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Best phones for back to school 2020

CNET's top 7 picks for phones to start the school year.

Lynn La Senior Editor / Reviews - Phones
Lynn La covers mobile reviews and news. She previously wrote for The Sacramento Bee, Macworld and The Global Post.
Lynn La
3 min read

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the question of whether schools will open up in the fall remains precarious. Nonetheless, if you're thinking about getting a phone for the upcoming school year, there are lots of options available. Read on for CNET's top pics that aren't too expensive and feature great specs like top-of-the-line processors, nimble cameras and bright displays.

Read more: Best back-to-school gear under $100 for 2020

The 2020 iPhone SE packs a bunch of upgrades including wireless charging, water resistance and Apple's latest A13 Bionic processor. Unfortunately for wired headphone users, it doesn't have a headphone jack and it's also missing Face ID. But if you're looking to gift a new iPhone and save as much money as possible, the $399 iPhone SE is your best bet.

In addition to its main Galaxy S flagship line, Samsung has a more cost-conscious A-series family of phones. The Galaxy A51 is the best of the bunch and also runs $399 (there's also a 5G variant that costs $499). The device has four cameras, an in-screen fingerprint reader and expandable storage.

If you're looking for a cheaper Note 10 alternative, the $300 Moto G Stylus features a stylus that you can store inside the phone along with a built-in Notes app so you can jot down lecture notes or doodle during the next virtual lesson. The phone also features three rear cameras, 128GB of storage and a robust 4,000-mAh battery.

Although the Galaxy A50 came out last year -- it's the predecessor to the A51 mentioned above -- it's still a great phone. Samsung currently sells it unlocked for $180, which is much cheaper than the price at launch. The phone has a 6.4-inch AMOLED screen, an in-screen fingerprint reader and a headphone jack. On the back, the three cameras include a wide angle lens as well as a depth lens, which is used to take portrait shots with blurry, dramatic backgrounds.

At $250, the Moto G Power is a tad cheaper than the G Stylus, but it has a robust 5,000-mAh battery. During our testing, it lasted an impressive four days without a charge. That means it'll stick with you while you're studying from class to class or having a late video chat with friends. The phone has three rear cameras, one of which is a macro lens, as well as a 6.4-inch display and expandable storage.

While rumors continue about Google's upcoming Pixel 4A, the very-real Pixel 3A from 2019 is still a great phone. The device has a solid camera and a headphone jack. Though Google has discontinued selling it, you can still buy it from carriers and other retailers like Best Buy.

Read more: Phones under $200: Top picks and new budget phones

Despite coming out in 2019, the Moto G7 is a great value for any kind of student. It has dual rear cameras, an enduring battery life and a sleek design. It also charges really quickly, which is useful when you need to juice up before your next lesson begins.