The single camera on the back takes great photos during the day and handles high contrast scenes well, but unfortunately Apple still did not include Night Mode, which is available on its more expensive iPhones. This means that in low light conditions you can expect muddy, grainy and blurry shots that don’t take into account what you’ll be capturing on the Pixel 5A 5G.
At the very least, this iPhone will last a long time, because Apple supports its devices for years. Would recommend sticking a case on the glass back and a screen protector on the front to keep it cool – our favorite iPhone SE Accessories can help.
Works on all three major US carriers.
For not much more, you can upgrade to the iPhone 11 (8/10, WIRED recommends). It’s Apple’s flagship iPhone from 2019 and the first to introduce Night mode, so it can capture great photos in low light. It has Apple’s new design, with thinner bezels, a bigger screen, and Face ID instead of Touch ID (but no 5G). If you can wait until September, chances are the iPhone 12 will drop to that price when the iPhone 14 comes into the lineup.
The Samsung Galaxy A53 5G (8/10, WIRED recommends) is a great alternative to the Pixel. Its camera system isn’t quite as nice, but it comes close, and the 5,000mAh battery offers comparable all-day battery life. Performance puts it another notch below the Pixel – it’s one of the first Samsung phones sold in the US to run the company’s in-house processor, the Exynos 1280. You can run almost any app and all games fairly well, but expect stutters and slowdowns here and there.
The highlight is the AMOLED display, which matches the Pixel 6A in inky blacks, but it supports a 120Hz refresh rate, which means it’s super smooth when you’re scrolling through Twitter late at night. The A53 5G also outperforms the Pixel 6A in software updates, with a promise of four OS upgrades and five years of security updates compared to the three years of support offered by Google.
It has similar niceties, such as an IP67 water and dust resistance rating to protect the phone from dips in the pool, sub-6 5G connectivity, NFC for contactless payments, and even a slot for microSD card to increase the built-in 128. GB of storage if you want to download more movies and shows. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a headphone jack either. The A53 5G has often dropped to $350, so it’s worth waiting for a sale and snagging it at that price.
Works on all three major US carriers.
This Motorola phone is rare (6/10, Wired Review). Unlike its Moto G siblings, it has an NFC chip that allows it to make contactless payments via Google Pay, handy when you forget your wallet at home. Its battery lasts nearly two full days, there’s sub-6 5G connectivity, and performance is pretty good. It even has a MicroSD card for you to get a lot of storage. Don’t expect much from the cameras, but if you don’t care about them or lots of software updatesthat will satisfy.
In the United States, many cheap unlocked phones do not work perfectly on all major carriers. Some might not work on Verizon, while others might not have access to 5G on AT&T. Carriers are entirely responsible for this mess. Luckily, you don’t have to worry about compatibility with Samsung’s Galaxy A13 5G (7/10, WIRED recommends). I tested it on AT&T and had full access to the carrier’s sub-6 5G network, but also confirmed with Samsung that it will work fine on Verizon and T-Mobile as well.
The Mediatek Dimensity 700 processor that powers this device delivers smooth performance – I rarely saw it slow down or stutter – and the 5,000mAh battery lasted me a day and a half, if not longer. It has a capacitive fingerprint reader integrated into the power button on the edge, a microSD card slot, a headphone jack and support for contactless payments like Google Pay or Samsung Pay. The best part? Samsung promises two operating system updates (up to Android 13) and four years of security updates. That’s more than any other phone that costs less than $300.