike Samsung’s QHD flagship phones, the resolution is just Full HD, at 1,920 x 1,080 pixels (401ppi). Nevertheless, clarity remains top notch, and the display’s vivid colors and deep contrast are just as good as the displays found on the S6 and S7. The bezels around the display are also fairly thin at 2.7mm.
On the back of the A7 you’ll find a 13-megapixel camera with an f/1.9 aperture and optical image stabilization. Unfortunately, there’s quite a sizeable camera bump. On the front, you’ll find a 5-megapixel selfie camera with an f/1.9 aperture.
The phone runs on Android 5.1.1 Lollipop with Samsung’s usual TouchWiz UI on top. The A7 is powered by Samsung’s own Exynos 7580 octacore processor with 3GB RAM, which is roughly equivalent to Qualcomm’s mid-range Snapdragon 650 processor. Battery-wise, it has a 3,300mAh non-removable battery, which is compatible with Samsung’s adaptive fast charging technology that will get you to about 50 percent in 30 minutes.
AT A GLANCE
DISPLAY 5.5-inch 1,920 x 1,080 pixels Super AMOLED (401ppi)
PROCESSOR Exynos 7580 (Octa-core 1.6 GHz Cortex-A53)
DIMENSIONS 151.5 x 74.1 x 7.3mm
The A7 is the first non-flagship Samsung phone that supports Samsung Pay.
There’s a pretty big camera bump on the rear.
+ 21.5MP rear camera, 16MP front camera with OIS and LED flash.
- Mid-range processor, no fingerprint scanner, display could be better, small battery.
SONY XPERIA XA ULTRA
Earlier this year, Sony transitioned away from the exclusively high-end Z line, to the more inclusive X series, with products spanning the mid- to high-end. The largest entry in the series is the XA Ultra.
While Sony was one of the first brands boasting water resistant smartphones, the XA Ultra does not boast any waterproofing. Despite this, the left-side of the phone still has port covers over the SIM card and MicroSD memory card slots, but they’re merely cosmetic now. Around the top and sides, the phone has an aluminum frame, while the back is matching color polycarbonate. As expected from its huge screen, the XA Ultra isn’t the lightest or thinnest phone out there, weighing 202g and measuring 8.4mm thick. On the plus side, the phone is quite narrow, thanks to its nearly non-existent bezels.
Both the power and volume rocker can be found on the right-side. Unfortunately, unlike the more expensive X phone, the power button doesn’t double up as a fingerprint scanner and, in fact, the XA Ultra is the only phone in this shootout without a fingerprint scanner.
The XA Ultra has a 6-inch Full HD 1,920 x 1,080 pixels resolution (367ppi) IPS LCD display. While the display is very bright, colors are a little cold and the contrast could be better too. The phone’s biggest draw are its two cameras. On the back you get a 21.5-megapixel shooter with phase detection autofocus, while on the front there’s a 16-megapixel camera with optical image stabilization and a dedicated LED flash. This makes it one of the best selfie cameras around.
Powering the XA Ultra is an octa-core Mediatek MT6755 Helio P10 processor and 3GB RAM. This processor is comparable to Qualcomm’s 650 processor, and as such falls behind the 820-powered phones in this shootout. Despite its huge size, the battery inside the XA Ultra is a smallish 2,700mAh unit.
AT A GLANCE
DISPLAY 6-inch 1,920 x 1,080 pixels IPS LCD (367ppi)
PROCESSOR Mediatek MT6755 Helio P10 (quad-core 2.0GHz Cortex-A53 & quad-core 1.0GHz Cortex-A53)
DIMENSIONS 164 x 79 x 8.4mm
The XA Ultra’s front 16MP camera has OIS and a dedicated LED flash!
The XA Ultra is pretty thick.
+ IR blaster, nearly bezel-less design, fast fingerprint scanner.
- No expandable storage, slower variant of Snapdragon 820 processor.
XIAOMI MI 5 (32GB)
Xiaomi has built a reputation for overdelivering and under-pricing and its latest Mi 5 is no different. The Mi 5 has a 3D glass rear on the back and a smooth aluminum frame with chamfered edges along the top and sides. Incredibly, Xiaomi has also almost completely eliminated bezels around the display. The image doesn’t quite run all the way up to the edge, but it’s as close as you can get.
Below the display, for the first time on a Xiaomi device, there’s a physical home button that doubles up as a fingerprint scanner that is both incredibly fast and accurate. On the top of the phone, next to the headphone port, there’s an IR blaster that allows you to control anything from your TV to your air conditioner with the assistance of Xiaomi’s Mi Remote app.
The Mi 5 has a 5.15-inch Full HD 1,920 x 1,080 pixels resolution (428ppi) IPS LCD panel. Colors are vibrant and contrast is surprisingly good with deep blacks. Viewing angles are superb and retain full color at all angles. An exceptionally bright (600cd/m2) display keeps the phone usable even under bright overhead sunlight.
As with all of Xiaomi’s devices, the Mi 5 ships with MIUI, a heavily customized version of Android OS. As with previous versions of MIUI, the app tray has been completely removed, with all of your apps placed on the home screen, just like iOS.
The Mi 5 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 quad-core processor. It’s worth noting however that this isn’t the same 820 processor found inside the OnePlus 3 and the ZTE Axon 7. Instead, the Mi 5 uses a slightly slower variant, with a pair of dualcore Kyro processors at 1.8GHz and 1.36GHz.
On the rear of the Mi 5 is a 16-megapixel camera with a Sony IMX298 sensor, 4-axis optical image stabilization and a fairly wide f/2.0 aperture lens.
The Mi 5 has a 3,000mAh nonremovable battery, and is compatible with QuickCharge 3.0, which will get it to 60 percent charge in just 30 minutes.
AT A GLANCE
DISPLAY 5.15-inch 1,920 x 1,080 pixels IPS LCD (428ppi)
PROCESSOR Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 (dual-core 1.8GHz Kryo & dual-core 1.36GHz Kryo)
DIMENSIONS 144.6 x 69.2 x 7.3mm
Despite the phone’s thin profile, there’s no camera bump on the back!
The Mi 5 uses a USB Type-C charging port.
+ Gorgeous QHD display, Stereo front-facing speakers with Dolby Atmos technology.
- Soft key layout cramped, fingerprint scanner not as fast or accurate as others.
ZTE AXON 7
The ZTE Axon 7 has a fairly conservative design with an aluminum unibody build with a curved profile and rolled edges. Its antenna lines are in exactly the same place as the OnePlus 3 and the similarity between the two is hard not to notice. The back of the phone has a fingerprint sensor under the camera module. The sensor itself is decent but not as fast or accurate as the ones found on the OnePlus 3 or Xiaomi Mi 5.
The right edge houses both the power button and volume rocker, while a USB Type-C port can be found on the bottom. Below the screen, there are three soft keys for home, back and menu. The buttons are a little cramped though and not backlit , so I often found myself missing them or hitting the wrong one.
The Axon 7 has the highest resolution display in our shootout, with a 5.5-inch QHD 2,560 x 1,440 (538 ppi) AMOLED panel. This is the same kind of display you find on $1,000 flagship phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S7. The display itself is fantastic, with excellent clarity, plenty of brightness and deep contrast. Colors are vivid without being oversaturated.
Audio is also worth mentioning on the Axon 7, which sports front-facing stereo speakers. Volume is excellent and the addition of Dolby Atmos technology helps to control distortion at high volumes. Audio quality on the Axon 7 was way ahead of the rest of the field.
On the back of the Axon 7 is a 20-megapixel, f/1.8 camera with phase detection autofocus and optical image stabilization. On the front, you get an 8-megapixel f/2.2 selfie camera.
The phone is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor with 4GB RAM. Internally, there’s 64GB storage, and the second Nano-SIM card slot doubles up as a microSD slot supporting up to 256GB. The battery is a 3,250mAh capacity unit, and is compatible with Qualcomm’s QuickCharge 3.0 technology.
AT A GLANCE
DISPLAY 5.55-inch QHD 2,560 x 1,440 pixels AMOLED (538ppi)
PROCESSOR Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 (dual-core 2.15GHz Kryo & dual-core 1.6GHz Kryo)
DIMENSIONS 151.7 x 75 x 7.9mm
At the bottom of the phone there’s a USB Type-C charging port.
The fingerprint scanner can be found on the back of the Axon 7.
(in ms; Lower is Better)
Most of the phones scored within a similar range here (the outlier being the XA Ultra) and there wasn’t much to separate them in terms of actual user experience either, with every phone providing a smooth and lagfree experience (again, only the XA Ultra showed some slight jerkiness).
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(Higher is Better)
Once again the OnePlus 3 and ZTE Axon 7 pulled far ahead of the field, with the slightly slower Mi 5 lagging slightly behind.
(Higher is Better)
Two phones stood out here: the OnePlus 3 and ZTE Axon 7. There was also a surprisingly large difference between these two and the Mi 5’s slightly slower Snapdragon 820. The OnePlus 3 posted the best score overall, thanks to its whopping 6GB RAM.
(in minutes; Higher is Better)
The AMOLED smartphones generally fared better here. The exceptions being the Mate 8, which lasted just as long thanks to its massive 4,000mAh battery, and the Axon 7, which didn’t have quite the same staying power due to its higher resolution QHD display.