The price gap between expensive and affordable smartphones is widening all the time. Samsung wants a grand for its flagship Note 10+ with 256GB of storage. The new iPhone 11 Pro Max costs even more. Today, the top smartphones in this article are not as inferior in type, scope, or quality. They just cost a lot less!
Smartphones have become boring and manufacturers are trying to sell us innovations that are at best minimal. Nowadays you can hardly stand out from the competition, except with abstruse looking technical specifications (like the 108-megapixel camera in the Xiaomi Mi Note 10).
The other way to stand out, of course, is with very reasonable price tags.
It's paradoxical. The price of high-end smartphones is rising almost inexorably and have reached the level of full PCs. Below this, however, prices fall almost to manufacturing costs.
Cheaper flagship alternatives: For less than $400 you can have the full package
Whether this trend is really positive for manufacturers remains to be seen. After all, the aggressive price cuts are at the expense of margins - which cannot be sustainable in the medium to long term. Xiaomi has even defined this trend as a strategy and promises that none of its devices will have more than a five percent profit margin.
What does not necessarily have to be good for the manufacturers is a reason for us, the customers, to be happy. This is because consumers who do not necessarily want to have a device of a certain brand can now achieve an outstanding price-to-performance ratio.
We have selected the best alternatives to the flagship Samsung Galaxy S10, iPhone 11 Pro and Pixel 4 for you and briefly explain why these devices are a purchase recommendation from our point of view.
Google has been playing at the top with its Pixel series for several years now, in the orchestra of high-price devices. So it was quite surprising when the company from Mountain View presented the Pixel 3a - a smartphone that is actually in the mid-range segment. However, the Pixel 3a has the same camera - hardware and software - of its big brother under the hood and therefore takes excellent pictures.
Compared to Pixel 3, the cheaper version has a slightly worse display and with the Snapdragon 670 no high-performance chipset. However, if you don't want to constantly play complex 3D games or do complicated arithmetic operations, the 3a is the best choice for you.
Oh, and the Pixel 3a has another advantage: Pure Android runs on this smartphone - without frills. This means that you get every update quickly without waiting.
- Long-term review: 100 days with the Google Pixel 3a
- Who's gonna want this? Users who want to rely on pure Android and for whom an excellent camera is important
- RRP at launch: $399
- Current street price: ca. $349 (November 2019)
Since the Chinese company OnePlus has been on the market, it has been able to build a strong fanbase not only in its home country, but also in Europe. This is not only because OnePlus was probably the first smartphone manufacturer to adopt a clear community approach, but also because of its low-cost devices, in addition to its good marketing.
The latest "coup" from OnePlus is the 7T - the slightly smaller brother of the OnePlus 7T Pro, which can, however, compete with the big boys: a Snapdragon 855 with 8GB of RAM, 128 - 256GB of internal storage, and a good 3,800 mAh battery. Especially the display should be mentioned. This is an AMOLED that can display content at a refresh rate of 90 Hz. This ensures particularly fluid transitions and protects eyes and nerves.
Compared to the big flagships, the OnePlus 7T cannot compete with a $1,000 smartphone's camera but, all in all, the phone shoots decent pictures and videos - not least because of the good OnePlus software.
If you want to read more about the OnePlus 7T, we recommend our review.
- Review: OnePlus 7T review
- Who is this phone for? OnePlus fans who want a great smartphone for less than $600. But also for everyone who cares about a good display.
- RRP at launch: $599
- Current street price: approx. $579 (November 2019)
Realme? Sounds to many probably like a spelling mistake or like asking yourself a question after a night of drinking. The name is not yet familiar to so many. But that should change soon. Behind Realme is the large Chinese group BBK, which has several brands under its roof. For example Oppo, Vivo and OnePlus.
The fact that high-quality products can be built there has been proven several times with Oppo and OnePlus. Now BBK is also bringing Realme to Europe and India - and a lot has been set for the future.
The X2 Pro is the first smartphone we've got our hands on here on our continent. Which is also noticeable with the Realme X2 Pro: Not only the technical specifications, but also the appearance reminds us of some well-known manufacturers. Honestly - it can only be good for us customers.
Because from €399 (6GB/64 GB) or €499 (8 GB/128 GB) we get a really good smartphone that leaves little to be desired (apart from maybe IP68 certification). Otherwise, the spec sheet reads like a poem, recited by a cozy fireplace: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855+, 6.5'-inch AMOLED at 405 ppi, 4,000 mAh battery and four cameras with up to 64 megapixels.
When we reviewed it here, the Realme X2 Pro convinced our editor Jessica of its qualities. You can find that detailed review in the link below.
- Review: Realme X2 Pro review
- Who's gonna buy this? People who want good value for money and want to give a new brand a chance.
- RRP at launch: €399 (6GB/64GB)
- Current street price: Not yet available
And another Chinese company, which is now well known for its good price-to-performance ratio is Xiaomi. The recently introduced Mi Note 10 also goes into the category of "flagship functions at a low price".
While the processor of the Mi Note 10 is only average - it's a Snapdragon 730G -, Xiaomi really makes a splash with the camera. Or rather: with the cameras! The Mi Note 10 has five and, by the way, the largest image sensor that has ever been installed in a smartphone.
To stick to superlatives: The main camera has a resolution of 108 megapixels, believe it or not. In other words, an image has 12,032 x 9,024 pixels. Our review for the Mi Note 10 is still pending. But in our first hands-ons, the device was very impressive. If the picture quality can keep up with the naked numbers and the photos keep what they promise - then Xiaomi has thrown a real flagship killer on the market in terms of pictures.
- Information about the Xiaomi Mi Note 10: Xiaomi Mi Note 10 (Pro) launched
- Who should go for this one? camera and photo enthusiasts, influencers and selfie-takers
- RRP at launch: Mi Note 10 (6GB/128GB) €549; Mi Note 10 Pro (8GB/256GB) €649
- Current street price: Not yet known
It is such a thing with the big flagships and the big brands - a good part of the purchase price is of course the brand itself, which Apple, Samsung & Co. naturally pay for. Another part is also research and development:
Many of the displays mentioned above, for example, come from Samsung and not from Chinese production. Or let's take Apple, which with Multi Touch made today's gesture control of smartphones possible in the first place.
And then there is a good part of the purchase price that goes towards the whole package itself. If you want everything - exclusive design, many (working) software functions, waterproofness, a great camera and a lot of memory, NFC and wireless charging... - you probably have to go for the Pro versions of the big brands and dig deep into your pockets.
At the moment we can almost speak of a paradoxical situation. While the high-end flagships or Pro versions of the manufacturers continue to increase in price, the prices under it almost already sink to manufacturing costs.
The customers, however, who can do without the little things here and there, do not necessarily need a smartphone from a (very) well-known brand and can focus on the function that is important to them - these customers can really save a lot of money.
The technological gap between entry-level, mid-range and high-end smartphones has become much smaller over the past 12 months. And I even want to go so far that there are no real beginner smartphones anymore. Especially the Chinese manufacturers - or better: only those - produce high quality for a low price.
That's good for us consumers for now. What this means for the smartphone market in the medium term remains to be seen.