UPDATE: Thanks to a price drop for one of the smartphones in our list, we’ve added in a new device into this buyer’s guide. We’ll continue to add any smartphones that are worth considering in this price bracket.
Finally, we’re here! Let’s explain things before we proceed any further. The editor’s choice will be broken down into a podium—3 of the best, overall devices in the guide for this year. This isn’t to say that smartphones not on the podium are bad, quite the contrary in fact. Some may have great cameras, or huge batteries, but the top 3 devices have been selected based on their all-round capabilities.
I’ll also be adding some honourable mentions because, well, I can’t bear to leave out a few devices here that simply offer something that’s just unique.
#1 Xiaomi’s Mi 9T is exactly what the midrange segment needs
This is, undeniably, one of the best value-for-money smartphones in 2019. I’ve tried to look for downsides to Xiaomi’s latest midranger, and while it isn’t perfect, there’s a lot to love about the device. For starters, it’s simply a great display to look at.
Having used the Mi 9T myself, the difference between its AMOLED display and an IPS display like the Pocophone F1’s, is night and day. Coupled with the fact that it has an all-screen display thanks to a pop-up selfie camera, and the unobstructed 6.39″ AMOLED display is great for all manner of tasks.
Before finalising the winner, I asked my colleagues here at SoyaCincau for their opinions, and it’s safe to say that the Mi 9T has made quite an impression. Throw in a headphone jack, a big 4,000mAh battery, and a versatile camera setup, and you’ve got yourself a superb smartphone. Not forgetting, of course, the Snapdragon 730 powering the smartphone—arguably the best upper-midrange processor at the time of writing.
And it all comes at a price of RM1,199. Kudos, Xiaomi.
#2 A price cut gets the Honor View 20 onto the podium
Honor’s flagship makes it onto the podium for a few reasons. Remember, this is a genuine flagship-class smartphone that was retailing for just under RM2,000 at the beginning of the year, and the reduced price of RM1,500 makes it one of the best smartphones in this bracket.
It’s taken the place of the Pocophone F1 (relegated to the honourable mentions section below), as the Honor View 20 has the Pocophone’s strongest point—power under the hood—and is overall a better phone. But I’ve kept the Galaxy A50 on the podium due to the versatility offered by Samsung’s smartphone, more on that later.
According to my colleague who did a full review of the View 20, the camera’s performance is certainly better than something like the Galaxy A50’s, and is somewhere in the league of the Mi 9T’s camera. This isn’t much of a surprise, with Honor’s smartphone packing a Sony IMX586 sensor, which is similar to the Mi 9T’s Sony IMX582 sensor. And that’s not even taking into the ToF sensor into account.
And of course, you can’t get by the Kirin 980 processor that powers the device. I’ve always argued that power has to be a major consideration for a smartphone—especially in a price bracket—and when you consider that you’re getting the same power that the premium Huawei P30 Pro packs: it’s great value. That, and the View 20 has a 4,000mAh battery that uses the same SuperCharge fast-charging that Huawei’s premium devices use.
On a slightly negative note, it lacks an AMOLED screen, and you’re also missing out on the versatility offered by an ultra wide-angle lens. But all in all, certainly a superb phone to get right now. To find out more about the View 20’s camera performance, here’s a comparison to get you started.
#3 The Samsung Galaxy A50 breaks Xiaomi’s stranglehold on the midrange
It feels a little strange having one of Samsung’s midrange devices here, but the Korean smartphone-makers have been stepping up their efforts to gain a slice of the midrange pie. The Galaxy A50, with a solid overall set of specs, does actually feel relatively good in the hand with a “Glasstic” (basically, plastic that looks like glass) finish.
You get a solid, versatile triple-camera setup with a 25MP main lens, an 8MP ultra wide-angle lens, as well as a 5MP depth sensor, and selfies are also covered with a 25MP front-facing camera. The Exynos 9610 processor used by the A50 is essentially the counterpart to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 675, and should suffice for most tasks, including gaming.
These are certainly solid enough specs, but its the display that really gets the Galaxy A50 onto the podium for me. A 6.4″ Full HD+ display, importantly, utilises a Super AMOLED panel, which makes for a superbly vibrant display, and really sets the smartphone apart from other competitors on the list.
Aside from that, battery-life is good on the A50 with a 4,000mAh battery (it’s surprisingly light despite the large battery), you get a headphone jack, and there’s also the understated ability to expand your storage via a dedicated slot microSD. With 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage available at around RM1,200, the A50 is generally a great device for most average users, and breaks the chokehold that Chinese smartphone-makers (looking at you, Xiaomi) have had on the midrange market in recent times.
If you can’t decided between this and the Mi 9T, we’ve got you covered. Here’s a direct comparison between the Galaxy A50 and the Mi 9T.
And there you have it. An honourable mention has to go out to the Mi MIX 2S, which has a superb camera, as well as a feature that no other device in this guide has—wireless charging. The ceramic material used for the Mi MIX 2S is also the most premium build on the list, while I can’t help but laud Xiaomi for experimenting with a seriously weird/creative placing of the selfie camera. An old device, for sure, but certainly still a well-built smartphone.
Not forgetting, of course, the gigantic phablets, the Mi Max 3 and Huawei Y Max. Not much separates the 2, although the Y Max just about edges the Mi Max 3 due to its newer, and subsequently marginally better, specs. They both also come with headphone jacks, which is doubly important if this is your primary media consumption device.
Unrivalled devices if you’re looking to Netflix on the go, really.
I actually use a Pocophone F1 as my daily driver, and while it certainly has its shortcomings, it’s still one of the smartphones to beat (sub-RM1,500) if you’re looking for raw power under the hood. It’s powered by the almost-new flagship Snapdragon 845, has 6GB of RAM—even for its base model that dances with the RM1,000 lower limit, and has a great 4,000mAh battery that supports Quick Charge 3.0.
But do keep in mind that the large notch and chin do get in the way of an average screen, while the camera’s performance is under-par, as opposed to being impressive in any sort of way. Videos recorded, perhaps due to the lack of OIS, don’t look all that great.
There’s no wireless charging, with the F1 utilising a polycarbonate (plastic) back, although you get expandable storage and a headphone jack, at least. But there’s still a lot to love about the Pocophone F1, which supports the Android Pie update (comes with 8.1).
That’s just about it, but it’s safe to say that any of the devices on this list would still be a great choice for you. Let us know if you think that we’ve missed a device, and if you’ve made a decision based on this guide, be sure to let us know in the comments section below. And if you still can’t decide, then, I do hope that you’ve nonetheless enjoyed reading this guide.
Photography by Nic Ker and Zachary Yoong with the Sony A7 III.