Smartphones have become an important staple of our daily lives. No longer are they luxury items sought out by the technologically minded. From communication and entertainment to navigation and banking, our phones play a pivotal role in many of our activities. However, their prices can be off-putting and downright prohibitive when it comes to top-notch devices. Choosing the right phone at an affordable price can be a cumbersome experience if you’re not familiar with the technical specifications and their meaning, and you might end up paying extra for features you don’t need.
This short guide will look at five smartphones priced below $500 AUD, highlighting their features and explaining the difference between them. In this price range, these devices often eschew state-of-the-art bells and whistles and yet are powerful enough to allow for a hassle-free experience.
The phones we propose are the Samsung Galaxy A5, the Motorola G5 Plus, the Huawei P9, the HTC U Play and the Oppo R9s. At a glance, they are very similar devices, roughly the same size, although aesthetically different.
Screen sizes in these devices are the same, 5.2”, except for the Oppo R9s, 5.5”. Screen size is important if you plan to do a lot of reading on your phone or if you want to use it to watch movies or TV shows. Of course, a larger screen means a bulkier phone you’ll have to carry around.
When it comes to resolution, full HD is as far as you’re going to get at this price range. This means a picture 1920 pixels wide and 1080 pixels high, also known as Full HD. If it’s any consolation, lower resolutions aren’t too noticeable in smaller screens. The difference between 4K and FHD on a 55’’ TV would be huge, whereas on a phone screen it might require closer inspection to even notice.
The biggest difference between these phones is the technology used for the screen. Broadly speaking, the two different options are AMOLED (Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode) and IPS LCD (In-Plane Switching Liquid Crystal Display). Without going into technical detail, LCD’s present a sharper image, brighter colors and a wider viewing angle. On the flip side, it uses more power, and its components require more space, which means thicker phones. AMOLED shows darker blacks and higher contrast and requires no backlighting, which means less energy consumption. However, AMOLED’s have a shorter lifespan than LCD’s, are generally more expensive, and aren’t environment-friendly.
There is no consensus on which is better, so you’ll need to look at each kind of display for yourself the next time you’re out shopping.
One would usually think that a higher megapixel count is all that matters, but you must also take into consideration that a lower resolution camera might still have better sensors, shutters and focus speeds than their higher resolution counterparts. This translates into better pictures in different conditions, such as low light and moving objects. For example, the A5 has a higher megapixel count than the Huawei P9, both on the frontal and the selfie camera, but the P9 boasts a Leica dual lens setup that allows for more professional pictures. That said, larger megapixel counts are required to take higher resolution video, like 2K.
CPU and RAM
These two components determine how fast your phone works and how many tasks it can handle at a given time. Although bigger numbers are usually better, you may not see too much difference between a phone with 3 GB of RAM and one with 4 GB.
On the CPU side, more cores (quad-core, hexa-core, octa-core) with larger clock speeds (gigahertz, or GHz) mean a better phone. The apps in your phone don’t use all of the CPU’s cores at the same time, though, and a phone with four decent cores (> 2.0 GHz) and four smaller ones might be enough for your needs. For example, the Motorola G5 Plus has eight 2 GHz cores, while the HTC U Play has only four at that speed, the remaining four being clocked at 1.1 GHz. A regular user might not even tax the phone’s resources enough see a difference in performance.
Most of these phones come with 32 GB of storage, except for the Oppo R9s, which comes with 64 GB. You can expand this storage space by purchasing a microSD card, to add up to 256 GB extra space. Whether or not you want to do this depends on how you plan to use your phone. If you prefer to download all of your music, movies and TV shows, you’ll definitely need the additional card. On the other hand, if you usually stream this content using services like Spotify or Netflix, then you might get by with just the base storage space.
Battery capacity is expressed in miliamperes hour (mAh), and the higher the better. It means how much energy the battery can output in an hour. Non-replaceable lithium-ion batteries have become the norm, and the one aspect you should look out for is if it allows for fast charging. All of the phones have 3000 mAh batteries, except for the HTC U Play, which comes up short at 2500 mAh.
All of these devices allow you to use two different SIM cards. This card holds your phone line data, such as your carrier and your phone number. Some people prefer to have separate numbers, one for personal use and one for their business. Having them on the same phone is obviously practical. The HTC U Play and the Oppo R9s cut some corners and only let you do one of two things: you can either expand the storage space with a microSD card, or you can use a second SIM card. Since they use the same slot, you’ll have to pick one.
In the end, you must choose the phone and phone plan that feels right for you. Most stores will have a display where you can examine each device and test out the camera, display, speeds, etc. You might find that a feature that many people prefer is actually not for you, as might be the case with the different kinds of displays. Hopefully, the information provided here will help you get the phone that best suits your needs.