With new Android smartphone flagships launching for Rs 40,000 or above this year, we are worried next year’s top-end devices will cost us the house. This is a scary thought especially because we know there are smartphones that can compete with the most fully-loaded flagships for less than half the price. So what is the breaking point? Even if you could afford the most expensive smartphone in the world, there must be a point beyond which you start feeling silly for paying too much. How much is too much for a smartphone?
Manufacturers are cashing in (Credit: Getty Images)
In my opinion, spending anything more than Rs 25,000 is too much for a smartphone. The value-for-money curve tends to flat-line around this point, after which it starts declining. The depreciation rate of high-end phones is very fast and most of them are launched at inflated prices anyway, which inevitably fall in a month or so. There's no doubt that price bar is going to keep rising for flagship phones, and it's not far off till we have a Rs 50,000 smartphone (the Sony Xperia Z Ultra could be the first) that’s not made by Apple.
Flagship smartphones with the best camera, full HD display, most powerful processor and plenty of onboard storage space, all packed in a svelte, lightweight shell certainly don’t come for cheap. The question is whether you actually need such a powerful device when devices with the requisite muscle are available for half the price. Obviously, photos and videos look great on a Super AMOLED display and the best smartphone cameras give point-and-shoot digital cameras a run for their money. But I can’t even think of shelling out Rs 40,000 for such a phone when I can get everything that I need in a phone that costs Rs 20,000. A dual-core processor, decent camera, at least a qHD or 720p display and a few gigabytes of storage space is everything you need to run all the apps and games and store a good amount of songs and videos. The best deals are for smartphones that are just about at the end of their retail life, selling for a lot, lot less than their launch price. But again, like I said, it all depends on what one “really” needs, which is what I consider while buying any gadget. And, of course, whether incremental upgrades are available at attractive prices.
I wouldn't pay any more than Rs 30,000 for a smartphone, because anything more than this on offer, by way of features, would essentially be fluff. The market is so full of phone manufacturers that everyone's jostling for a little bit of elbow room. I think the few who do price their phones above the Rs 35,000 price bracket are simply doing it to get better margins per device. By offering enhanced “this” and superior “that”, they hope to justify the high price. When people do end up buying their ridiculously-priced phones, these companies make a substantial margin on them. This, they hope might push other manufacturers to price their phones higher the next time around, weeding out the smaller ones who can neither afford to raise the price so high and stay in the business nor make a market for themselves as companies offering feature-rich phones. This will in effect drive the price for phones as a commodity higher and reduce the number of players. Everyone wins. Phone manufacturers, I mean.
Will the falling rupee make smartphones more expensive? (Credit: Getty Images)
If we venture out to buy a flagship phone these days, we would be paying roughly 50 percent more than we did for the same class of phones in 2010. No surprises here. Inflation and increased excise duty are also to be blamed, but most of the blame lies with us. We demanded ever-increasing cores ticking under a full HD display, which show in great detail the images we shot on our Ultrapixel cameras, even though we may not fully understand what an Ultrapixel is. The best smartphones out there have become so out of reach that EMI schemes have become the norm. The price range of smartphones has widened to the extent that the higher end of the spectrum is a mere speck from the point of view of the lowest priced phone. In my opinion, paying anything more than Rs 25,000 is criminal. For that price, you can easily find a smartphone that has decent specs that allow it to perform smoothly. It also gives you the flexibility to upgrade in the future. The price seems reasonable enough considering how far smartphone software and apps have come, and it also doesn’t break the bank.
In my opinion, any smartphone priced above Rs 20,000 is priced too high. What do they feature, after all? A simple user interface that can do the same work if it ran on a budget smartphone? The high price does not justify the fact that the phone is from a renowned international brand. The after-sales service is usually compromised, the firmware updates are not delivered as promised and the hardware gets older within 6 to 8 months. HTC, Sony, Samsung and a few others keep the price of their flagship models pretty steep. Budget phones can do almost everything their phones can and you don't feel the pinch either when you have to upgrade to a newer handset. However, there is a twist in the tale—renowned brands do offer firmware that is well-tested and stable. And this is where budget phones fail to match up. Once the phone is sold, there are almost no firmware updates or patches. Hardware quality also matters. Bigger brands offer superior cameras, displays, wireless radios etc. But if you are going to upgrade to a newer smartphone in a year or so, paying anything more than Rs 20,000 does not make sense. I sincerely think a good smartphone should be priced between Rs 10,000 and Rs 15,000 on an average.
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