Why can’t every phone be a high-end powerhouse? Er… because? Because it’d be too expensive to sustain and there’d be no point in owning the newest, fastest smartphone because everything would be the same. That’s why we love the top handsets so much. But that doesn’t mean that stepping down from the front-runners to see what is coming up behind is a waste of time. We saw a number of phones in 2015 that won’t make you sorry you put down money for them. Sadly, the Firefox handset is not one of them.
Our best mid-range smartphone was a surprise, because a) we got it very early, b) we had to keep it a secret, and c) it’s a lot cheaper than the specifications and build would have you believe. And, you know, it launched in South Africa this year. The Mi 4 has the sort of performance we were falling over ourselves to get hold of last year but it’s priced like the sort of thing that is only available until someone buys it and takes it out of stock. Which is good, we guess. The Xiaomi Mi 4 threw a lot of our predictions out of whack, because we weren’t expecting it to become officially available in SA. And now that it is, any flagship handsets passing through the country are going to cause a shakeup. Good, screw ’em.
For the longest time we thought that Sony’s Xperia M4 Aqua would be the mid-range phone to have in 2015 and if you’re looking primarily at a phone that can take a bath with you, it still is. The specifications include an octa-core chip, Sony’s own camera tech and surprisingly effective performance. What was flagship speed in 2013 has become the domain of the mid-range in 2015, though Sony’s M4 Aqua still does it more effectively than most of the competition. Shame about the lack of upgradable storage, really.
Oddly, we didn’t hear much about Samsung’s lower-end phones in 2015. At the Stuff offices, anyway. We know they existed, we just didn’t see many and that’s why the LG G4 Beat was able to snag a mid-range spot for this year. Samsung was sleeping. But LG also got in on merit, even though the G4 Beat scooped out a lot of what made their flagship powerful. This was to make room for LG’s camera tech on a budget. And nowadays your budget can be smaller, as LG’s G4 Beat has undergone a price drop. Just as well, because it was priced too high to start with. Still, solid hardware all round, even if the Sony Xperia M4 Aqua wore it better.
We really wanted to put the Huawei P8 in here but that’s technically a flagship phone for the Chinese manufacturer. So we opted to settle for a blast from the past, the Huawei Mate 7 from the very beginning of 2015. Back when the Ascend name was still in use, if you need a reference. The Mate 7 was, at the time, one of the best Huawei smartphones we’d see, with a Kirin 925 octa-core chip at its heart and a roster of other good specs to fiddle with. We assume those specs haven’t changed much. Huawei have since come out with better handsets but we still have a soft spot for the Mate 7 in 2015.
Everything else on this mid-range list has specifications which would, more or less, qualify this as flagships in previous years. Motorola’s Moto E can’t really boast that, as the whole handset is closer to being a budget than a mid-ranger. But the Moto E has two things going for it: rarity value and the fact that it’s been designed to run Android Lollipop without any hassles. You can pick one up for under R2k and enjoy LTE, Lollipop and an extensive battery life. Even if it’s at the bottom of the ladder in terms of performance, the Moto E is still something to be considered if you’re after versatility.