Kenya is awash with lots of awesome budget smartphones right now. Today, buying what is considered as a budget smartphone does not in any way mean that one is compromising on anything. Budget smartphones have risen to the occassion and offer best-in-class cameras, long battery life and come with some stunning designs. However, there are those among us to whom money is not such a problem. Those that settle for nothing but the best. Well, the best, in this case, is arguable but you get the drift.
Here are 5 top-of-the-range Android smartphones available in Kenya right now that anyone looking to buy a premium device should seriously consider. Of course, dynamics will soon change with the impending release into the market of 2017’s heavy hitters from the likes of Samsung and Huawei.
1. Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge
Samsung has always ensured that its best smartphone finds its way to the Kenyan market. Last year’s Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge were no exceptions. In the absence of last year’s Galaxy Note (the Note 7 went up in flames as you may already know), it is the Galaxy S series that we turn to when focusing on the Samsung Galaxy brand. As it was at launch early last year, the Galaxy S7 Edge is still my favourite go-to smartphone and is usually the first one I recommend every time anyone asks me what high-end device they should buy (which is like all the time).
The Galaxy S7’s camera remains one of the best one can find in the market, the Edge display is just as impressive as ever, the battery life is really good and the fingerprint sensor, embedded on the physical home button, is quite fast. Don’t get me started on its water resistance, the very crispy display and the ability to pair it up with Gear VR, Samsung’s mobile virtual reality headset.
2. Huawei Mate 9
Huawei unveiled the Mate 9 in early November. The device eventually hit the Kenyan market at the start of this year. It is big and intimidating like previous members of the Mate series but the display takes up more of the screen to achieve its 77.5% screen-to-body ratio. Its fingerprint sensor, located at the back, is the fastest I have used on any smartphone so far while its software is a big improvement over previous generations of Huawei’s efforts at customizing Android which always ended up in disappointments to those of us who cared to look and take note.
In the absence of Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7, users have far fewer choices when deciding to buy a big smartphone and Huawei’s Mate 9 stands at the top of that options list not because the Note 7 is absent but because it rightfully deserves it.
For the much that you will need to part with (not less than Kshs 60,000), you will probably wish that it had a much higher resolution (QHD) display but then again, as soon as you start using it, you will realize that you are better off with a device whose battery can last up to 2 days and be fully charged in 90 minutes than one that has failings as a result of pushing more pixels.
Oh, the camera is really good. Not Galaxy S7 good but good.
3. OnePlus 3T
OnePlus is not a brand that many people in Kenya are familiar with. So far, nothing the China-based brand has done shows an effort towards reversing that any time soon. It sells its devices online in all markets outside Asia and has no official presence in any African nation. However, the world is a global village today. If you want something then you can surely get it from any corner of the Earth.
OnePlus is many an Android enthusiast favourite and as such, you are unlikely to find a lot of people with a OnePlus device. In fact, I can count with one hand the number of people I know who have the device. I have met all of them, in person. One is a former colleague (the latest and most mouthy member of this exclusive OnePlus club), another is a former lecturer of mine back in college and a great friend, another is an old friend who bought the OnePlus 3 recently on my recommendation and insistence (friends don’t let friends spend lots of money on iPhones. LOL) and another one is a high school classmate who also happens to do pretty much what I also do. List closed. I could be on that list too but do you know what becomes of a glass when you drop it on the floor? I am worse than that.
That, however, doesn’t tell the OnePlus story. OnePlus is a strong brand. It prides itself in delivering flagship-class devices for nearly half the price of what other smartphone brands consider their flagship devices. The OnePlus 3T, which I recommend today, is its latest and greatest device.
For between Kshs 51,000 and Kshs 60,000, one can walk away with a device that features the fastest quick charging technology on a smartphone out there, 6GB RAM (much more than you need), the ability to tinker with the device as one pleases with a strong developer community behind their back and up to 128GB storage space. What more could you ask for?
4. Xiaomi Mi Mix
Xiaomi is another Chinese device maker that may not be a household name in Kenya. In fact, a good number of us have issues pronouncing that name, let alone associate it with rice cookers, televisions, headsets and smartphones. While Xiaomi does have a presence in a number of African nations and its devices can be found in Orange shops across the country, those devices are very dated, targeted at the huge budget market and unlikely to excite the big spender.
However, last year, Xiaomi went out of its way and blew us away with the Mi Mix. The Mi Mix is not a fully-assured device like every other on this list. It’s a prototype that the company is hoping those who’ve been equally blown away as I am will buy into and probably help make the case for similar devices in the future. If what we’ve seen from Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and most other devices coming out this year at the top tier is anything to go by, then this is the future. And you can buy that future right now here in Kenya and have it delivered to your doorstep.
5. LG V20
LG had a troubled 2016. Its flagship smartphone for the first half of the year, the G5, despite being unfortunate enough to go head-to-head with the excellent Galaxy S7/S7 Edge duo, did not do itself much justice with its bashed modular design. Yes, the world loves fresh takes like Xiaomi’s Mi Mix but not to the extreme that LG was stretching it with the G5. Long story short, it flopped and the company had to look ahead.
If you consider yourself an audiophile, LG’s high-end smartphones are usually some of those that you can’t ignore. The V20 brings LG’s audio prowess to the table and couples it with a great camera (just check the reviews online) to challenge the iPhone-Galaxy dominance that the world has been treated to every year since 2011.
While LG East Africa is still scratching its head on the availability of the device in Kenya, there are third parties that can get the device to you with no much fuss.
Honourable mention: Sony Xperia XZ
Sony appears to have all but given up on ever dominating the Android smartphone field. That is quite unfortunate since the Japanese device maker is one of the few remaining ones that offer the same strict attention to detail that HTC used to offer in its prime. Its latest smartphones are saddled with big ugly chins that can comfortably bid to land the latest 747-8 from Boeing at a time when everyone else is trimming the fat.
But Sony fans (you should meet the five of them holding their Annual General Meeting on Twitter) swear by the brand. They’d be dead before accepting any other brand in their fold. So this one is for them: the Xperia XZ.
Despite giving the Kenyan market a wide berth and heading down South to South Africa with its X series devices, the XZ can still be found in Kenya and it’s not such a bad option.
Did I miss anything?