Although boundary pushing flagship smartphones garner most of the headlines, there’s a budding market for lower cost flagships and mid-range smartphones that is due for a shot in the arm. While there are some great handsets out there, manufacturers are often slow at bringing flagship features to their lowest cost models, which greatly devalues the potential of this important mid-tier.
When you can pick up last year’s flagship with better specs and more features at the same price as the latest mid-tier handsets, there often doesn’t appear to be much purpose to many of these models. So here are some features that I think manufacturers should hop on right away to make their handsets more appealing.
1 – Android Nougat out of the box
Pet peeve number one of any mid-range handset buyer is almost certainly receiving out of date software with a new purchase. Granted, most manufacturers were fast at adopting Marshmallow last year, although there are definitely a few remaining villains, particularly when it comes to releases outside of the West. I’m looking at you Meizu M3 Note, Lenovo Vibe K5 Plus, and the Micromax Canvas 6 Pro, for example. Lollipop was not cool in 2016 and nothing but Nougat will do in 2017. The OS has been out for more than 4 months now.
There’s no notable reason why vendors can’t spend the time preparing the latest version of Android for any new hardware release so that it’s ready to go out of the box. Furthermore, it would be grand if manufacturers would support their mid-range phones at least as long as their flagship models. Again, some manufacturers are better at this than others, but there are still too many lower cost phones that lose software support too quickly.
After all, why buy an unsupported mid-ranger if last year’s flagship is still set to receive another year’s worth of updates? On the bright side, Huawei is promising 2 years of updates with its $400 Honor 8, a trend others should follow.
2 – A USB Type-C port
Much like Nougat, there isn’t really a good reason that I can see for mid-range manufacturers not adopting USB Type-C ports this year too. The connectors and ICs aren’t vastly more expensive than before and the technology has the added bonus of bringing fast charging compatibility to handsets instantaneously. So no need to spend precious development costs of a Quick Charge or other custom solutions.
This isn’t just for the sake of keeping up with the new port either. If manufacturers expect to sell us on the world of Type-C digital headphones and other accessories, everyone is going to need access to them and not just flagship handset owners.
That being said, we’ll be more forgiving to manufacturers who release phones in areas where USB Type-C hardware and accessories aren’t so readily available. Still, what’s wrong with being a trailblazer? For what it is worth, CES showed that most phones coming this year will probably make the move to USB-C.
3 – Fast Charging
As we’ve mentioned, fast charging needs to hurry up and become universal for all mid-range phones. Just because I’m not buying the latest flagship doesn’t mean that I don’t need to charge my phone in a hurry or that my battery life is good enough to get my through the day. With mid-range handsets typically shipping with smaller sized batteries yet gradually packing in more powerful processing and display hardware, fast charging is surely required in many of today’s mid-tier products.
Of course, there are extra things to consider when it comes to fast charging; cost being the major one, followed by SoC support if you’re looking for Qualcomm Quick Charge or MediaTek’s Pump Express options. Even so, if the $150 Moto G4 can ship with Quick Charge technology, there’s little excuse for manufacturers not to match this in 2017. Alternatively, manufacturers could kill two birds by opting for USB Type-C and its compulsory USB Power Delivery compatibility.
4 – NFC and mobile payments
NFC is another hit and miss technology in the mid-range market, and I’d like to see it become universal this year. The absence of NFC from some of OnePlus’ earlier handsets caused a bit of a stir, but there are still many manufacturers not including the technology in their more wallet friendly models. Some otherwise excellent mid-tier models sans-NFC include the Moto G4 Plus, Honor 5X, and the ASUS Zenfone 3, although you can pay more for this option in the Deluxe model.
NFC is useful for a few little things but its main lure these days is mobile payments, and it’s a shame that a number of handsets still aren’t catering to widely available systems like Android Pay. Especially when two, nearly three generation old flagship phones came equipped with the technology.
Furthermore, Samsung’s magnetic secure transmission (MST) technology, and LG’s rumored similar implementation, need to hurry up and trickle down to the company’s extended smartphone range. Samsung is expected to bring Samsung Pay to almost all of its phones this year, so let’s hope that this is the case. We’ll also have to see what Samsung Pay Mini has in store.
5 – Dual cameras
Dual cameras may still be a new flagship concept for some flagship manufacturers, but the technology is also very promising for improving the quality of mid-tier cameras setups too. This obviously requires more powerful processing technology than a single camera setup, but this type of hardware is already available at mid-tier price points.
For example, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 653 and 617 sport dual camera ISPs, as do the budget level 435 and 427 chip sets. Combining this image processing capability with ideas similar to Qualcomm’s Clear Sight technology, could produce a significant boost to image noise, contrast, and color vibrancy even using lower cost sensors. Even if monochrome designs aren’t implemented, higher end features like focus readjusting or enhanced zoom capabilities would of course be appreciated at a lower price point.
Recent mid-tier announcements like Huawei’s powerful $400 Honor 8 show that dual camera tech doesn’t have to be reserved for $800 flagships, and the Honor 6X has a similar setup at just $250. However, the new ZTE Blade V8 Pro has even implemented its own dual sensor design at an even more affordable $230 price point, along with NFC and a USB Type-C port. Mid-tier manufacturers should take note that the bar of 2017 is already set quite high.
The falling cost of flagship hardware certainly makes all of the above achievable this year, and we have already seen a number of manufacturers releasing compelling cost effective flagships and mid-range smartphones that contain a number of features on the list. The $250 to $350 price point is starting to look increasingly competitive, and that’s going to pile on the pressure for ranges like Samsung’s Galaxy A and HTC’s Desire.
2017 could be a very exciting year for those looking to buy a quality handset on a budget. Do you have any of your own features that you would like to see hurry up and arrive in mid-range smartphones? Let us know about them in the comments below.