Money Well Spent: Why Buying Last Year’s Flagship Phone Makes a Lot of Sense
Let’s paint a picture of a scenario. You are in search of a new phone, and you don’t consider yourself a phone nerd but you’re also not clueless. In your research, you see that the new Samsung and Apple phones start at $1000. You’ve heard things about OnePlus, so you look into them. The OnePlus 8 Pro looks great but even it is $900. Everywhere that you look, phones are in the general ballpark of $1000. You don’t want to be cheap, but as someone looking for a good everyday device, this feels excessive. You now have to make a decision. To bite the bullet and buy the flagship, or to save some money and perhaps some quality by going with a mid-range device. But there is a third option that many of us do not consider: the previous generation’s flagship phone. These are often sold at a steep discount once the new phone is released and has most of the same features, which at this point in the product life cycle of the smartphone is enough for most people.
The Performance vs Usage Dynamic
A couple of years ago, shortly after the Samsung Galaxy S9 was released a good friend of mine was in the market for a new phone. After doing his due diligence and research, he decided to get the Samsung Galaxy S8. I asked him why he went for last year’s phone instead of springing for the current model. He explained to me that for the things that he was doing with his phone (communication, light social media usage, YouTube, and Reddit) he did not need the latest and greatest.
At first, I was skeptical of this logic as it defied everything I thought about the need for the latest gadget at the time. But 2 years later, he is still very happy with his S8 and has no intention of upgrading the device until he has to. This is a growing pattern as more and more people are keeping their phones for longer than they used to. Most attribute this to the steady increase in phone prices across the board. And this is not a wrong assumption if we look back to 2017 as an indicator of this. In 2017 Apple, Samsung, LG, and OnePlus released flagships. Those phones cost $699, $729, $700, and $479 respectively. Today, those same companies charge $999, $999, $799, and $899 respectively for their high-end phones. So the idea of rising phone costs limiting upgrades is not incorrect by any stretch.
However, a factor that not many people consider is how far we have come in terms of processor power and software polish when it relates to the way that we use our phones. There is a growing feeling that the power of the phones in our pockets now matches the power of our laptops. Our phones do so much more than just the basics, yet most people that buy flagship phones only utilize them for basic functionality. The reality is that we are simply not using our phones for what they are capable of. To use a car analogy, we are buying Ferraris when what we use is more the speed of a Ford Fusion.
For most people, a phone is used for taking a few photos, accessing their favorite few social media apps, watching videos, some light mobile gaming, and of course communication apps. This is a use case well serviced by mid-range devices, this is why that segment is booming more than ever. Yet for a similar price point, a flagship from a year or two ago will perform equally well and offer some features that a midrange phone cannot.
All In The Details
Whenever a reviewer analyzes a mid-range phone, there are always a certain number of complaints that come baked into the review. A plastic body, not blazing fast performance, inferior cameras, and lower resolution screens are common complaints in these reviews. But all of these complaints are mostly justified because of price considerations. Do you know what phones don’t have this problem? Flagships from last year.
Let’s consider two phones that are largely forgotten as people have moved on to their newer versions: Samsung’s Galaxy S9 and LG’s V40 ThinQ. At the time of writing, the S9 costs $499 brand new and the V40 costs $349 through Best Buy. The Korean companies also sell midrange phones in the A series and the Stylo lines. While a little cheaper than the previous year’s flagship, there is a considerable drop off in terms of screen, camera, design, and materials used.
Both the LG and Samsung devices feature metal and glass designs, 1440p displays, support for wireless charging, support for fast charging, and cameras that perform close to their newer versions. All of these factors outclass comparable mid-range offerings at the same or similar prices. Additionally, we do not notice the speed difference between this year’s Qualcomm Snapdragon chip and the one from last year and there is even more reason to opt for an older flagship as opposed to a current flagship or mid-range device.
Enough For Our Needs
The term “power user” gets thrown around a lot in tech circles these days. Everyone thinks that they are a power user when they buy a phone. The term has changed in meanings over the years. Initially, people would describe themselves as smartphone power users by utilizing all sorts of mobile apps. This would mean using a phone as a primary email machine, the use of multiple social networks, and a whole lot of communication.
As time went on, phones got more powerful. And with that power came a new definition of the power user. Phones became more capable camera devices, which led to power users meaning people utilizing photo and video editing applications on their phones in addition to the previous use cases. But today, phones have the power of computers and the power user should reflect this. This user should use their phone as a potential laptop replacement, by editing content at a high level and connecting larger displays to their phone.
Most people do not use phones in this manner, which means that many people are not power users. The current state of flagship phones requires their users to be power users to maximize their use on a smartphone that capable. A large majority of people will never need that sort of functionality and just need a phone to do what my friend with his Galaxy S8 needs to do. The best solution for most people is a slightly aging flagship bought at a discount. These phones have cameras perfectly suited for social media posting and processors more than powerful enough for mobile apps and games. So when you are in the market for a new phone, maybe think about the phone from last year as your phone in the future.
Check out these unlocked previous year flagships:
OnePlus 7T: https://www.oneplus.com/7t?from=head
OnePlus 6T: https://www.oneplus.com/6t?from=head