In the Noughties, high-end smartphones represented a quantum leap over their budget rivals. But is that still the case? After all, we’ve progressed a long way from the days when only expensive phones had a camera or downloadable ringtones. Apps and web connectivity are the norms rather than the exception, placing the same programs and entertainment at everyone’s fingertips. And formerly high-end features like push email are no longer the preserve of ‘business’ phones – a concept that has effectively disappeared altogether.
Smartphone technology has evolved to a point where a basic £50 handset includes a high-resolution camera and a large rotating colour screen. An extensive choice of apps is accessible on every Android, iOS and Windows device; even the retro Nokia 3310 has apps for accessing Facebook and Twitter. It can also last a full calendar month on standby from a single charge, which might make owners of other devices rather envious. The 3310 used to be for those who simply wanted to make calls and texts, yet today’s version offers internet access and 32GB of storage.
On some level, are they all the same?
Honourably excepting specialist devices like the all-but-indestructible CAT B25, smartphone technology is now fairly generic. Finding new ways to improve on last year’s model has seen manufacturers introducing wide-angle lenses, adjustable twin-window desktops, and wireless charging. Yet these new features merely tinker around the edges of a phone’s core duties – calling, browsing, running apps and playing media files. A Samsung Galaxy J3 works in much the same way as a Galaxy S8, despite costing around a third as much.
The modern shortage of high-end USPs has even affected Apple, with its iPhone X selling poorly despite the usual pre-launch hyperbole. The X may signify the point at which smartphone technology simply can’t evolve far beyond previous models. It also seems expensive compared to the equally powerful iPhone 8 that was launched simultaneously. And this isn’t an issue unique to Apple and Samsung. If you’re in the market for a new LG, Sony or HTC handset, is it really worth looking beyond the most affordable models?
Quality Over Cost
The answer depends on the importance you attach to quality. The 5MP camera in an entry-level smartphone pales in comparison with the 12MP wide-angle lenses in high-end devices, yet both will capture landscapes and selfies. Holiday memories won’t be improved by features like smart autofocus and enhanced image processing, although your Instagram timeline might be. A four-inch screen is fine for apps and Angry Birds, though streaming HD videos obviously look better on the six-inch HD displays of flagship models.
Smartphone technology will doubtlessly evolve in new directions in the coming years, with greater voice control and apps ceding ground to chatbots. But for now, a budget smartphone with reasonable processing power and a microSD storage slot should be sufficient for most people. Indeed, when it comes to social media and web browsing, signal strength and network availability have more effect on the user experience than technical specifications nowadays. Plus, a budget phone is easier to replace if and when the screen gets cracked…