Last Year’s Crown Jewels are Still Crown Jewels: Old Flagship Phones versus New Mid-Rangers

2014's LG G3 and iPhone 5S Photo credit: Janitors / Foter / CC BY
Unless you’re a smartphone power-user or obsessed enthusiast (like me), chances are you really don’t need to spend $600+ on a current-generation flagship device (currently speaking, phones like the iPhone 6 and 6 plus, the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, the HTC One M9, and the LG G4). Your needs, and far more, will certainly be met by “lesser” devices that cost far less. At Pocketnow, Adam Doud poses the question as to which category of device is your best bet if you’re not going for the latest-and-greatest – a current-generation mid-range phone or a previous-generation flagship?

This seems easy to me. You get the previous-generation flagship. (Almost always, and I’ll get to the exceptions in a bit.)

Doud himself leans toward a previous-generation flagship mostly for the fact that usually these have better cameras than mid-rangers, and that’s as good a reason as any. Doud is also right that, with the exception of Apple and Google Nexus devices, a year-old flagship is not guaranteed to receive major software updates for very long, and a more-recent mid-ranger may be maintained a little longer. But if you’re in this market, I’d say latest-and-greatest software features are also not your highest priority. Chances are, you just want a good phone that will perform well for a long time.

And that’s really why you want to err on the side of a flagship, even an older one. Yes, the camera is likely to be superior, but so is almost everything else about the device. The one exception might be internal specs, such as the processor speed or RAM. But the reason last year’s flagships were considered as such is because they were the crown jewel of that manufacturer’s lineup, and got the attention befitting a crown jewel.

In a previous-generation flagship, you’re going to get a device that was fussed over by the top designers and engineers of their respective manufacturers. One can assume the best components and materials were used, and they received the most attention to detail and optimization. As long as the device in question isn’t some sort of major blunder, it’s going to still be a tight piece of technology.

A mid-ranger is much less likely to be so. It will have been designed from its outset to be less expensive, meaning it will use cheaper components, and probably receive less TLC from its manufacturer (unless they specialize in this kind of device, like Asus for example). Corners are likely to have been cut wherever feasible. Yes, it may have comparable specifications, but if we learn nothing else from a company like Apple, we know that specs aren’t everything.

Here’s where it’s not as clear: Motorola starts its flagship Moto X at about $500, and sometimes less when they run a sale, which straddles the price divide. They also make highly-regarded mid-range phones (the Motos G and E) at low-range prices. Also, the OnePlus One made a credible claim as a “flagship killer” at the decidedly-mid-range price of $300-$350. It would be hard to go wrong with a Moto X, though the OnePlus One had some issues, hardware-related and otherwise.

So it’s not entirely clear-cut. But on the whole, I would almost always recommend a year-old crown jewel over a brand new piece of cubic zirconia. Case in point: The LG G3, which I’ve previously heralded, is now just such an old-news flagship, and a brand new one can be had for $400 or less, and it’s an even better deal if you can get a used one in good condition. It’s still fantastic, it’s still powerful, and will remain so for a good long time.

(And I have a recommendation about where to get something nice that’s not $700.)

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