One week from now, everyone in the mobile biz will be heading off to Barcelona to see a huge number of new phone releases for 2017, but the majority of them are going to be flagships. And that means expensive.

The mix of a weak pound and manufacturers now trying to make more profit per device, to compensate for slowing sales in a saturated market, means that by the end of 2017 (maybe sooner) we’ll perhaps see some phones selling for over a grand.

Google and Apple are each almost there, and HTC, Samsung and others are keen to cash in on an ever-growing premium market. Samsung would have been closer had it not been for the Note 7 fiasco, but the Galaxy S8 isn’t far away.

This is an awful lot of money for a SIM-free purchase, and even more money if you sign up on a contract and work out the total cost of ownership. £600, £700 or £800 isn’t cheap either, but are you getting considerably more for your money, or just paying for a badge?

There’s nothing wrong with shelling out if you want to, and can afford to, but do you actually have to?

I am a firm believer that you can get an awful lot of bang for your buck for a lot less money, if you know where to look. £300 and less can get you a great phone, combining great performance, decent battery life, a good screen, and excellent camera performance.

I therefore decided to do a round-up of some examples to get you thinking. All of them are available to buy right now and they’re all a lot less than a current flagship, be that a Samsung Galaxy S7 edge, a Google Pixel XL, or indeed any Apple iPhone.

I’ll be in Spain for Mobile World Congress and bringing news of all the new flagship releases, but don’t expect many of them to be less than £400 or £500 when they go on sale, and some (like the Galaxy S8, likely for a separate announcement next month) will likely be at least £700, £800 or above.

Let me know your thoughts below on this round-up and feel free to add any recommendations of your own.


Honor 8

honor8-handset-14

honor8-handset-10

Honor 8 Key Specifications
Price* £319.90 (frequently discounted by up to £50)
Size/Weight 145.5 x 71 x 7.5mm / 153g
Screen Size/Resolution 5.2-inch 1080×1920
Camera (Rear/Front) 2x12MP rear, 8MP front
Chipset HiSilicon Kirin 950
RAM 4GB
Storage 32GB + microSDXC
OS Android Nougat
Battery 3,000mAh
Connector USB-C + 3.5mm headphone socket
Other Infrared port, fingerprint sensor, NFC, Dual-band Wi-Fi
* Correct at time of publication

The Honor 8 is a firm favourite of mine, not just because of its awesome camera, impressive performance, battery life and so on. It’s because it also looks so gorgeous too!

The Honor 8 only makes it into this round-up because Honor regularly does promotions and bundles, bringing it down from its retail price of £320. Occasionally, you’ll get short notice of a deal such as £50 off, which then brings the phone down to just £270.

It’s worth monitoring Honor’s social media accounts, Hot Deals UK, as well as visiting the vMall.eu store from time to time to check for such offers. Wherever possible, I’ll also Tweet any specials that I spot on the Honor 8 and other phones.

Amongst a sea of generic designs, the unique multi-layered glass back looks particularly stunning in blue, and it makes the Honor 8 stand out amongst a crowd. It becomes a talking point, and not in a one-upmanship kind of way. Rather a ‘that looks bloody nice’ kind of way.

People will probably not believe you paid around £300, and may well start to wonder why they shelled out twice as much on something that looks far more bland and derivative.

The Honor 8 has many improvements over the more expensive, Huawei-branded, P9. More RAM (4GB over 3GB), similar benchmarking results (despite a fractionally slower CPU than the P9) and more internal storage. It even comes with a combined fingerprint sensor and smart key, and an infrared port to control your TV.

It all adds up to a phone that is still as worthwhile for consideration now as it was when launched almost six months ago.

The key feature for the phone is the dual-lens camera, which offers excellent performance in all lighting conditions, plus some great aperture adjustments to play with depth-of-field and get very creative.

There are a number of different camera modes to play with, full HD video recording, a respectable selfie-camera and a very bright, very vivid, full-HD screen to enjoy playback.

As I write this, Honor is also rolling out Android Nougat with Emotion UI V5, that brings an app-drawer to the default launcher, and a huge number of improvements (including split screen) that come with Android’s latest OS build.

The Honor 8 is a firm favourite of mine, and it doesn’t take long with one in your hands to feel the same way.


Wileyfox Swift 2 Range

Wileyfox Swift 2 Plus

Wileyfox Swift 2 Range Key Specifications
  Swift 2 Swift 2 Plus Swift 2 X
Price* £153 £183.99 £219.99
Size/Weight 143.7 x 71.9 x 8.6mm / 155g 143.7 x 71.9 x 8.6mm / 155g 144 x 72.2 x 8.8mm / 155g
Screen Size/Resolution 5-inch 720×1280 5-inch 720×1280 5.2-inch 1080×1920
Camera (Rear/Front) 13MP rear / 8MP front 13MP rear / 8MP front 16MP rear / 8MP front
Chipset Qualcomm Snapdragon 430
RAM 2GB 3GB 3GB
Storage 16GB + microSDXC 32GB + microSDXC 32GB + microSDXC
OS Android Marshmallow (Nougat upgrade coming Q2/17)
Battery 2,700mAh 2,700mAh 3,010mAh
Connector USB-C + 3.5mm headphone socket
Other Fingerprint sensor, NFC, Single-band Wi-Fi, Quick Charge 3.0
* Correct at time of publication

Wileyfox came out of nowhere in late 2015 and had great success with the original Swift. Even with limited distribution, it quickly got a reputation as a fantastic low-cost alternative to everything else on the market, including the Moto G.

Things went back a step with the rather disappointing release of the somewhat lacklustre Spark phones (my Spark review unit failed before I could finish my review), but now the Swift is back – and this time with three new models.

The cheapest model is the Swift 2, which also has the lowest specification. Above that is the Swift 2 Plus and then the Swift 2 X. The 2 Plus and 2 X are essentially identical, with the 2 X having a bigger screen and battery.

All three phones are powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 430 chipset, but the entry level Swift 2 has a lower resolution camera (13 megapixels instead of 16MP) and less RAM (2GB instead of 3GB). There’s also less internal storage. Frankly, for just £30 you really should trade up as you can’t upgrade these things later on.

If you want a slightly larger screen, step up again to the 2 X. But, here £30 is really just getting you an extra 0.2-inches of screen (and a bigger battery) so it’s not quite so easy to justify the extra outlay.

All three models come with USB-C fast charging and a fast finger-print reader on the back. There are decent sized batteries in each version, and a number of power-saving options. All three phones also come with dual SIM slots, of which one slot can be used instead for a memory card up to 256GB in capacity.

You can also find various bundle deals on the phones, seeing a protective case thrown in and screen replacement cover. Wileyfox also do accessories and now sell the phones in a wide range of colours.

Wileyfox is yet to come out with more powerful phones, but Snapdragon 430 is a powerful enough chipset for most usage, and everything is focused on affordability.

So what made the Swift and subsequent models a firm favourite with tech-savvy users? Well, the unique selling point was very much the use of Cyanogen OS, a modified build of Android that came with a bunch of enhancements, from a multitude of extra menu settings, enhanced security options, a huge choice of custom skins, boot animations, fonts and more.

Cyanogen OS was a great way to allow a phone to be as simple or complex as you wanted it to be, and also make a phone truly your own. Android fans loved it.

But sadly Cyanogen OS is no more and in March or April, all Wileyfox owners should get an update to bring a generic build of Android Nougat, with a loss of the many unique features Cyanogen afforded owners.

It’s not going to be too drastic for many users, and especially not if native Android is something you’d favour over a custom build, but it does mean Wileyfox no longer has the unique hook that attracted many Android users wanting something different.

However, Wileyfox is a ‘cool’ brand and the handsets look great, and are very affordable. Hopefully the company has a bright future and will go on to consider a slightly higher performance on its next releases, but resisting temptation to jack up the prices too much!


BLU Vivo 6

vivo6-music

Blu Vivo 6 Key Specifications
Price* £184.99
Size/Weight 154.3 x 74.9 x 7mm / 170g
Screen Size/Resolution 5.5-inch 1080×1920
Camera (Front/Back) 13MP rear / 8MP front
Chipset MediaTek MT6755 Helio P10
RAM 4GB
Storage 64GB + microSDXC
OS Android Marshmallow
Battery 3,130mAh
Connector USB-C + 3.5mm headphone socket
Other Fingerprint sensor, NFC, Quick charging
* Correct at time of publication

Here’s a strange one. On the one hand the Vivo 6 looks like a Samsung or HTC phone, but once you boot up, it’s clear it really wished to be running iOS over Android. Right from the off, BLU has given the phone the look and feel of an iPhone, right down to swiping up from the bottom to access settings. As a long-term Android user, it takes a bit of getting used to.

On the other hand, anyone moving from iOS to Android will be instantly familiar, making it a great way to gently get used to Android and all of its differences.

Despite its low price, the Vivo 6 build quality is quite exceptional, and the phone looks and feels like something that should have set you back at least twice the amount of money. The rose gold model that I have can easily hold its own alongside an iPhone 7.

The phone has a pretty good spec too, with a big 5.5-inch full-HD display, a MediaTek Helio P10 SoC (that benchmarked pretty well in my hands-on test, getting a score of 46953)), and packing a 13-megapixel camera with Phase Detection Autofocus. The camera isn’t class-leading, but it’s quite acceptable.

There’s a combined home key and fingerprint reader on the front, which is not my favourite position (but that’s subjective of course). The location of the sensor isn’t as big a deal as the number of failed attempts to unlock the phone when using it. As sensors go, it’s far from the best. Or perhaps it’s just my sausage fingers.

The large display is great, if a little muted in colour vibrancy, and audio output is decent too. There’s a respectable battery (3,130 mAh) to keep you going, and the phone is very responsive – once you get used to the slightly different way of doing things.

Like many of the phones listed here, there are two SIM slots, one of which can be used for a memory card instead (and take cards up to 256GB in size). However, with an extremely generous 64GB of internal storage, there’s probably no need to rush to add more anytime soon.

4GB of RAM also makes this one of the higher specified phones in the group (up there with the more expensive Honor 8) and arguably makes this phone excellent value for money if you want a big screen experience.


Other considerations

The following are phones I’ve yet to get my hands on and give a real opinion of, but they are certainly worthy of consideration.

Honor 6X

honor6x-chinese-featured

Honor 6X Key Specifications
Price £224
Size/Weight 150.9 x 76.2 x 8.2mm / 162g
Screen Size/Resolution 5.5-inch 1080×1920
Camera (Front/Back) 12+2MP rear / 8MP front
Chipset HiSilicon Kirin 655
RAM 3GB or 4GB
Storage 32 or 64GB + microSDXC
OS Android Marshmallow
Battery 3,340mAh
Connector microUSB + 3.5mm headphone socket
Other Fingerprint sensor, NFC, Quick charging
* Correct at time of publication (Three version 3GB RAM/32GB storage)

Sitting below the Honor 8 is the Honor 6X, with a dual-camera combo that brings the experience of having of two image sensors to a wider audience, albeit with a slightly different configuration.

On paper it seems odd to be combining a 12-megapixel sensor with a 2-megapixel one (the Honor 8 has two 12-megapixel sensors), but the secondary sensor is used primarily for depth measuring, allowing for awesome bokeh/depth-of-field effects.

There are also many selfie modes to beautify your face, or just have fun with, as well as a couple of new camera modes. There’s a very large battery and a full-HD display, plus a nice Wi-Fi extender feature that lets you use your phone to boost a Wi-Fi connection and share with other devices.

All things considered, it’s another impressive offering from Honor and seems considerably better than last year’s Honor 5X that used the somewhat flawed Snapdragon 61n chipset and lagged at times for no discernible or justifiable reason. I have no idea why Honor opted to use a microUSB charging connector instead of USB-C though.

This time around, Honor has used a home-grown Kirin 655 chip, meaning it is perfectly optimised. The only downside is that it ships with Android Marshmallow and the older Emotion UI, but an update will be rolled out in the coming months to address both of these issues.

Like the Honor 8, you should always keep checking for bundles and discounts that will bring the retail price down.


Lenovo P2

lenovo-smartphone-p2-full-hd-display-2

Lenovo P2 Key Specifications
Price* £199.99 on Three PAYG
Size/Weight 153 x 76 x 8.3mm / 177g
Screen Size/Resolution 5.5-inch 1080×1920
Camera (Front/Back) 13MP rear / 5MP front
Chipset Qualcomm Snapdragon 625
RAM 3GB or 4GB
Storage 32GB + microSDXC
OS Android Marshmallow
Battery 5,100mAh
Connector microUSB + 3.5mm headphone socket
Other Fingerprint sensor, NFC, Quick charging
* Correct at time of publication

Unveiled at German consumer show IFA last year, the P2 would almost be any other generic £200 Android phone if it were not for the crazy 5,100mAh battery packed inside. A battery that answers all the prayers from users who suffer battery anxiety, and then some.

With this phone, there’s little likelihood of needing to find a place to top up the battery as you will struggle to kill the battery even with the highest level of usage.

Although I’ve not had the phone in my hands to test, other users have boasted of 11 or 12 hours of screen on time. It’s like having a normal phone with a portable battery pack glued on the back, yet it’s little bigger than any other phone – measuring just 8.3mm in depth and weighing very little more than the other phones I’ve talked about here.

177g is not heavy, especially compared to the alternative option of having to carry a secondary battery pack to charge the phone. It’s perfect proof, as if any proof were needed, that manufacturers can put in larger batteries without compromise.

Available exclusively on Three, the phone also has support for Three’s Super-Voice (aka VoLTE) service and will have an update to Nougat released soon.

It also appears to feature a pretty decent camera too, so there seems to be little reason not to check out this phone, especially if long battery life is a key consideration. In fact, if battery life is important then this is an absolute no-brainer.

I really hope that the Lenovo P2 does well, and encourages more phones with large batteries fitting inside as standard. We’re seeing a gradual nudge from 3,000mAh batteries towards 3,500mAh, but there’s still a way to go – but Lenovo is pretty much already there.


Huawei P8 Lite (2017)

Huawei P8 Lite 2017
Image: GSMArena.com
Huawei P8 Lite (2017) Key Specifications
Price* £185.00 on Vodafone PAYG
Size/Weight 147.2 x 72.9 x 7.6mm / 147g
Screen Size/Resolution 5.2-inch 1080×1920
Camera (Front/Back) 12MP rear / 5MP front
Chipset HiSilicon Kirin 655
RAM 3GB
Storage 16GB + microSDXC
OS Android Marshmallow
Battery 3,000mAh
Connector microUSB + 3.5mm headphone socket
Other Fingerprint sensor, NFC, Quick charging
* Correct at time of publication

Here’s an odd one. Not the phone itself that, bar the dual-cameras, isn’t far off the specification of the Honor 6X (including a microUSB port instead of USB-C), but rather its name.

The P8 Lite (2017) seems to have two problems. Firstly, the P8 was the flagship phone from Huawei in 2015, so anyone who knows a bit about such things will instantly think this phone is old.

Secondly, anyone who does a search for this phone without remembering to add the 2017 bit will be taken to the details of the P8 Lite that did come out in 2015.

It’s not the same phone, but how many people won’t realise that and skip over this phone because of a rather silly name?

Available from Vodafone on PAYG for just £185, the P8 Lite (2017) is a very affordable offering – although a network lock will make it more expensive for anyone looking to take it elsewhere. It can also be purchased on contract (along with every other phone featured here).


Other phones to look out for

At Mobile World Congress, Motorola is expected to launch its fifth-generation of Moto G phones, which I’ve raved about since the first Moto G arrived back in 2013. Details have already begun to leak, so hopefully there will be even more choice once we go into March and April.

Alcatel is also rumoured to be releasing five new phones, many of which are likely to be affordable and ideal for future round-ups. Parent company TCL is also behind most of the Vodafone Smart handsets, as well as other network-exclusive phones. Their new handsets will be announced on the morning of February 27th 2017.

In addition to the Motorola G5, parent company Lenovo might also announce some more devices under its own brand. A successor to the Lenovo P2? Maybe a bit too early, but you never know.

All will be revealed in early March.

Meanwhile, I hope this round-up has proved useful for anyone wanting some alternative options to far more expensive phones.

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Written by Jonathan Morris

Writing about technology, with a focus on mobile, since the early 1990s! Former editor of What Mobile magazine, writer for The Telegraph, Stuff, Know Your Mobile, Pocket Gamer, Smart TV Radar and more. Regular Tweeter, occasional YouTuber, keen amateur photographer and forum moderator. If you like what I write, please consider deactivating your ad blocker or making a donation via PayPal to help fund this site.

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