The summer is in full swing, but before you know it, it’ll be time to head back to school once again. While that’s an unfortunate reality no one wants to address (except maybe parents), it’s best to start preparing for the new school year now rather than wait until the last second. If you are a student or know a student that’s in need of a new phone, these are the ones we recommend checking out — our top pick being the excellent OnePlus 7 Pro.
Best Premium Pick: OnePlus 7 Pro
AMOLED display with 90Hz refresh rate
Incredibly fast performance
30W fast charging
Reliable in-screen fingerprint sensor
Big and heavy
At the high-end for this list, we have the OnePlus 7 Pro. This is a flagship phone through and through, and while it is expensive, it’s hundreds of dollars less compared to similar phones being sold by Samsung, Google, Apple, etc.
The OnePlus 7 Pro is built like a tank, featuring a hefty metal/glass design with one of the best displays we’ve ever seen on a phone. Not only is the Quad HD+ AMOLED display crisp and colorful, but the 90Hz refresh rate means that everything moves with an unparalleled level of smoothness. The 7 Pro also offers a Snapdragon 855 processor, up to 12GB of RAM, and 128 or 256GB of storage.
On the software front, OnePlus’s OxygenOS interface gets big points for being lightweight while offering nice customization options and useful features. OnePlus also has a solid track record for its update game, with the 7 Pro having already received numerous updates since its release in May.
Add that together with a 4,000 mAh battery, 30W fast charging, and a reliable in-screen fingerprint sensor, and the OnePlus 7 Pro has a lot going for it.
Best Value Pick: Google Pixel 3a
Colorful AMOLED display
Snappy Snapdragon 670 processor
No expandable storage
Isn’t officially water resistant
For a student, one of the most important aspects when buying a new phone is buying something that’s reliable without being too expensive. Out of all the phones on the market right now, the one that strikes that balance the best is the Google Pixel 3a.
The Pixel 3a is the first mid-range phone Google’s released since it ushered in its Pixel series in 2016, and it just might be one of the best mid-range smartphones we’ve seen in quite a while — the biggest reason for this being the Pixel 3a’s camera.
Most mid-range phones have fine cameras, but the Pixel 3a captures photos that are just as good, if not better, than some flagships out there. Even with only one rear camera on a phone that costs $400, Google somehow managed to have this phone kick out genuinely stunning pictures.
Outside of the top-notch camera, the Pixel 3a also delivers a super clean build of Android 9 Pie, is first-in-line for guaranteed software updates through 2021, has a really gorgeous AMOLED display, and a Snapdragon 670 processor that’s more than capable for every task you throw at it. Also included here is NFC for contactless payments with Google Pay and a 3.5mm headphone jack!
We do wish that the Pixel 3a came with expandable storage and had an official IP rating for dust/water resistance, but outside of those two little complaints, there’s not much else to dislike. Google knocked it out of the park with this one.
Also Awesome Value: Nokia 7.1
Premium glass/metal design
Stunning HDR10 display
Great battery life
Guaranteed software updates
The cameras are fine
If you’d like to spend a little less than what Google’s asking for the Pixel 3a while still getting a great all-around phone, our next recommendation would be the Nokia 7.1. Its camera is not as good as the Pixel 3a and its Snapdragon 636 processor can be a little inconsistent, but despite those two downsides, everything else about the Nokia 7.1 is a joy.
From a hardware standpoint, the Nokia 7.1 looks and feels incredible. Its metal/glass design is considerably more premium than the plastic construction of the Pixel 3a, and along with looking great, it also feels lovely in hand. Its LCD display also looks great with a sharp 2220×1080 resolution, but what really stands out here is the fact that it both plays native HDR10 content and can convert regular SDR videos into HDR in real-time. This results in all of your movies, TV shows, and YouTube videos looking brighter and more colorful than ever before.
The Nokia 7.1 continues to shine thanks to its long-lasting battery, expandable storage (up to 400GB with a microSD card), 3.5mm headphone jack, and an NFC chip that allows you to pay for things using your phone.
A lot of budget phones tend to get one software update if you’re lucky, but that’s not the case with the Nokia 7.1. Since it’s part of the Android One program, it’s guaranteed to receive software updates and security patches. Not only that, but Nokia has one of the best track records at the moment for updating its phones to the latest versions of Android.
Best Compact Phone: Nokia 6.1
NFC for Google Pay
Expandable storage up to 256GB
Released in February 2018
For the past few years, smartphone manufacturers have been on a quest to make phones as big as possible. Huge displays are great for watching movies and playing games, but when it comes time to use your phone with one hand, that big screen can be a real nuisance.
That’s where phones like the Nokia 6.1 come in handy.
The Nokia 6.1 has a screen that measures in at just 5.5-inches, and not only that, it uses the older 16:9 aspect ratio. This makes its screen wider and shorter than every other phone on this list, allowing you to more easily reach things at the top without having to perform wild thumb gymnastics.
Along with the wonderful size, the Nokia 6.1 also gets points for its industrial aluminum design, expandable storage, and the inclusion of NFC despite such a low price tag. The biggest concern here is the Nokia 6.1’s age seeing as how it was first released in early 2018, but thanks to it being part of the Android One program, you can still look forward to consistent software updates for another couple of years.
Best Battery: Moto G7 Power
Up to three days of battery life
Rear fingerprint sensor
Motorola’s bad with software updates
Base storage is only 32GB
The life of a student can be incredibly demanding. From reading assigned chapters, researching and writing papers, and studying for tests, there’s a lot to do. If you plan on doing any school work on your phone, you’ll want to ensure it has a big battery so you can keep going without having to stop to charge it up every few hours.
With the Moto G7 Power, you’re getting a phone with a massive 5,000 mAh battery. Motorola says that translates to around three days of regular use on just one charge, making the G7 Power an endurance champ. When the battery does eventually run out, recharge times are pretty fast thanks to Motorola’s TurboPower charging system.
In addition to unmatched battery life, the Moto G7 Power follows through with a fast octa-core Snapdragon 632 processor, a 12-megapixel rear camera that can take those coveted portrait shots, and a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor hidden underneath the Motorola “M” logo. As if that wasn’t good enough, Motorola also uses a special water-repellent nano-coating so you don’t have to freak out if you get caught in a rainstorm with the phone.
Our biggest concern with the Moto G7 Power has to do with its software updates. It’s running Android Pie out of the box, and while that’s great, Motorola’s infamous for being very slow with getting updates out — if at all. If that’s a top priority for you, you’re better off with the Pixel 3a or one of Nokia’s phones.
Best with a Stylus: Samsung Galaxy Note 9
Fantastic Super AMOLED display
Blazing fast Snapdragon 845 processor
S Pen allows for a lot of functionality
Big 4,000 mAh battery
IP68 dust/water resistance
The Galaxy Note 10 will be released soon
The Galaxy Note 9 was one of the best phones released last year, and even now in 2019 close to a year after its initial release, it continues to be one heck of a handset. It’s easily the most expensive phone on this entire list, but if you want a functional, powerful, and fun Android phone to get you through class after class, it’s the way to go.
If you ask us, the Galaxy Note 9 has just about everything you could want in a smartphone. The 6.4-inch AMOLED display looks downright beautiful, the Snapdragon 845 processor can handle any app or game you throw at it, and the 4,000 mAh battery offers plenty of endurance to get you through late night study sessions.
Where things get exciting is when you factor in the Note 9’s S Pen. The S Pen can be used for writing notes, drawing, and even used as a remote shutter button or clicker for a presentation. The S Pen is an excellent tool for anyone, but when you take it into the classroom, that’s where its functionality shines.
Other tidbits that we enjoy include expandable storage up to 512GB, an IP68 rating for dust and water resistance, and the ability to use the Note 9 to pay for things at virtually any store thanks to its inclusion of both NFC and MST with Samsung Pay.
Best Under $300: Moto G7
Big display, small notch
Works on all U.S. carriers
Dual rear cameras
Motorola’s software update track record
Last but not least, we’re going back to a phone that’s better-suited for students on a tight budget. $300 used to not buy you much when it came to a quality Android phone, but in 2019, it gets you the Moto G7, which, if you ask us, is pretty darn great.
The front of the Moto G7 is home to a big 6.2-inch LCD screen with a crisp resolution of 2270×1080. It has a narrow 19:9 aspect ratio and a wonderfully small waterdrop notch that houses the phone’s 8-megapixel selfie camera. The Snapdragon 632 processor is powerful enough for all of your everyday tasks, the 64GB of internal storage can be expanded with a microSD card, and a water-repellent coating keeps the phone safe from pesky rain.
If you’re an Alexa fan, you’ll be happy to hear that the Moto G7 comes with hands-free Alexa — allowing you to talk to the assistant with just your voice. Also, similar to the Moto G7 Power, the Moto G7 works on AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon without any issues.
Once again, however, we have to raise concerns regarding the future of the Moto G7. It’s doubtful that Motorola will push regular security patches or software updates to the phone, so make sure you keep that in mind before throwing your money down.
Any of the phones on this list will serve a student well for this coming school season, but among all of them, we have to give our top recommendation to the Google Pixel 3a.
Google’s first attempt at making a mid-range Pixel device turned out to be a smash hit. The Pixel 3a might have a plastic design and a slower processor compared to its more expensive siblings, but the incredible camera, super clean software, and a surprisingly great AMOLED display make this a phone that’s genuinely enjoyable to use day in and day out.
Among all of that, though, another big reason the Pixel 3a stands out is because of its post-purchase support. Since this is a phone made by Google itself, it’s first-in-line ahead of every other Android phone to receive essential security patches and exciting software updates the second they’re released. That means you can hold onto the Pixel 3a for quite a few years and still get the best of what Android has to offer.