If you're shopping for a new smartphone, but you'd prefer not to spend big on the very latest releases, then you should consider the bumper crop of affordable flagships from yesteryear. Tech moves fast, so there's always an argument for buying something new, but many flagship phones from a year or two ago are still great devices that will meet most people's needs and you can often pick them up heavily discounted.
We've rounded up a few old flagship phones that are still worth buying in 2022, and we'll explain why we recommend them. We'll also take a look at the pros and cons of choosing a new budget phone versus an older flagship.
Apple iPhone 12
- Excellent camera performance
- Fast and consistent software
- Beautiful and colorful hardware
- Good battery life
- 5G connectivity
- Light body feels a bit cheap
- MagSafe offers little right now
If you're an Apple over Android person but don't want to spend too much on a new phone, you should definitely consider an older model iPhone. Apple still sells the iPhone 12, and though it's a step down from the latest A15 processor and longer battery life of the iPhone 13, it's an excellent buy for the money. The iPhone 12 has an A14 chip and the same 6.1-inch screen with 2532 x 1170 resolution as the iPhone 13, but you'll miss out on the iPhone 13's improved camera hardware, brighter display, smaller notch, and wider range of colors to choose from.
Apple's known for continuing to update and support older iPhones, so you don't really need to worry about that if you choose the iPhone 12. We wouldn't recommend going any older than the iPhone 8, however, which still comes with a decent main camera and pretty powerful processor.
Want to save money on an iPhone while going for a more recent model? The iPhone SE (2022) is the phone we'd recommend with its A15 chip, compact form factor, and excellent image processing.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus
- Classy metal-and-glass body
- Stunning screen performance
- Capable camera
- Lacks a 2021 flagship camera
- S21 Ultra is substantially better in many ways
Forget the S22 series — Samsung's S21 series phones still boast powerful processing, gorgeous screens, and impressive battery life. The S21 Plus is the one we'd recommend for those looking to secure an older Samsung flagship on a budget. This device strikes a nice middle ground in the series with its 6.7-inch 120Hz screen, up to 256GB of storage, 4,800mAh battery, and Snapdragon 888 chip.
Spend $300 more and you could upgrade to the S21 Ultra for a larger 6.8-inch display, up to 16GB of RAM, up to 512GB of storage, and a bigger 5,000mAh battery.
You could also consider the S21 itself. You'll save a couple of hundred dollars off the price of the S21 Plus, with a slightly smaller 6.2-inch screen, the same Snapdragon 888 processor and RAM, and a smaller 4,000mAh battery.
Samsung's software update promise is the best in the business, with all S21 series phones eligible for four Android updates and five years of security updates — the same update promise Samsung offers for the S22 series.
Google Pixel 5
- Compact and lightweight
- Detailed 90Hz screen
- Highly capable camera
- Two-day battery life
- Dull design
- Missing that special quirky Google feature
There's still plenty of mileage in the older Google Pixel 5. True, it has a smaller screen and less processing power than the Pixel 6 series, but with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G chip, you still get plenty of power, and everything looks great on the 6-inch OLED 90Hz screen. Yes, the phone looks a bit understated and isn't the most visually appealing device ever, but what it lacks in wow factor, it more than makes up for with its two-day battery life, gorgeous display, and highly capable camera.
Google provides all its Pixel phones with timely software updates. The Pixel 5 will get Android version updates and security updates until October 2023, giving it a degree of longevity. Going back further, the Pixel 4a will also receive updates until next year, though if you pick up a Pixel 3a, it will have already received its last Android version and security updates in May 2022. For this reason, we wouldn't recommend going any further back than the 3a if you plan to keep your phone for some time.
OnePlus 8 Pro
- Amazing battery life
- Fast wired and wireless charging
- Stunning screen
- Great photos from the camera
- Slick software
- Screen touch response needs tuning
- Odd Color Filter is is a misstep
- Fast wireless charging is proprietary
OnePlus is known for its great flagships with high-spec performance at a comparatively affordable price. But look beyond its latest flagship — the OnePlus 10 Pro — and you'll find the OnePlus 8 Pro is still a great phone for the money, as well as the OnePlus 8T.
The OnePlus 8 Pro offers excellent performance, a beefy 4,510mAh battery with super-fast charging, a stunning 6.78-inch Fluid AMOLED screen with 120Hz refresh rate (and 240Hz touch sampling rate for gaming), and great photos from its cameras. You could save even more by opting for the OnePlus 8T, which has a smaller 6.55-inch 120Hz display, 4,500mAh battery, and Warp Charge 65T, but no wireless charging and no IP rating.
OnePlus does a good job of updating the software on its phones, offering three years of updates. The OnePlus 8 Pro will receive three Android updates, and it's already received OxygenOS 11 (Android 11), which means Android 13 is the last Android version it should receive, with the software support end date set for April 2023.
The OnePlus 8T should also receive three Android updates. Since this phone ships with OxygenOS 11 (Android 11), with software support ending in October 2023, it should receive OnePlus' version of Android 14.
Nokia 8.3 5G
- Excellent main and ultra-wide cameras
- Large, attractive screen
- Android One software
- Long battery life
- No water resistance
- 60Hz refresh rate screen
- Weak zoom and macro photos
While Nokia might not immediately spring to mind when choosing an older flagship phone, the Nokia 8.3 5G is still a good buy with its large, attractive screen, long battery life, and excellent main and ultra-wide cameras, plus 5G.
The impressive cameras boast the PureView name on the spec sheet, and HMD Global's Zeiss partnership undoubtedly contributes to the strong performance on offer. When we reviewed the phone back in 2020, we loved its 6.81-inch IPS LCD display with "PureDisplay" tech offering adaptive brightness, enhanced color accuracy and sharpness, and always-on HDR. However, where we felt things fell down was that 60Hz refresh rate. That's even more true nowadays where most flagships and even some midrange phones offer a 120Hz refresh rate, or 90Hz at the very least.
But the 8.3 5G is still an excellent choice for those cameras, the Snapdragon 765G processor, and that all-too-elusive-nowadays microSD card slot, not to mention its 4,500mAh battery.
The phone runs Android One, with 2022 being the last year it will receive a major system update, though security updates will continue until 2023. HMD Global has a reputation for rolling out updates in a timely fashion, so you won't have to wait around for the latest updates.
You might prefer to pick up one of the best cheap phones from today, rather than something that was top of the line a year or more ago. There are pros and cons to this approach, so it depends on what you value most. Let’s dig into the argument a little, but bear in mind that we’re talking generally here, so there will be exceptions to some of what we’re about to say.
If you had to choose between a high-quality model from a previous generation or a current-generation mid-range or basic model, you should probably go with the older device. They tend to have better screens with higher resolutions; they often have better camera suites; they may have features like water resistance and wireless charging which are still rare in cheaper phones. The regularity and speed of software updates depend on the manufacturer, but most manufacturers are much better at updating their flagship range, even older flagships than they are at updating midrange or budget phones. Having said that, Nokia is a great example of a budget phone maker that updates swiftly.
The top-tier models used to be the only devices with excellent designs, but these days you’ll find that manufacturers have become market savvy, modeling cheaper devices after a popular and efficient design from a flagship phone. Even affordable options like the Samsung Galaxy A53 are eye-catching and well-designed, and available in a range of colorful options to suit all tastes. The midrange processors you’ll find in the latest variety of budget phones are fairly decent, but flagships come with flagship processors, so it takes a while for them to hit parity. Most likely any flagship from the last two years will outperform a midrange or budget device in today’s market.
A big plus to current cheaper phone models is that their batteries tend to last longer. This is partly because of greater capacity and partly because of greater efficiency. You’ll get more improved customer support, in theory at least, with newer phones, and likely a longer promise for software and security updates too. Since storage and RAM have trended upwards drastically, recent midrange and even budget phones will likely have more storage and RAM than older flagships.
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