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Why Buy A Flagship Android Smartphone?

Gordon Kelly


Samsung Galaxy S4 - Why buy a flagship Android smartphone?

meHere are a list of things you can buy for under £600: a 64GB iPad 4, a 55-inch Samsung PS51D550 plasma TV, an Acer Aspire Timeline ultrabook, an LG BH8220B surround sound system, a Canon EOS 650D DSLR camera, a return flight to Caribbean and ‘’any smartphone on the market’’… except the Samsung Galaxy S4.

Then again, this stands to reason because did you know the S4 is twice as good as the Galaxy S3 and more than twice as good as the Google Nexus 4?

What’s that… it isn’t? But that’s what the asking price says. Flippancy aside it is about time we asked: are premium smartphones worth the money?


From a hardware perspective there is a great deal to admire. The current crop of benchmark handsets, which includes the circa £500 HTC One and Sony Xperia Z, pack quad-core processors producing benchmark results that almost double those of the previous generation.

They also have jaw-dropping 1080p Full HD screens and the latest camera technology. Furthermore their costs can be spread over the length of a two-year contract for those intimidated by their hefty SIM-free asking prices and it is a tactic that seems to be working.


“The demand for the Samsung Galaxy S4 has been truly phenomenal at pre-order stage,” reported Phones 4U chief commercial officer Scott Hooton on Thursday. “In the first six hours alone, pre-orders placed both online and in-store are five time that of the Samsung Galaxy SIII over the same time period.” Hooton also confirmed the S4 had broken the record for the highest number of pre-registrations previously held by the iPhone 4S.

That said look closer and the total cost of ownership for these handsets is eye-watering. In the case of the Galaxy S4, Three currently has the cheapest deal, which nets you a free phone if you sign a £35pm two-year deal on its Ultimate Internet 500 plan. This gives you 500 minutes, 5000 texts and All-You-Can-Eat data.

The total cost of ownership (TCO) is £840. On Vodafone and O2 a free S4 starts on two year contracts costing from £42pm and £47pm respectively and on EE tariffs (above) a £56pm two year contract on 4G gets you the S4 for a £19.99 outlay. TCO here comes in at £1,008, £1,128 and £1,363 respectively. Wow.

In the Cheap Corner

Just four months ago the picture pin-up phones were very different. Top of our lust list were the Samsung Galaxy S3, LG Nexus 4 and HTC One X. They pack 4.7-inch 720p HD screens, lower clocked quad-core processors and eight-megapixel cameras rather than the 13 megapixels found in the S4 and Xperia Z.

Today all three handsets can be bought for under £300 new and contract free. Coupled with Three’s The One Plan which offers 2,000 minutes, 5,000 Three-to-Three minutes, 5,000 SMS and unlimited data on a 30-day rolling contract for just £25pm the TCO over two years comes in at… £900. ‘’Surprise!’’

nexus 4

Yes the twist is that, for all the outcry about the sky high prices of the latest handsets, the real cost isn’t so much in outlay but freedom. Your network has you for two years and changing phone again to the latest and greatest within that time frame will be prohibitively expensive.

Of course there are other considerations. Theft, loss or breaking a flagship phone when you don’t have insurance (a hefty cost in itself) will leave you significantly more out of pocket and if you sell your phone at the end of your contract you will take a much bigger hit than on a Nexus 4 or S3. If you travel a lot you also can’t easily swap to a pre-pay foreign sim card so there are roaming costs to consider.

Future Proof

On the plus side tech-savvy friends may tease you that your shiny Galaxy S4, One or Xperia Z is pointless because Android runs imperceptibly faster and apps and games aren’t optimised to take full advantage of extra horsepower. But this doesn’t account for platform and app advancement over the two years of your contract and having the latest handset you should also receive major platform updates for longer. Are battery and camera quality improvements only minor? Still they are there and you have them.

What about hardware envy in 12 months when your contract-free friends can upgrade without restriction? This isn’t a big deal either since the more iterative nature of hardware upgrades means real change only tends to come every second year and in upgrading your friends either have to fork out a huge contract-free price or tie themselves down on contract for longer than you have left.

X Phone

Horses for Courses

All of which means splashing out on the latest cutting edge smartphone isn’t quite the financial madness it might appear. Similarly the contract-phobic aren’t being quite as smart as they believe in opting for short term rolling price plans and buying last year’s big hitters outright. It is a trade-off: benchmark hardware verses freedom and finding which fits in with your own personal preference and lifestyle. Both paths are equally valid.

So if you want a Galaxy S4, HTC One or Xperia Z go for it. What about the impending Motorola X Phone (above) and Nexus 5? I didn’t say the choosing part would be easy…


April 3, 2013, 9:35 am

My Galaxy S2 is nearly 2 years old and I have no intention, or desire to replace it. It runs apps and games just as fast as it did 2 years ago and the screen looks just a great as it did 2 years ago.

I don't want a bigger screen and I don't need, or don't really care about most of the improvements on the S4, certainly not for £5-600 anyway.


April 3, 2013, 12:14 pm

I just bought an S3 outright for £300 (I should get about £120 or more for my old excellent condition SGS2 with case, Samsung extended battery, and memory card, so I will actually pay approx. £180 or less for the S3).

I want the larger screen as I have started to use my phone to stream video (TV & Sky Sports), and use GiffGaff to stream TV for £12/month on a monthly deal (less than half the cost of the Three deal you reference, and which I can't use due to rubbish Three signal).

My total cost over 2 years will be £588 (or roughly £470 if you take into account the sale of my old phone) - not bad for a phone that was until very recently top of the Android pile and with unlimited data. Maybe I'll buy the S4 for £300 or so in a year, or maybe not - but I sure won't sign up for a 24 month contract with absurd TCO just to own the latest shiny thing.

Hamish Campbell

April 3, 2013, 12:49 pm

Well that is always the trick, being happy with your existing phone when it still performs well and covers all your requirements. Getting your head turned by the new girl on the block is the thing that costs you.

But that is easier said than done for most people :)

I have the S2 as well and am still very pleased with it. And probably like you am wondering where I'm gonna find the next premium android phone at around this screen size when this one falls apart. So far it looks like, upsize or buy a mid-range. And mid-range specs look very budget if you ask me.

Abiyouth Manickam

April 3, 2013, 2:53 pm

I dont care about the Cost. Galaxy S4 you are mine !!!!!!!

Gordon Kelly

April 3, 2013, 3:20 pm

That's excellent and it is a fair point that you can include the cost of selling your old phone... though obviously sellers of an S3 will get more for that if they opt for an S4. Giff Gaff and Three are certainly the bargain networks of choice right now.


April 3, 2013, 3:37 pm

The amounts being charged for flagship phones is way too high when you consider the phone will be near obsolete by the end of a two year and contract and will only be worth a small fraction of its' original price. My camera, games console, laptop external hard drive can all last 5 years if I pick carefully but a phone begins to show it's age after a year, especially if it stops receiving updates.
I'll wait a few months then buy an unlocked phone off someone in the local classifieds that signed a contract that doesn't want the phone and just hope it lasts 2 years and then sell it for half what I paid for it.
If the Google Nexus was available in my region I would surely buy it because of the latest updates and price. Come on Google, sort it out!


April 3, 2013, 3:55 pm

If the reason you are buying a phone is because it is the latest and greatest, then you will only be truly satisfied whilst it still occupies that top spot.
If you buy a phone that does all you want, you will be satisfied until your wants change, which obviously does happen, but hopefully not as quickly as the previous scenario!
I bought a Galaxy Note 1, and it still does all I want. Maybe eventually the Note 3 or 4 will turn my head for some 'wants' I don't yet know I want :)


April 3, 2013, 3:59 pm

"Today all three handsets can be bought for under £300 new and contract free."

Where do you buy a brand new Galaxy S3 sim-free and unlocked under £300 today?

Milo O'Neill

April 3, 2013, 4:02 pm

Funny, I still love my One X.... BUT just look at the One, it's beautiful. Only plus is that in twelve months time it'll be the all new, giga core HTC 2 with 5.5' 4k screen and nespresso coffee maker, bring it on.


April 3, 2013, 4:08 pm

ebay. Mine was just delivered for just under £300 (new, unlocked and without the network-added crapware)


April 3, 2013, 4:19 pm

do you still have the seller details? I can only see them listed around the £330 mark :(

Alex Longmate

April 3, 2013, 8:00 pm

Similar story here.
- Nexus 4 - 16gb @ £280.
- Talkmobile rolling contract - 300 minutes £8/month
- TCO - £472
The £25/month example used in the article to prove the point is for 2000+5000 minutes. Not exactly a budget alternative.

Gordon Kelly

April 3, 2013, 9:17 pm

Strapline talks about the iPad 4 64GB.

Gordon Kelly

April 3, 2013, 9:19 pm

It depends how much data you want. Three unlimited data contracts, for example, only roll for 30 days on The One Plan. You can get unlimited data for a lot less, but it involves signing a 12 month contract... which is against the principles of freedom that I was discussing. But yes, cheaper contracts than The One Plan are available.


April 3, 2013, 10:00 pm

"Three unlimited data contracts, for example, only roll for 30 days on The One Plan"

Not so.

3 also do an "Ultimate Internet SIM 200 1 month" sim-only plan for £12.90:
unlimited data, rolling monthly plan. You have to live with a more reasonable 200 minutes, still get 5000 texts with your unlimited data.

The point made by Alex seems fair - you have made your figures balance by choosing extreme sim-only plans to match the extreme minutes foisted on you by the phone+sim contracts. Fair enough if you actually want 2000 + 5000 minutes a month, but that is not everybody.


April 3, 2013, 10:48 pm

i bought my Nokia N9 Meego/Harmatan handset from finland for £500.

my previous phone was a Nokia N900 on a £20/month contract.

when that came to an end t-mobile gave me a 4" LG android handset on a 2 year £10/month contract with data. I sold the LG for £150.

ends up as a top end handset with two years of calls, texts and internet for £590, or £90 more than the handset cost itself.

i think i won.

Gordon Kelly

April 4, 2013, 11:57 am

I take your point, then you are also not comparing like with like.

500 minutes is the minimum level you can get on a free S4 tariff which is a more realistic monthly usage amount. 200 minutes per month lets you talk for an average of just 6 minutes per day.

Of course it is possible to save more - go pre-pay! - but the gaps are still not as big as you'd think for last generation hardware. That said I prefer freedom in my phone usage so personally a Nexus 4 from Google Play and a 30 day rolling One Plan is the route I choose.


April 4, 2013, 3:25 pm

I bought mine from a seller called "cheapest_electrical" - they have over 115000 on the feedback. I'm usually pretty nervous about spending relatively large amounts on Ebay, but that persuaded me.

The phone is described as a non-fault return - which I'm guessing means that someone decided to trade up from a smaller-screen phone but changed their mind when the saw the size of the S3.

The one I received is pristine, so can't fault them. Now I just have to transfer my life from my old S2 to the new S3.


April 4, 2013, 3:32 pm

I looked at the Nexus 4, but the locked-in battery and lack of expandable storage put me off (I'll probably put a 64Gb card in my S3 as the 32Gb I had in my S2 was pretty much full).

It is a very nice phone though, and at a fantastic price.


April 4, 2013, 3:35 pm

You can get unlimited data for £12/month from GiffGaff, without the long contract.

The only down-side with them is that it is effectively PAYG, so you have to pre-pay for any roaming or premium-number calls (although since that negates any risk of a shocking bill at the end of the month, you could see that as a positive!)

Asad Ahmed

April 4, 2013, 3:36 pm

from ur pic, I don't think U've money to buy it ;)


April 4, 2013, 3:39 pm

According to the phone-selling site I looked at, the S2 is now worth £105 and the S3 is £215. So yes, the S3 will get you more cash, but it's still a hell of a jump to the ~£600 cost of the S4.

You could use that cash to pay some upfront cost and reduce the monthly cost of a contract, but it is still very expensive overall, and as your article says - the cost of a contract is the freedom to change/upgrade etc.


April 5, 2013, 9:48 am

the iPad does not have the huge GSM radio/chip/license costs


April 5, 2013, 11:25 am

Thanks for that. I have found it on ebay using your info.
Still curious whether the author of the article could back up the claim for a bona-fide brand new retail price under £300.

Gordon Kelly

April 11, 2013, 9:42 am

I find it strange you don't consider retailers who sell thousands of devices every month using the eBay store front not to be "bona-fide'? How quaint.

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