Affordable mid-range smartphones to choose from

By: Ted Kritsonis

October 26, 2015

Smartphones are pretty expensive when looking at the higher end of the scale, but the majority of handsets available are either in the mid-range or lower. Despite not having the hype or specs of more popular models, their sophistication has grown to a point where they are not only serviceable, but also reliable and robust.

The list of devices that fall under this calibre is also growing, as we have found more of them this year than we did in 2014. And we are talking about devices in the mid-range here, so not those that will be as low as $150 or others creeping up to the $1,000 mark.


Motorola Moto X Play

Motorola released three new smartphones this year, and the Moto X Play was the ‘middle child’ among them. Not especially pretty or filled with various bells and whistles, it nonetheless boasts one of the biggest batteries of any phone in its class or size. The 3630mAh battery is big enough to keep this phone’s lights on for as long as 48 hours on one charge.

The camera is decent, but not exceptional. The 5.5-inch 1080p LCD screen isn’t on par with the AMOLED displays of other Moto X phones in the past, but it still looks good. The 16GB of internal storage (more like 11GB once Android’s portion is accounted for) is also small, though a microSD card can expand that a further 128GB.

You can get the Moto X Play outright for $400, with Bell, Telus, Koodo, Wind, Videotron and SaskTel all carrying it. Best Buy is also selling it, and the retailer is exclusively selling a version that has a teal-coloured back.


Nexus 5X

The LG-manufactured device maintains some of the same design cues of the Nexus 5 released in 2013, except it ups the screen size from 4.95-inches to 5.2-inches and 1080p resolution without widening the frame. It’s also currently one of the only devices running on Android 6.0 Marshmallow, the latest version of Google’s operating system. It’s also a ‘pure’ version of Android, meaning there are no third-party overlays or visual tweaks that other vendors tend to put in their Android phones.

It has the Nexus Imprint fingerprint reader on the back that can be used to get past the lock screen, and will be in use from third-party developers, too. The camera is also said to have improved greatly from its predecessor, with better low-light performance, plus Smart Burst and slow-motion video at 120fps.

You can get the Nexus 5X directly from Google, unlocked, for $500 for the 16GB version or $560 for the 32GB one.


HTC One A9

HTC’s One M9 may be the company’s flagship, but the One A9 is the device that offers the most promising camera performance in its lineup. The iPhone-esque Android handset has a metal body with design placements that put it closer in line with what Apple and Samsung have done.

To make room for the fingerprint reader in the front below the 5-inch 1080p display, the excellent BoomSound front speakers were removed, leaving a solitary one at the bottom edge to fill speaker duties. It is unique in that it has a higher amp for headphones with a built-in DAC (digital-to-analog converter) that should give music a sonic boost with improved sound. The camera is also said to be considerably improved from that of the One M9. And lastly, it’s among the first third-party Android handsets to run on 6.0 Marshmallow.

You can pre-order the HTC One A9, unlocked, for $550 for a 32GB model.

Zenfone 2 front

Asus Zenfone 2

Having reviewed the Zenfone 2 already, there isn’t too much detail to get into, other than to say the phone does pack a fair punch for what you get. The 5.5-inch 1080p display is nice, and the brushed aluminum body gives the phone a metallic look that makes it seem pricier than it is.

The dual SIM card port under the back panel is unique, and can be handy in travelling situations. The camera offers a number of shooting modes, some gimmicky, others not. It’s a serviceable shooter, with Depth of Field and Super Resolution being two of the standout modes.

You can get the Asus Zenfone 2, unlocked, for $200 for the 16GB version or $350 for the 64GB version.


OnePlus 2

The OnePlus One caught consumers’ attention because it was well-built, had good specs and sold for an affordable price. Its successor continues that trend, though perhaps not with the same oomph that the previous model did. Still, this is a phone worth looking at if you’re in the market for a mid-range Android handset.

The 5.5-inch 1080p display is complemented by a decent camera and a large battery that should keep the phone running longer than some of the others on this list.

OnePlus uses an invite and reservation system to enable getting the OnePlus 2, as it’s not readily available through other channels. As it’s also coming from overseas, you may need to also take into account any duties and taxes that might tack onto the $410 (for the 16GB) or the $480 (for the 64GB) price tag.

Alcatel Idol 3 main

Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3

Having also reviewed the Idol 3, the details are easily found there, but the gist of this device is that it sticks to the basics in design and functionality. The 5.5-inch 1080p display is nice and bright, and the phone has enough power to handle the daily requirements of most users.

The camera is average, at best. Good by day, not as good in the dark. Battery life is also average, though better than the Zenfone 2. For a device that doesn’t necessarily use premium materials, it has a classy look and feel to it that belies its price point.

You can get the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 for $350, with Bell, Virgin Mobile, Telus and Videotron all carrying it.

Acer Liquid Jade Z main

Acer Liquid Jade Z

A relative unknown in the smartphone space in Canada, Acer has been selling the Liquid Jade Z outright and unlocked. The phone is handicapped, somewhat, by the lack of power under the hood, and the fact it runs on Android 4.4 KitKat, with no real word on what upgrade path it may have to later versions.

The phone is easily one of the lightest available. It has a 5-inch 720p display and a moderately good camera for daylight photography. Battery life isn’t bad, though not exceptional, either.

You can get the Acer Liquid Jade Z, unlocked, for $270 at participating brick-and-mortar and online retailers. For its price, however, it is outclassed by the 16GB Zenfone 2, which is $20 cheaper.


BlackBerry Leap

For those who still want a BlackBerry, and are willing to forego the physical keyboard, the Leap is as close as you can get at a budget price. Its spec sheet reads out like a mirror image of the BlackBerry Z10 that launched back in early 2013, so this device isn’t cutting-edge, by any means.

It can serve you well if messaging and calls are the primary purposes for having it. It can handle apps, including Android ones downloaded via the Amazon Appstore, so long as they aren’t graphics-hungry games. Camera performance is mediocre.

You can get the BlackBerry Leap, unlocked and directly from BlackBerry, for $280. Rogers, Bell, Telus, Wind and SaskTel also carry it.


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