With top of the range hot rod smartphones popping up all over the place, the prices of these mobiles are absolutely rocketing and the fact of the matter is that not everyone has £500 to burn - even slowly over the course of 24 months. Thankfully, help has been at hand for a while from most of the mobile makers out there with their budget or mid-range Android handsets which still offer all the fun of a smartphone without quite the same wallet thinning feature.

So, given that many of our readers might feel more comfortable in this category, we wanted to take a look at what’s on offer if you want the best for less. To put things in perspective, we’ve taken one of the better received handsets in this category from the last few months and matched it up against the latest flush to come out of MWC 2011. So, here is the Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo vs LG Optimus One.

Tie: LG Optimus One
113.5 x 59 x 13mm, 129g

Tie: se xperia Neo
116 x 57 x 13mm, 126g

As one would hope this first round is close. These two mid-range Android smartphones are very much in the same class with almost an identical form factor. As ever, the two most telling areas are the thickness of the handsets and how heavy they are and it’s the Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo that shades it by all of 3g. All the same, given that you probably wouldn’t recognise a 3g weight sitting in your pocket if it jumped up and bit you, we’re calling it an insignificance and not enough to take a category. To all intents and purposes, these phones have the same physical footprint.

One could argue about the relative pulchritude of the two. For our money, the Neo is considerably more attractive given that it comes in a choice of colours for one thing and for a second, it’s just got better lines but as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, we’re leaving this one the way the stats say it is.

1st: Se xperia Neo
3.7-inch, 854 x 480px, 16m colour

2nd: LG Optimus One
3.2-inch, 320 x 480, 256K colour

It’s hard to believe that these phones were launched less than six months apart when you look at their screen technologies but that’s the way it is. On the one hand, there’s the Neo with Sony Ericsson’s Reality Display - its pixel packed glory and a full 16 million colours to enjoy - and on the other, there’s the LG Optimus One with something that belongs on a phones from 2006. It’s pretty simple. If you want the phone with the really nice, scratch resistant screen, it’s not the one from LG that you’re after.

1st: SE xperia neo
1GHz Qualcomm MSM8255

2nd: LG Optimus One
600MHz Qualcomm MSM7627

Once again, it’s rather like we’ve stepped into a time machine some moment in the five month interval between the arrival of these two phones. Even before you know what’s inside their respective chips, it’s pretty obvious from the clock speed of the CPUs alone that you’re going to be getting a lot more out of the Neo. To be fair to LG though, neither of the two are dual core, at least, and as it goes in actual fact, they both run off the same Adreno 205 GPUs. All the same, it’s the Sony Ericsson handset you’ll get more grunt out of.

1st: SE xperia Neo
8MP, flash, AF, 720p, webcam

2nd: LG Optimus One
3MP, AF, VGA video capture

If it hasn’t been a case for shooting fish in a barrel for the Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo, then it certainly is on the imaging front. There’s no reason to scoff at the Optimus One’s 3MP rear facing camera but the lack of flash and the pretty poor VGA resolution video capture is a problem especially in an age where mobile makers are stuffing even mid-range handsets with that on offer in the Neo. The optics are backed up by one of Sony’s Exmor R sensors, offering reportedly excellent low light capabilities, and, course both the flash and HD video capture just put it in a different class its to rival here. On top of that, there’s even a front facing webcam too.

1st: SE xperia neo
320MB + microSD

2nd: LG Optimus One
170MB + microSD

Phone memory on the Android system is beginning to become less important as time goes by. However, it’s no so incidental as yet that you want to be stuck with just 170MB to play with. In fact, 320MB isn’t exactly a happy place to be either. Fortunately, you can shift a good 50 per cent of your apps onto the microSD card as well as your pictures and videos but it’s not the case with all of your data yet and you will find yourself having to do a phone purge all too often. While, the Neo wins, you might still want to look elsewhere for a budget Android smartphone if you’re a hoarder. You know who you are.

1st: LG Optimus One
8 hours talk time

2nd: SE xperia Neo
7 hours talk time

Of course, the one advantage of using a CPU with a lower clock speed is that it’s not going to chew your battery up quite so badly. Combine that with the fact that the LG Optimus One still packs a fairly hefty 1500mAh Li-ion unit and you’ve got the makings of a phone that can last the distance - well, at least one more hour of talk time over the Neo, anyway. If you’re a battery whinger, then the Optimus One might just be for you.

1st: Se xperia Neo
3G, Wi-Fi, BT, GPS, HDMI-out, DLNA

2nd: LG Optimus One
3G, Wi-Fi, BT, GPS, FM radio

Naturally, both of these handsets manage to cover the basics with the holy trinity of 3G, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1 represented plus a little GPS love as well. What slings the Neo further up the ladder is attention to content detail and what we’re really talking about is how to get HD video off your phone and onto your big screen TV. The Xperia offers you both the hard connection way in the shape of the HDMI-out and wireless as well over DLNA. Enough said and another notch on the Neo’s bedpost.

1st: Se xperia Neo
Android 2.3 Gingerbread

2nd: LG Optimus One
Android 2.2 Froyo

Oh, those heady days of the Froyo upgrade seem so long ago when in fact is was just a few months. The LG Optimus One can do the two things that really count with its Google software - move apps to the microSD card and turn itself into a portable Wi-Fi hotspot - but it doesn’t get the headline glitz and glam of the Gingerbread makeover that the Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo is fortunate enough to have. For the record, Android 2.3 doesn’t offer a whole lot worth having over 2.2 but you just know that an upgrade is going to take eons for the Optimus give that even Nexus One users are still out in the cold.

Even after all that, there’s a small matter of the UIs that these companies have put over the basic operating system. In LG’s case, it’s a very light touch of mostly just customisation and, actually, that might well appeal to some rather than the more in-depth Xperia Timescape interface with its panel-like way of organising your media and messages. If you can stomach the loss of control, the pay off is embedded software like TrackID music recognition and PlayNow streaming but these aren’t things that can’t be added with the odd app here or there anyway.

n/a LG Optimus One
£190 SIM-fre

n/a Sy Ericsson Neo

Sony Ericsson hasn’t announced the pricing on the Xperia Neo yet but all we can say is that, for the LG Optimus One’s sake, it’d better come in close to £350.

Winner: SE Xperia Neo

Loser: LG Optimus One

What started out as decent fight has turned into the biggest mismatch since you last looked at the bottom of your sock draw. It turns out that five months is an agonisingly long time in smartphones even in the mid-range. The Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo is a huge jump forward in the handset it replaces, the Vivaz, it just goes to show that any other manufacturers not offering the same uplift to their whole range are going to suffer. The only reason you would ever buy an Optimus One over a Neo is if you just wanted a phone that could play Angry Birds and make calls. That said, that might be quite a big market.

Which is your favourite budget or mid-range Android smartphone of choice? Or are you saving your pennies for a super mobile instead? Let us know in the comments.

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