Five best mid-range phones

After a smart phone that packs a punch but don't want to pay top whack? Here are the best phones with all the bells, minus a few whistles.

Not everyone is looking for the newest, shiniest, most powerful smart phone available. Some people are much happier with a decent-performing handset, a few useful features and a low price tag.

When you're shopping round, it's easy to be distracted by phones such as the iPhone 4S , Samsung Galaxy Nexus or the HTC Sensation XL . They tend to hog all the limelight, but there are a vast array of mid-range blowers out there that are just desperate to fill your pockets without emptying them first.

We take you through five of our favourite choices.

Samsung Galaxy Ace

Samsung Galaxy Ace

The Samsung Galaxy S2 may still be Samsung's crowning mobile glory, but it comes with a steep price tag. Alternatively, the Galaxy Ace packs in many great features and won't require you to sell your organs in order to buy one.

From the front, it looks very similar to the Galaxy S2, although the Ace has a smaller 3.5-inch screen. It has a lower resolution than the S2 but it's bright and vivid, which makes watching video clips a pleasure.

The Galaxy Ace is running Android 2.2 Froyo , which isn't the most up-to-date version of Google's operating system. But you still get full access to Android Market for apps and all the fun of customising those various home screens.

If you're looking to dip your toe in the Galaxy pool but don't want to spend top dollar on the S2, the Galaxy Ace is a great option.

Price: Free on contracts from £10.50 per month.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray

Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray

The Xperia Ray is a miniature little chap that's a great way of sliding Androidy goodness into your skinny jeans. The 3.3-inch screen is beautifully sharp and rather bright so those photos of your cat will show up well. It's a small screen size compared to smart phone goliaths like the HTC Titan though so expect some scrolling through web pages.

A skin has been slapped onto Android 2.3 Gingerbread , which helps you post to Facebook faster -- and we have plenty of things to keep posting to our Facebook page! You can also take advantage of all the apps you want.

Under the hood, it's packing a 1GHz processor, which is quite enough juice to tear into the more demanding apps and 3D games. You also get an 8-megapixel camera that shoots 720p resolution video -- ideal for capturing your mate trying to eat 11 Jaffa Cakes at once. If you're after an Android phone that's tiny enough to swallow, the Xperia Ray is a great choice.

Price: Free on contracts from £15 per month.

iPhone 3GS

iPhone 3GS

The iPhone 3GS may have been superseded by its bigger brothers, the iPhone 4 and 4S , but the 3GS is still a great bit of kit, offering a cheaper way into the iPhone world. With the update to the latest version of the iPhone operating system -- iOS 5 -- the 3GS has many of the features of its more expensive siblings such as iMessage and a handy notification centre.

Although the 3.5-inch screen doesn't have the pin-sharp resolution of the iPhone 4S, it's still pretty good and does a pleasing job of handling colour. The camera on the 3GS isn't up to the standards of the iPhone 4, or the new 8-megapixel snapper on the 4S, but it will cope adequately if you just want the odd quick shot of yourself in the mirror.

The Apple App Store is one of the best things about the iPhone and, of course, you get full access to it on the 3GS. If you're after a piece of Apple pie but can't stretch your budget for the iPhone 4S , the 3GS is still worth a look.

Price: Free on contracts from £13.50 per month.

HTC Wildfire S

HTC Wildfire S

HTC may have been busy making enormous powerhouses like the Titan and Sensation XL , but it's quite capable of pumping out a decent handset for a smaller pocket and more modest budget.

The Wildfire S is a bite-sized little guy that will suit you if you have small hands but not if you want to display videos and pictures on a big screen.

It's running Android 2.3 Gingerbread so you can happily join in the chat with your mates about who is better at Angry Birds.

With a 600MHz processor, the Wildfire S certainly isn't the fastest phone available, but it's got enough sauce to keep your social networks tidy and play a few games.

If you don't need a monstrously powerful phone and want some Android app fun on the cheap, the Wildfire S should be on your list.

Price: Free on contracts from £10.50 per month

Nokia 700

Nokia 700

The 700 is touted by Nokia as being the smallest smart phone on the market. We don't know for certain if that's true, but we agree that it's incredibly mini. Measuring only 110mm long and 50mm wide, it's almost small enough to shove into a car's exhaust as a hilarious prank.

The 3.2-inch screen isn't big enough for really comfortable web browsing -- and typing on the on-screen keyboard can be awkward -- but it's very bright and superbly vivid. Pictures and videos will look splendid, although small.

Rather than go for Android or Windows Phone operating systems, Nokia has slapped Belle -- the latest version of Symbian -- onto the 700. Although it looks like Android, we were pretty keen on Belle. It offers a quick and simple operation and the refreshed web browser is much better than on the previous incarnation of Symbian.

However, if apps are your bag, the 700 won't be for you. The Nokia app store -- available through Belle -- is woefully understocked. It's highly unlikely that developers are ever going to get behind it to bring you more choice although the essentials like Facebook and Twitter are there.

Everything runs blissfuly smoothly, thanks to the 1GHz processor and 1GB of RAM stuffed inside. That's enough to make the Nokia 700 a great choice if you're looking for a small, powerful phone and don't want to join in with the rest of the Android crowd.

Price: Free on contracts from £15 per month.

Conclusion

So there we have it: five phones that are all worthy of your attention if you don't want to spend all your cash on the latest top-end handset. Make sure to check out all our reviews and price comparisons to make sure you're getting the phone that suits you.


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Phones
About the author

Andrew is a senior editor at CNET and has always been fascinated by tech. When not getting up close and personal with the latest phones, he can normally be found with his camera in hand, behind his drums or eating his stash of home-cooked food. Sometimes all at once.

 

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