The iPhone 11 Pro starts at $1749. Picture: Tomohiro Ohsumi / Getty Images
The iPhone 11 Pro starts at $1749. Picture: Tomohiro Ohsumi / Getty Images

‘Ridiculous’ phone prices slammed

The head of one of the few smartphone companies that actually managed to increase sales during the COVID-19 pandemic has questioned the "ridiculous" prices of some smartphones.

Sam Skontos is the regional managing director of Alcatel mobile, which sells budget-priced smartphones manufactured by TCL, widely known for its televisions.

He told news.com.au the price of smartphones has been "creeping up to ridiculous levels" and the coronavirus pandemic could change how much people were willing to spend.

"It's going to leave a long-lasting impression of saving for a rainy day," Mr Skontos said.

"I think people spending big bucks on outright handsets is going to change and locking into a contract is going to change."

Samsung’s Galaxy S20 Ultra hit shelves at $1999 earlier this year. Picture: Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson
Samsung’s Galaxy S20 Ultra hit shelves at $1999 earlier this year. Picture: Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson

Kantar Research recently revealed cheap devices from brands like Alcatel, Nokia and Telstra-branded phones increased their share of sales in the last quarter, while around the country smartphone sales dropped by 27 per cent compared to the same time last year.

Tightened purse strings as well as the greatly diminished ability to go places had a predictable effect on mobile phone sales.

"Demand was obviously slipping," Mr Skontos said of the April-June quarter.

But his company managed to clear out some old stock while also helping people adapt to their new home offices.

"At one stage, because of the working from home, mobile broadband devices were in demand and some of our phones were sold for tethering reasons, it was really interesting how adaptive people can be and how we move with the times," he said.

He predicted cheaper smartphones would remain in demand and predicted the "sub-$1000 bracket is going to thrive".

"I don't know there's going to be too many people looking at buying products over $1500, and they were creeping up to ridiculous levels to be quite frank," Mr Skontos said.

"Come on man, $2000 for a smartphone is starting to become a little bit beyond people, and beyond my comprehension."

The iPhone 11 Pro starts at $1749. Picture: Tomohiro Ohsumi / Getty Images
The iPhone 11 Pro starts at $1749. Picture: Tomohiro Ohsumi / Getty Images

While Alcatel has had a successful few years selling sub-$300 devices, the company that licenses the name and manufactures its phones is about to introduce its own brand, targeting the mid-range market for phones between $449 and $749.

TCL is already a widely known seller of televisions, but has only recently entered the smartphone game, wading into the market last year with the TCL Plex.

Mr Skontos said one of the reasons TCL was going to be able to compete in a crowded Australian market largely dominated by Apple and Samsung was due to price savings from vertical integration.

Aside from Korean giants like Samsung and LG, TCL is the only company that actually makes the displays that go into their phones.

The rest of them buy theirs from the other three.

"The display is still the magic part of the phone," Mr Skontos said.

TCL will soon introduce two devices into the market: the 10 Pro ($749) and the 10L ($449).

TCL has released the 10 Pro smartphone to compete against the iPhone SE.
TCL has released the 10 Pro smartphone to compete against the iPhone SE.

The Pro's price tag has it butting up directly against the iPhone SE while being slightly more expensive than Samsung's popular Galaxy A71.

To compete, TCL is pairing a Snapdragon 675 processor with 6GB RAM and a 4500mAh battery under the 10 Pro's "magic" 6.4-inch full screen AMOLED display.

The Pro also boasts a quad-camera array on the rear of the phone capable of images up to 64MP (which can also take advantage of pixel-binning for better low light performance).

Imaging has been a key focus in the phone's development to ensure it can match the display and also meet expectations as demand for content changes.

"We're focusing on video because our view is that video is becoming the primary content today," Mr Skontos said.

"You look at everything from TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram … video seems to be the more popular media right now."

The 10L packs more modest specs but the price is right at least.

TCL 10 L offers a cheaper entrance into the mid-range market.
TCL 10 L offers a cheaper entrance into the mid-range market.

Both phones pack a close-to-stock Android software, meaning you don't have to be worried about the phone being bogged down with annoying, pre-installed bloatware that comes with some other phones.

"Some of my competitors seem to think that's an advantage: I've got the opposite view," Mr Skontos said.

"I think if you keep it as vanilla as possible you're passing that flexibility on to the consumer.

"They're smart, they know what to do with this technology, they're not silly, they want that flexibility."

Mr Skontos said he wasn't worried about an apparent growing lack of consumer trust in Chinese brands like TCL.

"The reason I'm not concerned about that is firstly the company doesn't act like a Chinese company," he said.

"We're all local, we've got credibility with the retailers, we've got credibility with the carriers, all our products are tested to Australian standards and comply with all Australian standards.

"We've not got ourselves involved with the silly or misleading, we've not got ourselves in trouble, we've not done things like take photos with a DSLR and say that's taken with a camera phone," he added, giving credit to the Australian team.

"I think it's the people locally doing the business that are representing the brand.

"We're fortunate our parent company gives us the freedom and flexibility to work in the local market as a local company and I think the consumers see us for that."

While it's early days for the TCL brand in Australia Mr Skontos thinks the brand can reach a similar popularity with consumers as its cheaper sister brand.

"We intend to be a major player like we have been with Alcatel, we want to be a major player in the mid-tier section of the range and I think we've got two really good products that are going to help us get there."

The TCL 10 Pro and 10L are available through JB Hi-Fi and select carriers.


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