There is a great phone under $500 that I would recommend to anyone looking for the best mid-range phone on the market. It uses the same chipset as the company’s much more expensive flagships and includes an IP67 rating, a very good 12-megapixel camera, and a long life ahead of it with software support for many years. It’s not the iPhone SE, which I wish I could recommend as freely as the current category winner: the Pixel 6A. It’s a better phone, and it’s what the SE should have been. Here’s what Google got right and what Apple should have done differently.
The Pixel 6A’s 6.1-inch screen isn’t perfect. It’s not great outdoors, and it’s a 60Hz display in a world where faster refresh rates are becoming the norm. But here’s the thing: it’s good enough. The iPhone SE’s also 60Hz screen isn’t because, at 4.7 inches, it’s too small for a phone in 2022. I say this as someone who loves small phones, so if me thinks it is too small, then it really is too small.
You can’t have everything from a mid-range phone, and the screen is where both Apple and Google made some concessions to reach a lower price point. But a screen that is too small is not something you can settle for. Take wireless charging: the SE includes it, which virtually no other phone in the mid-range class has, including the 6A. But that’s something I think most people can live without. On the other hand, we look at our phone screens ten thousand times a day; a reasonably large screen isn’t a convenient feature, it’s your whole phone.
Another place where Apple fell short: storage. The iPhone SE starts at $429, a great price! But that only gets you 64GB of storage, and that’s not enough for all the apps we use and the photos and 4K videos we capture these days. The base model of the Pixel 6A costs a bit more at $449, but offers 128GB of storage. It’s not a huge amount, especially considering the phone is designed to last four or five years, but it’s what I’d consider a minimum.
For reference, the iPhone SE I’ve been testing for a few weeks already has 43GB just between system files, apps, and my photo library. Hitting 64GB would be too easy in a year or two, or even sooner, depending on how much 4K video you shoot. Simply put, even at a great price, 64GB really isn’t enough space. Google made the smart move by starting at a higher price with a decent amount of storage.
Both the 6A and SE pack very good cameras for the mid-range class: 12-megapixel main rear cameras with OIS in both cases. But Apple made an unfortunate decision that puts its very good camera behind the rest of the class: it excluded the SE’s night mode. There’s really no good explanation for this, other than the fact that it helps Apple differentiate its higher-priced phones from this entry-level offering.
That, to put it bluntly, sucks. Even $300 phones offer a usable night mode these days, and they manage to do so without using a flagship-level chipset. And it’s not like the 6A includes all the camera features in the Pixel 6: it uses an older camera module than the flagship, and the Motion Mode feature isn’t enabled. But do you know what it includes? Night mode. The SE doesn’t need to include the latest camera features; you only need the essentials, and these days, that includes night mode.
Between the Pixel 6A and the Samsung A53 5G, Android customers have great options for under $500. The features those models exclude, like wireless charging and higher-powered cameras, are things most people can do without. It’s a shame Apple users don’t have an equivalent option. Perhaps Apple can borrow Google’s mid-range device playbook for the next version of the SE.