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Shootout: 4G LTE Smartphones Below S$600

By Sidney Wong & Vijay Anand - 15 Jul 2013



After many months of reporting and reviewing the top-tier smartphones and those that serve as a cross between tablets and smartphones, we paused to consider the many mid-range phone options in a bid to highlight more manageable and handy smartphones for consideration. For one, we find the immensely larger devices getting more tricky to handle as a phone and we know deep in our hearts that there is a large audience who aren't looking for the most flashy, over-the-top devices and certainly don't mind more practical options. Besides, the lower price points are sure to be attractive too.

With that in mind, we scoured for the latest that each major brand has to offer in their mid-range portfolio that featured fairly updated operating systems and modern features like 4G LTE support and NFC. To our surprise, most of them were priced in the S$500 to S$600 region and featured many of the features found on the top-tier devices (suffice to say, that's how we derived at our article title too). Even more surprising, we managed to squeeze in Sony's Xperia SP featuring a 4.6-inch, 720p HD screen - the best of the lot. After handling these phones for sometime and putting it through their paces, here's the final outcome:-

Breakdown of Scores
  HTC One SV LG Optimus F5 Nokia Lumia 820 Samsung Galaxy S4 mini Sony Xperia SP
 Design 8.5 7.5 8.0 9.0 8.0
 Features 8.0 8.5 8.5 9.0 8.5
 User-Friendliness 8.5 8.5 8.0 8.5 8.5
Performance 7.0 7.0 9.0 9.5 6.5
Value 8.0 7.5 8.5 8.5 7.0
Price From S$415  S$498 From S$468 From S$585 S$598
 Overall 8.0 7.5 8.5 9.0 7.5

We find the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini to be an all-rounder in terms of usability and performance, thus our top performer in this shootout.

The Nokia Lumia 820 strikes a balance between performance, features and price. We would recommend this for anyone wanting an alternative to Samsung and the Android ecosystem.

Take note that we had to factor in street price rather than suggested retail prices since some of the phones have been in the market since last year, while some others have only recently launched. The time of availability of each device is beyond our control since every vendor has its own roll-out plans. As such, our article is only accurate at the point of publication. Having said that, here's a summary of each smartphone for this comparison and their final standings:-

Final Ratings & Summary
 Samsung Galaxy S4 mini

Click for detailed results break-down

The Samsung Galaxy S4 mini delivers on all fronts. Its 4.3-inch Super AMOLED display is one of the best screens in the industry with rich and vibrant colors. Its compact form factor also makes it very easy to use in one hand. Software-wise, it is the only device running on the latest Android version (4.2.2, but it's also because the phone was the most recently launched) and has a healthy serving of Samsung’s TouchWiz features such as Smart Stay, Air Gestures and many more. More importantly, the Galaxy S4 mini offers the longest battery life alongside good overall performance. It is also one of the better phones for photography and taking self portraits with its secondary 1.9MP camera.
 Nokia Lumia 820

 Click for detailed results break-down

Although the market is gravitating towards the Android ecosystem, the Nokia Lumia 820 is still a competent smartphone on almost every count - even nearly after a year since its launch. Its polycarbonate chassis feels sturdier than its competitors, and the distinctive design sets it apart from the sea of lookalikes. Something extra that it possess is built-in support for wireless Qi charging that works in tandem with compatible accessories.

The Windows Phone OS may not be as popular as Android, but it provides a refreshing user interface with resizable Live Tiles. In terms of performance, the Lumia 820 consistently ranks among the top few in our benchmarks and we've established its imaging quality is among the best for its class. Further to that, you should also factor the Nokia-only apps that value-add the phone's experience such as Nokia City Lens, Nokia Maps, Nokia Drive+ and Nokia Music.

We only have a couple of points against it and that's the device's screen resolution and slightly bulkier build. Otherwise, we think it's a great option among this class of phones that the rating we gave last year, is still fully applicable and we've topped it up with our Best Value Award. How's that for the Lumia 820's strong proposition?


Click for detailed results break-down

The HTC One SV has one of the better design and build among the phones compared in this article, but its availability in the market since December 2012 made its software features and performance seem dated compared to its rivals which are more released recently. HTC needs to accelerate its plans to bring an updated midrange Android smartphone with 4G LTE connectivity to consumers if it still wants a slice of this market. We certainly hope these leaks and rumors are true on a 4.3-inch HTC One mini.

We've waited more than a month before deliberating on going ahead with this shootout and the HTC One SV is still the most appropriate offering for mid-range device with 4G LTE. Despite its age, fortunately the HTC Sense 4+ user interface and its imaging interface is still friendly and easy to use. Also not to forget, it's got the next best secondary camera that has 1.6MP sensor, ideal for selfies. If you're looking for the most affordable 4G smartphone with a reasonable feature set, the HTC One SV is a decent option with a nice build.

LG Optimus F5

Click for detailed results break-down

 The LG Optimus F5 boasts some of the features found in its higher end models such as QSlide and QuickMemo, which makes it quite appealing. What we dislike about the phone is its plastic chassis that exhibited notable flex. Further to that, the 131g weight which is a by-product of the phone's beefy battery which unfortunately didn't help much due to its high power consumptions. As such, its overall performance is a little underwhelming compared to the competition (factoring in design, performance, and price). What LG has going is its nice feature set at its price point, but not much else. We would suggest users to give it a try if you like its handling and interface.
 Sony Xperia SP

Click for detailed results break-down

Last, not least, we find the Sony Xperia SP to be lagging behind the competition in some key areas. It fared the worst in the battery performance benchmarks while delivering an average performance in the SunSpider Javascript benchmark. Fortunately, the Xperia SP still sports a solid design, good handling and has the best screen resolution among the comparison. It is also the only phone in the comparison that officially supports an MHL connection from its micro-USB port to connect with HDMI equipped TVs - a feature often reserved for upper-class phones.

However, for not much more, you could actually get better phones such as the LG Optimus G, LG Nexus 4 and others that are more premium devices, hardly much larger than it and in fact, lighter than than the Xperia SP. As such, the Sony Xperia SP finds itself in a peculiar position that doesn't excel among the mid-tier nor the upper-tier phones despite having most necessary features.