The Hidden Costs Of Less Expensive Smartphones
Personally, I love a cheaper smartphone. I’ve used and loved the expensive devices, the Apple iPhone, the Samsung Galaxy S and Note models, and the HTC Ones of this world. They are great handsets, but they are also expensive – and I have devoted many an article to the lower and mid-range handsets that could do the same thing as their more expensive relatives. The smartphone market is also slowly changing as customers realise mid-range devices can be just as good as more expensive ones.
The premise of a good entry level smartphone is that it offers the core functionality with as few as possible compromises made compared with the flagship handset. Flagships often offer the fastest chipsets, the highest quality displays, neatest designs and the finest cameras. Mid-range and lower models make do with lesser components, but depending on what we are doing with the smartphone in question, this sometimes doesn’t make a difference in how the device works for us.
And then there’s software, as often a mid-range or lower model has a compromised software experience. This can mean an outdated version of Android, a lack of support from the manufacturer, or for those unlocked devices, it can take the shape of additional software pre-installed. For the device manufacturer offering a mid-range device running an older version of Android, there is really no excuse: if you are going to have your software engineers build Android for the device in question, use the absolute very latest software available. It won’t cost any more. Thankfully, we are seeing device manufacturers releasing lower and mid-tier handsets running the current version of Android rather than releasing an older version – one example being my current daily driver, the Wileyfox Swift 2, which runs Android 7.1.2 Nougat.
Google releases monthly security patches, which some manufacturers roll out to chosen devices, such as the Samsung Galaxy S range. Here, it’s the flagship devices that tend to get the limelight with lesser models in the range being less frequently updated, if at all. The justification here appears to be that mid-range devices are less popular than the flagship ‘phones, so there is less need to upgrade. Being cynical, this can mean that the mid-range devices earn the manufacturer less money and so they are unwilling to invest in keeping the product up to date.
Fortunately, devices such as the LG Google Nexus 5X, considered mid-range at launch, show that a sub-flagship device can be kept up to date.
The final way that a lesser model may have a compromised software experience is if the manufacturer pre-installs applications. This can happen as part of a marketing or licensing deal. From 2015, Samsung has been including Microsoft productivity applications, believed to be a part of a legal settlement between the two companies. Wileyfox include the Truecaller dialler application to replace the stock Google dialer, which can cause a few privacy eyebrows as the application can upload your address book to the Truecaller server. And BLU, America’s fastest growing smartphone manufacturer, has been implicated by security groups first in 2016 and more recently in July 2017 as containing an application that transmits information back to Chinese servers.
For some of the software bloat issues it’s a small step to either uninstall the bundled applications or disable them in the Android Settings application. Unfortunately, not all applications may be disabled and of course it takes a little technical knowledge to disable those we can. For those that cannot be uninstalled, they may receive updates via the Google Play Store, which erodes into precious internal space.
The situation is murkier for those pre-installed third-party applications with privacy concerns. Were they allowed by the device manufacturer in exchange for payment, or financial kickbacks – which of course could be used to reduce the cost of the device for customers?