Modern flagship phones can easy tip the price at $ 1,000, and it’s easy to sell on features you may not even need. Instead of spending close to a grand on a smartphone, I think it makes more sense to pick up a complete “mobile kit” including a budget phone, a set of genuine cordless earbuds and a smartwatch – and still walk away with money in your pocket.
Here’s the thing: Modern “budget phones” are killer. Like, killer—90 percent of what flagships can do for less than half the price. You can take the extra money you save and pick up an excellent smartwatch and a large set of budget genuine wireless earbuds. We will try to keep the total dollar amount below $ 800 (USD) here.
Let’s talk about your options.
Phone: Pixel 4a or iPhone SE
It should come as no surprise, but depending on the platform you are looking at, there are two current winners in the budget phone market: Pixel 4a ($ 350) for Android users and iPhone SE ($ 400 – $ 550) for iOS users. These are the best budget-friendly phones on the market for their respective operating systems.
Pixel 4a: Android Budget Champion
Pixel 4a has modern midrange specifications, including a Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G processor, 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. It has a 5.8-inch OLED screen of 1080 × 2340 (443 PPI), USB-C charging and a headphone jack. And of course the amazing camera that Pixel phones are known for. This is the only available version of the device as it is the only one it really needs. For $ 350, this phone is as good as many phones at twice the cost – in fact, we gave it a 10/10 in our review.
Android Budget Champ
iPhone SE: Apple’s most affordable iPhone ever
The iPhone SE is a bit more nuanced when it comes to versions. It is available in white, black or red and 64, 128 or 256 GB storage variants. It starts at $ 400 for 64 GB, then jumps to $ 450 for 128 GB and $ 550 for 256 GB (regardless of color), and all versions have a 4.7-inch screen. If you do not need a lot of storage space, the 64 GB version is the way to go, but I think most users would benefit from the cushion provided by the 128 GB model for an additional $ 50. It seems to be the sweet spot.
In addition, the SE also includes wireless charging and an IP67 rating, which none of the Pixel 4a has. But that’s not even the biggest selling point – it’s part of the A13 Bionic processor. This is the same uneven chip found in the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro, so it will be absolutely blazing fast for many years to come. SE is a great investment if you want most of a phone – Apple will keep it updated at least five more years, which is a full two years longer than Google promises to update Pixel 4a.
But I deviate – this is not about comparing 4a with SE. (We have already done so.) The odds are that you are already well established in your optional platform and do not intend to change. All I say is you can get one attans good experience without breaking the bank on a smartphone – something that could not be stated so clearly just a couple of short years ago.
But what are you going to do with the extra money? Get yourself some accessories, honey.
Smartwatch: Fitbit Versa 3, Galaxy Watch Active 2 or Apple Watch Series 3
Depending on your needs or desires, you have a few different options when it comes to smartwatches. There is something for everyone out there, but this is probably the hardest decision to make with the three-part mobile installation. Why? Because there is a lot to love about all three of our choices in the smartwatch category.
Fitbit Versa 3: Smartwatch for fitness enthusiasts
Let’s start with the latest: Fitbit Versa 3 ($ 230). This thing is hot from the press – it’s actually not even available yet (but you can pre-order it now) – which makes it the newest device on the list by a fairly large margin. Fitbit really enhanced its game with Versa 3 and added excellent features like Google Assistant (like Amazon Alexa) and built-in GPS during last year’s Versa 2. It also has a speaker for voice calls and is really platform diagnostic, so it will work well with both iOS and Android.
Of course, the real selling point for any Fitbit is fitness tracking. Versa 3 can track all types of workouts, sleep, steps and more. If you like fitness (or want to work out!), Versa 3 can help you get there. I have been using the original Versa for several years, and it is still my favorite smartwatch because it only fits best in my lifestyle. And while Versa 3 improves the overall smartwatch skill over both of its predecessors, I will readily admit that it’s still not the best, you know, of being a smartwatch.
Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2: The best overall smartwatch for Android
If you are looking for a better smartwatch but not quite as nuanced as a fitness tracker, the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 ($ 220 – $ 250) is the best choice. It will work on both iOS and Android, but it is more limited on the former than the latter, and for that reason I only recommend it for Android users. But it is a powerful smartwatch that works exceptionally well for all intended purposes.
It has fitness tracking and syncs with the Samsung Health app, but it is not quite as feature-rich as Versa in this area. It also has a built-in microphone and speakers, so you can make calls from it (please do not take calls from it unless you have to), but it does not have access to Google Assistant without doing a little extra work. Bixby (lol) is the standard smart assistant here.
The best for Android users
Apple Watch Series 3: The best choice for iPhones
Finally, there is the outlier: Apple Watch Series 3 ($ 170 – $ 200). This is the choice for Apple users, but be aware that it’s a couple of generations old right now. Normally I would not feel comfortable recommending a nearly three generation old product, but the water is muddy when you 1) shop in this price range and 2) consider it an Apple product. There are several versions of the Series 3 available at varying prices (all the way up to $ 1350), but for our purposes here we are talking about the beginner model.
The Series 3 is still great for almost any smartwatch thing, with the biggest omission over the Series 4 being the ECG app and all the fun. (But honestly, if it’s important to you, Versa 3 may be a better choice.)
But this is still Apple’s “budget” Watch – Series 5 replaced the Series 4, and the Series 3 dropped in price as a result. So if you want to pick up an Apple Watch and do not accept any other replacements but need to stay within a budget, the Series 3 is it. It is still a good smartwatch, even if it is a little older right now.
Apple Watch on a budget
The earplugs: Skullcandy Indy Evo or Creative Outlier Air
A good set of genuine wireless earbuds will complete your little mobile suite with necessities. Again, given the budget end of the spectrum here, there are two excellent choices: Skullcanday Indy Evo ($ 80) or Creative Outlier Air ($ 60). Let’s talk about Skullcandys first.
Skullcandy Indy Evo: The Best Bang for Your Buck
When it comes down to it, you’ll be under a lot of pressure to find a better, more comfortable set of $ 80 earbuds than the Skullcandy Indy Evo. This pin-shaped set of earbuds sounds good and stays in place better than any other knob that I have personally tried thanks to the wings that “lock” the knobs in your ear. It’s great.
The case is well made, albeit a bit bulky (compared to something like the AirPods Pro, anyway), and they come with several tips and wings so you can nail the perfect fit to each of your ears. The sound quality is more balanced than you might expect for Skullcandys, and they are also IP55 rated for resistance to sweat, water and dust. They take almost anything you can throw at them.
It’s also worth mentioning that you can get the Indy Fuel – a version of the Indy Evo with a wireless charging case – for $ 20 more. If you want to loot and already have wireless chargers lying around, it’s worth the extra money. But otherwise there is no difference between these and Indy Evo.
The Best Bang for Your Buck
Creative Outlier Air: Comfortable with Killer Audio
It took me a long time to find a set of earphones that I thought offered better value than Outlier Air (that set turned out to be Indy Evo / Fuel), but they are still worth buying today – especially if you can catch them for sale.
Outlier Air is not a set of sticks, which makes it a good choice for anyone who does not tolerate the appearance of the stick. They are solid little buds that are comfortable to wear for hours and sound killer. The case is a bit dated at this point (it’s quite large), but you get 30 hours of battery life out of them because of it.
The biggest downside I found with Outlier Air is the buttons. They are very stiff, so it feels like you are squeezing the bud deep in the ear to make them click. When I tested them, I found it easier to just use my phone.
Compact with battery life
It’s also worth mentioning Outlier Gold ($ 80), which features the company’s Super X-Fi sound processing. Super X-Fi is super immersive, as it creates an unsurpassed 3D soundscape for the listener and is perfect for TV and movies. But it’s not for everyone either, so I recommend that you find somewhere to check it out before you commit.
Conclusion: There is money to be saved, so save it
These recommendations are of course exactly what I have found to be the best value in each category. You can easily bend the budget a little more to get something different – like putting in $ 220 AirPods Pro for the earbuds. You will pay a little more overall, but if you pair them with an iPhone SE and Apple Watch Series 3, you still get a killer mobile installation at a good price.
But it also goes the other way. You can theoretically lower this budget to under $ 400 if you want. You can easily pair something like the BLU G90 Pro ($ 200) with Creative Outlier Air ($ 60) and Fitbit Inspire 2 ($ 99) or Movoi TicWatch GTX ($ 60). It’s a complete mobile package for less than the cost of an iPhone SE!
In the end, the goal is to end up with a great phone and accessories that can enhance your life without breaking the bank. And if you are willing to make some minor compromises, it’s a pretty simple task.