Help me pick a mid-range smartphone
March 26, 2019 9:17 AM   Subscribe

The GPS on my Nexus 5X quit working, so it's time to look for a new phone. I want a small-ish phone that will keep working for at least a couple years. I'm looking at things in the range of a Moto G6/G7, Moto X4, iPhone 5s/6. Do you have a phone like this that you have opinions about? Additional details inside.

I don't play fancy games and I don't mind it taking a few seconds to open apps. I'm on Google Fi, and they have favorable pricing on the Motos but support pretty much anything that takes a SIM. I previously had a Moto X and loved it. I borrowed an iPhone 5S about a year and a half ago and loved the smaller size - if the 5S is likely to function for a couple more years, this would probably be my ideal phone.

Priorities, roughly ranked:
+ not a Huawei / Chinese phone: seems like a bad risk for US use right now
+ 32 GB storage (at least)
+ headphone jack
+ small size
+ will continue working acceptably for at least a couple years
+ under ~$400 USD, cheaper is better, I'm comfortable buying from resellers
+ good battery life
posted by momus_window to Technology (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have similar criteria and if I were buying today I'd likely go with the most recent Moto G model.

My G4+ is still going strong after 2 years (including battery life better than more expensive phones) and my G2 was good for a couple years too until I lost it. Motorola makes excellent budget phones. Not as small as I would like unfortunately, but all android phones seem to be like that now...
posted by randomnity at 9:27 AM on March 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you're interested in the 5s, i'd definitely look into the SE. They can be had brand new for $200 often now, and were also made with 128gb of storage(dont buy a 64gb model, it'll be ancient with a roasted battery). These were still in production until last september or november so the stock is still pretty fresh most places.

It's currently supported with updates, and is based on the 6S guts running a smaller screen. They're really quite fast still, and a lot of my friends swear by them. The battery life is decent but not amazing, but accessories(including slim battery cases) are all ross/kohls/tjmaxx clearance items now for $5

They can be had for $100 used if you dont mind paying apple $29 for a battery replacement at one of the stores.

Verizon and such literally still sell the 6S, so i expect these to be supported for at least two more years. I seriously think it's one of the best bargains in phones out there if you're ok with, or like the small size and """dated""" design
posted by emptythought at 9:30 AM on March 26, 2019

I replaced my Nexus 5X with a Nokia 6.1. I've been quite pleased with it. It does everything I want from a smartphone without a lot of (or any, really) vendor bloatware.

In the interest of full disclosure, there's a current scandal going on where some Nokia 7 Plus phones were sending data to China. So far, I haven't read anything to contradict HMD's claim that it was only a single batch of 7 Pluses that were affected, which is not even a model that is sold in the US, but caveat emptor and all that.
posted by tobascodagama at 9:43 AM on March 26, 2019

My Moto G6 is going strong a year and a half after I got it.
posted by kbuxton at 9:57 AM on March 26, 2019

Love my SE and really hope Apple continues to make the size in the future.
posted by terrapin at 10:06 AM on March 26, 2019

The iPhone SE. Apple has a few available on clearance. They go quick though.
posted by busybee at 10:08 AM on March 26, 2019

I recently got a Pixel 2 to replace my trusty Nexus X5. It was sold as new on Ebay and cost $400; it checked out as validly "new" based on answers in this post and is a great phone which I'm very happy with. It runs Android 9, which has some nice new features.
posted by anadem at 10:09 AM on March 26, 2019

Nthing the Moto G line--in our family of three, we've had the 4, 5, 5+, and 6, and have had great luck with all of them.
posted by mishafletch at 10:09 AM on March 26, 2019

Response by poster: I'm really into the iPhone SE suggestion. Some of the models are listed as unlocked but with carrier names (T-Mobile, Tracfone), is this something I need to worry about or am I fine as long as it has a slot for a SIM?
posted by momus_window at 10:15 AM on March 26, 2019

When I broke the screen on my Moto G5+ recently I bought a used one off eBay for $110 with 64 GB storage. The newer Moto phones were bigger, which I didn't want, and the G5+ was still working great. The G5+ is actually a little smaller than the G4, so it would probably be a better choice. Both of mine have had good battery life.
posted by Redstart at 10:24 AM on March 26, 2019

Moto G line is good, as others have said, but Motorola is becoming slower and less reliable about software updates, if that's important to you.

Nthing the Nokia 6.1. Well built phone, stock Android with regular updates and security patches. Affordable and does everything I need. The only thing about it that isn't great is the default camera mode. If you switch to "pro" mode, it takes decent shots, but the standard mode is truly awful. I wish there was a way to make force it to default to "pro" mode as soon as I open the camera app, because it results in much better pictures.
posted by asnider at 10:24 AM on March 26, 2019

Best answer: I went from the Nexus 5X to an iPhone 6S and loved it. You can get them used for a reasonable price on Swappa.

Unfortunately, I got it wet and, well, that was the end of that. The 6S and earlier iPhones are doomed if they get any water in the bottom ports. So after that debacle, I decided I'd suck it up about the lack of a headphone jack and pay a bit more for a used iPhone 7. I haven't tested it, but it at least claims water-resistance in its specs. That might be something to consider depending on your lifestyle. (I never thought I was tough on phones, but that poor 6S just wasn't long for this earth in my hands.)

So far the 7 has been great and I love it, in particular I like that it's small enough that it can be used one-handed (obviously varies depending on how big your hands are). You can get an unlocked 128GB iPhone 7 for under $300 right now, or if you don't care about that much storage you can get a 32GB one for closer to $200. Personally I would pay for the storage, but I prefer to store my music and photos locally rather than use cloud services. YMMV.

I wouldn't hesitate to get a used, unlocked one on Swappa (can't vouch for other places). I've gotten most of my phones through them, and they seem pretty good about enforcing conditions (mine was "Very Good" and it was essentially mint minus a missing power adapter and headphones). The one time I got a phone that wasn't actually unlocked, they worked with the seller to get me a new one in a few days. Just don't do it the week before a big trip or something and you'll be fine. (N.B. I can't vouch for non-SIM-based phones. I use TMO so I just dropped a SIM in. No idea what VZ is up to these days.)

I actually do Android software development professionally but haven't regretted my switch from Android to iOS — Google is, IMO, sucking hard right now and needs to get their uncontrolled-corporate-ADHD shit together before I'll buy another one for personal use. I wouldn't use a non-Pixel phone because of the delays in getting software/security updates, and the Pixel phones cost too much for their short supported lifespan. (Literally the only Android phone I'd buy right now would be a Samsung S9 Tactical, which is what every Android phone ought to be in terms of security and supply chain cleanliness, but you can't buy it as a private individual as far as I know. Pity.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:54 AM on March 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

I've got a Moto G6 and I'm happy with it. The battery life is decent, not great, but it has fast charging which improves the situation a bit. My previous phones were a OnePlus 2 and Nexus 4 so I've never been someone who wanted a "flagship" phone.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:01 AM on March 26, 2019

I went from a Nexus 5x after the hardware flaws causing bootloops kept inflicting replacement devices to a Moto g5+ 64gb, the camera isn't as nice, but the relatively stock Android os has been fine. I am looking to upgrade to a Moto g7 soon, the CPU is supposed to be better. I've read that the g6 CPU was actually a downgrade, so you may want to skip that one. The g7 will also be supported for another year after the the g6, since they only receive 1 os upgrade and 2 years of security updates.

If you want to stay with Fi, I'd go with the Moto g7. Unless cost is your primary concern. The g6 is on a super discount from Google currently to clear out inventory, as the g7 just came out.
posted by TheAdamist at 12:41 PM on March 26, 2019

About the carrier-locked phones: I have two new 32gb SEs right now that are locked to MetroPCS, which I’ll be selling because MetroPCS doesn’t actually have the service coverage I need and wouldn’t do any kind of refund. Sometimes these phones can be unlocked through semi-shady internet services (look for testimonials, and caveat emptor). Sometimes the locking is really strict, as I have heard is the case with Metro PCS in the past few months. There are also considerations as to which bands the phones use (GSM or CDMA) which can affect the model you want.

I would search for an unlocking service before purchasing a used phone to be sure that they can successfully unlock phones that are locked to the specific carrier, and do not automatically assume that your new phone will work on your carrier of choice once it’s unlocked.

Or just skip all of this and get one of the lower end Motorolas being recommended here from your carrier of choice.
posted by verbminx at 3:31 PM on March 26, 2019

I use Google Fi and their option to upgrade from the 5X was either the Pixel 2 for Richies, or Moto X4 for people. It's a fine phone, I prefer the 5X but the X4 at least has a fingerprint thing. The crap moto adds to stock android is obviously annoying but is more or less easily dismissed or disabled. Google itself constantly wants to train itself using your voice but that can be disabled through disallowing mic access to google services.
posted by GoblinHoney at 3:49 PM on March 26, 2019

Response by poster: It looks like the carrier names on the Apple site were just used as proxies for the different model # of phones produced for different companies, it's separate from whether they're unlocked. I just need an unlocked GSM phone for Fi, and it looks like all the iPhone models meet that.

I'm excited to get a phone sized for my hands and pockets again. At under $200 it's not a terribly expensive experiment if I have to get something else sooner than I'd like.
posted by momus_window at 4:07 PM on March 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have an iPhone SE that I've been using for a couple years now. The battery life is still great. It's supported by Apple right now and I think they'll support it for the next version of iOS. The only thing I've noticed is that the headphone jack is a bit wonky, but I use that once in a blue moon if I go to the dentist or something. The bluetooth is reliable and has no problem connecting to my cheap no-name speaker. I have no problems tethering my tablet to it. I'm sorry that Apple has decided we all need giant phones. I'm thinking about upgrading to a used 8 or 8+, but I love the small form factor.
posted by kathrynm at 4:08 PM on March 26, 2019

The US has 2 mobile phone protocols: GSM and CDMA; AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM technology. Verizon and Sprint use CDMA. Check with your carrier. iPhones come in both flavors.
posted by theora55 at 5:54 PM on March 26, 2019

Moto G7 Power (unlocked). 5000mah battery, 32Gb (US model), GSM & CDMA .. for around $250. Add a Micro-SD card to bump up the storage.

I've been using the Moto G line since its gen2 model. Avoid the G6.
posted by dwbrant at 11:52 AM on March 28, 2019

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