I don't know about you, but I'm getting tired of $1000 smartphones
I don't know about you, but I'm growing a little tired of $1000 and up being the new norm for smartphone prices. Apple was the first company to break that threshold in 2017 with the iPhone X, and in the years following that, it's quickly become something that we now have to expect.
Take this year's Galaxy S20 lineup, for example. At the low-end of the bunch with the regular S20, you're paying a minimum of $1000. The mid-tier S20+ steps things up to $1200, with the highest-end S20 Ultra selling for a cool $1400. There's also last year's Pixel 4 XL, which has a retail price of $999 for the 128GB variant.
It's only natural for phone prices to increase as time goes on and money loses its value, but the sheer level at which prices have been rising is a bit much. Just two years ago, a brand-new Galaxy S9 was selling for $720. Compared to this year's S20, that's a price hike of $280.
I've mostly grown used to these increased costs as a result of writing about them almost every day, but there's still part of me that's annoyed with how much money these companies are asking us to spend these days.
Smartphones are valuable tools and are something a lot of us rely on to live our lives. There's a valid argument to be made that buying a phone is an investment and a necessary purchase, but the prices being charged for high-end models are climbing at an alarming rate year after year.
Thankfully, there is still a light at the end of the tunnel. Looking back on the past year, the phone that stands out to me the most is the Pixel 3a. The idea behind the phone was to give users the same basic experience offered by the flagship Pixel 3 while shaving hundreds of dollars off the asking price. That's exactly what Google did, and the 3a ended up being so good that we awarded it as the Best Value Android Phone of 2019.
Mid-range phones aren't anything new in the Android space, but the Pixel 3a offered something different. In the areas where most budget devices stumble, the Pixel 3a took the torch and ran with it. It had one of the best camera systems regardless of price, Google's promise of guaranteed updates, good build quality, and reliable performance. These are the core building blocks of any good smartphone, and the Pixel 3a made them available on a phone with an accessible price.
Andrew shared his thoughts on the Pixel 4a just a few weeks ago, explaining how Google doesn't need to change much in order for it to be another hit. He's exactly right, and based on what the rumor mill has shown us so far, it looks like that's the route Google is taking.
According to the latest information that we have, the Pixel 4a will have a Snapdragon 700-series processor, 12.2MP rear camera with Google's top-notch image processing, slim bezels around its display with a hole-punch cutout, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. In other words, basically the same phone as the 3a but updated for 2020 standards.
And you know what? That's all I need.
The Pixel 3a is one of those phones that "just works." It runs apps as you'd expect, takes consistently great photos, and doesn't leave you waiting for a software update. It also has all of the little features that round out the smartphone experience for a lot of people, like NFC for Google Pay and a headphone jack. Assuming the Pixel 4a keeps all of those fundamentals in place and retains a reasonable price tag, we're going to be in for another treat. Google's shown us that it knows how to deliver a worthwhile Android experience without going overboard on cost, and that's an ideology we need more of.
In all honesty, what does the Galaxy S20 offer that makes it worth $600 more than the Pixel 3a or however much for the Pixel 4a ends up costing? Sure, it has multiple cameras, wireless charging, and a more capable processor, but I think anyone could argue that those aren't necessities. Even as someone that loves Qi wireless charging and recently blasted OnePlus for not yet adopting it, it's not something you need on a phone.
If it wasn't for my job here at AC, I know for a fact I wouldn't have been able to play with all of the phones that I have over the last couple of years. As much of a nerd as I am when it comes to mobile tech, I'm also someone that likes sticking to a budget and saving money. If I was in a position where I needed to go out and buy a phone with my own cash right now, I'd happily skip over the Galaxy S20 for something like the Pixel 3a.
I'm glad we have these high-end devices that are pushing the boundaries of what we can do with a smartphone, but I also think it's OK to be critical of what's happened with the industry's pricing. I'm not a fan of it, and I have to imagine a lot of you aren't either.
You don't need to spend $1000 on the S20.
Flagship phones are shiny and exciting, but do you really need to shell out $1000 and up for them? With the Pixel 3a, you get an all-around great Android handset that doesn't have any major drawbacks. It looks good, takes incredible photos, and offers speedy performance with guaranteed software updates. For as cheap as it is, the 3a is a no-brainer for anyone that doesn't want to spend an arm and a leg on their next phone.
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Joe Maring was a Senior Editor for Android Central between 2017 and 2021. You can reach him on Twitter at @JoeMaring1.