I won’t lie, in recent months I’ve found the traditional flagship smartphone market decidedly boring. Although phones from the likes of LG, Samsung, HTC and Sony are all steadily improving all they time and — by all accounts — are very good phones, they all cost a small fortune. The price of flagships from the “big” manufacturers can be anywhere between $500-$900, which is a heck of a lot to spend on a small pocket computer. With the prices steadily rising, it’s created the perfect opportunity for smaller companies to take advantage and release great devices that cost less. In my mind, if it’s below $400 full retail, has a full HD (or better) display and an octa-core processor, that makes it a flagship killing, disruptive smartphone…
ASUS seems to have come out of nowhere this year, and launched a handful of awesome products in a number of categories. The one device that’s surprising everyone the most is perhaps the ZenFone 2. It may not have an octa-core processor, but the rest of its specs, and its performance easily make it one of the most disruptive phones available right now. For a dollar below $300, you get a phone with a full HD IPS 5.5-inch display covered in Gorilla Glass 3. Inside is a 64-bit 2.3GHz quad-core Intel processor with a beastly 4GB RAM and 64GB of internal storage. It supports all US LTE bands except T-Mobile new band 12 network and comes in a choice of four colors. Available for $299.
Few companies have impressed like Alcatel OneTouch over the past year. Before MWC in Barcelona back in February, the company had a reputation of building cheap, terrible products. And while it still does that to an extent, it also released one of the most loved, disruptive smartphones on the market. At pre-order, the 5.5-inch Idol 3 cost a meager $199. Now it’s up to its almost-full-price, $249. For a phone with a 5.5-inch fully laminated 1080p display, octa-core processor and 13MP Sony sensor, that’s a really great price. Performance may not quite match the speedy Galaxy Note 5, or HTC One M9, but for the $300+ price difference, that’s a compromise you’ll find easy to deal with. To help add some perspective, you could buy three Idol 3’s for the same amount you’d pay for a single Galaxy Note 5. Available for $249.99
Xiaomi is well-known for perhaps the wrong reasons, but apart from its occasional Apple and Samsung mimicking, it releases phones that sell incredibly well in its homeland, China. Its most recent announcement is the Redmi Note 2, a 5.5-inch smartphone with a 1080 x 1920 resolution display, a 3060mAh battery with Quick-Charge and a top-of-the-line Helio X10 processor. The brand is a little untested in Western markets, but if you fancy taking a chance on a disruptive Chinese brand, you can order it from now. It’s not officially available through retail outlets in the states, but you can pre-order it from GearBest and have it shipped to the US for free.
OnePlus is the brand that started it all. The original ‘flagship killer’ blew past the company’s own predictions last year and, so far, millions have signed up to get their hands on the new OnePlus 2. And it’s no surprise. OnePlus has married premium build quality with great specifications in a device running a highly customizable, fast and efficient operating system. It has a solid metal chassis, 4GB RAM, Snapdragon 810 processor and a full HD 5.5-inch display. Although it will eventually sell a cheaper 16GB model with 3GB of RAM for $319, currently you can only order the premium 64GB model with 4GB RAM for $389. And that’s only if you have an invite.
Motorola is arguably one of the only big-name manufacturers releasing great devices and not charging a fortune for them. The latest Moto X shows that clearly, and keeps everything that makes the Moto X special, while improving the things that — traditionally — haven’t been great. It has a huge 5.7-inch, QHD display and stereo speakers on the front, built into a solid metal chassis with a gorgeous curved back which you can customize before you buy. Moto Maker lets you choose from a plethora of colors and materials for the rear cover, including more premium leather and wood options. It also has a 21MP rear camera, and a 3,000mAh battery equipped with TurboPower fast-charging. It looks fantastic, feels amazing in hand and runs an almost-stock version of Android 5.1 Lollipop. It’s hard not to love the new Moto X, and it’s available to pre-order starting from $399.
Of course, a list isn’t complete without a couple of honorary mentions, and I couldn’t leave these two unmentioned…
It’s not on store shelves yet, virtual or brick-and-mortar, but the BLU Pure XL was announced just yesterday and promises a lot. It has an all-metal body, fingerprint sensor, Helio X10 octa-core processor, 3GB RAM, 64GB storage, 24MP camera with 4K video capture and a 3,500mAh battery all for just $349. Perhaps more impressive is that it also has a huge, 6-inch QHD resolution AMOLED display. It’s not available to buy until September 29, and if you’re a little impatient and want something with similar-ish specifications, there is — surprisingly — already something on the market at the same price…
Up until this week, the Nexus 6 was a bonafide flagship with the price to match. But with the expected arrival of the upcoming LG and Huawei Nexii, the N6 got a drastic price-cut and is now available to buy for almost half its original retail price of $649. I had to throw this one in, mostly because over the past 6 months or so, this has been the phone I keep going back to. While I’ve tried using 2-3 other handsets as my daily driver, the Nexus 6 keeps pulling me back. I love the huge, gorgeous 5.9-inch QHD AMOLED display, the build quality, the ergonomic curve on the back and — most importantly — using a completely vanilla version of Android. Camera and battery performance do leave a lot to be desired, but neither is terrible enough to detract from the fast, fluid, powerful and beautiful device. Yes it’s big, but it’s lovely. 32GB and 64GB models available for $349 and $399 respectively.
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