Even if you don’t follow the smartphone market closely enough, advertisements on the billboards, newspapers, and perhaps all over the internet make it quite evident for anybody to realize that there’s a new launch from every manufacturer once every four weeks or so. Most of these are “affordable” phones that offer all the bells and whistles (or most of them) for a price point that is several hundred dollars below the cost of flagships. And with the meteoric rise in the price of flagships in recent years, the gap is only widening.
It’s no secret that while the affordable handsets are getting better, flagships are getting more expensive. A $1,000 phone doesn’t seem a preposterous idea anymore, while even the flagship killers, which were supposed to be affordable, cost anywhere between $400-600 range. The huge difference in the price of mainstream phones vs. flagships does beg to ask one important question: Is it even worth buying a flagship phone anymore? Why not get a cheaper phone and upgrade it in 12 months to another affordable and slightly improved phone? If you look at the costs, it would still turn out to be a cheaper proposition than buying a flagship and keeping it for two years (which is usually the time period most people hold on to their phone for). Also, this approach allows you to get new features just after a year instead of having to wait for two or more. Not the least, you can always trade in your first phone and get some discount on the next one.
All of these are valid arguments and have always made sense to me. Nonetheless, when the Galaxy S8 hit the market two years ago, euphoria gave way to reason and I snapped one up without giving much thought. Well, the phone has been my partner in good times and bad for the last two years. And that makes me feel like I can give my two cents on how does it feel to hold on to a now two-year-old phone which was much more expensive than anything else in the market in its prime days. So here’s how I feel after two years exactly.
If I look at the phones that are sold in the market today, nothing much has changed. Or nothing that can be called groundbreaking anyway. My phone offers me the latest Android version (which might be the end of the road for it in terms of Android updates), comes with features like NFC, wireless charging, a stunning AMOLED display, and, thankfully, a 3.5mm jack.
No, it does not have two or even three cameras on its back, but the one that is there does its job pretty well. No, it doesn’t charge to 100% in 30 minutes, but I find 15W charging rate to be acceptable. It has been updated to Android 9.0, so there’s nothing on that front that I am missing out on either.
In fact, I’m not sure if there’s much of a difference in terms of features when I compare my phone to the Galaxy S10. Yes, the latter might be better and faster at everything, but there’s isn’t anything revolutionary that it does over my two-year-old phone.
Conclusion: All said, I don’t really have much to complain here and I am as happy on this front as anyone with a new phone could be.
Well, this one is not as rosy. You see, after two years of reasonable abuse and wear & tear, the phone has started to show its age. Switching between apps isn’t as smooth as it used to be. It usually takes a couple of seconds. Even more when if I launch a new app. Another gripe that I have is the aggressive killing of apps in the background to ensure enough RAM is available for whatever is currently on the screen (which makes me wonder if 6GB RAM is absolutely needed).
I’m not much of a gamer so I am not the best person to give a perspective on that. That said, I don’t think my processor or the GPU have slowed dramatically, so I am fairly certain that shouldn’t be much of an issue and my phone can run the latest games at max settings.
Where I do see a substantial degradation is the battery life department. My phone barely lasts half a day anymore and requires a number of trips to the wall socket. I mean, I get it that the battery life degrades over time, but I find it appalling when my battery is down to 50% from a full charge after using it just for 60-90 minutes. I don’t remember leaving my home without a power bank when I’m on the road for the longer part of the day because that’s how terrible the battery life has turned. That wouldn’t have been much of an issue if the battery was user replaceable like in flagships from the good old days, but the back cover has been glued and I cannot replace the battery without taking it to the service center.
Conclusion: I wish I could say it was otherwise, but the performance has noticeably deteriorated over the two years. It has not gone as bad as to completely throw away the phone, but it does get annoying at times.
The final verdict
It’s been just over two years since I splurged close to $800 on my phone and while the signs are showing up, I don’t plan to replace it just yet. That is because there’s nothing out in the market right now that is compelling enough to justify an impulse to splurge cash. Also, I think I’d like to wait till a proper affordable 5G phone is available. Till then, I might just replace my battery and do a factory reset. Hopefully, that should be able to add another 12 months to my phone’s useable life.
Now that I think about it, would having bought a cheaper phone made sense two years ago? Or was I better off with my flagship purchase?
To be honest, I’ve seen budget phones from different brands and for one, their camera doesn’t hold a candle to my S8’s single-camera even after two years. Also, contrary to the perception, I have dropped this tank on numerous occasions and not once it has given me a scare. This thing is built solidly. I also get regular security patches which is usually not the case with budget phones.
Does this mean I am a strong proponent of flagships? Well, not in the current market where these things cost a bomb. At $1,000, I’d rather pick a OnePlus and settle for the middle ground. Because no matter how expensive, phones do get obsolete in 24-36 months. A $500 phone these days gets you 80% of the flagship features for half the price. That’s a fair trade-off. I don’t need DSLR like pics from my phone and I’m happy to make a little compromise. It’s also difficult to convince myself to get an older flagship at a discount when better phones become available in the market (in some parameters).
The current flagship pricing has made it difficult to recommend these phones to commoners like myself who cannot splurge so much money on a piece of tech that will become outdated sooner or later. But then, budget offerings, while good, aren’t exactly there either. Perhaps, It is the middle ground where a $400 phone comes in and can give me the best of both worlds.