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Best phones to gift to your grad

CNET's top phone picks for your recent grad.

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With school graduation on the horizon, gifting a phone to your grad shouldn't be very hard. Though phones on the whole are getting more expensive, there are plenty of choices available that are more affordable and offer high-tech specs. Whether you want to congratulate your recipient on a job well done or prepare them for the next step, here are CNET's top choices for phones that range from $200 to $800.

Note that these products are independently chosen by our editors. CNET may get a share of the revenue if you buy anything featured on our site.

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At less than $200 retail and often discounted, the Motorola Moto G7 Play is one of our favorite affordable phones. Compared to the slightly pricier Moto G7 (which we'll get to next), the phones both have the same processor and a water repellent coating. But the G7 Play features a tad smaller 5.7-inch display and a single 13-megapixel camera. For those who like to take a lot of selfies, on the front of the phone you'll find a flash to brighten up all those memorable moments.

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The Motorola Moto G7  may not be as cheap as its G7 Play counterpart, but at $299 it's still a good deal for any kind of student. Though its single speaker doesn't offer the greatest sound and it takes mediocre low-light photos and video, the Mogo G7 has dual rear cameras, an enduring battery life and a sleek design. It also charges really quickly, which is useful when you need to juice up before you run off to your next class.

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The new-for-2019 Pixel 3A shaves a few features off of last year's Pixel 3: It's not water-resistant, doesn't have wireless charging and it maxes out at 64GB of storage. But it adds a real 3.5mm headphone jack and keeps the same amazing Night Sight camera that can literally shoot photos in the dark. (Daytime photos look amazing, too.) It's compatible with all the major US phone carriers, too. At $399, it's a lot of phone for not a lot of money. 

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If you need a study break, consider a gaming phone that accommodates heavy graphics and an immersive experience. With a bright 120Hz screen, the Razer Phone 2 adds IP67 water resistance and wireless charging. It's also compatible with 2TB microSD cards for extra storage and runs a close-to-stock version of Android. Together with its amazing built-in speaker, you have the makings for a great mobile gaming experience.

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OnePlus isn't a super popular phone maker, but its latest OnePlus 6T flagship is notable for its high-end specs and comparatively inexpensive price tag (at least compared to other premium phones like the iPhone XS and the Galaxy S10). Available on T-Mobile but compatible on AT&T and Verizon too, the phone has an excellent camera and a fast processor. Be aware that it doesn't have a headphone jack though, and it isn't water resistant like the rest of the phones that follow below.

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Phones nowadays are constantly one-upping each other with pop-up selfie cameras, in-display fingerprint sensors and multiple rear cameras. The OnePlus 7 Pro has such features du jour to keep its fans enticed. But in addition to these features, it's the phone's $669 (6GB of RAM/128GB) starting price that is the deal maker. (There's also an 8GB/256GB variant that costs $699 and will be the one available from T-Mobile.)

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Though iPhones usually end up being one of the priciest phones on any of our phone lists, the iPhone XR, fortunately, is slightly more affordable than its fancy iPhone XS or XS Max counterparts. Even though it's the "cheapest" iPhone, it has most iPhone X and XS features, including an excellent big screen in a comfortable body, fast performance, Face ID and wireless charging. The camera is mostly as good as the iPhone XS, and we're a big fan of its video quality, great for capturing all your afterschool party antics.

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As the most wallet-friendly Galaxy S10 phone, the Galaxy S10E has a lot to offer. It's a smaller phone, which is great for those looking for a small grip, it has a super-fast Snapdragon 855 chipset and a long-lasting battery life. And for that potential meet-cute on campus that one Samsung commercial leads us to believe, it can wirelessly charge other phones and accessories, like a pair of wireless earbuds or a smartwatch.

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If your grad is known to take tons and tons of photos, he or she would get a kick out of the Pixel 3. Its exceptional camera captures great pictures in daylight or dark, and with its secondary wide-angle selfie camera, you can comfortable take group selfies that fit everyone. It also has a nifty software features. Call Screen, for example, filters and blocks robocalls and telemarketers so you remain distraction-free and Digital Wellbeing limits your screen time so you can stay focused.