Jon Bentley tests budget smartphones

09 Mar 2016



In most areas of life an everyday product is just as good, in practical terms, as its luxury equivalent. In the real world a VW Golf will get you from A to B as quickly, comfortably and safely as a Ferrari. A coat from Marks and Spencer will fend off the winter chills as smartly and effectively as one from Prada. And a Bic Cristal ballpoint will sign a contract just as bindingly as an eye wateringly expensive Mont Blanc fountain pen. This similarity in practical performance means that more modest products are commonplace, whilst their luxury counterparts remain relatively rare.


But smartphones are different. All my tech testers, all my fellow Gadget Show presenters and everyone working in the Gadget Show office has a top end smartphone; either from Apple or a flagship model running Android. This in spite of the fact that cheaper smartphones get better all the time. Why is it that with phones so many of us go for the expensive option?


Part of the reason is that, even though the performance gap is narrowing, there are still differences. The processors on budget phones aren't quite as fast, the cosmetic finish isn't as satisfying and, most importantly, the cameras can be found wanting. Amongst our testers Mike was disappointed with the finish on his Sony Xperia M4, while Brett and Daniella found the cameras on the Wileyfox Storm, and OnePlus X noticeably less good than on their iPhones. Only Joanna was prepared to accept the performance difference and declared that she would be happy swapping her iPhone 6S for a Motorola Moto G. 


Another factor is that we spend so much time in our phones that the extra price is worth it, even for those small improvements. For some their phone is such a constant companion that it becomes part of their identity and again the extra price is a small one to pay for the benefits of a better, more stylish handset. 


And that price difference, with the possible exception of Apple, isn't that great. As I write a flagship LG G4 costs £305 on Amazon (though its flagship status will be short-lived as its successor, the G5 will soon be available). This price tag isn’t that much more than our budget handsets, especially if you're spreading the cost over a contract rather than buying outright. In a world of largely unaffordable luxuries a top end smartphone is one you can afford.


If your budget's tight it's great that cheap smartphones are getting better. But it's also brilliant that luxury smartphones are so attainable and rewarding. It’s a glorious win-win situation and we should celebrate it!