2019-06-20
Electronics Jun 15, 2019

Is a Flagship Phone Worth It? Or Are Mid-range Phones The New King?

Flagship smartphones are a blanket term covering all top-tier smartphones on the market. These heavily marketed smartphones are commonly cited as being the best of the best, and post release reviews are almost always hugely positive. If you’ve owned a flagship in the past, I’m certain you’ll understand the appeal. These are very impressive devices.

In fact, the only major drawback to flagship smartphones is the high price tag. While you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck, its still a high price to pay. And as of late, the prices of flagships are only increasing. If you want to keep up with the latest and greatest advancements in smartphone technology, you will have to lay around $1000 USD on the table.

So, therein lies the question. Are flagship smartphones really worth it?

I’d say it depends, and I’ll walk you through my thoughts here.

Specs

Back in the day, an expensive flagship phone meant better internals, giving a smoother overall experience. Take Samsung’s 2015 flagship device, the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge. This phone was praised for its silky-smooth performance and beautiful screen. The early adopters of the S6 Edge clearly knew they were getting one of the best phones at the time, and they were also future proofed for years to come.

Compared with Samsung’s midrange Galaxy J2 at the same time, the difference was night and day. Apps were slow to start, the camera was serviceable at best, and you got a screen that didn’t even support 720p video. There really was no competition. By opting for a midrange device, you were clearly missing out.

Fast forward to 2018, and things have changed. Smartphone technology has begun to plateau, and as the top-tier devices struggle to push existing hardware past its limits, lower-end devices begin to catch up. Back then, you needed to pay a premium for a quad-core smartphone CPU. Now? Some midrange phones have hexa-core chips by default. Want a high screen-to-body ratio? The Nova 4 has you covered.

In fact, check out how the Nova 4 compares when pitted against Samsung’s flagship S10:

 

Samsung Galaxy S10

Nova 4

Display

6.10-inch OLED

6.40-inch LCD

Processor

1.9Ghz octa-core

2.36Ghz octa-core

RAM

8GB

6GB

Internal Storage

128GB

128GB

Screen Resolution

1440x3040

1080x2310

Battery Size

3400mAh

3750mAh

MSRP

$899

$399

 

Samsung Galaxy S10+
The new Samsung Galaxy S10+

 

Both phones pretty evenly matched, with the midrange Nova 4 beating the flagship in some respects. Of course, that’s not to say either phone is straight-up better.

Of course, if you’re looking at pure performance, there’s no denying the power of modern midrange phones. While there’s definitely a lot more than raw specs on paper, such as optimizations and manufacturer-specific programs and settings, you’re not compromising when you opt to pay less.

Camera

Most people might think that phone-cameras are simply defined by a simple megapixel count, but there’s a lot more that happens under the hood.

If you ever wondered why the iPhone XS has great photos despite the relatively low 12-megapixel count, its because of image processing. Different manufacturers process their images differently, and a lot of time is spent perfecting the underlying algorithms to deliver natural yet attractive images.

Holding a phone camera

Different manufacturers go about this differently, but there’s no denying the results. Flagship devices get the most attention, and the pictures really do speak for themselves. Colour accuracy is better, edges are more natural, and pictures are just ‘better’ overall.

With that said, midrange phones aren’t necessarily content with playing second fiddle. The Google Pixel 3 has been praised as having the best camera, but it’s a flagship, and is costed as such.

In 2019 though, Google announced and released the Pixel 3a, and this is a game-changer. Midrange phones normally compete by offering impressive specs at the cost of the camera. The Pixel 3a flips that around. You’re getting lower-tier specs, but the camera off the flagship Pixel 3 is included with no holds barred.

While other midrange phones have marketed themselves off their good cameras, those have mainly been focused on the selfie-crowd. The Pixel 3a sets a precedent, and hopefully, other manufacturers can find ways of including their well-tuned cameras into their cheaper devices.

Of course, this only applies if you’re looking for a phone that takes the best photos possible. If you can live with good enough quality photos, then a standard midrange phone should serve you well.

Gimmicks

While the sub header for this section may seem to have a negative connotation, its one of the main areas of innovation in smartphone technology. Of course, if all you’re looking for is a phone that makes calls, has your bread and butter applications, and occasionally provides directions; the sure, any smartphone on the market will do.

Smartphone Notch
2017-2019: No escaping the notch

 

If you’re looking for something that screams style, then flagships are the way to go. Rounded edges, glass backs, and even unique-looking screens are attention grabbers, and the interesting takes on a tried-and-true smartphone formula are awe-inspiring.

If you think these are simple gimmicks, then sure, these aren’t the phones for you. However, you can’t deny that flagships are impressive devices. Huawei’s flagship P30 Pro has an insane 50x zoom on the camera, Samsung’s Galaxy Note series is still adding features to the included S pen, and the iPhone XS Max somehow further improves Apple’s winning formula with even more features added to the mix.

While some of these gimmicks are simply gimmicks that won’t stand the test of time, some become innovations that the industry adopts wholesale. Look at dual cameras, originally a gimmick in the LG G5 and Huawei P9, these now come standard in even low-end phones.

Other Things Worth Considering

Finally, I’d like to talk about a few features often omitted on high-end smartphones.

While midrange and low-end phones often have a lower internal storage size, they counteract this by including a SD card expansion slot. While some flagships are beginning to include this feature, its currently the exception rather than the norm.

Similarly, dual SIM card functionality is not always featured on flagships. If you prefer to use a SIM for calls and another for internet connectivity, then midrange phones will have you covered.

And at last, in the pursuit of slimmer form factors, some features are actively cut from flagships. Apple’s controversial decision to remove the headphone jack started an industry trend, and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7’s explosive tendencies made manufacturers cautious about including large batteries in small enclosures. Midrange phones, while still pursuing a comfortable form factor, mostly manage to keep these features intact, which is a plus in my books.

Android phone on wood

Conclusions

So, are flagships worth it? As stated, it depends.

If you’re just looking for a phone that gets things done, then midrange and even low-cost phones will serve you well. As it stands right now, apart from price, there really isn’t too much that separates the flagships from the rest of the pack.

That’s not to say flagships are bad though. If you won’t settle for anything less than the best, then flagship smartphones are wise investments. A good flagship can easily last you 2-3 years, especially if you can resist the urge to upgrade. Some companies, like Samsung, even explicitly market their products to cross-generation adopters, showing their confidence in their future proofing abilities.

Personally, I’m perfectly alright with midrange phones. Solid performance, good battery life and a decent screen is all I really need. In fact, that’s what I’d recommend thinking about before making a purchase decision. Think about your needs and wants before deciding on a final purchase, and you’ll be golden.

 

Here are some of our mid-range smartphone recommendations:

1. Xiaomi Mi 9 ($450)
2. Motorola Moto G7 Power ($200)
3. Google Pixel 3a ($400)
4. Xiaomi Pocophone F1 ($350)

Put simply, midrange smartphones are perfect for anyone who wants a phone that just works. The metascores of the recommendations above speak for themselves, and you'll be surprised to find that they compete with the flagships without the added price. Be sure to use our comparison system to find out what smartphone offers the best value.

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