Tech

Back to School smartphone options for everyone

With Christmas and New Year over, parents and students are both looking towards the start of a new school year. The books and stationary will soon be bought, and it’s time to also think about keeping in contact with your kid, and for that it’s time to check out what’s a good deal for students.

There’s a range of phones on offer for all budgets, especially if you do some shopping around and in Australia we’re lucky to have a very broad range of quality manufacturers selling phones here.

Under $300

There’s a lot of phones in the lower end of the range, with a good selection available as ‘Pre-Paid’ phones from Australian carriers. Bare in mind that all these pre-paid handsets are locked to the carrier, so you will have to pay an unlock fee to move to another telco.

There are a load of unlocked cheaper phones for every budget out there though, especially at this time of year. 

Alcatel 1B 

Known for their budget range, Alcatel have been making phones for years. If you’re looking for an entry level bargain, the Alcatel 1B is just what you’re after at $97 on clearance from Officeworks. 

The Alcatel 1B has a basic quad-core processor which is paired with 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage (with a microSD card slot) which puts it above most phones in this price range. The 5.5″ HD+ touchscreen is great for watching videos, and there’s a decent 8MP camera on the rear, and 5MP on the front. 

Nokia 2.3

If you’re after a phone with long term software support, then Nokia is a great brand to check out. With three years of security updates, and 2 years of feature updates, Nokia phones deliver peace of mind.

On the hardware front, the Nokia 2.3 is a bargain for $179 in either Charcoal or Sand (sand looks lovely), it includes a 6.2-inch HD+ display with Mediatek processor, 2GB RAM and 32GB storage (with microSD slot) and a massive 4,000mAh battery for all day use.

There’s a dual rear camera (13MP/2MP) array on the rear so you’ll see some decent quality shots, and if you need to video call, the 5MP front camera is higher quality than you get on most laptop webcams.

RealMe C3

As a phone maker, RealMe are still making their name in Australia. The company has released a line of great quality handsets covering the breadth of the market. They do shine in their lower end which is where the RealMe C3 shines. 

It’s a budget handset, though comes in some really nice vibrant colour choices: Frozen Blue and Blazing Red if you want to really make a statement. 

There’s plenty of hardware on board too, with a 6.5-inch display that has minimal bezels and a tiny tear-drop notch for the 5MP front-camera. Under the hood you get a Quad-Core Mediatek processor, 3GB of RAM and 64GB of storage (with microSD up to 256GB). 

There is a triple rear camera array on the rear headlined by a 12MP sensor, with a 2MP macro sensor and 2MP portrait lens for depth information. It’s a pretty decent camera setup overall.

$300-600

As with anything you buy, the more you pay the more features and better quality you get, It’s true with phones too. Once you jump above the $300 mark you start heading into higher resolution screens, faster processors and better quality cameras. 

So what’s a good deal in this range?

Nokia 5.4

For anyone looking for peace of mind when it comes to software, Nokia phones are my go to recommendation. Three years of security updates is great for everyone, and two years of feature updates are great too.


The Nokia 5.4 offers a decent hardware load out for $329 with a Qualcomm processor, 4GB RAM, 128GB storage (with microSD). There’s a big 6.39-inch HD+ resolution display with a punch hole notch that houses a 16MP sensor, while on the rear a quad-camera array includes a 48MP main sensor with 5MP Ultra-Wide, 2MP Macro and 2MP depth sensor.

For most, the Polar Blue colour will be the ‘safe’ choice, but if you’re after something a little different, the Dusk option is just beautiful.

Galaxy A51

Samsung is a heavyweight in the mobile industry for a reason and their A-series phones have been quietly dominating in the mid-range market for some time. Galaxy A-series phones include a lot of what is great about their S-series including design and quality components, but with some cost saving where it doesn’t compromise on quality.

At $499 (on-sale at the moment) the Galaxy A51 is a quality handset all over, with an awesome 6.5.-inch FullHD+ resolution AMOLED screen, awesome quad rear camera including a hi-res 48MP main camera, combined with Ultra Wide, Depth, and Macro lens. There’s a big 4,000mAh battery with 25W fast charge for long battery life as well .

A Samsung Exynos processor powers this beast and is paired with 6GB of RAM for smooth multi-tasking,, and there’s plenty of storage with 128GB on-board and a microSD card slot as well. 

I love the Blue option, but you can also grab the Galaxy A51 in black too.

Moto G 5G Plus

For the past couple of years, and for the foreseeable future, 5G is going to be a massive selling point for both carriers and phone makers. There’s going to be more budget friendly 5G hitting the market this year in the lower end, but if you’re looking for the best 5G bargain at the moment, it’s the Moto G 5G Plus.

At $499 it’s the cheapest 5G (it does 4G too) handset on the market in Australia. It uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 765 processor (the most common 5G chipset of 2020) with 6GB RAM and a 6.7″ IPS LCD display that includes a super smooth 90Hz refresh rate and a massive 5,000mAh battery will definitely keep you going all day.

Motorola has included a total of six cameras on the Moto G 5G Plus, a 16MP Ultra-Wide and 8MP sensor are on the front, while a 48MP main sensor on the rear is paired with an 8MP Ultra-Wide sensor, 5MP Macro and 2MP depth sensor for portrait shots.  

Google Pixel 4a

For those looking for a great phone with a ‘pure’ Google Android experience, the Pixel 4a is the one for you. The pricing starts at $599 RRP but deals abound on this phone, so definitely shop around, but at $599 it’s packed full of hardware and comes with three years of software updates directly from Google.

Hardware wise you get a Qualcomm Snapdragon 730 processor, 6GB RAM and 128GB of storage (sorry, no microSD card slot). There’s a big 5.81-inch FHD+ display, with a punch-hole notch for the 8MP selfie camera, and a single 12MP rear camera sensor, though it has all the ‘Google Pixel’ camera goodness you’ve come to expect from their higher end phones.

The Pixel 4a comes in a wide selection of ‘Just Black’, which hides a lot of your average day-to-day scuff marks, as does the plastic body which is very durable. There’s even the bonus of a 3.5mm headphone jack.

$600-$900

The mid-range mobile phone market in Australia is simply stacked full of choice. All manufacturers have great handsets to offer here, so it often comes down to brand preference. 

iPhone SE 

Apple’s current gen phones start with the new iPhone SE for $679, which includes their third-gen A13 Bionic processor, and it’s fairly compact too with a 4.7-inch display. The range starts at 64GB for $679 which is fairly basic, but you can spend a bit more for more storage.

The iPhone has been a mainstay of the mobile industry for a reason, and if your kid just has to have an iPhone to keep up with their friends, the iPhone SE is definitely a great option.

There’s a few colour choices for the iPhone SE starting with your basic black and white, but to make a real statement the red is just stunning.

Google Pixel 4a (5G) 

If you’re keen on a Google experience, but you want 5G then the Pixel 4a (5G) is your best bet. Google went a little more mid-range with their Pixel phones this year, so pricing wise it’s on point, and it’s also got the dual-camera experience of the Pixel 5, but without that price tag.

This is the largest Pixel phone Google released this year, with a 6.2-inch Full HD+ OLED screen, and it’s powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 765 processor with 6GB RAM and 128GB storage. 

Google included the same 5MP front-camera as the Pixel 4a, but includes a dual rear camera array along with the 12MP dual-Pixel main sensor pairing a 16MP ultra-wide sensor. There’s a few bits of magic in the Google camera experience with their ‘Night Sight’ low-light photography still class leading.

Google includes a 3.5mm headphone jack on their ‘a’ series Pixel phones so it’s easy to connect headphones, and it’s durable too with plastic construction – though if you want waterproofing you’ll have to go up to the Pixel 5.

At $699 on-sale at the moment the Pixel 4a (5G) is a solid choice for phones, and my personal pick for the Pixel line this year.

TCL 10 Pro 

At CES last year, TCL made their intentions for the mobile market clear with the launch of their 10-series mobile phones. After reviewing the 10L and 10Pro last year, I’m completely on board with TCL as a phone maker, and the 10 Pro was the shining star.

TCL are including their own display tech in their phones, and frankly it’s stunning. The 10 Pro gets a big 6.47-inch AMOLED display that carries their ‘NXTVision display’ branding. Overall, it’s a big,  bright, vibrant and shows what a display manufacturer can really do. 

Underneath you get a Snapdragon 675 processor with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage (there’s a microSD card slot to expand it). 

TCL include a very nice 64MP primary sensor on the 10 Pro, with a 16MP sensor with Super-Wide angle lens, a 2MP super low-light sensor with 2.9µm pixel size for improved night shots and a 5MP macro sensor for close-up shots.

I’m a bit of a fan of the TCL 10 Pro after reviewing it, and definitely recommend checking it out.

Nokia 8.3

Nokia has been doing great things in the budget range, however they also do a great job in the more premium end of the market and the Nokia 8.3 is evidence of that.


HMD Global has included a lovely 6.81-inch PureDisplay screen with HDR support, and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G processor with 5G support, paired with 8GB of RAM, 128GB of on-board storage (expandable to 512GB with microSD)  and a massive 4,500mAh battery.

There’s a quad-camera array on the rear which includes a 64MP main sensor, 12MP sensor with ultra-wide lens, 2MP depth sensor for bokeh effects and 2MP macro sensor to get you close up. There’s even a 24MP camera on the front of the phone in a punch-hole notch to capture any great selfies.

$900-$1,200

If you’re ready to invest in the best for back to school, the more premium market in Australia has a great range on offer. The main three manufacturers to watch this year at this end of the range are Apple, Google and Samsung – though you may just have to wait a little for the Samsung.

Pixel 5 

Google went ‘mid-range’ with their Pixel phones in 2020, but that’s only in terms of certain aspects like the processor. In all other aspects, Google’s Pixel 5 is still the very best Pixel you can buy at the moment. 

The Pixel 5 uses the same processor and camera as the Pixel 4a (5), but steps it up with 8GB of RAM, a metal body (that’s IP68 waterproof) and it also comes with wireless charging. The step up to the Pixel 5 means you do lose the headphone jack, but it’s fairly standard at this end of the range.

Google is selling the Pixel 5 at $999 with a choice of either ‘Just Black’ or ‘Simply Sage’ colour options. You can choose the black, or you can just love the Sage green colour just as much as I do.

iPhone 12 mini

If the budget extends, the iPhone range is an excellent choice due to the quality of the iPhone gear. Apple also really covers their phones for software updates, delivering them years after launch.

You can snag an iPhone 12 mini with 64GB of storage for just $1,199 – though obviously you can get more storage for more – and it’s a good place to start if you’re after something smaller. The iPhone 12 mini was a nice surprise for Apple fans this year, offering the features of the top-end iPhone in a more compact form factor. Android phones have had a full range of screen size options, so it’s good to get the option with Apple. 

Apple includes a 5.4-inch display with the A14 Bionic chip in the iPhone 12 Mini. Camera wise you get a Dual 12-megapixel camera system incorporating Wide and Ultra Wide lenses on the rear, with another 12MP sensor on the front with depth sensing.

It’s hard to go wrong with an Apple phone, especially if you’re already in the Apple eco-system, and frankly their colour choices are amazing.

Galaxy S21 

I’ll admit it, I’m cheating with this one. Samsung is set to release their new Galaxy S21 line-up in Australia on January 29th, with the entry level model starting at $1,249 but I’m including it here anyway :D.

Like the iPhone, the Galaxy S series handsets are so well known that they transcend the nerdy phone market, so most people are aware of their launch. Samsung has gone super-early for their launch this year, but it’s got all the great hardware you’ve come to love.

The big one for me was Samsung is now using a ‘flat’ 6.2-inch AMOLED display. I’m not a huge fan of curved, so this was a big step. Samsung are using their Exynos 2100 processor for the S21 and pairing it with 8GB RAM and storage starts at 128GB storage – but there’s no microSD card expansion.

Samsung are offering pro-grade camera features on the S21 with a 10MP selfie camera on the front, and quad-camera array on the rear with 12MP Dual Pixel main sensor, 64MP telephoto sensor and a 12 MP ultra-wide. Samsung has also included improved video options as well for those budding YouTubers out there.

You can pick the Galaxy S21 up for $1,249 in Phantom Grey, Phantom White, Phantom Violet and Phantom Pink colour options, but they’re usually super popular so make sure you pre-order to reserve your handset. 

Back to School smartphone options for everyone
To Top

Sign up for EFTM Emails!

Join the EFTM Man Cave for exclusive giveaways & news updates!

Welcome! (almost) - Please check your inbox or spam folder to confirm your subscription.