• November 27, 2021

Do You Really Need to Spend More Than $400 on a Phone?

LG: Mike, how much did you spend on the last phone that you bought?

MC: Oh God, I can’t even remember. The last phone I bought with my own money, it was probably the Pixel 2 that I got for my wife.

LG: That was probably, what, several hundred dollars at the time?

MC: Yeah, it was like 600 bucks or something.

LG: Would you spend that again?

MC: No.

LG: Why not?

MC: Cheap phones are awesome now!

LG: Well they are, and that’s actually what we’re going to talk about this week on Gadget Lab.

[Intro theme music]

LG: Hi, everyone. Welcome to Gadget Lab. I’m Lauren Goode, a senior writer at WIRED, and I’m joined remotely by my cohost ,WIRED senior editor Michael Calore.

MC: Hello, hello.

LG: Hello, hello. We’re also joined by WIRED senior associate editor Julian Chokkattu. Hey Julian.

Julian Chokkattu: Hello.

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LG: Welcome back to the show. It’s great to have you back.

JC: Thanks for having me.

LG: Earlier this week, Google launched its latest Pixel smartphone, the Pixel 4a. The 4a is the budget model in Google’s lineup with a base price of just $350. That’s less than half the price of the top iPhone models, the Samsung Galaxy S20, and it’s even about half the price of Google’s other Pixel phone. And yet, this so-called budget phone still has a lot of the things most people want in a smartphone. It has a really nice screen, a good camera, a fingerprint sensor, and a headphone jack.

What we’re really seeing happen here is this rise of the midrange smartphone, because the Pixel 4a isn’t alone. Back in April, Apple launched the iPhone SE for just $399. Samsung sells the Samsung Galaxy A51 for around $400. Last week, OnePlus showed off a new phone that you can get for just over $400. Considering the way the economy is going, fewer people, frankly, are going to want to spend much more than that.

Julian, we brought you on because you wrote the WIRED review of the Google Pixel 4a this week and you’ve been testing it for a while. Tell us what kind of phone people can expect to get for $400 these days, based on your review of the Pixel.

JC: You can actually get a phone that really does everything you’ll need. With the Pixel 4a, especially, that includes nice-looking screens and ones that even look modern, with the edges slimmed around for a full-screen experience, and you can also get surprisingly good cameras. The Pixel 4a stands out here more than other cheap phones. Often what you’ll see is longer battery life as well, because the components inside aren’t as power hungry as some of the flagship models. But perhaps in the past few years or so, performance has really started to get more than enough on the lower end of the smartphone market. Chips are becoming more and more capable, to the point where all the apps that you run on a flagship more or less run the same on these cheaper phones. It also helps that these phones are no longer using those yucky, bloated manufacturers’ interfaces, like back in the day. A lot of them run a pretty simple, clean, stock version of Android, which obviously will help performance.

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