Why You Don't Need An iPhone X, Or Any Other Expensive New Phone

Hold on just a moment before you drop $1579 (or more!) on an iPhone X - or another expensive phone from Samsung, Google, or anyone else. Do you really need that flagship handset? The list of reasons not to buy one of the latest and most expensive phones gets longer every year.

An example of a 2017 flagship. Image: Apple

Mid-Range Phones Are Better Than Ever

The Moto G5 Plus, a bargain. Image: Motorola

In the not-too-distant past, buying a mid-range phone meant a woefully out-of-date operating system, sluggish performance straight out of the box, and cameras that could easily be outperformed by the webcam on the front of your laptop.

That situation has changed, and has been changing for a while. Today's mid-rangers come with at least Full HD screens, performance that won't make you want to throw them at the wall in frustration, and cameras that do a fine job unless you're trying to shoot photos in the shadows or enter a photography competition.

The Moto G5 Plus, for example, has a good claim to being the best budget phone of the year. For $300, you get a capable Snapdragon 625 processor, a 5-inch 1920x1080 pixel screen, and a generous 4GB of RAM - that's the same amount of RAM as you'll find in, say, the Samsung Galaxy S8.

We're not trying to pretend there's no noticeable difference in performance between the various phone tiers, because there is, but whether it's actually worth the price markup is another question. When's the last time you ventured outside the likes of WhatsApp and Twitter to do something that really pushed your phone's hardware?

Flagships Aren't Innovating Year-On-Year

The Pixel 1, still a fine phone. Image: Google

In most cases, last year's flagships are still on sale - if you want to hit the refurb and eBay market then you can go back even further in time even further. Are the 2017 versions better? Yes. By all that much? No, not really.

Consider this: The $849 iPhone 7 can do everything the $1579 iPhone X can, except charge wirelessly and unlock your phone with your face. Oh and the screen's a bit smaller and the bezels are a bit thicker. That's $730 worth of difference in price for two features that you might not find all that useful anyway.

Alternatively, try picking out the differences between the rear-facing camera on the Samsung Galaxy S7 and the equivalent one on the Samsung Galaxy S8. We'll give you a clue - there aren't any, save for some slightly smarter image processing tricks available on the newer model. Both these phones feature a 12-megapixel f/1.7 snapper with optical image stabilisation.

This is the way the market is now: A little waterproofing here, a little wireless charging there, a bump up in speed. While there's no doubt the Pixel 2 is a better phone than the original Pixel, the latter will cost you $270 less, has a bigger battery, and comes with a headphone jack.

The Prices Keep Rising

Get your cash out for the iPhone X. Image: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo

You've no doubt noticed that the iPhone X starts at $1579, while the Samsung Galaxy S8+ will set you back $999, and the Google Pixel 2 XL is pegged at the $1399 mark.

Those are pretty steep prices, and the trend only seems to be going one way. It's been a long time since a flagship phone appeared from the big-name manufacturers that was priced significantly below expectations (Nexus 5, anyone?).

It's your money, obviously, but you could opt to keep your current phone and spend that $1500 on a brand new laptop, or buy a plane ticket to, you know, anywhere in the world. Or maybe you could buy (nearly) three freaking iPhone SE handsets.

The high prices would be slightly easier to stomach if the mid-range phones out there were only a short distance behind, but that's not the case. For instance, you can pick up the very decent Nokia 6 with stock Android for $399. With each passing year, the choice of cheaper, better value phones gets wider.

You Won't Miss Out On Apps Or Updates

iOS 11, not an iPhone X exclusive. Image: Apple

As we mentioned above, a lot of the improvements to this year's flagships are cosmetic - in terms of the software on board, and the apps you can run, they're almost identical to mid-range handsets and the flagships of yesteryear. iOS 11, for example, will run on anything from the iPhone 5S onwards, the Instagram app for iOS will run on any device that can handle iOS 9.0, and so on.

Over on the Google side of the fence, Android has a well-publicised problem with fragmentation, but considering that all of Google's apps update separately from the OS, it's not as a big a deal as you might imagine. Android itself is now basically a bunch of underlying protocols and settings - the headline new feature in Android 8.0 Oreo is being able to snooze notifications - so those of you on 6.0 and 7.0 aren't missing out too much.

To be clear, it's better to be on the most recent OS updates, and your apps are going to be snappier on newer hardware, but the point is that these differences are becoming smaller and smaller with each round of flagship launches.

Maybe you're still going to splurge on the iPhone X and really make the most of that new wireless charging feature Apple introduced this year. Or maybe you're already in love with your Samsung Galaxy S8 and watch a ton of Netflix on its lovely display. For the majority of us, though, the flagship appeal just isn't what it used to be.



    ...but considering that all of Google's apps update separately from the OS, it's not as a big a deal as you might imagine
    At least until there's an underlying OS vulnerability and your cheap, old phone doesn't get a patch pushed. Also over on the iOS side, trying to run newer iOS versions on older devices usually results in a slow mess.

    Totally agree with the premise of the article though, I have an S8+ but there's really nothing exciting about it. My next phone will just run stock Android. The only reason I prefer flagships is that they often include waterproofing and wireless charging with good cameras.

      Do you know personally of anybody at all in Australia who has:
      - an old/cheap phone
      - had an underlying OS vulnerability exploited
      - lost data and/or money?

      No? I didn't think so.

        "My personal experience must equate to everybody else's and security flaws are irrelevant unless someone I know suffered from an exploit."

          I happen to agree with him. I have never heard of anyone being exploited through a security OS vulnerability.

          I think this article i spot on. It is a phone that you use to call people, message, use the odd app and take the odd photo. I hate the things, and they are destroying society.

            That's okay. I even agreed with the article in principle.

            What's not okay is that assuming security vulnerabilities are fine so long as they don't personally affect you. I have no idea why anyone would think that's acceptable. That's laughably misguided. It's like saying "Oh I've never been in a car accident so I don't need my seatbelt." That's not the point - the point is that if it comes down to it, you don't want to be vulnerable.

              Good point and i do agree with you about security etc. But i think the real world issues for this are minimal. Of course it can happen and in a perfect world it would be nice to eliminate them, but i don't think it really is a problem.

    LG G6 - $500 online. Almost a flagship phone - Half the price.

      I used to have a G2 and must say I was very impressed with the performance for the price. Especially the inbuilt speakers.

    Galaxy Note 4 era was the smartphone pinnacle imo.

    No reason to buy a flagship now. Get a cheap phone from China and flash it.

    You don't need a smart phone at all.

    What about Huawei and Xiaomi. Their phones are almost equal to the iPhone and Samsung phones but they cost less than 1000. I used to get all the notes but now they're too pricey for my liking so I'm getting the mate 10 when it gets released next week.

    Android users that want to keep their software up to date can install Lineage OS or another custom ROM. It may even run faster than what the phone came with.

    Nobody needs a top line smartphone. People just want them. And there's nothing wrong with that at all.

      Huawai are just as expensive. There are great chinese phones out lesser known than xiaomi. Now almost equal &on a par with the s8plus in a lit of ways but with 6g ram 2k screen. Lcd but a sharp 2kuhd+ just m8sding waterproof & old. All for 250to400$au but mtk are hard to root. Shame cos they have caught up to the flagships soc in recent times. Not the battery hungry stutter chips they were known for. The x25 deca in my redmi pro beats the s7e in some benchmarking aspects & its pretty close. The redmi pro was an amazing phone for 180aud. Just gotta make sure it had official Chinese rom!Install g apps & your on your way. This isn't even nessisary on the newer chinese global roms(official). The redmi pro went from 2days to 18hrs with in official rom with severe battery drain or loss of 4glte. They are closing the gap but nothing will ever compare to a note until someone else gets wacom technology & s pen.

    Over on the Google side of the fence, Android has a well-publicised problem with fragmentation, but considering that all of Google's apps update separately from the OS, it's not as a big a deal as you might imagine

    Stop apologising for Google.
    Google can fix this today, but refuse. That’s nothing less than complete contempt for Android users.

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