Mention the word “flagship smartphone” or “high-end phone” and it is a fair chance that most people will get visions of massive price tags and endless EMIs. Even the once super affordable OnePlus phones now comes with a price tag that is in the vicinity of Rs 50,000 at the higher end (the McLaren Edition). However, that does not mean that you have to spend a bomb to get a high-end phone.
The budget flagship segment is alive and kicking and you can still get a very good smartphone without blowing too big a hole in your bank account. A number of high value phones, from brands like Xiaomi, Honor, Asus, Nokia, and more have stepped up to fill in the gaps and you can still get a great phone for under Rs. 30,000. These phones fill in different niches—some are more pocket-friendly, while others pack killer hardware, some are optimized for gaming, and some more come from long established brands you know and trust. The six phones below are more than able to deliver a flagship experience, for people who want to spend Rs 30,000 or lesser on them:
Xiaomi Poco F1 - The ultimate budget flagship
Rs 19,999 onwards
Pretty much the budget flagship to invest in if you want the best specs at the least possible price, the Poco F1, the first phone from Xiaomi’s Poco sub-brand, was one of the big surprises of the smartphone market in 2018. And that was because of what it brought to the table—a 6.18-inch full HD+ display, a best in class Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor, 6GB/ 8GB RAM and storage options going from 64GB to 256GB. The 12- and 5-megapixel rear cameras surprised many with their ability to capture detail and colour and the 20 megapixel front camera not only takes good selfies but allied with an infra red sensor, provides one of the more secure face unlocks in the Android world.
Some might complain about the fact that it doesn’t have a metal build, but even they are likely to be swayed by the the 4000mAh battery that keeps the phone going for almost two days with careful handling and a special cooling system that keeps the phone at a reasonable temperature right through. Easily the best flagship device out there and perhaps the best value for money phone in this collection.
Honor Play — the affordable flagship
Rs 16,999 onwards
If you are looking at a near flagship performance at the lowest possible price, then the Honor Play is perhaps your best option. Launched at Rs 19,999, its price has since been cut to Rs 16,999, making it on paper the most affordable flagship out there in the Indian market. And it does offer a fair bit even for the original price - a full HD+ 6.3-inch display powered by the same HiSilcion Kirin 970 chip that was seen on the three times more expensive Huawei P20 Pro.
The phone was targeted at gamers and is capable of handling some heavy duty gaming (PUBG at maxed settings? Go right ahead), aided by 4GB or 6GB of RAM, depending on the variant you choose. The design is metallic instead of the classy glass that we have seen from Huawei and its sub-brands on other phones, and the dual 16- and 2-megapixel cameras on the rear as well as the single 16-megapixel camera on front will not win photography awards, but all said and done, this is still a device that delivers a powerful dollop in terms of overall smartphone performance, aided by a 3750mAh battery that easily sees through a day of hefty use.
Asus Zenfone 5Z — the spec master
Rs 29,999 onwards
This was perhaps the phone that would have done much better in the Indian market, boasting as it did a spec sheet similar to the mighty OnePlus 6 at a slightly lower price tag. However, it got swept aside in the hype over its much more affordable cousin, the Asus Zenfone Pro Max M1. That does not make the Zenfone 5Z any less formidable today by any means. It comes with a dry good 6.2-inch full HD+ display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor and with 6GB of RAM even in the base model, is capable of handling everything from the routine to the high end.
Asus’ ZenUI interface might take some getting used to, but one does appreciate the variety of effects and controls it brings to the very good 12 and 8 megapixel dual camera combination (with OIS) at the back. The 3300mAh battery will see you through a day of use quite easily, and performance by and large is right up there with the best in the business.
Nubia Red Magic — game for gaming
It has come to the Indian market a little late in the day and has been overshadowed by the more formidable specced Asus ROG phone, but that does not stop the Red Magic from being a verity good proposition for not just gamers, but anyone looking for a high-end smart phone. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chip driving it might seem a little old but it remains capable of handling modern high-end games and comes with 8GB of RAM for good measure. There is a a special Game Boost button to further improve gaming performance and three special cooling ports keep the phone from heating up too much.
The single 24-megapixel camera on the rear can take some very good snaps and the 5.99-inch full HD+ display is great for viewing videos and games. A 3800mAh battery ensures that the phone keeps going for a while, no matter what you subject it to. And thanks ton a very eye catching design featuring a special RGB LED strip that changes colours on the back and red accents, this is easily the most eye catching budget flagship around.
Huawei Nova 3 — the photographer’s flagship
It might not have made the sort of waves that many expected it to when it was launched in the middle of 2018 (it was overshadowed by the P20 Pro), but that cannot hide the fact that the Nova 3 is a formidable device in its own right. It comes with a delightful glass finish that reflects different colours and has a very good 6.3-inch display with full HD+ resolution. The phone is powered by Huawei’s own HiSilicon Kirin 970 processor, which was the company’s flagship processor of choice for most of 2018, and is capable of handling most tasks with a degree of ease.
The cameras are however perhaps its strongest suite, with dual 24- and 16-megapixel shooters at the back and 24- and 2-megapixel cameras in front, both boosted by AI, capable of taking some stunning images. All of this is kept running for a decent amount of time by a large 3750mAh battery, which can see off a day and a half of hefty use with a degree of ease. Huawei’s EMUI interface might take some getting used to but it’s still a great option.
Nokia 8.1 - More than just a chip off the old block
It might be the most modestly specced device in this list, but its designation and the hype around it does give the Nokia 8.1 the credentials to be in this list. Its Snapdragon 710 processor is not considered to be flagship level compared to the Snapdragon 835 that was seen on its predecessor, the Nokia 8. That said, the phone comes packed with some other very impressive specifications, not the least of which are a very good 6.18-inch full HD+ PureDisplay with support for HDR 10 video and dual rear cameras with the iconic Carl ZEISS Optics and optical image stabilisation.
All this in a very sleek and yet eye catching glass design and with a 3500mAh battery that gets the phone through a day and a half of hefty use quite easily. Last not least, the 8.1 runs on Android Pie and given Nokia’s excellent track record of delivering Android updates, is the most likely of this groups of devices to be updated to new versions of the OS (it is part of Google’s Android One initiative so is assured updates for at least two years).