Full-featured smartphones at half the price, multiple cameras for less than $1000, and fierce 5G rivalry at a discount: the battle for smartphones buyers in 2020 has become a price war, with bargains from almost every brand from those looking to upgrade.

From Apple to Samsung, and Google to Oppo, big brands are cutting prices and introducing new recession-friendly models to ensure they can appeal to cash-conscious consumers, many of whom have never relied on their devices more.

And industry analysts say the changes are likely to impact the kinds of smartphones we buy for years, forcing down the price of some devices and ensuring others do not soar quite as high as expected.

Telsyte principal analyst Foad Fadaghi said the average price of smartphones in Australia fell to just $692 in the first half of 2020, down three per cent on last year.

The trend was fuelled by Apple's launch of the iPhone SE, he said, but prices were likely to drop further over the next 18 months.

"We've seen a growing movement to buying more affordable handsets," he said.

"Smartphones like the cheaper iPhone SE will continue to sell well in Australia, and the most expensive Apple products will be aspirational but might not be their best-selling devices.

"We're seeing people gravitating towards the less-than-maxed-out smartphones."

Google's Pixel 5 is the company's first 5G smartphone.
Google's Pixel 5 is the company's first 5G smartphone.

Mr Fadaghi said mid-range phones, priced under the $1000 mark, were already winning over more buyers before the coronavirus pandemic, but the trend was now going mainstream.

Kantar strategic insight director Tamsin Timpson said smartphones priced between $300 and $800 made up almost 40 per cent of all sales in Australia between June and September, with sales soaring by 31 per cent.

And, as a result, consumers are now seeing the launch of new handsets that do more for less money.

Apple recently unveiled four iPhone 12 devices rather than the usual two, ranging in price from $1199 to $2369, while keeping the budget-friendly iPhone SE, and 2018 release iPhone XR on the market for those looking to save their funds.

Tech giant Google also released two versions of its Pixel 4a budget model in Australia this year, starting at $599 and rising to $799 for a 5G version.

And Samsung added a new category of affordable smartphone, the Galaxy S20 FE, or Fan Edition, that undercuts its Galaxy S20 Ultra by $1000 at a price of $999.

It still features three rear cameras, a 6.5-inch screen and substantial battery, though has less power than its more expensive peers.

Marketing account executive Brittany Evans, 23, picked the iPhone 12 because “it’s probably the one at the best price and it’s available the quickest”. Picture: Supplied
Marketing account executive Brittany Evans, 23, picked the iPhone 12 because “it’s probably the one at the best price and it’s available the quickest”. Picture: Supplied

Samsung Australia mobile vice-president Garry McGregor said its launch was in response to demand for high-end features at lower prices, and he expected plenty of bargain hunters to hit the phone market in the lead-up to Christmas.

"The market has shifted this year, and people are buying phones outright, so there will be a little more of a focus on Boxing Day sales, Cyber Monday, Black Friday, that might disrupt buying patterns," he said.

Sydney executive Brittany Evans, 23, said when she decided to pre-order a new iPhone 12, she compared all four models and their prices.

"I ruled out the iPhone Mini straight away - it looked like an iPhone 5 - and I didn't need all the features of the Pro Max," she said.

"I decided to go with the regular iPhone 12 because it's probably the one at the best price and it's available the quickest. I want my new phone as soon as possible!"

Ms Evans said the iPhone's camera was the biggest drawcard for her upgrade, though its 5G connection and promise of a tougher glass front sealed the deal to replace her slightly cracked iPhone XR.

ULTIMATE SMARTPHONE GUIDE 2020

The best smartphone for you can depend on a lot of factors: your age, your friends, your favourite apps, your lifestyle, and the depth of your pockets (literally and figuratively).

We've gathered, graded, and assessed the latest smartphone releases to help you choose the best model, whether you're an influencer, a bargain-hunter, or an upwardly mobile photographer.

 

KIDS

Recommendations: Nokia 2.3 ($199)/ Alcatel 1B ($147)

It's usually unwise to invest a lot of money in a phone for the knockabout pre-teen crowd. Thankfully, there are plenty of inexpensive, full-featured options this year from companies including Nokia, Alcatel, and even Samsung and Oppo. The Nokia 2.3 stands out for its colourful, textured exterior, 6.2-inch screen, two rear cameras with sports modes, plus two-day battery life and two years of Android software updates. The Alcatel 1B is a cheaper, more basic choice that still offers a 5.5-inch screen, big battery, and an eight-megapixel rear camera.

 

The Nokia 2.3 has a two-day battery life.
The Nokia 2.3 has a two-day battery life.

 

 

TEENS

Recommendations: Apple iPhone SE (from $679)/Google Pixel 4a ($599)

Having a smartphone - and the right smartphone - can take on extra importance in high school. Those who want to swap blue iMessages with their friends have a fresh option in the new iPhone SE that comes with a 4.7-inch screen, fingerprint scanner, water-resistance, and the same chip as the iPhone 11 Pro to keep apps speedy. It does have only one rear 12-megapixel camera but it uses software to deliver Portrait mode. Teens who prefer Google can go straight to the source thanks to the Pixel 4a that offers advanced software smarts in its single rear camera, an all-day battery, and automatic audio transcriptions (which could prove handy in class).

 

The iPhoneSE comes with a 4.7-inch screen.
The iPhoneSE comes with a 4.7-inch screen.

 

 

Google Pixel 4a includes automatic audio transcriptions.
Google Pixel 4a includes automatic audio transcriptions.

 

 

INFLUENCERS

Recommendations: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip ($1999)/Apple iPhone 12 Pro ($1699)

These two smartphones stand out for different reasons but both would suit a budding social media star. Samsung's Galaxy Z Flip is an underrated addition to the market, with a unique design that folds in the middle, turning a traditional handset into something that resembles a compact mirror. Its hinge can keep the phone at a right angle, allowing users to sit it on a desk to film a make-up tutorial or on a fence to capture a long exposure photograph. Apple's newly released iPhone 12 Pro, meanwhile, has one of the best selfie cameras around, producing warm tones and flattering images. This handset also adds night portraits to its armament, LIDAR for quick focus, and, while it lacks some features from its Pro Max brother, is small enough to disappear in a pocket.

 

Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold2 is an underrated addition to the market.
Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold2 is an underrated addition to the market.

 

 

BARGAIN-HUNTERS

Recommendations: TCL 10L ($449)/ Vivo X50 Lite ($399)

For less than $500, this TCL phone will deliver a 6.5-inch screen, a choice of face or fingerprint-scanning, and four cameras, including a 48-megapixel snapper and lenses designed just for wide angle shots and macro photography. The even cheaper X50 Lite, from new Australian arrival Vivo, matches TCL's 48-megapixel main camera, delivers Super Night Mode for dimly lit shots, and offers an in-screen fingerprint scanner despite its sub-$400 price.

 

The TCL 10L smartphone is a budget-friendly smartphone with four rear cameras.
The TCL 10L smartphone is a budget-friendly smartphone with four rear cameras.

 

 

 

 

PHABLET FANS

Recommendations: Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max ($1849)/Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G ($1999)

There are big benefits to big smartphones and these two offerings from Apple and Samsung are two of the most substantial. The iPhone 12 Pro Max is the largest smartphone from Apple to date, with a 6.7-inch display. Other advantages include the largest camera sensor in the iPhone 12 range, sensor-shift technology to counteract bumps, and the addition of 5G. Samsung's top-of-the-line Note should also impress the farsighted or who just want a pen and a screen large enough to write upon. Its display measures 6.9 inches, and it also comes with three rear cameras, a lens with a 5x optical zoom, and a 5G connection.

 

Apple has four 5G iPhone 12 models.
Apple has four 5G iPhone 12 models.

 

 

The Galaxy Note 20 also comes with three rear cameras.
The Galaxy Note 20 also comes with three rear cameras.

 

 

CAMERA-FOCUSED

Recommendations: Google Pixel 5 ($999)/Huawei P40 Pro 5G ($1599)

Two of the best smartphone cameras this year are inside the biggest phones on the market: the Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max and Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra. But if you want mobile photography to slip into your pockets easily, there are alternatives. Google's flagship Pixel adds an ultra wide-angle lens, and will capture night portraits from the front or rear cameras and rescue images in challenging lighting using its HDR+ feature. The Huawei P40 Pro features some of the most advanced mobile camera hardware around, co-created with Leica, including five rear cameras; one with a 10x optical zoom. Users will have to be tech-savvy enough to load apps through Huawei's own store, though, as Google support has been withdrawn.

 

The Google Pixel 5 is the tech giant’s first 5G smartphone.
The Google Pixel 5 is the tech giant’s first 5G smartphone.

 

 

The Huawei P40 Pro features some of the most advanced mobile camera hardware around.
The Huawei P40 Pro features some of the most advanced mobile camera hardware around.

 

 

 

EARLY ADOPTERS

Recommendations: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2 5G ($2999)/Motorola RAZR Fold 5G (TBA)

If you're someone who wants tech that will make people stop you on the street (and others laugh at you on the internet), folding phones are the way to go. Mercifully, both of these innovative smartphones are much slicker than their predecessors. Samsung's second Fold is more rugged, more useful, offers unique selfie modes and multiple viewing angles, and has a much bigger screen upfront. If you can withstand that price, it could change the way you use smartphones. Motorola's second RAZR is also greatly improved, adding 5G, a larger front screen, moving the fingerprint scanner around the back, and giving users more option for that front screen. It's due in Australia shortly.

 

BUTTER-FINGERS

Recommendations: Nokia 800 Tough ($199)/ Cat S52 ($799)

Despite the number of cracked screens you might see in public, the rugged smartphone category is often overlooked. This year delivers two capable models, including the basic but brutish Nokia 800 Tough that is built for bad weather, sudden dunks, and drops from as high as 1.8m on to concrete. It comes with a physical keypad but users can employ the Google Assistant to dictate long messages. The more advanced Cat S52 from machinery maker Caterpillar offers a traditional 5.7-inch touchscreen, a 12-megapixel rear camera, and a body that promises to withstand dust, water, and falls from 1.5m.

 

The Nokia 800 Tough is a smartphone built to withstand bad weather and high falls.
The Nokia 800 Tough is a smartphone built to withstand bad weather and high falls.

 

The Cat S52 is a rugged smartphone that may suit tradies.
The Cat S52 is a rugged smartphone that may suit tradies.

 

Originally published as Smartphone wars: Best deals for every Aussie


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