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Have Google and Samsung just slain the flagship killers?
“Flagship killer” feels like a bit of a throwback these days, but the allure of a powerhouse handset without the premium price tag remains as appealing as ever. If you’re in the market for an affordable flagship phone, the new Google Pixel 8 and Samsung Galaxy S23 FE will undoubtedly be at the top of your shortlist.
Priced at $599 and $699, the two phones shave hundreds off the cost of entry compared to the premium Galaxy or iPhone series, yet they barely compromise the essential specifications. Both phones come equipped with great displays, solid camera setups, wireless charging, IP68 ratings, fast networking, and big batteries; essentially everything you’d want from a top-notch smartphone experience. That said, the phones trade down some aspects, such as older Gorilla Glass 5 protection and marginally weaker camera setups, to keep prices affordable compared to the top-end models. But those are certainly trade-offs we can live with.
Google and Samsung have unleashed compelling alternatives to their own flagship products.
Better still, Google’s and Samsung’s latest phones are built to last. Samsung applies the same four OS and five years of security patches pledge to the Galaxy S23 FE that you’ll find with the more expensive S23 entries. Google goes one better; the Pixel 8 sees seven years of OS support, keeping the phone fresh with new features until 2030. Both are an absolute bargain in that regard.
Their weakest link is processing power, but the Tensor G3, older Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, or Exynos 2200 won’t leave you twiddling your thumbs waiting for apps to load. They’re all more than powerful enough for daily tasks for years to come; they just won’t appeal to those who have to have the absolutely fastest chipset around. Overall, there’s never been a better time to grab an affordable smartphone built to last.
In years gone by, we would have turned to OnePlus, Xiaomi, and a select few others for flagship features at cut-throat prices. These brands are still producing solid affordable phones, of course, but the Pixel 8 and Galaxy S23 FE make them slightly less attractive than in previous years.
Let’s look at some specifics. The $699 OnePlus 11 has high-end power but lacks wireless charging, a robust IP rating, and the solid camera setup you’ll find in the Pixel 8 and Galaxy S23 FE. The $599 Nothing Phone 2 is more well-rounded but still trades down for an IP54 rating and three years of OS upgrades.
The Xiaomi 13T Pro is perhaps the best rival to Google and Samsung, with a high-end processor, 120W charging, a tremendous triple camera array, and an update policy that matches Samsung’s. However, you still miss out on wireless charging and, unfortunately, the phone isn’t available in the US.
Longevity is arguably the most significant factor when shopping on a budget.
And this is the heart of the predicament. Affordable Chinese handsets with flagship-tier specifications still exist, but they often don’t have the US retailer presence of Samsung — and Google, to a lesser extent — that’ll place their phones in a wide range of consumer hands. Even when they are available, their focus on blazing-fast performance and charging isn’t as impressive as it used to be, and there’s almost always an additional compromise or two.
Charging a phone to full in 30 minutes is great, but not at the expense of battery longevity. Plus, you don’t need super-fast charging if your phone lasts all day. Likewise, playing the latest high-end games at max frame rates will be important to some, but even last-gen processors are more than adequate for the 99% of tasks that 99% of users require every day. But I ultimately return to the same point; a phone built to last five or more years holds tremendous sway when shopping on a budget.
Are the Pixel 8 and Galaxy S23 FE the best affordable flagships?
So, have Google and Samsung killed the flagship killers with the Pixel 8 and Galaxy S23 FE? Outside of more niche use cases, I would say they have.
Combining competitive hardware and pricing with best-in-class update policies has pushed other players out of mainstream consideration, at least in the short term. While other brands still have the hardware, they’ll have to rise to the challenge and match the big two in the long-term value game to win me back.