Yesterday’s Flagship Vs. Today’s Midranger

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Old is gold right? Maybe not in the world of technology. Today I am tackling a question that has come up hundreds of times – should you purchase a modern mid-range smartphone or a two year old flagship smartphone for about the same price. For the sake of this argument, I shall be comparing the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 (released in October 2014 and arguably one of Samsung’s best smartphones of all time) and the Huawei GR5 2017 (3GB RAM/32GB ROM) also known as the Honor 6X in some markets (released October 2016). I chose these smartphones for a number of reasons:

  • Currently they are priced similarly at approximately Tk. 21,000
  • Both phones are phablets
  • Both phones are/were best in class at the time of release
  • I have reviewed both phones and used them extensively

Design & Build

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The Note 4 was Samsung’s first attempt at premium build quality. It had a removable plastic back along with a solid metal chassis. The Note 4’s flat back and sides are the vestigial elements of an era where straight lines were the cool thing. The GR5 2017 features a more modern design with a curved metal back which is both ergonomic and feels better to the touch. While the Note 4 still looks and feels great, the GR5 2017 is more in tune with today’s trends. One thing the Note 4 has is flexibility. The removable back cover lets you change the battery and even attach accessories like wireless charging pads and extended batteries. This may have been the craze two years ago but today we focus more on a compact and elegant form factor. The one place the GR5 2017 loses out is build quality. While both phones have survived treacherous drops from my hands, the Note 4 has a rock hard chassis that the GR5 2017 simply cannot match as the metal back plate is not screwed onto the body and is rounded out by plastic on the top and bottom.

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Winner: Note 4

Display

The Note 4 was the first major flagship smartphone with a 2k display and it is still jaw dropping today. Samsung’s AMOLED screens have long been unrivaled and this is true even today. The Note 4’s screen looks far better than many current flagship smartphones (I’m talking about you HTC, Blackberry and Apple) and also has the elegance of 2.5D glass. Newer Samsung panels look even better but in the mid-range category, 2K is not to be found anywhere. The GR5 2017’s display is beautiful too but it’s 1080p IPS panel is clearly overshadowed in this situation.

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Winner: Note 4

Software

I HATE TouchWiz especially the version on the Note 4. It is slow, ugly and feels very outdated. There is little scope for customization so I always used a third party app like Nova Launcher. The GR5 2017’s software is smoother, faster and looks far better. Update wise, the Note 4 is on Android 6.0 Marshmallow just like the GR5 2017 and even received the December security patch. This however will probably be the last update the phone will get whereas the GR5 2017 will definitely get updated to Android 7.0 Nougat and beyond. Updates are one of the main reasons one should consider newer phones as they can truly enhance your smartphone experience.

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Winner: GR5 2017

Performance

This is the most interesting segment. With time, CPUs are getting faster and cheaper and so are GPUs and RAM. Both these phones have 3GB of RAM, 32GB of expandable built in storage and large batteries with the GR5 2017 having a tad bit more capacity (3340mAh vs 3220mAh). The similarities end there. The quad core 2.7 GHz Snapdragon 805 processor in the Note 4 may sound beefy but in reality it is a less efficient combination than the GR5 2017’s octa core Kirin 655 (4X2.1GHz + 4X1.7GHz). In games, the performance difference is negligible but the GR5 2017 does a tad bit better due to the lower resolution screen. With regards to battery life, the Note 4 is defeated. With a modern workload, it barely makes through a full day whereas the GR5 2017 can easily coast through 1.5 days of the same use. Both phones have fingerprint scanners but the slow, ancient, swipe based one on the Note 4 is a disgrace compared to the GR5 2017’s fantastic always on scanner.

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Winner: GR5 2017

Camera

Before comparing these two, a trend that I have observed is that midrange devices cut corners on cameras and in general, older flagships feature much better image and video quality. This comparison is unique though as the GR5 2017 features dual cameras and manual controls in video mode. Overall image and video quality are superior on the Note 4 but the GR5 2017 does a better job in low light situations. The dual cameras gives the GR5 2017 an edge as it brings to the table a unique depth of field changing mode which can truly do wonders when used. The full manual video controls are a budget content creator’s dream but they are let down by the lack of optical image stabilization. While the dual cameras are a unique selling point, the Note 4 just has a better quality sensor in my opinion.

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Winner: Note 4

Long Term Value And Conclusion

While the points mentioned above are all very important, the most crucial aspect is the phone’s value over an extended period of time. While the newer affordable options come with some improved technology, the usual case is that older flagships contain the highest end tech from their time. In my opinion the biggest drawback of purchasing an old flagship phone is the fact that it will not receive further software support which becomes both a security risk as well as an annoyance. Android in general has improved so much with each iteration that not getting new updates could really leave you behind in the dust. To conclude, get the old flagship phone if you want generally better cameras and displays. Get the modern mid range devices if you value staying up to date with the smartphone community and want great battery life.

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