Flagship phones are amazing. They drive innovation forward with (mostly) well-thought-out improvements. But we are at a point where even budget and mid-range phones in general are impressive now, mostly thanks to trickle-down technology from their flagship brothers. Today̵7;s affordable phones are yesterday’s flagship.
Advanced phones are how we end up with features that drive the industry forward. Things like Apple / Google Pay, fingerprint sensors or computational photography that can make even sub-pair photos look incredible. These tools started on today’s flagship phones, but are now quite productive on most phones – even in the budget price range.
Of course, but sometimes you pay extra for “innovation” that you actually do not need – like the Soli radar circuit in, for example, Pixel 4 and 4 XL. Sure, it’s innovative and forward-looking, but it does not immediately useful. Almost all Pixel 4 owners I know have disabled Motion Sense (the features that use the radar chip) almost immediately and have not enabled them again. That’s news.
But innovation works through experimentation. That’s why I’m still happy that Google put the radar in a phone and tested the water. If the rumors are true, Pixel 5 will not have this. Maybe because they realized that it was news and that there was not much more that could be done about it. Maybe it’s to lower the price. Who knows. In any case, it is proof that there is a chance to try new things.
But I deviate. The things that become the cornerstone and eventually turn into cheaper smartphones become the foundation that we all trust. And when you can get that kind of reliability from a phone that costs half a flagship, why pay more?
Affordable phones have everything you need …
“Need” is a funny word when talking about smartphones, especially when you think of it in the most basic sense. In its definition, “need” means to “demand because it is important.” So we’ll just talk about things that most people would consider basic in a smartphone.
What defines “essential” in a smartphone, anyway? Let’s think about some important ingredients:
- A fantastic screen. This is the first thing you see, and what you look at most when you see your phone. It must have a good screen. This is not negotiable.
- A form of biometric security. Gone are the days when you needed to enter passwords or PINs to log in to your phone or other apps. A fingerprint sensor or other form of biometric login is a must.
- A good camera. They say that the best camera is the one you have on you, and your smartphone pretty much fits that bill all the time. A good camera is now expected on all phones at any price point.
- Useful performance. This means different things to different people, but at least you should not throw your phone over a room as it takes too long to charge your favorite app.
- Reliable and up-to-date updates. An outdated phone is an insecure phone, period.
Let’s look at the iPhone SE and Pixel 4a for excellent examples. These are incredible phones for each operating system.
The iPhone SE uses a slightly older design – a proven form factor that Apple uses for year. It skips newer (and more expensive) features, such as Face ID, for the sometimes preferred Touch ID fingerprint sensor in the home button. It was innovative in its day, and now it’s a tested feature that has made its way into the most affordable iPhone ever.
But it marks all the boxes above. It has a good screen (although it is smaller in size of today’s popular phones), the above-mentioned introduction of touch ID, a very good camera, the fastest smartphone processor on the market today and regular updates from Apple. Boom – all needs, covered.
The same can be said about Pixel 4a. Google took the most useful features from the Pixel series and baked them into a $ 350 smartphone. It has an excellent OLED screen, the Pixel Imprint (fingerprint sensor), without a doubt the best camera on the market thanks to Google’s magic sauce, sleek performance and monthly security updates from Google. All this in one package of $ 350. What more do you need?
… And even some of what you want
Just because a phone falls within a certain budget or is considered an “intermediate register” does not mean that it skims on some excellent quality of life features. SE is a good example here because it has wireless charging and an IP rating that really sets it apart from the packaging. I will be completely shocked if Google does not follow suit with at least one of these features for next year’s adopted Pixel 5a. Probably both.
Just a few years ago, these two features were reserved only for flagship smartphones. But Apple put them in a device starting at just $ 399.
Pixel 4a also has something that iPhone SE does not have: a headphone jack. You will not find this on many flagship phones today, so going down to the budget / midrange category you will actually get something that is missing on more expensive phones. The headphone jack is a big deal for many people!
Modern Midrangers are the best bang for your buck
When it’s time to upgrade your smartphone, do not ignore the middle register – this whole category has come a long way in 12-18 months. The Pixel “a” line and iPhone SE have changed the way we think about affordable smartphones. Right now, the middle ground may actually be the fastest smartphone segment.
Plus, with all the money you’ve saved, you can get yourself a smartwatch and some killer earbuds.