TECH BUYER’S GUIDE, July 2022 – Best budget phones tested and compared on features, price and build quality by the experts at Tech Magazine
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A phone for serious techies it comes with a superb, 120 Hz refresh OLED screen, a quality 108 MP camera, great speakers and masses of processing power. Fast charging is a nice bonus. R14 000
The best value phone below R10 000 this has a truly outstanding AMOLED screen with 120Hz high refresh, and an equally impressive triple camera setup. It has tough Gorilla Glass on the front and is the only phone at this price with IP67 waterproofing. R7 500
3. Oppo A74 5G
There’s not much changed from the excellent A72 which it replaces, but it does just enough to stay on our list, thanks to the 90 Hz high refresh 6.5” screen and the remarkably effective fast charging abilities. R7 500
4. Nokia X20
The new top-end Nokia brings together a solid set of specs, including reliable triple cameras and 5G. With strong Nordic design, build quality and ergonomics it delivers a calmly confident performance that quickly wins you over. It’s built to last and quickly feels like a trusted tech companion. R7 600
This budget beater includes a 6.4-inch AMOLED screen with 90 Hz high refresh rate, and a quad-camera set-up, which produced superb results whatever we threw at them. Add in Samsung build quality and you’re winning here. R4 000
How to buy a budget phone
Budget phones range from R4000 to R8000. The budget smartphone category is the most competitive in South Africa, with the greatest number of models and brands on offer. Here are the key features you should be looking for if you are a committed budget-phone shopper.
SCREEN: Size is not as important as quality, but 6 inches is adequate for most. OLED screens now appear on some budget models. These look stunning and use less battery than the older LCD screens. If you are a serious gamer or compulsive video watcher, shoot for Full-HD (1080p). A high refresh rate (anything above 60 hz) produces smoother scrolling and a much better video viewing, but it takes a toll on your battery.
CAMERAS: More cameras are not necessarily better. Some “cameras” are simply sensors to support the main camera. Look for versatility in the camera app, with a Pro mode to go full manual settings and to get full resolution.
5G: The roll-out of 5G in South Africa has finally got some momentum and we can expect broad coverage by the end of 2022. How useful it will be remains to be seen, but it seems available as an inexpensive upgrade option when shopping for budget phones.
BATTERY: The biggest impacts on battery life are the screen size and brightness, and 5G. We recommend at least 4000mAh if you have a screen 6-inches or bigger. Fast-charging is now on offer from all the phone makers, but they are not all equally effective, and fast-charging might degrade your battery. Newer versions of Android have much-improved power management systems, to save your battery.
MEDIA: All the models on test here have a headphone jack socket and a microSD memory slot for storing video, photos and music. Most of today’s flagship phones have neither headphone socket nor a memory card slot.
NFC TO PAY: Tapping your phone to pay is set to become commonplace in the next year, but only phones with a near field communication (NFC) chip can tap to transact.
How to buy an affordable high performance phone
These phones showcase bleeding edge innovations and powerhouse features, and come with a lot of social prestige. They also cost around R20 000, which seems like a lot of money for something that is so easily damaged, lost or stolen. But there are powerful phones, with excellent features sets rivalling the best in the business, which cost far less. These affordable flagships are where the tech savvy go shopping on a budget.
They know that most people don’t use half the processing power and advanced features of their top-end phones. These smart shoppers are looking for one of these bargain buys that can still handle all the serious phone business, and will look good doing it.
PRICE: Mid-range phones cost around R10 000 and affordable flagships can cost up to R15 000. Pay more than this and you’re in true flagship territory.
5G: All phones above the entry level now include 5G. Early 5G chips drained the battery, but these problems have now disappeared. Various kinds of 5G tech are still being rolled out across South Africa, but indications are that we will have robust 5G coverage by 2023. The uses for 5G are still being explored but instant video playback and no-lag gaming seem like early wins. All the phones on test here have 5G built in.
SCREEN: Colour-rich AMOLED screens are now standard issue on most mid-range phones and above. This is a more battery-friendly technology than the old LCD screens, with better colour reproduction and a thinner design. Most mid-range phones now also offer high screen refresh rate of 90 Hz or even 120 Hz, which makes for smoother scrolling. Other screen tech like HDR and Dolby Vision enhance certain kinds of video, too.
CAMERAS: Most advanced cameras use so-called pixel binning, where the information captured in several pixels is combined into a single, much smarter pixel, for better photos results. In this way, a 48 MP camera is used to produce superior 12 MP photos. The best cameras set-ups also let you capture full resolution photos, without pixel binning, for the serious photographers. In general, we find wide-angle lenses more useful than macro or zoom. And remember, not every lens on the back of the phone is a camera. Some are simply used to assist the main camera for focus and other effects.
BATTERY AND CHARGING: These big screens with high refresh rates and 5G and will make the biggest impact on your battery life. However, you should still expect at least one-and-a-half days of life from your phone, so the size of your battery should be at least 4 000 mAh. . Fast charging is also now standard with anything from 30 watts to 100 watts being the norm. However, you should check to see if the fast charger is included in your box, or not.