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Budget smartphone guide: What can you get for under RM1,300?

Editor’s Note: This buyer’s guide was compiled by our intern Kevin Chong and you may have read some of his articles on SoyaCincau.com. During his internship, he has gained knowledge and experience in creating online content including videos. If you love to write and have a passion for tech, we are always on the lookout for interns to join the team. If you’re interested, do drop us an email at us[at]mindblow.my.  

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The first quarter of 2019 was an exciting time for budget smartphone hunters. We saw major manufacturers like Samsung and Huawei releasing new competitive mid-range contenders that are right up there with traditional value for money brands like Xiaomi.

But, with so many phones launching, it may be hard to decide the right device for you. Well, that’s where I come in. I’m here to help you break down these phones so you can find the right device without burning a hole in your pocket.

For this guide, we are only looking at the slew of new devices that were launched in the past quarter that has a battery of at least 4,000mAh. This is not to say that the older phones like the Pocophone F1 and ZenFone Max Pro M2 aren’t good anymore, but we are looking at the newer devices that were announced in Malaysia early this year.

Gaming

For the optimal gaming experience, smooth performance probably comes first, followed by a decent display and good audio. For some, you’ll also appreciate a headphone jack for the convenience of being able to just stick your existing headphones without fumbling around with a dongle.

So, what sort of specs should you look for? For starters, you’ll probably want a powerful processor paired with a decent GPU, good battery life and a good-looking display. Not only that, I’ll say the form factor is quite important as well – and so are the ergonomics. If I were to hold my phone for gaming, I would pick something that’s comfortable for my hands.

Samsung Galaxy A50 (6GB RAM + 128GB storage) – RM1,199

Based on this, I would recommend the Samsung Galaxy A50.

I chose this device as my go-to gaming phone simply because it has great specs at this price range. Starting with its display, it uses a Super AMOLED panel instead of LCD. AMOLEDs tend to have greater contrast and this makes playing games much more enjoyable when the colours and graphics are more vibrant. 

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In its core, it is powered by Samsung’s very own Exynos 9610 processor that’s mated to 6GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage. 128GB should be enough even if you have a lot of games installed but if you want more, there’s also the option to add in a microSD card via a dedicated slot.

In the battery department, you’ll get a 4,000mAh cell, which is pretty generous and the device charges via USB-C with a 15W Fast Charger. Of course, the headphone jack is there, which is pretty nice if you’re planning to play with your headphones connected while charging.

The Samsung Galaxy A50 is priced at RM1,199, which is a pretty good for a device with the specs offered.

Productivity

Samsung Galaxy A50 (6GB RAM + 128GB storage) – RM1,199

For productivity, you’ll want a smartphone that provides a smooth and snappy experience and a durable battery to last you for the entire day. And for that, I would recommend phones like the Redmi Note 7 or the Samsung Galaxy A50. Both of these devices pack decent processors, which the A50 has the Exynos 9610 and the Redmi Note 7 has the Snapdragon 660. These are good enough for apps like Slack, Microsoft Office, Google Docs or Google Spreadsheet.

Redmi Note 7 (4GB RAM + 128GB storage) – RM949

What’s more, the A50 comes with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage while the top spec Redmi Note 7, which I would recommend getting, comes with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage. If you feel that the 2GB RAM difference is important for you, the A50 would be a better choice. But do consider that the A50 is priced at RM1,199 while the top variant Redmi Note 7 is only priced at RM949. If you’re on a tight budget, the Redmi Note 7 would do the job just fine.

Samsung Galaxy M20 (4GB RAM + 64GB storage) – RM799

In this segment, I’ll like to mention the Samsung Galaxy M20 as well. Although the M20 only comes with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage while running on an Exynos 7904 processor, the M20 stands out with its 5,000mAh cell. This is the biggest battery capacity in the category which is great for heavy usage throughout the day. What’s more, the M20 is only priced at RM799, which is a much more affordable option compared to the A50.

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Photography

OPPO F11 Pro (6GB RAM + 64GB/128GB storage) – RM1,299

For photography, there are mid-range devices out there that packs decent cameras. This includes the Vivo V15 and the Oppo F11 Pro.

The makers for these devices have put heavy emphasis on their selfie cameras, especially on Vivo’s V series and Oppo’s F series. And these two devices are no exception too. For the Vivo V15, you get a 32MP motorised pop-up selfie camera while the Oppo F11 Pro gets a 16MP motorised pop-up selfie camera.

Vivo V15 (6GB RAM + 128GB storage) – RM1,299


On the rear, the Vivo V15 houses a 12MP f/1.8 main camera with an 8MP ultra-wide angle camera and a 5MP depth sensor. Although it doesn’t get the 48MP main camera like its more capable counterpart, the V15 Pro, it is still a worthy contender in the mid-range market. As for the Oppo F11 Pro, you’ll get a 48MP main shooter along with a 5MP depth sensor. On paper, the 48MP main camera on the F11 Pro seems better compared to the 12MP camera on the Vivo V15, but in reality, it works quite differently. The camera on the F11 Pro uses a quad-bayer array, which combines four adjacent pixels into a much larger pixel, resulting in a 12MP image output.

I’ve personally tried the cameras for both of these devices and I’ve noticed some major differences. One of it is the Oppo F11 Pro captures way brighter images than the V15 would under default settings and given the same condition. In dark environments, the F11 Pro performs really well with its dedicated “Nightscape” mode. If you’re going to take pictures in low light conditions, the Oppo F11 Pro may be the better choice. You can click on the sample photos above for a bigger view.

At the time of posting, the Oppo F11 Pro and Vivo V15 are priced the same at RM1,299. Interestingly, the F11 Pro is available in both 64GB and 128GB storage variants for the same RM1,299 price tag. If you get the smaller 64GB version, Oppo is including 1-year extended warranty and screen protection for the 64GB variant that’s worth a total of RM198. Another nice addition is that both Oppo and Vivo devices support microSD card expansion up to 256GB.

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Ultimate Entry Level

Honor 8C (3GB RAM + 32GB storage) – RM599

Now, if you’re looking for the “ultimate” budget device, we still have the Honor 8C, the Redmi 7 and the Realme 3, which you can get for less than RM600.

For these three devices, they do have similar specs, with the Honor 8C and the Redmi 7 packing a Snapdragon 632 processor and the Realme 3 packing a Mediatek Helio P60 processor. Another similarity is that all three offers a 3GB RAM +32GB storage variant.

Redmi 7 (3GB RAM + 32GB storage) – RM599

If you’re looking for a more affordable phone, the Redmi 7 comes with a 2GB RAM +16GB storage variant for RM499. If you have some extra cash to spare, the Realme 3 is also available in a 4GB RAM +64GB storage spec variant for RM699.

Realme 3 (3GB RAM + 32GB storage) – RM599

As for the camera, you’ll get a 13MP f/1.8 main camera and a 2MP depth sensor for the Honor 8C and Realme 3 while you get a 12MP f/2.2 main camera with a 2MP depth sensor for the Redmi 7. In the selfie department, both the Honor 8C and the Redmi 7 houses an 8MP front camera while the Realme 3 houses a 13MP selfie shooter. All in all, I would say that you wouldn’t go wrong by choosing any one of these devices. As they pack similar specs and features, I would personally choose the one which offers the best deal online.

Conclusion

Overall, the budget smartphones that were released in recent months are pretty impressive. If I had to choose one, I would go for the Samsung Galaxy A50. For me, the A50 provides good specs across the board; a decent processor, display, battery capacity, RAM and storage, camera and all for RM1,199.

If that’s out of your budget and you would prefer something below RM1,000, the Redmi Note 7 seems like a solid choice with three specs variants available, with 3GB+32GB at RM679, 4GB+64GB at RM799 and 4GB+128GB at RM949. The 4GB+64GB variant is comparable to the Samsung Galaxy A30 and M20, which are both priced at RM799 as well. I would lean towards the Redmi Note 7 because it packs a Snapdragon 660 processor, which outclasses the Exynos 7904.

So, these are my recommendations according to different needs. Do you have other devices in mind? Do let us know in the comments down below. Below are the spec sheet and pricing comparison for easy reference. You may click on it for a larger view.