If you are a diehard Android fan or are just someone who wants a stock Android experience then you already know what to do: get a smartphone that runs stock Android.
That is easier said than done. Well, unless you have a loose Kshs 70,000, or more (just more…), tucked away somewhere waiting for a sign from you. That’s because that is what it will take to get the best available stock Android experience from no one else but the platform’s custodian: Google.
Since not many can match up the Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL’s asking price, which ranges anywhere from under Kshs 70,000 to just under Kshs 100,000, it makes a lot more sense that our attention is constantly fixated on another source: Android One.
Sure, there are Android One devices out there that are challenging the Pixels as far as pricing goes like the Nokia 8 Sirocco but those are in the minority. Much as the initial scope of Android One has been expanded to include more pricey multi-market options, it’s still, at best, a budget device darling and that can be showed in the devices on this list all of which have arrived within the last 10 months.
1. Nokia 7 Plus
The Nokia 7 Plus launched earlier in the year as the first smartphone from Nokia brand licensee HMD Global as its first smartphone with an 18:9 display. As I soon came to find out once I got a review unit from the company, there’s more to the Nokia 7 Plus than that display (which is actually very good).
The Nokia 7 Plus is not just one of the best Android One smartphones in the country, it is one of the best smartphones to go on sale globally this year. And, if we are to go by the devices being launched locally (all devices not just Android One devices), none can beat it in the sub-Kshs 50,000 category.
It’s the best there is. This is courtesy of excellent design, good cameras and the pricing. Ordinarily, you’d probably up to Kshs 20,000 more to get what the Nokia 7 Plus offers. That it’s part of the Android One programme and in the running to be one of the first smartphones to receive Android P when it launches later in the year takes it a notch higher (without actually having a notch).
2. Nokia 6.1
You really can’t love the Nokia 6.1 as much as you would the Nokia 7 Plus but you also can’t dislike it as much as you will the average endurance and performance of the other Nokia-branded Android One devices that follow it down the HMD Global food chain. It occupies a sweet spot and this is why it is easily one of the best budget smartphone options of 2018 out there.
Given my many misgivings about its predecessor, it is like HMD Global sat down somewhere with a bullet list of all my complaints as they checked them off one by one. The end result is a device that is just as well-designed as its predecessor but with significantly better performance, better battery life and a USB Type-C port.
Unfortunately, the camera situation, while bearable now, is still not as good as I would have wanted it to be.
3. Xiaomi Mi A1
It might be a new year and its successor is almost here but the Xiaomi Mi A1 is still not going anywhere. For as long as stocks last, Xiaomi’s first collaboration with Google will remain a recommended buy from me.
That is so for a couple of reasons. First things first, it is well-priced. The second reason why it remains my favourite has something to do with Xiaomi’s own engineering and design decisions to stick with something that other device makers are not willing to put not just on budget smartphones but any smartphone at all for that matter: an infrared blaster. It makes my life so easy. Just look at the devices I’ve configured to use it in the screenshots below:
Other than features like the IR blaster, the Mi A1 is also a performance champ. I have no complaints to make about the device’s performance many months since buying it. Since it also happens to be my main phone when I have no new device I am reviewing, that’s the highest praise any device can get from me since I always demand more from my devices. And to think that it’s managed to successfully take over work that was previously being done by a yesteryear flagship device costing thrice its price (the Huawei Mate 9), the Mi A1 has done well.
4. Infinix Note 5
I was one of the few that cared to share my frustrations with the very first Android One smartphone that Infinix released that also happened to be the very first Android One smartphone to make it to our part of the world. Heck, it provided me with my then much-needed first Android One smartphone experience.
It’s common knowledge that first generation products are almost certain to be bedeviled by issues. While the Infinix Hot 2 was certainly not an out and out first generation product since it was a successor to the very first Infinix Hot device which had its own list of issues – from overheating to bad battery life to unstable software – it still managed to impress while disappointing at the same time.
The Infinix Note 5 is nothing like it. Heck, it’s nothing like all the Infinix smartphones I have ever used put together. I said as much on Twitter the other day.
It’s a breath of fresh air. It combines Infinix’s now legendary battery optimizations with the best of Android. If you’ve read my reviews of both the first generation Nokia 6 and the Xiaomi Mi A1 then you know where I stand when it comes to stock Android and battery life. It’s never been decent. Awful is the word. Well, that’s not the case with the Infinix Note 5.
While all the features worth mentioning, like the vibrant 1080p panel on the device or the fast fingerprint sensor, exist in all the other three smartphones above, none has the endurance of the Infinix Note 5 and none can match its price. It’s the most affordable Android One smartphone available in the Kenyan market worth its name and its weight in gold, right now. HMD Global’s Nokias from last year can’t hold a candle to it and this year’s options are, to be honest, laughable. Or are you planning on making as bad a decision as parting with Kshs 16,000 for the Nokia 3.1 when this exists?
What’s your pick?