Which one is best for you?

Which one is best for you?

Newer technology is always exciting, but it exists that excellent flagship from the previous year which you can get for a sweet discount. It’s a classic tech conundrum: buy a new budget phone or an old flagship phone. And with modern mids getting better in almost every sphere, it’s pretty confusing to choose between the two. However, your preferences will tell you whether you’re better off with a new budget phone or an old flagship premium phone.


New budget compared to the old flagship: plastic or glass backs

Take the Galaxy S21 series, for example. The baby S21 and S21 FE they have a plastic back, while the S21+ and S21 Ultra use a glass back (and the S22 series switched to glass entirely). Having a plastic back does not always means poor quality — since plastic can usually handle drops better than glass — but it certainly takes away that premium feel from the phone and is more prone to scratches. And if a cheap phone comes with a glass back, in many cases it would replace the aluminum frame with a plastic one.

Scratches on the plastic back of the Pixel 6a

Another difference between flagship and mid-range phones is the cover glass. The newer Gorilla Glass Victus is usually reserved for premium phones, but you’ll find budget phones using the older Gorilla Glass 5 or even Gorilla Glass 3 as screen protection.

Of course, none of this matters if you always keep your phone in a case and use a screen protector.

Water resistance is an area where the midgets have caught up to the flagships. From iPhone SE to the Galaxy A53many cheap phones now have an IP (Ingress Protection) rating for decent protection against water damage.

Winner: Old Flagship (by a slim margin)

New budget compared to the old flagship: screen (most important!)

One big way premium smartphones stand out from their budget siblings is their displays. The differentiating factor used to be the super-sharp QHD displays; now, it’s a variable refresh rate. The flagship models have already switched to LTPO panels, some of which can be reduced to as low as 1Hz.

Aside from increasing battery life, we argue that variable refresh rate has little impact on how a person uses their phone. You’ll experience the same smooth animations even on the mid-range running at 120Hz all the time. The only exception is cheap phones that have a 60Hz panel: Pixel 6a and the iPhone SE.

left: Google Pixel 6a, right: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra.

In the last few years, brands have also started reserving QHD displays for their ultra-premium models – like Galaxy S21 Ultra — leaving the 1080p resolution for other flagship and budget phones. Unless you can’t live without a super-high pixel density screen, you’ll be fine with anything close to 400 PPI, which has now become the norm across all price ranges.

But there’s one area where flagships tend to be ahead of the curve: brightness. We’ve seen high-end Samsung phones reach over 1500 nits at their peak, while budget phones tend to hover between 1000 and 1200 nits. Yes, more nits make a big difference when you’re outdoors watching HDR content, but does that mean a mid-range phone will be unusable? Definitely not.

Winner: Draw

New budget vs. old flagship: image capture capability

Most of you probably already know the answer. Higher-end phones always have a significant advantage over cheaper offerings in terms of image quality and camera features. For example, the Pixel 6 Pro it has a new 50MP primary sensor, a telephoto camera and some exclusive camera tricks like Action Pan and Long Exposure — neither of which are available on the Pixel 6a.

OnePlus Nord N20 5G camera samples

There’s no denying that mid-range phones have come a long way in terms of camera performance, especially for photos taken in well-lit conditions. But it’s also true that even a flagship flagship can easily wipe the floor with a budget phone if you consider more challenging situations like night photography.

We have a few exceptions in the form of the Pixel 6a and the iPhone SE, but with Samsung, OnePlus and Motorola you’d be better off with the old flagship.

Samsung Galaxy S21 camera samples

Winner: Old Flagship

The new budget versus the old leader: horsepower

Leading processors have reached their peak; a good example is Apple recycling its year-old A15 processor for its non-Pro iPhone 14 models this year. Qualcomm has also begun repackaging its flagship processors from last year for newer mid-range models; The Snapdragon 870 is one example. Many budget phones cut corners on several fronts, but share the same processor as their more expensive siblings – the Pixel 6a, Galaxy S21 FE and iPhone SE, to name a few. This approach means you get the same premium experience without burning a hole in your pocket.

In an alternative approach, companies don’t compromise on features, but instead offer a lower-end Snapdragon 600 or 700-series chip – None Phone 1 is a newer device that has them. These processors are fantastic for your day-to-day applications, but they tend to lag behind in graphics, which mostly affects gaming. Plus, they don’t have as much headroom for performance as Qualcomm’s 800 series processor to keep your phone fast even after three years.

Meanwhile, RAM and storage are no longer an issue, as modern mid-rangers are quite generous in these areas and are even faster to adopt faster RAM and storage technologies.

All this being said, an old 800 series processor will always offer better performance than a 700 series chip, whether in the old flagship or the new midrange.

Winner: The Old Flagship

New budget vs. old flagship: software support

One UI 5 beta on Galaxy S22 Ultra (the update is live for Galaxy S21, S20 and A52)

The newer the phone, the longer it will be supported. So the Pixel 6a should ideally receive security patches longer than the premium Pixel 6 line, although both will have Android 15 at the most.

However, there are a few caveats with other brands. Take Samsung, for example; its recent Galaxy S and A series of phones should get at least four Android versions. But in reality, flagship Galaxy S series phones will always have priority across the budget Galaxy range when Samsung finally starts pushing updates. And that gap is increasing over time.

Moreover, the Galaxy A series phones are likely to end Samsung’s quarterly security patch list rather than the Galaxy S series devices. Not only Samsung, but most companies (except Google and Apple) do not give equal importance to their affordable and premium lines, turning the argument in favor of the old flagships.

Android 13 on Pixel

Winner: The Old Flagship

Budget vs old flagship: battery and charger

Lower-end processors on budget phones are tuned for better power efficiency, and using an FHD panel (over QHD) also helps. Budget phones tend to last longer between charges due to more manageable power and screen needs.

That’s important because brands tend to reserve fast PD (Power Delivery) charging speeds for their more expensive phones, leaving budget phones with relatively slower charging. For example, the Pixel 6a and Galaxy A53 charge only 18W and 25W respectively, but some phones from the Moto G series are even worse and can only take a 10W adapter.

Brands like OnePlus still offer chargers in a box

As more and more brands move away from including a charger in the box with flagship models, some budget and mid-range phones still come with an adapter in the box. So, for example, if you take a OnePlus 10T, the company will throw in a full fat 125W adapter at no extra charge! But flagship phones do better than the mid-range by offering wireless charging. Pick your poison.

Winner: New budget phone

New Budget vs Old Flagship: Which Should You Buy?

So far, everything has worked in favor of the old flagships, but there is still one factor that can influence the decision: your budget. When choosing between an old flagship and a new budget phone, you obviously want the best value for your money.

With a budget of less than $400, it makes more sense to get a new mid-ranger, which will offer a more stylish package without breaking the bank. It certainly won’t get the added benefits of a premium phone, but an old flagship at this price is probably too dated to pique your interest.

The affordable mid-ranger is also a perfect fit for someone who doesn’t care about the extra perks of a flagship model (ie longer software support, wireless charging, etc.) and performance space. Go ahead and get your parents a nice mid-range phone this Thanksgiving so they can spend the day reading the news and scrolling through Facebook.

If you’re looking for an old flagship for better camera and device performance, you’ll need to shell out around $600 (or more for something like the Galaxy S21 Ultra). With this kind of budget, you can get last year’s premium phone, which it will as good as current flagship. Since high-end phones only get iterative updates year after year, you won’t be missing out on much.

As a general rule, don’t look for anything older than a year, especially in the Android world. This would mean that your ‘new’ phone will be closer to its typical end of life, and software updates will also become infrequent sooner rather than later.

You can always contact our handpicked recommendations for budget phones and favorite flagship Android phones to focus on the perfect headset for you.

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