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Here are the best high-end phones that won't break the bank

From Samsung to Poco, these phones deliver power in spades without the $1,000 price tag.
By
December 23, 2021
ZTE Axon 30 in male hand
Luke Pollack / Android Authority

You don’t have to spend $1,000 or more to get a high-end smartphone. There are plenty of so-called flagship killers available at a significantly lower price, complete with a powerful chipset, a bunch of RAM, and premium designs.

However, they often lack crucial features you might find on a more expensive flagship, such as water resistance, periscope cameras, and wireless charging. Whether the trade-off is worth it or not comes down to personal preference. Nevertheless, here are the best flagship killers that won’t break the bank!

Best flagship killers:

Editor’s note: We’ll update this list of the best flagship killers regularly as new ones launch.


1. OnePlus 9

OnePlus 9 review profile
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

OnePlus is the first name that comes to mind for classic flagship killers. However, it has steadily increased its flagship pricing over the years, but the $730 OnePlus 9 is a solid proposition nonetheless. Best of all, it’s available for just $695 via Amazon as of writing.

Verdict: OnePlus 9 review — Serious business, cheap suit

The OnePlus 9 brings a Snapdragon 888 SoC, a 120Hz OLED panel, and a 4,500mAh battery with speedy 65W wired charging. The T-Mobile variant even gains an official water resistance rating, while all variants outside India pack wireless charging.

The phone also steps things up in the camera experience, serving up a 48MP IMX689 primary camera, 50MP IMX766 ultrawide camera, and a 2MP monochrome lens. And we thought the OnePlus 9 was definitely a flagship killer improvement over previous devices.


OnePlus 9 specs:

  • Display: 6.55-inch FHD+
  • SoC: Snapdragon 888
  • RAM: 8/12GB
  • Storage: 128/256GB
  • Cameras: 48, 50, and 2MP
  • Front camera: 16MP
  • Battery: 4,500mAh
  • Software: Android 11

2. Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE rear profile 1
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

Samsung launched the Galaxy S20 FE in late 2020, and it’s still one of the best flagship killers you can get roughly a year later. The phone managed to offer several high-end features for a reasonable price tag, such as water resistance, wireless charging, a Snapdragon 865 SoC, and a 120Hz OLED panel.

The Galaxy S20 FE also stands out thanks to the flexible triple camera system, featuring a 12MP main shooter, 12MP ultrawide camera, and 8MP 3X telephoto sensor. The latter type of camera isn’t always a given on affordable flagships, so we’re happy Samsung offered it here.

Samsung’s phone launched at $700 last year, but it frequently goes on sale way below its recommended price. In fact, the device has been available for ~$550 on Amazon for a while now, making this a flagship killer of note at this price point. Toss in three major OS updates, and this is hard to resist.


Galaxy S20 FE specs:

  • Display: 6.5-inch, Full HD+
  • SoC: SD 865 or Exynos 990
  • RAM: 6/8GB
  • Storage: 128/256GB
  • Cameras: 12, 12 and 8MP
  • Front camera: 32MP
  • Battery: 4,500mAh
  • Software: Android 11

3. Asus Zenfone 8

Asus Zenfone 8 standing on tracks
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

The Asus Zenfone series has long offered a flagship killer option, such as 2018’s Zenfone 5Z and 2019’s Zenfone 6. It’s back with another competitively priced Zenfone 8, which launched in June 2021.

Perhaps the standout Zenfone 8 feature is the compact design, packing a 5.9-inch 120Hz OLED screen. This is paired with a Snapdragon 888 flagship SoC, making it the smallest high-end Android phone you can get in 2021.

What we thought: Asus Zenfone 8 review — Pint-sized powerhouse falls just short of perfection

The phone’s small size does come with compromises, though, as the 4,000mAh battery isn’t massive for a 5G device, and you’re missing out on features like microSD support, wireless charging, and a telephoto camera. But you do get an IP68 rating, a 3.5mm port, and a rather attractive $630 price tag.


Asus Zenfone 8 specs:

  • Display: 5.9-inch, Full HD+
  • SoC: Snapdragon 888
  • RAM: 6/8/16GB
  • Storage: 128/256GB
  • Cameras: 64 and 12MP
  • Front camera: 12MP
  • Battery: 4,000mAh
  • Software: Android 11

4. ZTE Axon 30

ZTE Axon 30 flagship killer
Luke Pollack / Android Authority

Believe it or not, but you can get a flagship-level smartphone with an under-display selfie camera for $500. Yes, the ZTE Axon 30 packs a 16MP camera under the screen for a proper full-screen experience. 

This isn’t the most powerful phone on the list, but the Snapdragon 870 is last year’s flagship silicon. So it should still deliver smooth performance a year or two down the line. Other notable details include a 6.92-inch 120Hz OLED panel, a 4,200mAh battery, and 65W charging.

ZTE’s phone doesn’t have the most impressive rear camera system, though. Expect a 64MP main shooter, 8MP ultrawide camera, a 5MP macro lens, and a 2MP depth sensor. 


ZTE Axon 30 specs:

  • Display: 6.92-inch, Full HD+
  • SoC: Snapdragon 870
  • RAM: 8/12GB
  • Storage: 128/256GB
  • Cameras: 64, 8, 5, and 2MP
  • Front camera: 16MP
  • Battery: 4,200mAh
  • Software: Android 11

5. Realme GT

Realme GT review outdoors side profile
Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

Realme has been expanding in a big way these last few years, targeting Europe and other markets. And one of the devices leading the charge in 2021 is the pleather-clad Realme GT, packing the latest and greatest silicon under the hood.

The Snapdragon 888 is joined by a 120Hz OLED panel, a 4,500mAh battery, and 65W wired charging. So the fundamentals are pretty good here. The camera system is perhaps the weakest area, though, featuring a relatively pedestrian 64MP main+8MP ultra-wide+2MP macro setup.

Don’t expect premium flagship staples like wireless charging and water resistance here, then. But the €499 RRP (and a €429 promo price) make it worth a look if you want a powerful phone without splashing out a ton of cash.


Realme GT specs:

  • Display: 6.43-inch FHD+
  • SoC: Snapdragon 888
  • RAM: 8/12GB
  • Storage: 128/256GB
  • Cameras: 64, 8, and 2MP
  • Front camera: 16MP
  • Battery: 4,500mAh
  • Software: Android 11

6. Nubia Red Magic 6

Red Magic 6 flagship killer
Gary Sims / Android Authority

Nubia’s Red Magic series of gaming phones have been around for a while now, and they’ve generally offered flagship-level power and gaming features at a more affordable price tag. The Red Magic 6 is no different in this regard, starting at $600 from the official store.

There are plenty of reasons to consider the Nubia device, such as the 165Hz OLED screen (an industry first), a pair of capacitive shoulder triggers, a large battery, and a Snapdragon 888 chipset with a built-in cooling fan. So if sustained gaming performance is your top priority, you should add this phone to your list.

The phone’s biggest weakness is the photography experience, though, as the triple rear camera system delivers average snaps. Then again, you probably wouldn’t buy this device if you value a top-notch camera experience in the first place.


Nubia Red Magic 6 specs:

  • Display: 6.8-inch, Full HD+
  • SoC: Snapdragon 888
  • RAM: 12/16GB
  • Storage: 128/256GB
  • Cameras: 64, 8, and 2MP
  • Front camera: 8MP
  • Battery: 5,050mAh
  • Software: Android 11

7. Poco M4 Pro

The back of the Poco M4 Pro.
Hadlee Simons / Android Authority

The Poco M4 Pro is a perfect example of how far budget 5G devices have come in such a short time, and it’s a classic example of flagship killer specs. Of course, it has a few sacrifices for the money, but that’s to be expected at less than €250.

Poco’s latest M4 Pro packs impressive battery life and a handy IP53 rating to keep splashes at bay. Hadlee also enjoyed the 33W USB-C charging during his review, and had no problems going all day with the 5,000mAh battery. Even the M4 Pro’s main 50MP camera lens has made solid strides over previous generations. MIUI 12.5 is one of the more customizable Android skins on the market, even if it does come with some unwanted bloatware.

Our verdict: Poco M4 Pro review — An affordable 5G phone with extra perks

If we had to name a drawback to this flagship killer, it’s the ultrawide camera. Hadlee said it felt more like an afterthought, and it delivers oversaturated shots more often than not. That said, most people don’t rely on the ultrawide lens for the bulk of their shots.

 

Poco M4 Pro specs:

  • Display: 6.6-inch, Full HD+
  • SoC: Dimensity 810
  • RAM: 4/6GB
  • Storage: 64/128GB
  • Cameras: 50 and 8MP
  • Front camera: 16MP
  • Battery: 5,000mAh
  • Software: Android 11

8. Google Pixel 6

Google Pixel 6 flagship killers
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

The Google Pixel 6 is a perfect example of a modern flagship killer — it starts at just $599, yet it packs the same powerful specs as the premium Pixel 6 Pro. That means you get Google’s all-new Tensor chip with a large 6.4-inch display and Gorilla Glass Victus all around. If that weren’t enough, you can finally grab up to 256GB of storage to hold everything you need.

Google brought its most significant camera update yet to the Pixel 6 series. It ditched the old 12MP and 16MP setup in favor of a 50MP main shooter. It’s tough to miss the camera bar, but the results speak for themselves. As always, you’ll have some of the faster access to updates of any OEM on the market, and Google promises years of support with monthly updates.

See also: Google Pixel 6 buyer’s guide

The Pixel 6 series charges faster than any previous Google phone, even if it’s not as snappy as originally expected. You won’t get 30W speeds, but you get 21W wired and wireless charging.


Google Pixel 6 specs:

  • Display: 6.4-inch, Full HD+
  • SoC: Google Tensor
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Storage: 128/256GB
  • Cameras: 50 and 12MP
  • Front camera: 8MP
  • Battery: 4,614mAh
  • Software: Android 12

These are the best flagships killers you can get, in our opinion. We’ll be sure to update this post once new models hit the market.