The sub-20k mid-range smartphone segment was the busiest in the smartphone market today. About 25% of the phones were reviewed this year belong in this mid-range smartphone segment, and surprisingly, they weren’t all the same either. Now that’s a welcome surprise in the current state of things.
Xiaomi kicked things off in this category, with the Redmi Note 3, but LeEco soon took over. By the end of the year, though, neither of them won the award. With so many smartphones vying for your attention, it was a difficult choice indeed.
We were looking for the best overall performer, and it was tough to choose on indeed. You wouldn’t believe how often phones were scoring the same, and the top phones differ by only a few points each. That’s another unusual occurrence in this price range.
Nevertheless, it’s the end of the year, and a winner has indeed been identified. The Zero1 Award for the best smartphone in this mid-range smartphone segment goes to the one that changed our expectations altogether.
Zero1 Winner: Lenovo Z2 Plus
The Lenovo Z2 Plus beat all of the best scores that we had in our database. The phone runs on a Snapdragon 820 SoC, but is priced at a mere `17,999. That indeed is a first. So it’s no surprise that the Z2 Plus could edge past its competitors in our performance test.
In fact, it’s also a very compact device, which is something we really love as well. Its benchmark numbers are over 30% more than the Redmi Note 3 or LeEco Le 2, and those two aren’t the slowest devices out there either.
Lenovo’s Zuk team has further optimised the performance with its ZUI. The UI has some nifty features and is also incredibly smooth and fast. There were no stutters while using this smartphone and 3GB of RAM would be enough for most users. If you can spend `19,999, you’ll get an extra gigabyte of RAM as well.
The Z2 Plus’ only weakness is its camera, which is passable, but not the best. It lasts for about a full day, which is good enough, but the camera needs more work.
Overall, though, the Lenovo Z2 Plus is the best performer for those who just can’t spend over 20k on their smartphone. Lenovo showed good intentions last year, with the Zuk Z1, but its successor is in a whole new league. The Zuk branding is lost, but that changes nothing for this smartphone.
Best Buy: LeEco Le 2
Until the Lenovo Z2 Plus came along, the LeEco Le 2 was our best performer for the year. It runs on the Snapdragon 652 SoC, clocked at 2.3GHz, has 3GB of RAM and a 16MP rear camera. It is also the first phone to have brought a true unibody metal design to the budget segment.
The Le 2 feels premium, and it has the performance to match that. It may not be as powerful as the Snapdragon 820, but it does much more than what you’d expect for `11,999. AnTuTu scores break the 80k barrier, and thanks to eight cores, it can reach the 4000 limit on Geekbench 4’s multi core scores as well.
Interestingly, the Le 2’s performance took it slightly past the Redmi Note 3, making it not only the runner up in the Zero1 Awards, but also the best buy in this range. Why’s that? Because the Le 2’s camera is slightly better than the Redmi Note 3, and it offers about 10% faster speeds than that device. As with all LeEco phones, you get a subscription to the company’s content package as well.