Following new flagship devices, what’s new in the iPhone 14 or the Samsung Galaxy S23? Especially since updates are less frequent and noticeable. Mid-budget smartphones are constantly moving, and many affordable models come to market yearly. Do they become better than the top devices of previous years, or is it more profitable to take an old one? Let’s sort it out.
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Let’s give some introductions.
To begin with, let’s understand what “flagships” are and what smartphones are considered such. Of course, this concept could be more precise. Still, most often under “flagships,” we mean models with the best possible characteristics at the moment: an excellent screen with high resolution, a large amount of RAM and long-term memory, premium materials, an advanced camera, and, most obviously, a powerful processor.
A mid-budget smartphone is more accessible to distinguish by these characteristics than by price. There, the quality of all parameters is bound to be lower than in the current flagship. But what about those flagships that are several years old? Is it worth chasing a mid-budget novelty – or is it better to choose a slightly outdated flagship? First, let’s look at the criteria.
Screen quality is one of the most superficial differences that make outdated flagships stand out against modern budget models. A flagship smartphone from two or three years ago will have a matrix with higher resolution and color rendering than current models from the middle segment.
You don’t have to go far for examples: for example, the HUAWEI P50 Pro 2021 has a resolution of 2,700 × 1,228, which looks great on a 6.6-inch screen. In more affordable smartphones, the diagonal may be the same, but the answer does not reach the “older.” For example, last year’s Samsung Galaxy M33 has only 2408 × 1080 pixels for the same diagonal.
More flagships can boast unique technologies like screens with rounded edges, neater and more inconspicuous cutouts for the camera, or even a folding design, like the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3. On the other hand, the latest smartphone is more likely to have a 120 Hz or 90 Hz display – the higher screen frequency makes the image smoother but consumes the battery faster. It is essential for some people, but others may need to notice the difference.
Here, too, the flagships of previous years are unquestionably in the lead: they use premium materials that are pleasant to the touch and appearance. And they are also more resistant to falls and damage. Glass, metal, in an extreme case, is quality plastic with an unusual texture, which will still be difficult to damage.
Sometimes you can find an unusual device like the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 – a foldable smartphone with a quality screen and body. However, these are definitely not found in the budget and mid-budget segments.
Most phones from the segment below the flagship come in a plastic case, likely to stay the same. However, this is not a fundamental point because smartphones are carried in cases. But the protective glass on the screen is quite another matter. Even flagships that came out a year or two ago have more modern and better-quality glass than today’s budget smartphones.
There is an essential nuance with smartphone cameras: the number of megapixels is significant, but the quality of the sensor is much more critical. It can be seen in many comparisons made by professionals:
- For example, the same iPhone 11 has a 12-megapixel camera.
- But it shoots better than, for example, Xiaomi Redmi Note 11 Pro 2022 with a 108-megapixel camera.
It’s all about the fact that the flagship models use higher-quality sensors and other components, which ultimately make up the lens. And in some cases, there are unique technologies that do not go beyond the flagship line but significantly improve image quality. As a result, even 12 megapixels are enough to take photos in high resolution.
With memory almost the same situation as with the cameras. In terms of numbers, old flagships and new little people are either close or equal, but thanks to high-quality chips with higher speed, top models of previous years trump new mid-budget novelties. Again, it refers to the rate of the whole system, copying, unpacking, and installing programs. And also the speed of RAM and long-term memory. For example, the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 has 128 GB of UFS 3.0 storage, while the 2022 model Poco M4 Pro also has 128 GB but slower UFS 2.2.
In terms of performance, the flagship smartphones of yesteryear are ahead of today’s mid-budget models. For example, the Snapdragon 888 processor installed in the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 still beats the stripped-down versions of lower-end smartphones.
For example, this smartphone scored 808 thousand points in the popular AnTuTu benchmark by the combined performance of the processor, memory, and video core. In contrast, last year’s relatively fresh Samsung Galaxy A53 5G scored only 400 thousand. It will not only be noticeable on resource-intensive tasks like games but will also affect daily use: a weak processor and an old memory format will affect, for example, the speed of opening applications and the number of simultaneously running programs.
However, power and age can be cruel to the cheerful “old guys.” The fact is that nowadays, processors are made according to a more modern algorithm, thanks to which they consume less energy for the same tasks. At the same time, in recent years, there have been no changes in battery capacity, so they are more or less the same in flagships and mid-range models, and the former end up consuming the charge faster.
What is the result?
According to most parameters, it makes more sense to buy a flagship 2021 than to look at the latest innovations in the mid-budget category. The flagship screen, camera, power, flat design, and the quality of materials used in the body are attractive since the top devices of the past years gradually dropped in price.
Nevertheless, the budget segment has its advantages. Most likely, a decent but inexpensive smartphone will hold the battery well and have a smoother screen, and the difference in performance is likely to be noticeable only in games.
In the end, the old flagship wins on the totality of factors, although in some points, the advantage remains with the current budget.