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When cheap phones can do everything, what happens to flagships?

Have you heard? There are no more bad phones. The change happened slowly, almost invisibly, over the past couple of years, but the cycle is now complete.

How did it happen? The replacement of components with clear technological bottlenecks — thermally inefficient processors, terrible cameras, lifeless displays — with ones largely free of issues has catalyzed an industry. The proliferation of good cheap phones is the best thing to happen to the internet ever, in my opinion. We spend a good chunk of our time talking about the expensive and the beautiful, but what about the practical? The reliable? The good?

The problem is that good doesn't garner the interest, and generate the clicks, that we need to run a media business. There is nothing salacious about fine, nor disruptive about usable.

The proliferation of power users is a direct result of the democratization of good, cheap Android phones.

But that belies the true size of the iceberg that lurks underneath, the hundreds of millions and billions of Android phones that will be sold in the years to come, almost all of which will be cheaper and better than we think, be it in the $50 range all the way to what we consider the mid-range, $500 or so. You can quibble over camera quality and app performance, but the reality is that as long as they're running a recent version of Android, with a turnkey set of Qualcomm or MediaTek (or perhaps Samsung or Rockchip or any number of companies producing SoCs based on ARM's architecture) chips, they'll be fine.

Chances are, if you're reading this on a phone — if you visit Android Central regularly — it's not your first device. But there are millions of people across the world that have yet to gain access to the mobile internet, and there's a good probability their first phone will run Android. We take for granted the tasks phones have replaced or made easier — I know I do — from simply browsing the internet to transferring money to keeping in touch. When the experience of such mundane tasks comes with almost no friction, the things that need to get done get done. It's as simple as that. The software gets to do its job, and content gets consumed or created as the owner sees fit.

As phones become more capable of replacing other tools in our lives for mundane tasks, it becomes more difficult to justify spending all that money on the most popular and expensive phones. Those that choose to do so often call themselves "power users," and our frenemy Android Authority has a great summary of what exactly that means in 2017.

But the central thesis assumes that there are devices out there, usually expensive, large, and with a focus on a particular demographic, that can do things other phones can't. The ZTE Axon M, for example, can fold out to reveal two displays; the Razer Phone can fill a room with sound; the LG V30 can intelligently zoom to a subject when shooting video. These are great features, but they're extensions of existing ones, not entirely new paradigms (though one can argue that the Razer Phone's 120Hz display is disruptive in a whole new way).

I'm reminded of a blog post I read by analyst and investor, Ben Evans, about what we do on our phones.

Conversely, what is being done on 'phones' - or rather, on these small touch-screen computers that we all carry around with us? We write - people have been writing more on phones than on PCs since the days of SMS - and we share, take pictures, create videos, play games and talk to our friends. That is, we do most of things that those 90% of PCs are used for, but we also do everything that you can do with a touch screen and internet-connected image sensor, and GPS, and all the other things a PC doesn't have, plus everything you can do with all of the billions of app downloads.

Every Android phone with access to the Play Store has roughly the same access to these billion-plus apps. Some may not work as well on older hardware, and certain games may not run at all, but the true mobile revolution is that most people can perform most important tasks on phones today, be it creating or consuming. There will always be a subset of users that need something more powerful, or larger, or more specialized, but just as fewer and fewer people need dedicated computers to get through a day, soon only a few people will need powerful expensive phones.

I think of a device like the BlackBerry Motion. It costs around $400. It doesn't do anything better than anything else. It's merely a good phone that represents the current ethos of what makes a great Android phone; decent hardware and a commitment to plugging holes in the software. Android is in a place right now where, without major feature updates, most people would be pretty happy with the experience for a few years. With hardware powerful enough to prevent "bit rot," and a commitment to security, the proliferation of good, cheap Android phones is the best thing to happen to mobile in years.

That's why you're going to see us do a better job in the coming months and years covering these products in a way that elevates these devices to a place that, without sensationalizing them, acknowledges their importance in the industry. We already have a full set of rich buyer's guide content in the under-$100 to under-$400 scale, but you'll be seeing a lot more smart, level-headed commentary on why the category is so important.

And now, this:

  • Black Friday was a big deal around these parts. If you didn't have a chance to check out Thrifter's live blog and overall coverage, Cyber Monday is going to be just as big a deal.
  • Nice to see some older devices like the Sony Xperia XZ, OnePlus 5 and Nokia 8 getting Oreo.
  • If you've been holding off getting a password manager because it's too hard to use or doesn't work with your platform of choice, may I ask you to reconsider?
  • The fight for Net Neutrality is coming down to the wire. Let's win this one.
  • Remember Android Wear?
  • I hope you Americans had a wonderful, relaxing Thanksgiving!

See you in a few weeks,


Daniel Bader was a former Android Central Editor-in-Chief and Executive Editor for iMore and Windows Central. 

  • Flagships still get more update support so will continue to lead. 
  • Xiaomi just updated a 5 year old phone to 7.1. Which flagship got 5 years support ?
  • Ok so 1 brand updates their mid range devices? Not to mention at least in the US Xiaomi is all but nonexistant. 
  • And more premium build materials, i.e. more delicate. Updates are what's up though. One of the reasons Apple and Google charge a premium.
  • Tell that to my Xioami Mi A1 :) Oreo and Android P promised from Google as part of the Android One program. Feel like a premium device for the 2 days I have owned it.
  • I do agree and own one too.. it has it's drawbacks (like the camera) but the SW is excellent and still has a headphone jack with a dedicated amp :)
  • ChrisKWarren...fellow Newfoundlander! hey! The Mi A1 is a nice device for sure!!!!
  • Android One could be a bigger game changer than most other features. A good, midrange phone that gets software updates for as long as the hardware remains viable is what the market wants. One Plus started out providing that, but has steadily increased their pricing. The OP5T is still a decent deal, but there's plenty of hardware as good (or good enough) that's just being held back by bad software - or lack of software support.
  • But that's just a mindset. We have this mentality that we need to have the latest version all the time... even if nothing has changed. You bought a phone with Nougat on it
    it's been a great phone for you
    Today Oreo came out
    Your phone still works perfectly fine, but now you are longing for "the update"
    The update does nothing important... but because it exists.. you "need" it, even though your phone does everything you expected for the price you already paid. If the Oreo update never came out.. you'd be perfectly content. And sure you may have paid $800 for your phone so you feel entitled.
    But in that same respect, if you only paid $300 for your cheaper brand Nougat phone.
    You could go out and buy the next generation of that phone line for $300 with Oreo
    Now you've got a new phone AND oreo AND still paid less. I refer to my popular grill analogy...
    My friend swore up and down that Weber was worth paying $800 for
    I bought the $150 Charbroil
    We've both cooked food for each other and food tastes the same on both
    It's been 4 years for both of us.. both grills have fading and "spots" here and there.
    Weber will give him internal new parts if they ever rust in the next 20 years. Nothing is rusting yet. I'll just buy a new charbroil every 4 years and even after 20 years, I'll have had a new grill every 5 years and still not paid as much as him for his 20 year old grill. Mine will continue to look new and his will show more and more signs of age. So was it worth it?
  • I didn't even mean full OS updates. Most of the times if devices don't get the OS update they also lack the security updates. Security updates>> full OS updates in many cases.
  • Oh, like the G6?
  • Considering so many people here update their hardware every year, that is not something worth considering particularly on this forum.
  • "When cheap phones can do everything, what happens to flagships?" They get price cuts very shortly after they're launched in most of the World.
    I know in the USA this may not work exactly the same way because the American market is still enslaved by the carriers, but in Europe, for example, where most people buy their phones unlocked and outside of carriers, what you see it the market quickly adjusting the prices of the phones to their more realistic value. Examples:
    - The Note 8 was launched for 1000€ not even two months ago. It can already be bought, new, for 815€. That's a 18.5% drop in approximately 60 days already.
    - The Galaxy S8 was launched for 820€. It can now be bought for 500€. That's a 37,5% drop in 8 months.
    - LG G6, launched for 750€ between April and June across Europe. Can now be bought for 386€. That's a 48,5% drop.
    - Nokia 8, released in September for 600€. Currently available for 399€. A 33,5% price drop in 3 months.
    - Xperia XZ1, released in October for 700€. Now down to 529€. A 24,4% drop in two months. All of these are free, no carrier, no contract, no locks, no bullsh*t phones. Which, to me, just speaks of OEM greed more than anything. Hence why the market so quickly adjusts their prices.
    Does this happen because of the cheaper offerings? I don't think so.
    As much as Android nerds might swoon over OnePlus, the average consumer never heard of them and doesn't give a sh*t. These prices are adjusted by the good old rules of the consumer market: offer and demand. Apple might try to rig the game in their favour by controlling the price. But that's also why iPhone's marketshare around the world - unlike in the US - is pathetic. And why you see eBay flooded with iPhones as people are more likely to buy an used iPhone than spend the stupid amount Apple things their crappy devices are worth. I for one am very glad we're not run by commies. If we were, none of this would happen. I just hope that OEMs will take a hint from the signs the free market is giving them and stop trying to rip people off.
    Though...if I'm honest...I think they know it. When Samsung asks 1000€ for the Note 8, they know the phone isn't worth that. But they know there are a handful of brainless idiots who will give them 1000€ for the phone just to have it on day 1. Exactly what Apple does with the iPhone and Microsoft did with the Xbox One X. And as long as these idiots remain around, I have a feeling OEMs will continue to push prices higher just to cash in on those brain-dead people for as long as they can.
  • No, we're run by fascists.
  • No, he left about a year ago
  • Yeah, too bad HMD is eschewing the American market from its focus.
  • The upcoming Nokia 9 is going to be a global release. Been reading alot about it that Nokia was working on possibly getting Verizon band support on it
  • True. They're basically focusing on the markets they know the Nokia brand will sell by itself. And that's pretty much what has been selling these phones they're doing.
    They're all really well built but that's the only "Nokia" thing in them apart from the brand.
    If you remove the brand, no one would buy these phones.
    In America the brand alone wouldn't sell a Nokia 8 for example. And when consumers started to look at the phone itself, they'd realise how crappy and non-Nokia it actually is and would skip it even faster.
    In Europe they're managing to get away with it because of the brand.
  • we will get them in I am good!
  • @DJCBS, you speak nothing but the truth, those are the kind of idiots that are driving and keep driving the prices up and still going up!!
  • No. What drives the prices up are the people who make payments on phones.
  • This.
  • Lots of brain dead idiots out there I guess, including about 80 percent of people here. 😁
  • I think you mean "supply and demand"
  • Indeed. Problem here was that in my native language - Portuguese - we use "oferta e procura" so I automatically wrote "offer" (oferta) instead of "supply". Oops ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • Agree with everything you said except the part about XBox One X. That device is fairly priced. Try pricing any DIY/OEM PC with its capabilities and tell me Microsoft overcharged. They do overprice several other devices, but I am pretty sure the One X is not one of them.
  • "Try pricing any DIY/OEM PC with its capabilities and tell me Microsoft overcharged." There's one crucial flaw with this argument: ANY PC will ALWAYS do much more than an Xbox can do. Unless Microsoft released "Windows 10 Gaming", a cheap version of Windows that the only thing it can do is run games, you can never truly compare them. Not to mention a PC can be cheaply upgraded overtime to suite your needs and a console can't.
    Add to that the somewhat miserable games catalogue of the Xbox (I personally don't have much to complain about it but I have plenty of friends who do) and I'm sorry but 500€ for the One X is overpriced.
  • I don't know of anyone in the USA that paid full retail from day one. If you did, you were living under a rock.
  • I'm sorry but living in the stone age are the people who still buy phones from carriers ;P At any rate...All I wrote was based in the vast and diverse European market anyway, not the US. So I don't really care if Americans keep allowing themselves to be made the carriers little b*tches (specially those on Verizon who willingly stuck themselves on a type of network that no one else IN THE WORLD uses anymore) ;)
  • That is true. Another thing is the speed and stuttering. I use a $220 midrange LG Stylo 3 Plus and it runs great, but with 2GB of RAM it tends to stutter a little bit if I hit the home button too much. It is a great phone with a pretty good stylus. I fully recommend it to anyone wanting to spend a lot less money. I even bought a 5080 mah battery for it and am enjoying 2 day heavy use and three day moderate use for the battery life. The battery was only $15 on Amazon. Next, I'm going to root it so I can use certain tasker profiles that require a rooted phone. Tasker is the mother of all apps and when coupled with Nova Launcher and the paid for Nova prime, you get serious abilities in your phone that you can't find anywhere else.
  • So the stylus 3 is a good phone.? awesome to hear. Do you run Nova on it now?
  • Enjoyable/thoughtful article. Thanks Daniel.
  • As long as there are people who will pay those ridiculous a$$ prices for phones they're going to keep going up and up. I have friends who will gladly spend $1,000 for a phone just because it's a status symbol, something to brag about to their friends because they can afford to buy it. And being an electronic specialist, I understand the phones a lot more than they do, because most only used about 30% of what the phone is capable of, and the other ones barely know how to turn them on, and the only thing that use them for is phone calls, texts and occasionally GPS. (Most don't even know how to use GPS). It's just sad that those are the kind of people that drive the prices up. I am getting off this carousel ride and not spending more than $400 for a new Android phone. My Moto G5 Plus *64 gig mem/ 4 gig ram is plenty and only cost me $300!! It has never hiccupped, stuttered, and the camera works beautifully!!!
  • The problem is the updates are usually longer on flagships and more likely the cheap phones that don't sell get abandoned more quickly. The iphone for example cost $$$$ but the updates are likely to last 4 or more years, granted performance drops due to older hardware and more features in the software and the ram getting more use but it's still something you can use for 4 years if you choose. The way apple does business imo isn't always correct but at least they give the latest patches and updates quickly. I have a unlocked s8 that I got from the samsung sale in june for 450 and I'm still on the august updates, it's almost December...... Let's not forget how fast the original Moto X was abandoned and a few HTC phones that didn't go past one major update.
    jor u
    I agree with the overall premises of the article but lets not act like these cheap phones can go 2 or more years with updates.... Google just came out with the pixel and promised 2 major updates... wasn't the case before, Also the hardware issues with LG makes updates useless if you don't even have the phone. If I was gonna spend 1000 between a X and a note 8, the X is gonna have longer updates making the 1000 bucks more justified in the end, This article makes sense if you're buying a new phone every 2 years or even under that.
  • I'm not going to spend $1,000 just so I can be ALMOST guaranteed updates!! And even if they are guaranteed updates it's not worth spending $700 more!! Fall deeper into the trap to spend more money.
  • Eh, I think people should spend their hard earned money as they see fit, updates or no updates. I think it’s fine to support One Plus and other lower cost companies, and I also think it’s fine to splurge on an expensive name brand that you trust.
  • What if I trust a cheaper brand ? Xiaomi's been good to me, with solid devices and long updates. Their 5yr support for the Mi 2 is a record, I think. I increasingly find that premium phones and premium brands are all about perception, not reality.
  • If you trust a cheaper brand, more power to you. If someone else is heavily invested in Apple or Samsung's ecosystem, their "reality" may differ from yours. Sometimes there is a lot more to the purchase of a 2 years investment of a smartphone than the up front cost.
  • Indeed, venturing out of one's comfort zone is stressful by definition. I had to go Samsung > Huawei flasgship > Huawei midrange before feeling confident enough to go Xiaomi. IThis doesn't mean the reality changes though, just my information/awareness of it. I find it sad that so many only can trust brands by market share or PR budget, not by actual products and service. And even more sad when publications reinforce that. And frankly, if you keep a phone only for 2 years, update policy doesn't matter, anything that comes out 2 years from now will run fine on 7.1. Unless you want the latest version for bragging rights, it doesn't matter that much, especially with all the stuff Google has made version-independent.
  • Exactly. Does anyone need to buy a Ferrari when available Ford is good enough, does anyone need a 80" 4K TV when a 40" HD TV is good enough. Price difference is not a phone specific problem. Just buy what you want and what you can afford. The trend is that flagship phones are increasing in price, even the OnePlus phones. While ever there is a demand for these phones manufacturers will increase their prices. Let's not forget that most manufacturers are operating at a loss, so actually the price of phones is too low.
  • You don't have to spend 1000. Their entry model is 649
  • I get your point, but I totally disagree with you about people caring about updates. The average consumer not only doesn't care about updates, they dislike/distrust them. They are not sure why they need to update, they are not sure that it is not something trying to trick them into downloading something they shouldn't. etc. Having my wife and my Mother-in-Law on my account for years has shown me that, over and over. For the people who hang out here, which is 1% of 1% of Android users, yeah, they care about those things. For the AVERAGE consumer, not at all, unless that update brings something to them that they needed. And, since they didn't actually know that they needed it, ... As the article says, phones are used for calls, texts, gps, emails, etc. How much device do these 90+% really need for those things?
  • The only thing that updates tend to do with older phones is slow the down. I'm fine with my older phone staying on the OS that it has. It works as it and does what I need it to do.
  • updates plug security holes like KRACK and Blu Borne
  • Updates utterly depend on the OEM, not on the phone's price. Xiaomi has been very good about updating even old and cheap Redmi phones, and their more expensive buit still not flagship-price Mi line gets even better support. I'm told Nokia said they want to do the same.
  • Except flagships are even more than $1000 because once you've spent that kind of money, you've got to buy insurance or risk losing it all (or risk having to pay $500 for a replacement screen); Applecare+ for iPX is $100/year, so in the end your phone costs $1,400 for 4 years. Also, Android updates are not nearly as important as iOS updates: apps (mail, Chrome, ...) and even OS features (Pay, Fit, VR...) get back-ported to older OS versions. My oldest device is on 4.1, and still runs all the same apps as my most recent phone. And the security FUD has failed to materialize into a major security breach, especially for regular users (playstore-only, non-rooted). In the end, I find the hardware becomes obsolete before the software does. My Galaxy Note v1 got retired not because it was no longer getting updates, but because today's $200 phones are faster, better, stronger.
  • Apple offering updates for 4 or 5 years is a double edged sword!
    If you have an older device (iPad or iPhone), the latest iOS will not run as smoothly as previous version. Apple has no incentive to optimize for older products because they want to sell you a newer one.
    I have 5, yes five, iPads at home (including the very first one that still works) and have a lot of hand on experience with older devices and iOS.
    My point is, I would have preferred that Apple stopped the updates earlier than they do, so my devices would run smoother. Or at least gave us choice to get an older iOS. Unfortunately it’s Apple...
  • I don't think they force you to install the updates.
  • My wife's ipad 2 is starting to show it's age now for sure. slower to react...and alot of apps just flat out don't work anymore. Cannot complain since we had it since 2011. Bought it on release day. Been mine, then my son's, now my wife uses it..but she's getting upgraded to a new ipad soon!
  • Your Moto G5 can't compete with an S8 on any level though. If you're happy with it, great
    Some of us like the newer technology like better processors and battery life, Samsung Pay and top of the line screen not to mention many other benefits. My S8 was Bogo so two were essentially $450 each. Really close to what you paid for a phone with less features
  • Yes, it can compete. It won't win, but it can compete. First of all, the battery size is the same, and the G5 Plus lasts longer on a charge. S8 has a 1.9 GHz octa-core, G5 Plus has 2 GHz (S8 has the better chip though). Each has 4 GB RAM, G5 Plus is dual SIM (not sure the US version of S8 is dual SIM). Am I saying that the G5 Plus is just as good as the S8? Absolutely not. But when I look at my wife's S8 (which I bought her as a gift), and my daughter's G5 Plus, I'm thinking what a sucker I am to pay more than double the price for a phone that can load a webpage 1 billionth of a second faster than her's. Granted I think the S8 has the best display of any phone out there. But I can buy the G6 Plus next year, and the G7 the following year, and still not have paid as much as I did for the S8. Oh yeah, and the G5 Plus doesn't have Touchwiz. That's worth a million dollars to me. I realize that you (and many others - myself as well!!) want the newer technology. But I am seriously beginning to doubt my logic in that thinking. To pay that much for technology that will be second-tier in 6 months is starting to seem silly to me. Just my 2 cents Canadian. GC
  • Hey!! I just ordered the G5 Plus last night for my daughter. When I look at the specs, I'm floored by what I've been paying for my own phones. This phone is "good enough" for 90% of the people out there. Certainly makes me rethink my own phone purchase next time round. 4 GB RAM, 64 GB storage, metal build, 424 ppi, dual SIM, Snapdragon 625, expandable storage, all for $300 (Canadian) including taxes and shipping, and a free set of over the ear bluetooth headphones. It's hard to argue that. An $800 phone is NOT $500 better than the G5 Plus.
  • You really scored big time on the g5.! I think a lot of us don't consider unlocked or even a prepaid device that will work on our carriers. For instance I walk into my provider who is huge and will remain anonymous and see all of the flagship devices and talk to the sales people who push them. It can be overwhelming, but with some research especially on ac one can find great information that can lead to huge savings on an awesome device like the g5. Great pick.!
  • I really do believe that there is a status symbol mentality among many of us. It used to be that the iPhone lovers frowned on us Android lovers as if we were inferior or not as wealthy if we didn't have an iPhone. Now the Android flagship owners (of which I am one) tend to frown on other Android owners if we're not rocking a Note 8, S8, Pixel 2 or Pixel 2XL. Granted, some people love to have the latest tech and use a lot of the specs and features available. But for most out there, the specs are above and beyond what they'll ever use, but they still have to have the S8, 2XL or iPhone X so they can stand above their friends. The gap between midrange and high end is narrowing considerably, and I beileve it's time for some of us to have a serious look at the good midrange phones and have the courage to admit that "yeah, this phone is more than I'll ever need". And give up caring if Joe Blow thinks "Poor guy, he ain't rockin' a flagship".
  • Hi Everyone, it’s certainly nice to see thoughtful, well thought out comments about an article instead of iPhone/Android bashing by no minds from moms basement! If we’re not careful this trend is liable to catch on! Great article by the way. Cheers,
  • I recently broke my s8 and ended up replacing it with a ZTE blade x. I was really surprised by the performance. With the exception of a few features I didn't use anyway and of course the lower specs I still haven't missed my s8 . And in some ways I like the zte better. And it's a 120$ phone vs an 800$ s8
  • Either prices need to go way down or new features need to come along (or they bundle useful accessories). I was definitely hoping that I'd have a phone with Tango by now. Don't know about the US but here in australia we have petrol cycles, prices are high then slowly lower then jump back up to ridiculous. Smartphones also seem to have a cycle, just a longer one...
  • Other than perhaps the new OnePlus 5T, I don't think there are any mid range phones that can touch a high end phone yet. I do think picking up a one year old phone such as the Samsung Galaxy 7 on sale is the best bang for the buck for a premium phone. Older versions of Iphones are also a good buy. I feel that Pixels are highly over rated -- Samsung Galaxy series are way better value for money not to mention Samsung and Apple are the only 2 manufacturers that have shown they can consistently produce and support a premium phone as all of the other folks have had misfires (as had Samsung with the Note 7 but they made good on their turkey). It will be interesting to see if any other $500 premium phones appear -- or more likely how soon!
  • I've been wondering about that, and failing to see what makes flagships worth it, especially this year's flagship vs last year's at half-price, but also any phone above $200. I'm on a $200 phone now, just got a $100 phone for my tech-averse sister and I find both surprisingly satisfying. But flagships get:
    1- Notches and Edges. Phones are handbags: it's not so much about what they do as about showing ff you got the money to buy luxury stuff, so Apple and Samsung made sure to have visual markers to signal that conspicuous consumption, even if those markers are ergonomics and aesthetic failures, just like "LV LV LV LV LV LV LV LV LV LV LV" on a handbag.
    2- better cameras, especially for indoor pics.People are STILL instagraming their food like it's 2015.
    3- better performance, esp AR/VR. I guess that's important for gamerz ? On the other hand, my non-flagship gets
    - a jack and FM radio
    - day+ battery
    - peace of mind. I don't need to spend $75+/y on insurance, nor to worry about breaking it
    - ample storage via an SD card
  • Bang on mate.
  • Until Flagships begin to truly justify their price (more onboard storage, longer software support, multi-day battery life, etc) Midrange phones will continue to look more appealing for value.
  • You need to ask people what they do with their phone instead of making a mass assumption.
  • I used to have a Nexus 5 phone, high-end for its time, and now I have a Moto G5 Plus 32GB: it does everything I need/do except NFC.
  • This. My S7 sits on the shelf while this wonderful G5 Plus works beautifully. At $229, it's been one of the best phones I've ever had.
  • Got my Mom the G5+ as well - and I'm almost envious of her... in many aspects it's better than my S7 Edge.
  • I too had an S7 and moved to a Moto G5+. It's crazy how the Moto G5+ also has 4GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage for less than half the price. And it also has significantly better battery life to boot!
  • It is the same question of when cheap cars can do everything what happens to luxury. And just a warning, I didn't read the article. I'm sorry.
  • Well for someone who didn't read the article, your comment is bang on!!
  • I'm glad to hear AC is going to start paying attention to the phones that inhabit the lower lands around Mt Olmpus. Thats my space. I've always been just a working guy. Spending a thousand dollars on a phone just seems insane to me. But I love phones and I'm glad there are some great alternatives out there for a more pedestrian price. Looking forward to reading about some devices I might actually be able to buy instead of ones I can only appreciate from afar.
  • The OnePlus 5T is truly a flagship killer to me. I've done owned it just a couple of days and I cannot justify buying a phone for $800+ when I can get something this amazing for $500.
  • The OP5T may not be for me, but it seems like a fantastic phone. I'd recommend it over the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, for sure.
  • A cheap phone can't do everything my Note8 does. And I use most of the features the Note8 has that cheap phones lack. I got my Note8 for half price, so it's hardly even a matter of how much I'd spend.
  • You and me both. Half price note8 plus accessories plus other accessories from note 7s and S7 edge exchange means it's a pretty cheap note8. The phone prices are scary and while the decision to buy is personal, the difference in launch prices are driven more by hype than by any practical difference in features. I do care about updates but it seems I'd have to try to care less if I don't want to be held hostage every 2 years by greedy OEMs.
  • Rhetorical questions: If we didn't have present market leading companies engineering premium phones & pushing the limits of what can be done in a space about 1/3 larger than a poker card, what would we have? My cell phone buying began in the mid 1990s. Only ten years earlier, Victor Surer was the first cellphone customer in Canada after buying a cellphone in July 1985, paid about $10,000 annually for his contract with Bell. It is undeniable there is next to no value in buying any mobile phone made by any manufacturer within the first six months of its release. However, you can mitigate the cost by selling your present phone privately (carriers always offer too little). If you don't need freebies like the wireless charger that came with a preordered Note 8, sell that too, never out of its box, as I did. Upper end phones tend to hold their resale value better, and there isn't much of a market for two year old lower tier phones. I was eager to upgrade from my Note 5 to an 8: 18:9, ram jump, micro USB storage, dual camera, and bigger ... Stuff my Note 5 didn't do. I do believe the movie market is very mature now... I can't imagine much further display improvements or want for greater size... The expected fingerprint display under the front of fall, 2018 Samsung phones just doesn't matter to me. A mobile display, right now, is equal to any tv or laptop/desktop. When 5G lte networks arrive, that may entice a necessary upgrade from me. Honesty, I think I'm good until this Note 8 I'm using breaks. Everyone is unique. Personally, I don't have or need a laptop. My aging PC desktop I built is in storage, not used. I've considered the Samsung DeX station, but all mention of it has disappeared. DeX is at best a novelty... If you need a laptop sized display & all, then you get one... You would never need or want both a DeX and a laptop or Chromebook. The differences aren't huge between the most able & least able phones, but they are real and added all up, matter to many buyers... And that is ok. As to timing of price cuts... That's what OEM's hire economists for. Guaranteed they pay close attention to volume variance, and years of sales data.
  • It's a lifestyle justification thing... There's a saying in the Android world, that the mid-range phones are with every year becoming better and touching the low end of the flagship-tier... The same could be said of the entry-level tier and how they're becoming better and touching the mid-range tier... There's always going to be folks who pay attention to specs and get worked up over the latest features in a device. But for many of us we can't tell the difference and go with what looks good, perhaps has some hype attached to it and with what we can afford. There'll always be a place for the flagship-tier, but this is why it's usually limited to a handful of devices (just one or so from each manufacturer). The mid-range tier is where it's at for most folks as the majority of us can't tell the difference between one spec and another, we're just interested in a device that's from a name we know, looks good, is affordable and gets the job done. Abilities trickling down tier to tier (which is a circle in of itself - more folks buy mid-range because more abilities trickle down to mid-range, so more folks see they can get a good deal buying a mid-range leading to more abilities trickling down causing more folks to buy mid-range...), and also that some devices are more than eight-hundred dollars with some even approaching that one-thousand dollar mark only aggravates the issue. I mean why do I need a device that costs more than my mortgage and car payment combined if my lifestyle doesn't justify it, yet my Moto G5 Plus that I picked up comparatively cheaply performs admirably?
  • No. It's a feature thing. What other device can compete with the Note 8 feature for feature?
  • The Mate 10 Pro, The Mate 10, The Nokia 8, HTC U11/+, OP5T, LG-V30, Pixel XL2.....
  • Great article, thanks.
  • Its bananas that people spend 1,000 a year to upgrade phone when there really is no upgrade. sure maybe the camera is a tad better or whatever. the phone companies are laughing all the way to the bank. well thats coming to an end soon.
  • Sorry Freddy, it's not. People upgrade every year because they want to. Some people cannot afford it....too bad. I have many flagships either with me or ordered right now...besides Samsung. Just don't like em. Right now, I have my iPhone, essential and keyone are on the way....and I am ordering a new pixel 2xl, and mi mix 2 right after Christmas. I cannot wait to get the mix 2. thats going to be a cool phone.
  • Mi Max 2 is the one
  • No, I want the MIX2. Ceramic and gold, full screen goodness...really cool device!
  • Most people don't pay near that though. With carrier device payment plans, most people pay about half of the device (or less) and then can upgrade. Only those paying full retail right out of the gate pay anywhere near the full price. 
  • No. That's a common misconception. It works like this in Canada: On a 2 year plan, around 20 to 25 dollars of your plan goes toward your cell phone balance. Check your account online. It will show you your remaining device balance, and how much you pay toward it monthly. You still pay full price for your phone. When I calculated my total paid on my 6P after 2 years, it was exact right to the penny of what it would have been had I bought the phone outright. For example, on your $80 plan, you pay 60 for your plan and 20 toward your device. If you want to upgrade to a new device, you have to pay the remaining balance on your current device before you can do so. No when your two years are up, if you decide to stay on your current contract, and keep your current device, you are still paying your $80 a month. In this situation cellular providers make a killing after 2 year contracts are up because that 20 dollars that was going toward the now paid off device is pure profit.
  • In people's opinions,
    Which manufacturer makes the best camera for their mid-range phone ?
  • Good question. Maybe OnePlus from what I've heard.
  • U11 Life, Zenfone 4/4 Pro, Zenfone 3 Zoom, OnePlus 5/5T (with google camera port)
  • One Plus gets my vote. The 1+5/5T might not have a killer camera but it's more than enough for the majority of people.
  • Apple...seriously...
  • Apple doesn't make a mid-range phone. He specifically asked "mid-range".
  • Iphone SE could be considered mid range. Or the iphone 7 with the prices falling are right around that mid range price. 
  • Midrange now, but not when it came out. Same cpu, gpu, ram, main camera, and operating system as iPhone 6s. Just designed for those who wanted a smaller screen. Smaller phone, Apple flagship specs.
  • True, flagship phones price is very hard to justify, or even to be convinced to buy. When you got awesome phones like the Mi Max 2, with huge screen and huge battery. MI6 or MI5S with great cameras too, Mate 9(some places offered huge discounts on that phone, saw it for 299$). Honestly, the Mate 9 is the last high-end phone i'm gonna buy, to it's credit, it's easily the best phone i ever saw or owned, there is no need to look elsewhere.
  • Durability, compatibility with accessories such as gear VR, smartwatches etc... I've been using my s6 edge for more than 2 years running nougat and it's still fast and clean
  • My Moto E4 (Verizon prepaid model) that I bought for $29 at Target and unlocked for $2 to use with AT&T/T-Mo/Mint does 98.2% of the things that my Note 5, BlackBerry KEYone, and G5 can do, and does these things well.
  • 98.2% Why so specific? LOL
  • Was actually 98.24% but I just rounded down.
  • Honestly, I would have thought people would have weaned off of flagships already. Phones such as the Moto G even can do so much for so little, why would people pay roughly 8x-10x the cost for a flagship phone. I don't believe update support is a factor although brought up already. I don't need to have updates to my device for the rough 2 years that I have it. New and shiny software is nice, but it doesn't make or break most people decision (just assuming again). I see it as the televisions are in the market. A new TV would come out that is thinner than the previous or adds some niche concept such as curved or 3D effects or now backlighting. Some people will always jump on this new technology and others will just wait it out or get the cheaper devices that have all the standard capabilities that a TV would have without the extra bling. People don't seem to follow that trend in mobile phones. I am not sure why.
  • Most flagship phones are had way less than $1000. They run better, have upgraded features and will receive updates longer
  • They do not necessarily run better. More expensive does not always mean better. Receiving updates is irrelevant, as I can buy a mid-range this year, and a new mid-range next year and again the following year, and still not have spent as much as I've spent on my flagship phones. Right now in our home we have the Essential, Galaxy S8, iphone 6S, iphone 8, and iphone 8+, and the Moto G5 Plus. The G5 cost me $300 Canadian and performs admirably. Yes the other phones have better cameras (other than the essential), but none of them perform noticeably better. The differences are marginal at best. The S8 has the best display, but the G5 display is fine. This is Canada remember so those other phones (other than the Essential) are $1,000 phones. 3 times better than the G5?? Not a chance. The G5 Plus will get Oreo around the same time as S8, perhaps sooner due to Moto's lighter skin. I'm the "latest and greatest" guy in our home, but I'm certainly starting to question that logic as the gap between mid-range and high-end phones closes. And it is closing. That's how technology works. Is Samsung going to come out with a better display next year? If people want it then they want it only because it's the latest. The incredible display currently on the S8 should be enough for anyone!! And within a few years, the mid-range phones will have just as good a display as the current S8. It's like 42-megapixel camera (or thereabouts) in a cell phone a few years ago. Manufactures don't push that anymore, as 12- 16 or 20 is "enough". But if iPhone or Samsung pushed a 30 megapixel camera next year you can be sure that people would buy it. Not because it's any better, but just because they can brag they have more megapixels than you!! Oh well, just my 2 cents Canadian.
  • What I want is a "best phone under X amount" but in canadian dollars. When you guys do a "best phone under 100$" here, some of them are like 300+ in Canada. I realize this is a US site but I think it would be cool to expand the concepts that works like thos articles to your other site sections. Hell, even a similar article with India would be cool.
  • Had a Pixel 2 XL. It is a very nice phone.
    Thought about the >$1K price and shuddered.
    Sent it back and bought a new Pixel XL for <$500
    It is a very nice phone.
    My Point: Last years flagship don't disappear when the new flagships arrive.
    Incremental improvements are rarely, if ever, worth the $$$.
    Good article BTW.
  • And is the new Pixel 2XL twice the phone for price the price? Absolutely not!!! Next year you'll sell your Pixel XL and get the Pixel 2XL. After the sale it might cost you $300 for the 2XL. Pretty smart move me thinks!!
  • Two things:
    1) if you like to upgrade every year or even every two years, selling your current phone can help offset the cost
    2) if you love cellphones and what they can do, you like having the latest tech. I think of it as a cost per use calculation. The more I use my phone for various things, the more I'm willing to spend in it because I care a lot about my experience each time I pick it up.
  • One more aspect I wish the author covered is how the OEMs are rendering the use of custom ROMs, specifically Lineage OS, almost impossible. We are now beholden to their updates. It used to be that you could root/flash almost any Android phone/tablet. Today that number has dwindled down considerably, mostly with Samsung blocking it on their devices and most tablets also blocking it. This is the ONLY reason, I rather spend a 1000 bucks on a pixel/LG/Sony rather than the other options. However, once you realize you can get this with a 500$ phone in the form of the OPO, the existence of the whole $1000 segment falls into question IMO.
  • They will build better flagships
  • Does a $150 phone have an OLED screen, 256GB of RAM, a cutting edge camera and the latest connectivity standards? No. Most likely, it will have a 720 or 1080p LCD, 64GB of storage or less and a substandard camera. My point is there are still notable differences. However, I do agree that a lot of people now look at smartphones at appliances that are not really worth getting all that excited about or spending a ton of money on. Going forward, I think the manufacturers are going to have to include better quality accessories for free
  • Exactly. It's a good starting point for discussion, but the premise is false. Cheap phones cannot do everything flagships can do. But for some people, cheap phones will be good enough.
  • 1) There's no need for an OLED display in a phone. None whatsoever.
    2) There's no need for a phone with 256GB of storage.
    3) There is no need for a cutting edge camera. Why would one need a cutting edge camera when 99.9% of photos taken with a phone are blurry drunk shots, selfies, or random junk that kids post to the social media crap nowadays.
    4) LTE is pretty much LTE and WiFi is pretty much WiFi. Your point is?
  • That's your opinion. OLED is way better than LCD. 256Gb storage? Maybe you don't need it but some people store lots of photos and videos on their devices, which lead to a top of the line camera. It is essential. Are you going to lug around your camera with you all the time?
  • Yeah it is my opinion. I'm not a millennial so I don't use my phone to take random pictures or videos of garbage. I don't play games or watch videos on my phone so I don't need cutting edge, battery draining screens. I don't play music on my phone whether stored locally or streaming online. I don't partake in social media whatsoever, I use my phone for business purposes ie: phone calls, email, calendar, spreadsheets, documents, pdf files, and browsing the internet here and there. What I care about is battery life and with my current device, I am averaging anywhere from 8.5-9 hours of SOT, a couple hours of talk time, and anywhere from 42-48 hours on a full charge.
  • First of all, $150 would be lowend, not midrange - at least in my opinion. So these comments relate to midrange. Does a $1,000 phone have OLED? Not necessarily. Apple seemed to do fine (i.e. be able to charge exhorbitant prices) without OLED. There are quite a few sub $500 phones with OLED displays.
    Apple seemed to be quite capable of charging exhorbitant prices for 32 GB storage.
    Apple seemed to be quite capable of charging exhorbitant prices for "retina display" because calling it "retina display" made people think it had more pixels than anything that wasn't retina display.
    The difference in 1080p on a 5 inch screen is not that much greater (all other parameters being equal). You want higher, you sacrifice battery life to push more pixels. For the difference in display quality I'll take the extra battery life any day. And now Android is following Apple with all the marketing hyperbole. Apple's marketing is second to none. They make the customer think that their "wants" are actually "needs". Now Samsung is doing the same thing. The number of people needing 256 GB storage (I assume you meant storage, not RAM) is a very low percentage. Flagship prices does not guarantee a great camera. Great cameras can be found in mid-range phones. Pixel 2 quality? No. But great nevertheless. I agree with your take on smartphones as appliances. And I believe that were it not for great marketing, more of us would be looking at them that way.
  • I'm not a fan of the latest flagship trends, like glass backs, tall displays, etc. And I don't really want to spend $800 or more on a phone, so I like having nice, cheaper options. I'm not sure I'll actually go the mid-range route, though, with so many great deals on flagships a few months after release.
  • Especially glass backs. Fingerprints on the back of phones was the leading cause of death in 2016. Seriously, I'd rather have ceramic, or even plastic.
  • Who spends $800 on a flagship?
  • Anyone who buys a flagship.
  • I don't know... I think the article is trying to make the case that mobile phones are now a commoditized product. That there is little difference between phones these days. Looking at any commodity, like orange juice, personal taste matters. I mean, how does Starbucks sell coffee at the prices it does? Chocolate..? The list goes on ... Things like customer service come into play, problem resolution, brand name... People who want "good enough" buy exactly that. People who want "latest and greatest" buy that. In the end, flagship prices will stay higher than "good enough" because the consumer votes with their wallet.
  • I have a 720p TV that's good enough. That doesn't mean a 4K TV isn't better, though. It's not a matter of having the latest and greatest. It's a matter of having the greatest, and if you are willing to pay for it.
  • You just agreed with him!
  • Since you're not letting anyone comment on your "best" articles, here's why the Pixel 2 doesn't have the best camera. And it's from a reputable source, right?
  • I'm excited that this is happening. I've noticed that my attitude towards how a phone plays in my life has changed over the years. I remember constantly buying an iPhone because "those Android phones are too laggy." Android phones, even the Flagships felt subpar and mediocre. In 2013 I tried the original Moto G and the Nexus 5 and fell in love. I couldn't believe how smooth and seamless the experience felt. And they were cheap!! I continued buying Flagships, however, because, well, there the pinnacle of what a phone from that respective manufacturer is. The Nexus 6, The HTC One M8, The Note 5, the 1+3T, and my previous phone the Galaxy S7. My screen cracked on my S7 and I needed a quick replacement. I saw the Moto G5+ and thought "Why not?" Sure this phone has some compromises, like no NFC, average camera, but it does everything I want in a phone. It can run games smoothly, can move in and out of apps with ease, and has more than enough storage and RAM (4GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage). With Flagships pushing close to 1K I see no point in paying that much when I can get a great experience at a third of the price! Midrange phones for me until Flagship phones can truly justify their price. (Multi-day Battery life, more onboard storage, a minimum of 3-year software support, etc)
  • Those are big sacrifices for some. We're not talking about thousands difference in price, were talking about maybe $200,
  • No, we're talking over $500 difference (at least in Canada). Moto G5+ = $300 including shipping and taxes. Show me a flagship latest and greatest for $500 Canadian.
  • Did you get the G5+ and return the Essential PH-1?
  • Welcome. :) My brother and his wife do everything Apple, I've always been an Android man myself. My brother has an IPhone that probably set him back nearly a thousand bucks. Spec for spec I'm sure his IPhone beats my Moto G5 Plus, but side by side testing and I think we'd be hard pressed to see any real differences. Maybe a millisecond here and there. But I've had numerous Android devices and can remember when yeah they were laggy, but then I got the Moto G first generation and like you was really impressed. It sold me on Android and I've had the G line since. Truth be known, if I hadn't accidentally caused a bootloop error in my G1 I'd probably still be using it all these years later...
  • Cheap mid-range tier level phones get better every year. With every year they come closer and closer to touching the low end of the flagship-tier. The same can be said of the entry-level tier touching the mid-range tier. The flagship tier will continue to be the smallest and perhaps even become a niche tier. It'll always be important to some folks who'll continue to buy from that tier level, but more and more folks will see - if they haven't already - that you can get a really good phone for less by buying mid-range and we'll see that tier grow larger and larger while flagship becomes a niche over time... It's a lifestyle justification really. I mean why exactly do I need the end all be all of cellphones? A cell phone that cost more than my mortgage and car payment combined? Spec for spec my Moto G5 Plus may not be equivalent to my brothers nearly thousand dollar IPhone. But the differences are small enough where I, and the typical consumer, probably would never notice.
  • I've been priced out of the flagship market this year... I can actually afford it - but I've decided I can't justify it. I'm gonna live with my 6P until sometime next year... I'm thinking a Huawei Mate 10 Pro when the prices have settled down a little.
  • Just sold my 6P and bought the Essential. My recommendation - don't do it.
  • Yeah, I would avoid the Essential phone for now... Maybe the third iteration?
  • I think they'll have it figured out by the 2nd generation. They seem to be a dedicated company. The phone design is incredible. The hardware specs are second to none. There are some reception issues, there is the not-so-great camera, and some minor stutter. And I believe that most of the Essential issues can be fixed with software updates - which Essential seems to be pushing fairly regularly. So I think the 2nd gen will be a great phone. It also appears that Essential is more focused on customer wants than the bigger companies. They read and participate in online forums, and hold bi-weekly AMAs on Reddit with customers. By the 3rd generation they will be a major player. Just my 2 cents Canadian.
  • It does seem that the Essential is a hit or miss, I did pick one up on the Amazon Black Friday deal, came to like $428 to the door with sales tax. I heard of screen freeze issues, it did happen to me once with Facebook when I first got the phone, rebooted then received like 4 or 5 ota's, some system, most were security patches. After that, haven't had a problem. I did try to cancel the 360' camera which was part of the package, PH-1 and 360' camera. I did try to cancel the camera, which would have made the phone $292 with sales tax. Which would have been a good deal. I thought and to some extent thought the 360' camera was a gimmick, a few days ago, got an ota for the camera. It is interesting, and works fine, but something I don't think I'm going to use much. The regular camera I don't think sucks, in good lighting it does pretty good, in low light it's mediocre. The only real concerns is will the company survives. I don't doubt whatever problems you have had. So far it has served me while. Now oddly, I happen to like the lcd display. I do like how compact the phone is, even with a decent sized screen. Do I think a person should spend $450 to $500 for it and then add sales tax, no.
    I did have an order for a One Plus 5t, and canceled. I'm mixed if I should have just done it. Time will tell.
    I did notice that your post is a week old, and I'm sorry for the reply. The PH-1 is being used on MintSim which is T-Mobile MVNO. BTW, I'm using the phone without root. If you do read this reply to your post, tell if it's worse, or problems resolved. Is your phone, the non-Sprint/Telus version or the regular non branded version?
  • Camera camera camera.
    Stick a good camera in a plastic Snapdragon 600 series phone and I'd be quite happy.
  • gregmcph - That would be the BlackBerry KEYone my friend, although the BB is metal with a plastic rubbery back.
  • Awesome article.
  • Daniel, terrific article and right on time. The gap certainly is closing. Great work!
  • "as they're running a recent version of Android"
    - Author has never heard of Android malware or security patches, apparently.
  • Something I haven't seen mentioned in the comments section is the fact that the competition in the midrange smartphone market is beyond fierce, which is part of the reason why the midrange phones are getting better. Lenovo had an early lead with a P2, but it wasn't available in too many markets. Moto came through with the G5 Plus and took over. Xiaomi moved to Android One to compete better, but it is still missing the U.S. market. Also consider, the midrange SOCs are getting better. MediaTek's X series is nothing to sneeze at, nor are the two new P series chips. I do think Mediatek should have went to 14nm at least, instead of staying at 16. Qualcomm has numerous midrange chips that work. The Snapdragon 636 that is coming is promising a huge boost. It is moving to the same Kryo cores used in the Snapdragon 835 and Snapdragon 660. Many phones will use that 660 next year because competition is fierce and the 660's raw performance scores are impressive for a midrange chip. AnTuTu scores are reported to be close to the Snapdragon 820, W/O the throttling issues and overheating issues the 820 had. Life in the midrange is getting better. The new entry level midrange SOC, the Snapdragon 630 supports bezeless displays and dual cameras along with Quick Charge, better internet speeds, Bluetooth 5, sound, etc. The Snapdragon 636, using Kryo cores will be even better. And for companies that have upper midrange offerings like Motorola does with its Z Play series will use the 660 and will not only put pressure on a crowded midrange market, it will deliver such a compelling package that people will rethink flagships more than they do now. Blackberry's KeyTwo is rumored to come with the 660 and 6GB RAM. That might be the story of 2018 in the midrange, of which I am excited for because I can't justify the price. Even updates aren't a reason for these luxury flagships.
  • i'm glad cheaper phones have gotten way better over the years. More thanks should go motorola and some of the china,korean phone makers.
  • Lenovo P2. 4gb /32gb dual sim, 5.5 inch Samsung super amoled screen 401ppi, snapdragon 625, 5000ma battery (3days,14+hrs screen on easy) excellent fingerprint reader, excellent sound, good not great camera. Put a 128 gb sdcard in. 200 quid unlocked.
  • This is good news for me since I've only bought low end phones for myself, all the way back to 2002. I can't and never will be able to justify spending more than $250 for a phone especially now when they have better specs than what the flagships of ten years ago had.