iPhone SE ($349)
Sure, the iPhone SE is due for an update, but as the only sub-$500 iPhone available, it's the best choice for Apple fans on a budget. If you can overlook its dated design, the iPhone SE is a capable phone that performs well despite (or thanks to) its now two-year-old A9 processor. Its compact 4-inch size also makes it a strong option for those who prefer something smaller. Plus, Apple recently doubled the iPhone SE's storage, which is another bonus. You'll also like the 12-megapixel rear camera, which delivers accurate colors and crisp details, but its 1.2-MP front-facer will disappoint selfie lovers.
ASUS ZenFone 4 ($349)
Also worth a look is the ASUS ZenFone 4, which stands out for its 12-megapixel dual cameras, which can save pictures as RAW files. It also features a dual-pixel sensor for faster autofocus, along with optical image stabilization and Portrait mode for artificial bokeh. The secondary sensor on its back side uses a wide-angle lens in the same vein as the LG G6, allowing you to capture landscapes and skylines more easily. The rest of the phone's specs are typical for the price: a Snapdragon 630 processor with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. Its 5.5-inch full HD IPS display can get pretty bright too, with a max setting of 600 nits. Some people might not like ASUS's ZenUI skin, which runs on top of Android 7 Nougat, but camera aficionados who can put up with a slightly different (and cartoonish) UI might find the ZenFone 4 compelling.
HTC U11 Life ($349)
I sincerely hope "squeezable" sides won't spread to smartphones other than the HTC U11 and the Google Pixel 2, but I have to admit they can be helpful at times. On the HTC U11 Life, pressure-sensitive edges detect when you're squeezing the phone, and launch your designated apps. You can also set this to perform specific actions within some apps, like zooming out in Google Maps, which is more useful than the Pixel's implementation. In addition to this novelty feature, the U11 Life packs a Snapdragon 630 chipset, a 5.2-inch full HD screen and built-in Alexa support. Each U11 Life also comes with a pair of HTC's uSonic earbuds, which tunes audio based on the shape of your ear, making it an even better deal overall. But the reason for these is the missing audio jack on the U11 Life, so be aware that you won't be able to plug in wired earbuds before you decide.