In recent years, smartphone manufacturers have substantially increased the price of their flagship handsets, arguably without delivering equivalent upgrades and rewards.
The iPhone X was a ground-breaking device in that it cost almost £1,000, but its 64GB of storage and 5.8-inch screen were nothing special when it launched in 2017.
Buyers were largely paying for exclusivity – the chance to say they owned an iPhone X, while their friends and colleagues ‘only’ had an iPhone 6, 7 or 8.
The X instantly effectively rendered these models passé, even though the 8 came out in the same year.
Yet many industry observers argued the cheaper handset represented a more sensible purchase.
It was hundreds of pounds cheaper, despite still offering high-end features like a sleek glass chassis and wireless charging.
Plus, owning the latest model doesn’t always earn you the kudos you might hope for.
Few people could tell from a distance whether you’re holding an 8 or an X. They’d simply see an iPhone.
Talkin’ ‘bout my generation
As we discussed a few months ago, smartphone evolution has effectively stalled.
Increasingly, there seems little reason to upgrade an existing handset to the newest model as soon as it launches.
The technological gap between one device and its successor is steadily shrinking, even as the price gap expands.
As a consequence, many consumers now buy previous-generation smartphones instead.
Samsung is presently selling four versions of its Galaxy handset, from 2016’s S7 to this year’s S10.
Yet anyone buying a new Samsung Galaxy S7 can still enjoy biometric unlocking, Samsung Pay, a quad HD display and a 12MP camera.
The S10 costs £500 more, but its innovations are modest – a smaller bezel around the screen, wireless power sharing between compatible devices, and a wide-angle lens.
Both come with a one-year manufacturer’s warranty, both can be repaired at Samsung stores up and down the land, and both are perfectly suitable for gaming, streaming and calling.
Remember that the S7 was Samsung’s best-ever phone three years ago.
Its specifications aren’t poor, even by today’s standards. They’re simply not as impressive as newer versions.
Key benefits of previous-generation smartphones
- A previous model from a premium brand could still outperform a similarly priced (yet newer) handset from a lesser-known manufacturer.
- Few people will spot any difference between one model and the next, so you can maintain brand loyalty/snobbery without paying an early-adopter premium.
- Insurance policies will be substantially cheaper, since older models are cheaper to repair/replace and less of a theft risk.
- Even without insurance, drops, cracks and general damage won’t inspire as much guilt or worry.
- You’ll suffer less depreciation on a cheaper handset when it’s being traded in a couple of years down the line.
- New features aren’t always better. Newer models might have experimental features which prove to be unpopular (the iPhone X lacks a central Home button, for instance).
What should I look out for?
If a previous-generation smartphone is still on sale, you won’t have to worry about obsolete software or a lack of technical support.
However, screen sizes are slowly changing, so content designed for the latest 18.5:9 screen ratios won’t look as impressive on a 16:9 display.
You may not have access to the latest operating system on Android, where Google devices tend to receive the most recent operating system before it filters down to other handsets.
Finally, it’s worth checking the specs of newer models, in case any recently introduced features (like facial unlocking or IP68 dust/water protection) would really benefit you.