Nerd Butler

The return of the mid-range, buying a phone in the last part of 2020

It’s been three years since I had a new phone and the time has come to go shopping again, so I want to talk to you all about what I’m looking for in a phone and which one I’m thinking about purchasing here in the second half of 2020.

Enter the four figure phone

In October of 2017, I convinced my in-house chief financial officer (aka my wife) to let me spend almost a $1,000 on a phone, which in 2017 was pretty close to the most you could pay. I did it with the promise that I would keep that phone for at least three years. She agreed and I went ahead and put the money down got the phone. Since then, it has held up remarkably well. That phone was the Pixel 2 XL.

One of the things Google promised about the Pixel 2 was that it would get at least three years of software support. That meant three new versions of Android and three years of regular security updates. Now, three years have gone by and the Pixel 2 XL has been a great phone for me during that time.

But was it worth a thousand dollars?

Let’s go shopping

So here we are three years later and there are lots of $1,000 phones. There are also $1,200 phones, $1,500 phones, and (if you like folding screens and other crazy things) even some $2,000 phones out there.

I don’t think I’m going to do that again.

So let’s talk about the criteria for picking a phone in the second half of 2020.

5G really doesn’t matter

The first criteria is: I don’t care about 5G.

I’ve talked about this before, 5G coverage out in the wild is not good enough yet. Verizon and AT&T are trying to do shortwave 5G which doesn’t travel very well and the coverage is non-existent unless you are in a major metropolitan area standing in just the right spot.

T-Mobile is working on a 5G network that will cover a lot of the country. It operates at slower speeds than what AT&T and Verizon are doing but more to the point, there aren’t that many phones capable of 5G on the market yet.

I’m probably going to keep this next phone for two to three years. By then the 5G networks will be more prevalent and have better coverage and then I’ll look for a phone with 5G. Right now, if I get a phone that is 5G capable, I’m going to pay a premium. So I don’t care if the new phone has 5G or not.

To flagship or not?

The second question is, do I need a flagship phone? What do we mean by flagship phone? The flagship is the top of the line. It is the best Samsung it’s the best Google phone, it’s the best iPhone. A flagship phone has all the bells and whistles.

Three years ago a flagship phone cost you around $700-$800. A few of them were brushing up into $900 maybe touching a $1,000 (like my Pixel 2). Now, flagship phones can very easily set you back $1,200 or more.

Why do you need a flagship phone? Well, There is a cool factor to it. If you’re nerdy, you just want the latest and greatest. If you’re someone who plays a lot of really high-intensity resource-driven games on your phone, you might want a flagship because they have the fastest processors, more memory, and better battery life.

While I am definitely a nerd, I am also definitely not a gamer. Whether I need the cool factor is something to discuss at another time. So, I don’t think I’m going to get a flagship phone this time around.

Since I don’t need 5G and I don’t need a flagship phone what am I looking at?

Revenge of the mid-range

Something that’s been missing for the last couple of years (except for some Motorola phones) is a phone that is more than a cheap throwaway, but also isn’t a flagship. That mid-range disappeared for awhile.

Mid-range phones aren’t flagships. They’re not the Best of the Best. They don’t have the best anything but they have good enough everything. Good enough cameras, good enough software, good enough storage to be a really solid phone for people. A phone that can last for several years and still be pleasant to use.

Luckily in 2020, we’ve seen a rebirth of that mid-range tier of devices. Even Apple has gotten into the mid-range game with the iPhone SE.

iPhone on a budget

The SE is definitely an iPhone. It does what an iPhone does, but costs about $400. As opposed to the $1,000, $1,200, or even $1,500 you might spend for a top of the line iPhone. The trade-off is fewer cameras, slightly inferior hardware, and lesser materials used in the build. But it still offers the reliability and quality that everyone expects from an iPhone. For a lot of people, you’re not going to notice a difference between a $1,000 iPhone 11 Pro and the $400 SE.

So if you’re an iPhone user the iPhone SE is an excellent choice if you are on a bit of a budget. If you want to stick with the Google Pixel, (which I do, I like the Pixel line a lot) you are also in luck!

Google has recently opened pre-orders for the Pixel 4a.

Pixel camera for a reasonable price

The Pixel 4a is a $350 phone. Even better, with the trade-in of my old Pixel 2. I can get $50 off. So it becomes a $300 purchase. That’s a third the cost of the top of the line.

But is it as good as the top of the line?

Well, of course not. You still get what you pay for.

However, I think it is more than one third as good. While the Pixel 4a camera only has one lens, it’s got all of Google’s artificial intelligence and machine learning and all of Google’s software power behind it. So it’s a very high quality camera. I can take great pictures with it, which is important to me. I can do pretty good videos, which is also important. And the phone itself is going to run faster than my three-year-old Pixel 2.

Add to this the fact that it will receive at least three more years of updates along with the cost ($300 after trade-in) and I’m looking at a phone that’s at least as good as what I’ve got and it’s going to last me another three years. All for a very reasonable price.

This is why I’m so excited about shopping for a phone right now.

Take some time to shop

So we talked about the iPhone SE and we talked about the Pixel 4a. There is another notable mid-range phone that hasn’t made it to the U.S. yet but is expected at some point in the near future. OnePlus have announced the OnePlus Nord. An odd name for a cool phone. And priced in the sub-$500 range.

So we now have three major players. Apple, OnePlus, and Google all making phones in this affordable $300-$500 price range. All of these phones are perfectly acceptable devices that are going to last you for multiple years.

I’m excited about this mid-tier of phones that’s made a comeback in 2020. So if you have a little time, a little money to spend, and if you want more value from your next phone purchase, I would suggest taking a little time to shop around. Check out the Pixel 4a, look at the iPhone SE, and look at the OnePlus Nord.

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