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Best phones to give as gifts: iPhone 12, Galaxy S20 FE, Pixel 4A 5G and more

If you're thinking of buying a phone for someone, consider CNET's top 10 picks.

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The holidays may be over, but if you're looking to start the year by gifting a new phone to a loved one, or nabbing one for yourself, 2020 gave us an abundant supply of fantastic phones with relatively affordable prices. Yes, high-end phones still exist, like the iPhone 12 Pro Max and the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. But as we become more cost-conscious during the COVID-19 pandemic, phone-makers have responded by launching phones at lower prices. 

Most of these phones are variants of well-known flagships and may skip out on some features. But overall these 2020 phones to give as gifts offer top-notch performances and are packed with great cameras, fast processors and brilliant screens. Many of them also connect to the next-gen mobile wireless network, 5G

To see our top picks from 2020 models to give in 2021, check out the list below. Note that you can almost get a better deal on these phones if you purchase through a carrier, as they often have promotions and discounts. But if you want a quick and easy way to gift a phone, getting an unlocked version is the best way to go -- just swap in an existing SIM card and you should be good to go. We've linked to the unlocked version of each phone in this gift guide, and they should run on most of the big four US wireless carriers, unless specified otherwise.

Patrick Holland/CNET

Starting at $829 (£799, AU$1,349), the iPhone 12 isn't the cheapest of Apple's new iPhone 12 variants. That title would go to the iPhone 12 Mini (more on that below). But the iPhone 12 has a bigger screen and features the A14 Bionic processor, dual rear cameras and 5G.

Read our Apple iPhone 12 review.

 

$829 at Apple
$829 at Amazon
$800 at Best Buy
Angela Lang/CNET

As the "fan edition" of Samsung's flagship Galaxy S20, the S20 FE packs many premium specs like triple rear cameras, water resistance, a powerful processor and 5G. But this device pick is much more affordable than the original S20, and costs $699 in the US (or £699, AU$1,149 in the UK and Australia for the 5G models).

Read our Samsung Galaxy S20 Fan Edition review.

 

$700 at Amazon
$700 at Best Buy
$510 at eBay
Angela Lang/CNET

If you want an affordable 5G phone, Google's Pixel 4A 5G is worthy of consideration. The $499 (£499, AU$799) handset has solid battery life, great dual rear cameras and robust software support from Google. 

$450 at Best Buy
Angela Lang/CNET

The OnePlus 8 is one of our favorite OnePlus phones of 2020, and we prefer this Android phone model over pricier OnePlus devices like the 8 Pro and 8T. This Android device features 5G, a 90Hz display, an enduring battery life and a top-of-the-line processor. The unlocked model is currently on sale from OnePlus and costs $699 (£549, or about AU$1,000) for 256GB of storage.

Read our OnePlus 8 review.

 

$1,299 at Amazon
$699 at OnePlus
Patrick Holland/CNET

Available in the US for $445, the One 5G is one of the best, most affordable 5G phones available for Android users. This cheap smartphone option has a total of six, yes six, cameras, a 90Hz high-refresh rate display and fast-charging technology. This device is available now in the US on AT&T and is coming to Verizon at a later date.

Read our Motorola One 5G review.

 

$445 at Best Buy
Apple

Priced at s $729 (£699, AU$1,1999), the iPhone 12 Mini is the cheapest and smallest iPhone 12 you can get. It features a comfortable 5.4-inch display but has nearly identical specs as the iPhone 12 including the new MagSafe feature, the A14 processor, wireless charging and water resistance.

Read our Apple iPhone 12 Mini review.

 

$729 at Apple
$729 at Amazon
$700 at Best Buy
Sarah Tew/CNET

In addition to its main Galaxy S20 phones, Samsung has a more cost-conscious A series line of phones. In 2020 it launched the Galaxy A51 5G, which has four cameras including a selfie camera, an in-screen fingerprint sensor and expandable memory. CNET reviewed the non-5G version that originally went for $399 (£329, AU$599) though we've seen it go on sale in the US for as low as $280.

Read our Galaxy A51 review.

 

$400 at Best Buy
Angela Lang/CNET

Released in August, Google's Pixel 4A costs $349 (£349, AU$599). The 5.81-inch Google Pixel phone only comes in one color (black) and features a headphone jack, excellent camera, slightly larger screen and a bigger battery than the older Pixel 4 and 128GB of storage right off the bat.

Read our Google Pixel 4A review.

 

$340 at Amazon
$350 at Best Buy
$407 at Walmart
John Kim/CNET

After a four-year gap between the 2020 iPhone SE and the previous one, Apple packed its most budget phone with a bunch of upgrades. That includes wireless charging, better camera specs and water resistance. (Unfortunately, if you prefer wired headphones, this device doesn't have a headphone jack.) If you're looking for a new iPhone but want to save as much money as possible, the $399 (£419, AU$749) iPhone SE is your best bet.

Read our Apple iPhone SE (2020) review.

 

$399 at Apple
$400 at Best Buy
Sarah Tew/CNET

If you're looking for a cheaper Note 20 alternative, the Moto G Stylus features a stylus that you can store inside the phone along with a built-in Notes app to help with productivity. Available in the US and currently priced at $250 from Motorola, the phone also features triple-rear cameras, 128GB of storage and a robust 4,000-mAh battery.

Read our Moto G Stylus review.

 

$210 at Amazon

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