We tested… five smartphones around 450 euros

These are two smartphones that appeared this summer and are out of the ordinary. Launched on July 28, the Google Pixel 6a has a smaller size than its competitors. Released a week earlier, the Nothing Phone is clad in a transparent back that reveals five bands of light that flash when it rings. A mobile that will not leave anyone indifferent, which is the goal of this budding brand.

We confronted these two amazing smartphones with three of their best enemies that also cost around 450 euros: Samsung A53, Xiaomi Redmi Note 11 Pro Plus and Realme 9 Pro Plus. With high expectations, because in this price range a mobile must be impeccable.

We took about fifty pictures in five copies in rainy, cloudy and sunny weather. The Google Pixel 6a is the one that made the fewest mistakes. Its night images are significantly brighter than those of the competition. His daytime photos are impeccable, and if some may seem dark, it’s a conscious aesthetic choice that can please. On the other hand, the images of the Samsung A53 are clearer and emphasize the colors, sometimes at the risk of making mistakes. Gray cobblestones can, for example, take on a slightly pink tone.

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

In broad daylight, the Xiaomi takes very good photos, but at night, in the darkest streets, it struggles to reach a satisfactory brightness level. As for the Nothing Phone, it makes a few more mistakes than the average of its competitors. But his shot is rarely, frankly, missed. Generally 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 lighting conditions, like here, Samsung often does as well as Google.  It is when the light becomes really rare that the difference becomes apparent.

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

Smartphones from Google and Samsung charge slowly in about an hour and a half. Conversely, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 11 Pro Plus is charged in less than half an hour. The Nothing Phone comes without a charger, but it’s the only phone tested to accept wireless charging, which is pretty handy for everyday use.

None of the tested smartphones shines in this regard. Most are clad in a plastic rim, raising serious concerns about their resistance to impact and wear. At this price point, we expected aluminum, a material that only Nothing and Google have adopted. However, these two smartphones are not a perfect copy in terms of solidity, as their backs are covered in plastic, which is much less resistant to scratches than glass. This plastic is particularly prone to impacts on the back of the Google. However, this model partially compensates for that thanks to its water resistance (IP67). Only the Samsung A53 has the same advantage.

On the electronics side, the Nothing Phone and 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 Realme and Xiaomi don’t expect to receive security software updates for more than two or three years, compared to four or five for other brands.

Samsung’s repair index is the best (8.2). The Google rating (6.4) shows difficult access to spare parts. Nothing is the only brand that does not communicate this index, which increases the fear of repair problems when the warranty has expired.

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

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

Compared to its competitors, Google (left) is a few millimeters narrower and a centimeter shorter.  The difference can be felt in the hand.

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

Smartphones from Google and Nothing are characterized by the fact that their menu cards have been stripped. A sobriety which is unfortunately accompanied by several obstacles. The icons in most apps are too similar to be easily distinguished, and the shortcut buttons are too simplistic – cutting off Wi-Fi is, for example. grouped with mobile data cutoff. Nothing Phone doesn’t always bother to show a back button: sometimes we’re 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.

Xiaomi’s ergonomics are diametrically opposed: it models its menus after iPhones. Hotkeys 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 practical, but Xiaomi overloads the website with obscure folders and apps, some of which are duplicated, which upsets the fine balance.

Google's website is clearer than Xiaomi's.

We also regret the slight lack of clarity in Xiaomi applications, whose buttons remain high on the screen, when many competitors have the foresight to bring 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 Samsung and Realme, whose ergonomics navigate between Xiaomi’s and Google’s opposing principles.

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

The Google Pixel 6a has a few exclusive features attached to its Tensor processor, but according to our tests, 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, making it difficult to decipher and translation risky.

The Nothing Phone is the smartphone with the worst exclusive features, but it contains a particularly exciting gadget: the 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 deterring other users.

It will be necessary to think about disabling these illuminations during shows and meetings, because their brightness is fixed – it does not decrease when the ambient lighting decreases.

On the music side, only Realme and Xiaomi integrate an audio jack intended for headphones of a fairly good quality. Nothing’s stereo speakers sound awful, Google’s and Samsung’s sounds 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 its competitors.

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

The Google Pixel 6a deserves the 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. Slightly less gifted for photography, it is also very versatile and offers a more comfortable, more readable and brighter screen. Its XL format will especially appeal to large sedentary people who spend almost all their time in the office and at home.

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

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