Whether you’re a high schooler’s parent or a student getting ready to head back to college, having a trusty Android phone by your side can make life a lot easier. Problem is, most students don’t have the budget to purchase top-of-the-line phones because of financial constraints. Thankfully, affordable Android phones have become feature-rich and highly competitive these days. Here are some of our top recommendations, including the Google Pixel 6a as our best overall pick.
Shopping for the best Android phone is a little more complicated than choosing the best specs or features. You need to consider how the device is going to work with you and your lifestyle. Luckily, all of the smartphones on this list have struck the delicate balance between useful features, excellent specs, and good old-fashioned bang for the buck.
We’ve used every phone on this list and can tell you exactly where it triumphs and where it falters. At Android Central, our testing and review methods include making sure each phone lives up to the marketing claims of the company, offers good value for the money, can deliver a quality photo every time, and lasts long enough to make it through the day on a single charge.
Sometimes, phones have a special attribute that we test separately, such as camera tech or durability. No matter what you look for in a device, the best phones in every category can be found below.
Head back to school with the best Android phone for students
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At a glance
The best phone for students is the Google Pixel 7a. It offers an outstanding camera, updates direct from Google, and a slew of useful software features.
The Samsung A53 5G isn’t the cheapest phone on this list but its set of features, build quality, and camera make it the best value.
Best battery life
The 5,000 mAh battery in the POCO M4 PRO 5G means it will go all day and all night before hitting the charger. This phone can keep up with your busy life.
Don’t let the strange name fool you — the Nothing phone (1) is a great performer with a unique look inside and out. This phone is a stunner.
Best cheap phone
Best cheap phone
If you want the best phone at the best price, the Nokia G20 is for you. It’s not a powerhouse with the greatest camera, but it is dependable and affordable.
For a student, one of the most important aspects of buying a new phone is buying reliable something 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 7a.
The Pixel 7a is Google’s mid-range successor to the popular Pixel 5a and 4a series. Following in the footsteps of its predecessors, it is one of the best mid-range smartphones that money can buy, and two of the biggest reasons for that are the Pixel 7a’s camera and software. Most mid-range phones have fine cameras, but the Pixel 7a captures photos that are just as good, if not better, than some flagships out there. Even with a humble dual camera setup on a phone that costs this little, Google somehow managed to have it kick out genuinely stunning pictures.
Outside of the top-notch camera, the Pixel 7a also delivers a super clean build of Android out of the box. Being a Pixel phone, it is first-in-line for guaranteed software updates for five more years, has a gorgeous OLED display, and a custom Google Tensor processor that’s more than capable for every task you throw at it. Also included here is NFC for contactless payments with Google Pay, IP67 water resistance, and superior haptics.
We wish that the Pixel 7a came with expandable storage and a larger battery, but there’s not much else to dislike outside of those two little complaints. The bold design borrowed from the Pixel 7 series is stunning, but if you don’t like it there’s a host of great Pixel 7a cases to fix that. Google knocked it out of the park with this one.
One of the more underrated smartphones currently available is the Samsung Galaxy A53 5G. Samsung is most well-known in the U.S. for its top-of-the-line flagship offerings such as the Galaxy S22 Ultra. Bigwigs aside, Samsung is also a very capable maker of Android phones that don’t carry exorbitant price tags. The Galaxy A53 5G is one such device packing a ton of features and specs at a surprisingly low price.
Seeing as how Samsung is known for its displays, one of the best parts about the A53 5G is its vivid Super AMOLED screen. You get a 6.5-inch display with slim bezels and a silky smooth 120Hz refresh rate that is a joy to the eye. We do wish it was just as bright outdoors, though. Students who love to capture their memorable moments will be very happy with the quad-camera setup on the phone. With the right lighting, the 64MP main sensor can shoot some marvelous photos.
Under the hood, you’ll find a Samsung Exynos 1280 processor and 6GB of RAM, which translates to great performance for most tasks. You might face a teeny bit of lag while gaming, but the overall user experience is quite good. We’re also fans of the 128GB of internal storage, IP67 waterproof rating, 5,000mAh battery, 25W fast charging, and the in-display fingerprint scanner. Not to mention, the Galaxy A53 5G colorways include some fun pastel shades.
Just like the Pixel 6a, the Galaxy A53 5G is a worthwhile investment for you or your child. Samsung has promised four major platform updates for this mid-ranger, which will surely keep it fresh for years to come.
Best battery life
The big draw to the POCO M4 Pro 5G is its mind-boggling 5,000mAh battery, which can last for almost two days on a single charge. This affordable Xiaomi phone could prove to be a lifesaver for especially hectic weeks at campus. When you do need to refuel, you do so with a handy PD USB-C charger coupled with 33W fast charging. The 4GB/6GB/8GB RAM and 64GB/128GB/256GB memory options are more than agreeable, and the Dimensity 810 chipset delivers reliable performance.
Other specs for the phone are just as solid, including its 6.6-inch 1080p Full HD+ 90Hz display, two rear cameras, a side-mounted fingerprint reader, an audio port, and stereo speakers. If you grab yourself a POCO M4 Pro 5G, do be prepared to deal with a lot of bloatware out of the box. Of course, you can always uninstall it right off the bat, but there’s also the slight problem of slow updates and CDMA carrier compatibility in the US.
Carl Pei’s Nothing phone (1) is a unique Android phone with a distinctly recognizable design. This Android phone has a transparent back with a plethora of LED lights incorporated into the rear. These lights make up the Nothing phone (1)’s Glyph Interface and you can customize it to a certain extent.
All those flashing lights aside, the Nothing phone (1) has a lot more to offer. Impressively, it sports an IP53 water and dust resistance rating. The 6.55-inch OLED display is simply gorgeous, with a snappy 120Hz variable refresh rate and an in-screen fingerprint reader. You don’t need to worry about battery life or charging because this Android phone has excellent specs on that front. There’s a 4,500mAh cell inside paired with 33W fast wired, 15W wireless, and 5W reverse wireless charging support.
As for the software, the phone (1) delivers a clean, bloat-free UI with small, meaningful tweaks here and there. It is powered by the Snapdragon 778G+ SoC and 8GB or 12GB of RAM. The performance is decent but inconsistent, with sporadic lags here and there. The Nothing phone (1) also lacks a headphone jack and a microSD slot. You will also need to invest in a USB-C charger for the phone (1) since it doesn’t come with one in the box.
Best cheap phone
Most students don’t have a lot of disposable income, meaning that expensive phones are typically off the table. There are plenty of options on this list that we’d deem very affordable, but if you’re trying to spend as little as possible while still getting a good user experience, we think the Nokia G20 is the best in this regard.
The phone looks a lot better than any other sub-$200 Android phone, featuring a modern design, sturdy build quality, and slim bezels surrounding the 6.52-inch 1600×720 HD+ display. You get a side-mounted fingerprint sensor, and the back of the Nokia G20 is home to four rear cameras, which is darn impressive given its bottom-of-the-barrel price tag. Unlike the similarly-priced POCO M4 Pro, the Nokia G20 supports all US carriers.
Speaking of impressive, the Nokia G20’s specs are pretty great. You get 4GB of RAM, 128GB of onboard storage that’s expandable up to 512GB, a large 5,050 mAh battery, and even NFC for Google Pay. The value-packed Nokia phone ships with a clean build of Android 11 out of the box but you can upgrade it to Android 12, with an Android 13 on the way. The G20 is also set to receive three years of monthly security updates — a huge perk if you plan on keeping your phone for a while. The Mediatek Helio G35 chipset isn’t the fastest processor in the world, so the performance is fairly slow.
Best for taking notes
Few phones today ship with a stylus in tow, and we can’t understand why. The S Pen is one of the most successful features of the Galaxy Note series, but the sky-high cost of actually acquiring a Galaxy Ultra phone makes it inaccessible to students. Ironically, students can probably get the most use out of a stellar Android stylus. To compensate, we have selected the Moto G Stylus 5G as the best Android phone with a stylus for students.
Note (hah!) that we’re recommending the more reasonable Moto G Stylus instead of the expensive S22 Ultra as it’s something many students will value. It may not be as legendary as the Samsung S22 Ultra, but the Moto G Stylus 5G is still an all-around great phone. It’s got a water-repellent design, triple cameras, a generous 5,000mAh battery, 6GB/8GB of RAM, 128GB/256GB/512GB storage, and a 6.8-inch 120Hz LCD display.
Where things get exciting is when you factor in the accompanying stylus that tucks away neatly into the phone’s body. The stylus can be used for writing notes, drawing, and even as a remote shutter button or clicker for a presentation. It is an excellent tool for anyone, but when you take it into the classroom, that’s where its functionality shines. It isn’t for naught that we’ve placed this phone on our list of the best cheap Android phones.
You don’t have to break the bank over the best Android phone for students
Any of the Android phones on this list will serve a student well for school, but among all of them, we have to give our top recommendation to the Google Pixel 7a.
Google’s attempt at making a mid-range Pixel device turned out to be a smashing success. The Google Pixel 7a might have a smaller battery and slightly worse display compared to its more expensive siblings, but the incredible cameras, super clean software, IP67 rating, and Google’s robust Tensor chipset 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 7a 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 Google Pixel 7a for quite a few years and still get the best of what Android has to offer.