The rise of the anti-flagship phone is here

Three or four years ago, if a company offered me a mid-range phone, I would kinda roll my eyes. Not because they were emailing me saying how fantastic, fast, and smooth their sub-$500 phone was. It was because every time I reviewed a mid-range phone, I never could see myself using it on a daily basis.

I’m a flagship phone kind of guy, and I know why. I want the very best camera system. I want the prettiest screen. I want the smoothest software experience I can find. I know what I want and why, and trying to find any of those features in a mid-range phone was extremely difficult, if not impossible.

The mid-range market, historically speaking, has been boring. OnePlus has disrupted it by offering flagship phones at mid-range prices, but they strayed further and further away from that pricing structure with every new phone they shipped. Motorola, a key player in the budget category, hasn’t shipped a decent upper-mid-ranger in years. Google made the fantastic Pixel 3a last year that shifted the conversation slightly, but a successor has yet to arrive. And despite sales going through the roof, Samsung’s Galaxy A51 still kinda sucks when it comes to fundamentals (read: camera performance and speed).

Then a weird thing happened. Serving as a cheaper companion to the 865, Qualcomm revealed the Snapdragon 765 processor. This processor offers better performance than every 600 series chipset that’s ever shipped, and there’s a version called the 765G that offers 5G connectivity. It bucked the trend of being a pricey, high-end component smartphone manufacturers could include in their phones. It’s fast, it can connect to the most modern cellular connections available, and it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.

After that chip was revealed, it was clear the rise of the anti-flagship phone was on our hands and the mid-range category would become much more exciting. Just this week, we got three of those anti-flagships from OnePlus, Motorola, and LG.

The OnePlus phone that arrived was the Nord, and this is perhaps one of the most anticipated phones of 2020. It’s OnePlus’ first proper lower-end phone since the OnePlus X back in 2015. The Nord includes the 765G and takes full advantage of its processing power with software optimizations. The company also includes a 6.44-inch Full HD+ 90Hz display, up to 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, a quad camera system, a 4,115mAh battery, Warp Charge 30T, and Android 10.

Unfortunately, the Nord isn’t coming to the United States, but that’s where Motorola and LG’s offerings come into play. Motorola announced this week that the standard Edge smartphone (a step below the Edge Plus) would be coming to the U.S. It, too, has the Snapdragon 765G chipset in addition to a 6.7-inch Full HD+ 90Hz display, up to 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, a quad camera system, a 4,500mAh battery, and Android 10. On paper, it’s pretty similar to the Nord so it might be your best alternative if you’re in the U.S.

Finally, there’s the Velvet from LG. It’s received so much press already so I won’t be going over all of its specs, but as you can imagine, it’s got the 765G. I’m mentioning this phone because we learned this week that it would be coming to AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile in the States after being sold overseas.

The biggest advantage to buying one of these phones? You’ll save money. The Velvet and Edge will both cost $599, while the Nord will go for €399 which translates to about $463. In exchange for your hard-earned dollars, you get a phone with guaranteed “solid” performance.

Is this the future of the smartphone? I’m not quite sure. I know the market needs more cheap phones people can latch onto, and now that we’re in the middle of a pandemic, consumers will be much more hesitant to spend money that doesn’t get them groceries or other essentials. For now, the cheap-but-good phones will be those known as an anti-flagship. It’s a great way for companies to drive down costs and still provide a well-rounded experience. Time will tell how widespread this trend goes. Stay tuned.