Opinion: Is this the era of budget phones?

Is the tide turning in the battle between budget and flagship phones? Melvin Tang and Tein Hee Seow engage in a war of words
Opinion: Is this the era of budget phones?

Xiaomi’s been taking Singapore by storm with its low-cost phones. Now that more brands have joined the fray, the situation has changed, but the winner is still undeclared.

Online editor Tein Hee Seow and magazine editor Melvin Tang take sides in the upcoming price war.

Melvin says yes

Opinion: Is this the era of budget phones?

For most things, the Singaporean mantra when it comes to buying has always been that the product in question must be “cheap and good”. Even better if it’s being sold at a significant discount, which explains why the entire country becomes sale central for almost two whole months during the Great Singapore Sale.

That’s why it’s always been kind of weird that smartphones were being seen as luxury goods. They had to be, because everyone was going for the latest and most expensive models, with some even upgrading before their telco contracts were up. Taxi uncles, housewives, and even the elderly were sporting expensive flagship phones, despite not having a clue how to use them.

Thanks to the introduction of Xiaomi’s low-cost phones into the market, everything’s changing. Thousands of its handsets are snapped up in mere minutes, largely because they’re so much cheaper than everything else, making the term value-for-money mean something again. After all, it’s really hard to say no to a S$169 smartphone that does just about everything.

Come to think about it, do we really need top-of-the-line specs to browse Facebook, chat on WhatsApp, and play Candy Crush?

Barring new innovations in form or function that’ll actually come in handy, unless you’re constantly pushing your device to its limits with power-intensive games and apps, you really don’t need a top-end model. Brands are quickly wising up to that fact too, focusing on providing better value-for-money rather than engage in an expensive all-out spec war. We get what we need for less, and they spend less to make more. Sounds like a win-win situation to me. 

If you’re not convinced, Asus has the ZenFone range starting from S$249, Nokia's recently launched the Lumia 635 at S$239, and ZTE's just launched the S$169 Blade L2. Tell me you aren’t even a little tempted to get those over a S$1000 smartphone if you aren't a heavy user.

Make no mistake, affordability is the new killer feature, and its time is now. 

READ MOREthe best smartphones you can buy for under S$250 in Singapore

Tein Hee says no

Opinion: Is this the era of budget phones?

I want everything but the kitchen sink in a smartphone.

Think devices like the HTC One (M8), with its insanely fast smooth performance and HTC Sense user interface. Oh, and let’s not forget that sleek metal finish that’ll make you swoon. I want the best screen and the LG G3's 2K screen comes to mind. The phone must have a ridiculously long battery life that should last beyond a day of heavy usage. It must have the best camera so I won’t need to carry a DSLR to capture quick snapshots.

A friend highlighted to me that you can get almost all that from the Xiaomi Mi3 and soon, the Mi4 will be a near match to this year's flagship models. The word, however, is almost. Even though both Xiaomi phones are nearly half the price of the high-end models, and have decent hardware that’s sufficient for daily use, it ain’t enough.

No wireless charging capabilities, no 2K screen, no deal.

On some level, I’m also a bit of a brand snob. Try showing off a Meizu phone. Mei what? Not many people have heard of that, and they’ll dismiss it as another knockoff brand. The fixation with brand, however, is also stemmed in the after-sales support by these companies. Who doesn’t want to get their money’s worth when they pay a few hundred dollars, heck, even more than S$1000, for the latest gadgeet? At least with these branded models, I’m assured that service support isn’t too far.

Try doing that with newer companies like OnePlus. Service centres are scarce, unlike the big boys such as Samsung, Sony and HTC which have multiple service centres across the island. Admittedly, Xiaomi’s making an effort, launching its service centre and warehouse here to provide repair services and speedier delivery to customers.

If there’s one reason to get an affordable smartphone from a Chinese company, it’s for my annual in-camp training. At least, I won’t feel the heartache when I chip or crack a sub-S$200 smartphone’s screen, which also lets me stalk my friends on Facebook or WhatsApp them.

But ultimately, I’ll stick with my tried, tested and branded devices. I believe in paying for quality.

READ MORE: Smartphone supertest: Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One (M8) vs Sony Xperia Z2 vs LG G3