With the main phones costing more than R $ 5,000, buying a top-of-the-line launch can leave a huge loss at the limit of the card. But if you wait for a year (or two) and then buy the device of your dreams? By then, the old flagship will have dropped a lot in price. In such cases, does it make sense to buy an old flagship in place of a relatively new intermediate smartphone? Well, that’s what we’re going to look at.
Let’s evaluate the main differences between the tops of the line from previous years and the newly launched intermediates. The comparison will be made based on some of the most important aspects in mobile phones today. Use the links below to skip to a section that interests you most.
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- Screen: where to get the best picture?
- Construction quality: plastic vs. glass
- Camera and image processing
- Processor, and hardware in general
- SOFTWARE and US updates
- Battery life
Fan of curved and high resolution screens? It is worth looking at the flagships of past generations / ©
Although they may be one or two years older, most old flagships almost always have a much higher quality screen compared to most recent intermediate phones. It is also almost certain that a smart top brings an AMOLED panel with high refresh rate that also has more accurate colors. Oh, and if you prefer screens with curved edges, it’s in the old flagships that you’ll find more options.
Interestingly, while AMOLED displays have also become popular in several intermediaries —with some even supporting high refresh rates, they still fall behind when it comes to color calibration. In short, not all AMOLED panels are built the same way.
- Read also: AMOLED, LCD, IPS, TFT, LED, mini-LED: how they work and what the differences
Many intermediate phones continue to use LCD panels with high refresh rate. While LCD screens aren’t bad by themselves — they typically fail to rival their AMOLED equivalents in terms of contrast and color reproduction.
As if that wasn’t enough, it’s worth remembering that the tops of the line from recent years should already be compatible with standards like HDR10/Dolby Vision. These are things that most intermediate devices don’t always offer—which helps keep your costs down.
Winner: old flagships
Who says middlemen need to look cheap? / ©
Top-of-the-line phones tend to offer better build quality than mid-class models. However, thanks to the expansion of Chinese brands such as Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo, this gap is closing rapidly.
One example I can cite is the Vivo X50 Pro we tested last year. It is practically a flagship with regard to overall appearance and finish. The tops of the line also stand out for their premium design, with glass backs that look more sophisticated. But in this case, be prepared to pay a significant amount in the event of a fall of the device.
Intermediate devices, thanks to their plastic construction, generally tend to be a little more durable and are less susceptible to breakage and, even when they break, are much cheaper to repair. One area in which old flagships score best is when it comes to IP rating for water and dust protection. But average cell phones have been slowly instilling this territory in recent years.
- Winner: old flagships, but middlemen are narrowing the gap
Camera and image quality
While it cannot be denied that low-cost cell phone cameras and intermediates have brought several improvements in recent years, the consensus is that most average smartphones to date cannot compete against a top-of-the-line device from the previous year when it comes to image quality. There may be exceptions, but they remain far from the rule in the mobile phone market.
Old tops are usually better in image than most new intermediates / © Bro Crock/Shutterstock
Currently, cameras on old premium phones tend to be better than most new intermediates not only in terms of image processing and sensor quality, but also important points such as lens type and quality and optical image stabilization.
My colleague Antoine also emphasized the fact that any respected old smartphone will have a decent telephoto lens —something most intermediate phones don’t yet offer.
Older flagships are likely to also offer much better video recording capabilities, along with much better image quality in low-light scenes compared to newer mid-range devices.
Winner: old flagships. Especially if you are strict about image, video quality and low light performance.
SoC, processor, and related hardware
It is a fact that top-of-the-line phones usually rely on state-of-the-art hardware and the best money can buy at the time. What you probably don’t know is how good these processors are 2 or 3 years after they are no longer the super sumo of the data sheets.
In most cases, they continue to offer better performance than newer intermediate SoCs. By the way, processor manufacturers have begun releasing older chipsets (with small changes and a new name) and putting them on new intermediate devices for exactly this reason.
A recent example of this are Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 860 and Snapdragon 870 processors, which are no more than renamed versions of snapdragon 855 and Snapdragon 865 chips, respectively found in the 2019 and 2020 flagships, with minor changes in processing speed
- Read also: CPU, GPU, ISP? Understand the soup of acronyms in the complete guide to SoCs for mobile phones
So yes, veteran flagships can easily beat the intermediate SoCs in benchmarks. This, however, does not mean that the hardware of medium phones is slow. For most people, the performance difference between the two may not be significant enough unless they make intensive use of processor and graphics, in games, for example.
The flagships, on the other hand, are more attractive to those who want the best performance that money can buy and are willing to pay for it.
- Winner: Old flagships — if you REALLY care about performance
- It is worth paying attention to intermediate phones that use renamed versions of old premium chips (SD 860/870)
As surprising as it may seem, new intermediate phones may have a slight advantage over older tops when it comes to storage. While you can buy an older smartphone with up to 256 GB or 512 GB of storage, it’s not uncommon for mid-range devices to also offer an option with 128/256 GB of capacity.
But what tilts the scales a bit in favor of medium-sized appliances is that, generally paying less, you can (in most of them) expand storage using microSD cards.
On the other hand, most of the recent flagships have no expandable memory (although the 2019-20 Samsungs still offer the option). Intermediate phones have also reduced the advantage of top-of-the-line phones and now offer even in some cases the UFS 3.0 standard for internal storage. Only premium devices support the UFS 3.1 standard.
Be that as it may, the UFS standard presents a considerable performance jump compared to the laine eMMC system for reading and writing data, which results in greater speed when opening applications and especially games.
- Winner: new intermediates simply for offering more versatility of expansion
Software and operating system updates
Software updates are important. Today, the flagships do better. But what about the future? / © TY Lim / Shutterstock.com
2021 was a decisive year in the history of Android phones — as this year’s world’s largest smartphone seller, Samsung, made a big announcement. The company has confirmed that all of its android models from the Galaxy line will receive three years of software updates and an additional year of security updates.
This announcement came at a time when the policy of software updates for Android phones was a real chaos. Basically, whenever you bought an intermediate device, there wasn’t much to do except pray that the company would remember to offer software updates for years to come.
- Related: Android 12: everything you need to know about the new version of Android
Top-of-the-line devices were free of that concern — unless it was a Motorola — as the audience buying these models cares a little more about periodic software updates. Samsung’s announcement marked a change in this policy and, with the market leader implementing this policy, it is natural for competing brands to follow suit.
In practice, this means that intermediate devices in the future may have the same software life as a top-of-the-line device. This means that from now on, if you buy a Samsung from line A, you’ll be sure you’ll receive updates longer than if you’d bought an older flagship. This drastically alters the balance in favour of the new medium-sized handsets.
Which Android manufacturer updates your phones the longest?
However, it is worth noting that other manufacturers have not yet committed to an update cycle. That’s why the old top stakes win this round —though only by a small margin.
- Winner: Old flagships win. For the time being.
One area where most intermediate phones show a decisive advantage over premium handsets is in battery capacity. This is mainly due to the fact that flagships tend to be thinner and slender. Medium-sized appliances, on the other hand, do not have this obligation and usually work on the battery, which translates into longer autonomy times.
To improve, mid-segment phones also support proper fast charging technologies and don’t take forever to charge—even with huge batteries. In addition, the processors used in them often consume less power and usually only need to power an FHD+ panel unlike qhd+ displays on premium devices. Clearly, the flagships —old or new—have no chance here.
But there’s one area where the top sts win. Most old flagships are compatible with wireless charging and some even offer reverse recharging. Meanwhile, most intermediaries still don’t even offer wireless recharging, but of course there are several exceptions to this ‘rule’.
- Winner: new intermediate
- Stay tuned: if you really care about wireless charging, a flagship may be the only option.
New intermediate phone against an old flagship: which one wins?
As you may have noticed by now, the decision to buy a flagship from last year in place of a new intermediary (or the other way around) should be made based on what type of intended use is.
For example, a top of the line a year ago would still make sense for gamers who need to save and for those who want a better camera experience. It is also advisable for people who wish to receive regular software updates for at least the next two years. And, of course, the screen quality, design and finish in old flagships should remain one level above the newer devices of the lower category.
On the other hand, if you are someone who would be satisfied with a phone that offers decent image quality, and offers excellent battery life along with competent performance, you would probably be well served with a new intermediate.
Do you agree with the points raised? If you don’t agree, tell me why in the comments section below!