CES 2022 was not surprisingly a total disaster, despite several big names opting out of dazzling shows and the threat of a pandemic looming large. We got a glimpse of a color-changing car, oddly cute robots, tablets that put a gaming laptop to shame, crazy-fast silicon from Intel, and a spaceship-like router with a motorized antenna, among other wonders. But CES 2022 was also about the phone. Indeed, great phones that offer capable hardware without bogging down your wallet.
Yes, flagships with outrageous amounts of RAM and obscenely high-megapixel cameras were missed, but CES 2022 was the show of value-focused phones. A flashy launch event and the kinds of phones sold by the bucket load without the bizarre claims. Samsung, TCL and Nokia were the brands that delivered such phones, and they will soon hit the shelves at no cost.
Here are some that stand out.
Best Overall: OnePlus 10 Pro
Technically, the OnePlus 10 Pro did not make a public appearance at CES 2022. But OnePlus has given enough detail that we now know almost everything about the phone, from its divisive design to its top-tier internals. The specs are key elements of your typical 2022 — Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 system on a chip, a 120Hz OLED display, and a big battery. Some notable aspects include support for 80-watt fast charging and 50W wireless charging, both now under the Oppo branding.
The camera setup (48-megapixel main + 50MP ultrawide + 8MP) has remained unchanged, but they are now equipped with some imaging tricks. The ultrawide camera now covers a 150-degree field of view, while a new RAW Plus mode will deliver the magic that the new iPhones are working with the Apple ProRaw format. A manual video capture mode has been added, while Hasselblad mode now works with 10-bit color capture on all three rear cameras.
It is quite clear that the focus is more on the cameras and practical features that really make a difference. Rivals are planning 200-megapixel cameras and 120W charging has already arrived, but OnePlus is pursuing a balanced experience. Let’s hope the price is right, and the OnePlus 10 Pro really delivers. This is especially in the face of venerable rivals like the Google Pixel 6 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro. The OnePlus flagship will launch in China on January 11, and will have a global debut shortly thereafter.
Best Midrange Phone: Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
No phone in recent memory has leaked as widely as the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE, and even the company has apparently stopped to care. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad phone. Actually, far from it. The Galaxy S21 FE aka Fan Edition is following the budget flagship formula, and for the second year in a row, Samsung has done a great job.
The design is clean and reminiscent of the standard Galaxy S21, with a bunch of neat colors to choose from. There’s a 120Hz display on the front, while last year’s flagship Qualcomm chip drives the business inside. The triple camera array is a familiar 12MP wide + 12MP ultrawide + 8MP telephoto case, while a 4,500mAh battery with wireless charging prowess keeps things running. But the asking price is the real MVP here. For $699, Samsung is delivering a near-flagship experience with four years of assured updates.
The $599 Google Pixel 6 might sound like a better deal, but it’s only available in a few markets. The $799 iPhone 13 is also a competitive package, but it costs more elsewhere. For Android fans looking for a dependable phone without burning their bank account, the Galaxy S21 FE will always be a part of the conversation, and the Samsung brand value makes it a hot favorite as well.
Best Unlocked Phone: Nokia G400
Nokia has seen better days, and it’s far from being a mainstream player, but the company continues to make attractive budget phones. The new Nokia G400, with a price tag of $240, has some distinctive features in its favor. The latest Nokia-branded phone features a 6.6-inch display with a 120Hz refresh rate, something you don’t usually see on budget phones.
Qualcomm’s decidedly midrange (and older) Snapdragon 615 chip drives the show, while the triple rear camera system is headlined by a 48MP snapper. Another notable aspect here is the software of the phone. We’re talking about a pristine Android experience, minus all the typical features like Google Pixel phones. There’s no bloatware, and at least two Android upgrades are pretty reassuring. HMD Global sells these Nokia-branded phones with no carrier hassle, so there’s also the unlock feature.
Best Budget Phone VZW: TCL 30V 5G
The Verizon-exclusive TCL 30V 5G is surprisingly an odd mix of good and meh hardware. It has a 6.67-inch FHD+ screen without any high refresh rate trick. The triple-lens array at the back includes a 50MP main snapper, but the other two cameras offer 5-megapixel and 2-megapixel outputs. The fairly large 4,500mAh battery keeps the lights on, but disappointingly, it runs Android 11 out of the box.
Here’s the charge by Qualcomm’s entry-level Snapdragon 480 chip. But the phone apparently focuses less on power and more on connectivity. This budget TCL phone brings support for the faster mmWave flavor of 5G, a feature usually reserved for high-end phones. TCL would not say anything about the price, but it is going to be on the affordable side and will soon hit the shelves along with some carrier offers.
Best Budget Phone T-Mobile: TCL 30XE 5G
Another TCL phone that is a mixed bag of surprises and disappointments, the TCL 30XE 5G offers tricks like a 90Hz refresh rate panel without any hefty price tag. On the other hand, the 6.52-inch screen is capped at a modest HD+ resolution. The camera hardware (13MP primary + 2MP depth + 2MP macro) is strictly a budget affair, but the included 18W charger in the box sweetens the deal somewhat.
And 5G support is part of the package. The rapidly disappearing 3.5mm headphone jack and microSD card slot are also here. Android 11 is again a disappointing aspect, but an Android 12 upgrade is likely not too far down the road. Price and availability remain a mystery, but an early T-Mobile exclusivity is a clear indication that it will be sold at an attractive price to budget buyers.