We tested… five smartphones around 450 euros

We tested… five smartphones around 450 euros

These are two smartphones that appeared this summer and are out of the ordinary. Marketed on July 28, the Google Pixel 6a sports a smaller size than its competitors. Released a week earlier, the Nothing Phone is dressed in a transparent back revealing five light bands, which flash when it rings. A mobile that will leave no one indifferent, which is the goal of this nascent brand.

We confronted these two amazing smartphones with three of their best enemies also costing around 450 euros: the Samsung A53, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 11 Pro Plus, and the Realme 9 Pro Plus. With high expectations, because at this price level, a mobile must be beyond reproach.

We captured about fifty photos in five copies, in rainy, overcast and sunny weather. The Google Pixel 6a is the one that made the fewest errors. Its night shots are significantly brighter than those of its competitors. His daytime photos are irreproachable, and, if some may seem dark, it is an assumed aesthetic choice, which may please. On the other hand, the shots of the Samsung A53 are clearer and accentuate the colors, sometimes at the risk of making mistakes. Gray cobblestones, for example, can take on a slightly pink tone.

Samsung enhances light and colors, but the result is not always happy.

In broad daylight, the Xiaomi captures very good photos, but at night, in the darkest streets, it struggles to reach a satisfactory level of brightness. As for the Nothing Phone, it makes a few more errors than the average of its competitors. However, his shots are rarely frankly missed. Overall pleasant, it is hard to believe that they come out of the first smartphone of a brand new brand. In reality, Nothing does not start from scratch: the company was founded by the former boss of OnePlus, Carl Pei.

At night, in good light conditions, like here, the Samsung often does as well as the Google.  It's when the light becomes really rare that the difference comes out.

Difficult to drain the battery of these mobiles in less than a day. If we use them in moderation, we can hope that they last a weekend, particularly the Realme 9 Pro Plus, more difficultly the Xiaomi and the Nothing.

Smartphones from Google and Samsung charge slowly, in about an hour and a half. Conversely, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 11 Pro Plus fills up in less than half an hour. The Nothing Phone is supplied without a charger, but it is the only mobile tested to accept wireless charging, which is quite practical on a daily basis.

None of the smartphones tested shines in this regard. Most are dressed in a plastic rim which raises serious concerns about their resistance to shocks and wear. At this price level, we expected aluminum, a material that only Nothing and Google have adopted. However, these two smartphones do not make a perfect copy in terms of solidity since their backs are covered with plastic, which is much less resistant to scratches than glass. This plastic is particularly exposed to shocks on the back of the Google. However, this model partially makes up for it thanks to its waterproofness (IP67). Only the Samsung A53 has the same advantage.

On the electronics side, the Nothing Phone and the Google Pixel 6a are equipped with slightly faster processors than their competitors. They’ll probably last another year or two before their menus slow down. Note that, at Realme and Xiaomi, do not expect to receive security software updates for more than two or three years, compared to four or five at other brands.

Samsung’s repairability index is the best (8.2). The Google rating (6.4) betrays difficult access to spare parts. Nothing is the only brand not to communicate this index, raising fears of repair problems once the warranty has expired.

These five smartphones are large, even very large in the case of the Xiaomi and the Nothing. Their XL format is too big to fit in any pocket, but it has become the norm. The most skilful users will manage to manipulate these behemoths with one hand, quite slowly however. But many will need their second hand to steer them, meaning they won’t be able to hold a bag or drive a stroller at the same time, for example.

The Google Pixel 6a is the least bulky of the mobiles tested. If not really compact, it is the least painful to handle with one hand, which probably makes it the best choice for nomads who do a hundred things at once.

Compared to its competitors, the Google (left) is a few millimeters narrower and one centimeter shorter.  In hand, the difference is felt.

The Google Pixel 6a pays here for its relative compactness: its screen is a little narrower, which makes movies and series a little less immersive. The texts are slightly less readable, a bit as if the size of the font had been reduced by one or two sizes. Unless you frequently read A4 documents, or have uncorrected presbyopia, you’ll get along with it without much embarrassment. However, this screen is also not very readable in sunlight, and a handful of users with particularly sensitive eyes will note that its fluidity is not perfect when scrolling a web page: it only displays 60 images. per second, compared to 90 to 120 for its competitors. In short, the Google screen is generally less pleasant than that of the Samsung, wider and brighter.

Smartphones from Google and Nothing are distinguished by the stripping of their menu. A sobriety which is accompanied, alas, by several clumsiness. The icons of most apps are too similar to be easily distinguished, and the shortcut buttons too simplified – cutting off Wi-Fi is grouped with cutting off mobile data, for example. The Nothing Phone does not always take the trouble to display a back button: we sometimes find ourselves trapped without being able to go back. Only connoisseurs know that a gesture shortcut replaces this button: slide your finger from the edge to the right.

The Xiaomi’s ergonomics are diametrically opposed: it models its menus on those of the iPhone. Shortcut buttons are grouped on one panel, notifications on another. Applications are collected on the home screen and not stored in the traditional Android app drawer. It’s all clear and convenient, but Xiaomi overloads the homepage with obscure folders and apps, some of which are duplicated, upsetting that fine balance.

Google's home page is clearer than Xiaomi's.

We also regret the slight lack of clarity of Xiaomi applications, whose buttons remain high on the screen, when many competitors have the thoughtfulness of bringing them down to the bottom of the screen, where they are easier to reach. With a few different applications and a little cleaning, we can make the Xiaomi a crystal clear mobile, but, as it stands, it does not offer better ergonomics than the Samsung and Realme, whose ergonomics navigate between the opposing principles of Xiaomi and Google.

In the game of settings and exclusive features, Samsung wins the game, thanks to its audio equalizer, its one-handed control mode and its complicity with Windows – you can control some of its features directly from the screen. from his PC. The Xiaomi is also distinguished by its functional richness, it is notably equipped with an infrared transmitter which transforms it into a universal remote control.

The Google Pixel 6a has a few exclusive features tied to its Tensor processor, but according to our testing, many are underwhelming. For example, its instant translation system allows videos and podcasts to be subtitled in French, but the text moves in real time to the point of being difficult to decipher, and the translation is risky.

The Nothing Phone is the smartphone with the poorest exclusive functions, but it incorporates a particularly intriguing gadget: its back is lined with five strips of LEDs that can flash in ten different ways, accompanied by very successful retro modernist sounds. This will appeal to some, while putting off other users.

It will be necessary to think of deactivating these illuminations during the shows and the meetings because their luminous level is fixed – it does not decrease when the ambient lighting decreases.

On the music side, only the Realme and the Xiaomi integrate an audio jack intended for headphones, of a fairly good quality. The Nothing’s stereo speakers sound terrible, the Google’s and Samsung’s sound pretty decent – ​​they hint at bass and deliver vocals relatively clearly. This quality compensates for Google’s weakness in video playback: its screen is slightly smaller and less bright than that of its competitors.

When watching a series with this smartphone, as with the Samsung for that matter, these speakers may be enough. We are more tempted to put on a helmet with the Realme and Xiaomi, and it becomes essential with the Nothing Phone. The latter is catching up a bit in the field of video games: its graphics circuit is the fastest, twice as much as that of the Samsung, which will not be able to run the new greedy 3D games forever.

The Google Pixel 6a deserves first place on the podium: it is a particularly versatile mobile, very good at photography, more compact than its competitors. Many users will manage to manipulate it with one hand when the need arises.

But the Samsung A53, sold 60 euros cheaper, is a tempting alternative. A little less gifted for photography, it is also very versatile and offers a more pleasant, more readable and brighter screen. Its XL format will particularly appeal to large sedentary people who spend almost all their time in the office and at home.

The other three mobiles tested are barely less recommendable. The Nothing Phone, sold exclusively on the Internet, deserves a special mention. With its flashing LED strips and nostalgic techno ringtones, it has a real personality. Unfortunately, its competitors can hardly say the same.

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