Times have changed in the past few years for the smartphone industry. It wasn’t too terribly long ago that the phrase “You get what you pay for,” was spot on; cheap phones were pieces of junk that seemingly only worked for the first couple of weeks that you bought them, while the flagships maintained their status as high-quality smartphones that were worth the extra money. But that was a different time, and I don’t think that old phrase works for this industry anymore.
2016 has been a weird one for mobile. The year started off sort of strong for flagships with the Galaxy S7, got kind of weird with the LG G5, and the HTC 10 hype was great for the few weeks that it lasted. Apple’s unveiling of the iPhone SE, which brought back the beloved 4-inch iPhone with a surprisingly reasonable price, was a pleasant addition to this year’s line-up; however, Apple’s true flagship, the iPhone 7, has received mixed reactions due to the removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack (but significant improvements in other areas). Samsung’s Note 7 hype was extremely short lived due to its explosive issues, which continued even with the new “safe” models. Google has so far done well promoting its new premium Pixel brand, but the loss of Nexus has left a bit of a hole for some in the industry.
Overall, it’s been a rollercoaster year for flagships. However, it’s important to remember (which can be hard to do given the amount of exposure that flagships get in the media) that flagships aren’t the only smartphones out there. In fact, when you look at the more affordable options that have come out in 2016, they’re actually pretty great.
I started thinking about this when reading about LeEco’s upcoming debut to the U.S. with the Le Pro3 smartphone, which is significant because it’s the second smartphone to hit the U.S. market with the Snapdragon 821 processor (the first being Google’s Pixel). What truly sets the Le Pro3 apart from the Pixel, however, is the fact that it’s much more affordable at just $399 – in fact, the phone will only cost $299 for a limited time, as the company is offering a $100 rebate at launch. Combining its processing power with the rest of the specs of the device (5.5-inch 1080 display, 4/6GB of RAM, 32/64/128GB of internal storage, 4070 mAh battery, 16-megapixel camera) this phone is pretty amazing at either price. However, it is one of the growing number of companies that have ditched the 3.5mm headphone jack.
The specs you get on the Le Pro3 for the price LeEco’s charging made me think of all of the other amazing smartphones you can get for a low price: the Nexus 5X for under $300 (or $199 through Project Fi); OnePlus 3 for $399; Apple’s iPhone SE for $399; Nextbit Robin for $299 (often $199 with frequent sales); and the Huawei Honor 8 for $399. There are so many more available out there, but these are some of the tried and true examples out there that easily make one think, “Why am I paying so much more for a premium flagship?”
There are some drawbacks, such as dropped support in some cases after a shorter period of time, differentiating features (which can be good or bad), or not being able to purchase some of these phones on installment plans. However, as somebody who has been burned by HTC regarding updates in the past, and as somebody who currently uses Samsung and isn’t entirely convinced that the Note 7 fiasco will push updates to the S7 duo any faster, I have to say that the lack of promised updates isn’t necessarily limited to cheaper phones. I could see where lack of installment plans could be an issue, but in my opinion is worth the temporary hit to the wallet in order to halve the costs of flagships in the long run.
I’m still trying to crawl out of the mindset that flagships are the only way to go; I’ve just been stuck here for so long. But with the addition of LeEco’s Le Pro3, as well as compiling that list of other affordable high performance smartphones on the market is slowly but surely giving me food for thought regarding the value I put on flagships.