After a brief foray with attempting to replace my Moto X Pure with an LG V20, I returned the V20. I’m considering some options. Nothing is making me quite ready to pull the trigger. Here’s what I’m looking at.

I’m on Total Wireless, which is Tracfone’s prepaid brand that uses Verizon’s network. They just revised their plans and I have a screaming deal of a 15 GB 2-line plan for my wife and I for $60/month. So I want a Verizon-compatible phone.

Here are the things I like about my Moto X Pure:

  • 5.7” high res screen in a body that’s still easy for me to hold 1-handed
  • Verizon and global compatibility
  • Nice clean Android software without a bunch of extra crap
  • Solid photo quality in good light from the 21 MP camera when using HDR
  • Front-facing stereo speakers, which are nice, but I use them rarely

The only things I don’t like about X Pure are:

  • It’s stuck on Marshmallow. Motorola tested a Nougat update back in April but abandoned it. Nobody thinks any more updates are on the way.
  • No fingerprint sensor
  • Low-light photos aren’t so great

Overall, I’ve had this phone for 2 years now and I’m still happy with it. If it didn’t have a wobbly USB port, I would just keep using it and not be concerned with replacing it.

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In addition to addressing the few dislikes about the X Pure, I’d like to improve the CPU and RAM from its Snapdragon 808 CPU and 3 GB of RAM, to at least a Snapdragon 820 and 4 GB of RAM. All while not giving up too many of the things I like about the X Pure.

Before anyone says Samsung, their Android skin bugs me, and I hate that they reverse the back & recent apps buttons (at least they finally did away with that on the S8/Note 8). The cheapest Samsung phone that meets my criteria is the Galaxy S7 Edge which is still $670 for an unlocked one and I don’t really like the curved screen.

Refurb Moto X Pure - $150

This is what it would cost me to do an advance exchange with Motorola for a refurbished phone. They send me a fresh phone, I wipe mine and send it back to them. The end.

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ZTE Axon 7 - $370 (gold) - $380 (grey)

Pros:

  • Snapdragon 820, 4 GB RAM, 64 GB storage
  • AMOLED screen instead of IPS LCD
  • Ever-so-slightly smaller than the Moto X Pure
  • Front-facing stereo speakers
  • Verizon and global compatibility
  • Fingerprint sensor
  • Fancy DAC for higher quality audio if I ever plugged in headphones (which is rare)
  • It’s on Nougat now and ZTE has been good at updating it
  • ZTE does put a skin on Android but it’s pretty mild, supposedly
  • 20 MP camera isn’t much better in low light but at least adds image stabilization

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Cons:

  • 5.5” screen is a little smaller
  • Capacitive back/home/recent apps buttons
  • Some folks say the fingerprint sensor is not the most responsive, especially if you have sweaty fingers, and I’m a gym addict
  • It has a notification light, which some people like, but after having had phones both with and without notification lights, the light drives me a little bonkers
  • ZTE lets you do a bunch of customizing of the quick settings pull-down menu, but they completely removed the do-not-disturb toggle from the quick settings menu
  • There might be enough nits for me to pick about the software, according to this guy...

But really, while all of the things the dude points out in this video are perhaps mildly annoying, none of them are like the things that annoyed me on the LG V20, namely things like auto brightness and do-not-disturb scheduling that straight up don’t work correctly. The slow-responding ZTE lock screen can apparently be fixed by just setting a static wallpaper, because the delay is caused by ZTE’s lock screen trying to download a new image every time you wake the phone up. You can still have auto-refreshing wallpapers if you use something like Google’s Wallpaper app that downloads a different wallpaper each day. Who needs a new wallpaper every time you wake the phone anyway?

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Huawei Nexus 6P - $385

(If you’re wondering where I’m getting this, Walmart is selling Total Wireless branded 32 GB Nexus 6Ps. As far as I know they’re still unlocked.)

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Pros:

  • 5.7” AMOLED screen, i.e. the only phone on this list that has the same size screen as my X Pure
  • Front-facing stereo speakers
  • Verizon and global compatibility
  • Fingerprint sensor
  • Pure Android and even though it’s 2 years old, it’s at least going to get up to Oreo
  • Camera has some HDR+ tricks but it’s not as fancy as the Pixel

Cons:

  • Snapdragon 810 + 3 GB RAM is only a marginal upgrade in horsepower
  • Sorta kinda does quick charging thru USB-C but it’s not Qualcomm Quick Charge
  • No microSD card slot. I can probably make do with 32 GB but I’d rather have more space.
  • Reports of issues with sub-par build quality and reliability in general

Moto Z Droid - $420

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This is the only Moto Z version I like because it doesn’t have ShatterShield, Motorola’s built-in screen protector nonsense. It might help keep your screen from cracking but it collects ugly scratches like crazy.

Pros:

  • Snapdragon 820, 4 GB RAM, 32 GB storage + microSD slot
  • AMOLED screen instead of IPS LCD
  • Noticeably thinner and lighter than the Moto X Pure
  • Verizon compatibility
  • Fingerprint sensor on the front where it should be
  • It’s on Nougat now
  • (Mostly) nice clean Moto Android experience, with Nougat

Cons:

  • 5.5” screen is a little smaller
  • No global compatibility
  • No stereo speakers
  • Verizon bloatware
  • Unlikely software updates
  • Mediocre battery life
  • Camera is a step down from 21 MP to 13 MP and doesn’t improve the low light performance
  • The only way to protect the camera lens that sticks way out is with a case that sticks way out

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LG G6 - $450

Pros:

  • Snapdragon 821, 4 GB RAM, 32 GB storage + microSD slot
  • Extra tall screen gives you more real estate in a smaller package
  • Verizon and sorta/kinda global compatibility
  • Fingerprint sensor
  • Camera is pretty decent and has a nifty wide-angle lens
  • Water resistant

Cons:

  • LG’s crappy software that can mostly be re-skinned to stock looking with some work
  • Wonky auto brightness.
  • Just like the V20, Do Not Disturb scheduling only occasionally works for people, according to reports like this. I had an LG G2 before my Moto X Pure and that phone also had DND scheduling problems. What gives, LG?
  • Even though it’s a 5.7” screen, it’s a lot narrower than 16:9 5.7” screens, and even 5.5” ones too
  • No front-facing speakers
  • Battery life is a mixed bag

Google Pixel XL Grade-A Refurb - $500 (32 GB) - $550 (128 GB)

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Pros:

  • Snapdragon 821, 4 GB RAM, the 128 GB version is plenty of storage
  • AMOLED screen instead of IPS LCD
  • Verizon and global compatibility
  • Fingerprint sensor
  • That sweet, sweet Pure Android action with prompt software updates for longer into the future
  • Excellent camera

Cons:

  • No microSD card—the 32 GB version might be ok but kinda pushing it 
  • 5.5” screen is a little smaller
  • No stereo speakers
  • That’s a lot of money for a refurb phone

Of these choices, my front-runners, in no particular order, are another Moto X Pure, the Axon 7, and the Nexus 6P. While each of them has some compromises, they all tick the majority of my boxes and their prices are semi-reasonable.

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Oppo, what say you?