2020 was the year of the mid-range smartphone

iPhone SE vs OnePlus Nord back panels side by side

Recognition: Ryan-Thomas Shaw / Android Authority

The year 2020 is drawing to a close and is marked by numerous trends in the smartphone sector. We’ve seen 5G becoming a reality for a variety of markets, from high frame rates to budget phones (with mixed success) and quad camera systems becoming the norm.

However, 2020 can certainly be called the year when mid-range phones became better and more important than ever.

A lot of high-end features came to mid-rangers

One of the most compelling reasons mid-range phones thrived in 2020 was because the premium features went down the price ladder.

High refresh rate ads are one of these features. Top-class mid-rangers like the OnePlus Nord offer fluid, faster animations for $ 500 and below. We even saw the Realme 7 and Poco X3 come to Europe with 90 Hz screens for under $ 300.

Faster charging was another feature that came downstream of the budget segment. On phones like OnePlus Nord, Poco M2 Pro, Realme 7 and Redmi Note 9 Pro, a charging process of 30 W or even faster was possible.

Read: The Best Affordable Phones You Can Buy Right Now

We can’t forget 5G either! 2020 marked the debut of mid-range 5G silicon from Samsung, MediaTek, and Kingpin Qualcomm. Prominent mid-range 5G phones include (you guessed it) the OnePlus Nord, Google Pixel 4a 5G, Moto G 5G Plus, and Samsung Galaxy A51 5G. All of these phones are available for under $ 500.

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 765G played an important role in spreading cheaper 5G phones. The Qualcomm chipset has been adopted by a variety of Android OEMs in 2020, including OnePlus, Google, Samsung, Xiaomi, Nokia, LG, Oppo, and Realme. The chip also brought many premium features, including mmWave support, 4K / 60fps recording, and support for high frame rates.

Another small trend we saw in 2020 was the introduction of wireless charging and a significant IP rating. However, this was limited to the iPhone SE and Sony Xperia 10 II.

The flagship 5G silicon drove prices up

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra screen in window 1

Arguably the biggest reason mid-range phones became important in 2020 was because flagship prices soared that year. This is largely due to the fact that Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 series is significantly more expensive than the Snapdragon 855 chips used in the high-end phones of 2019. In addition to the high cost of flagship silicon, 5G-related components such as mmWave antennas also contributed to the increased costs.

In premium phones, some of these devices rose from ~ $ 1,000 to even greater heights in 2020. Samsung was one of those guilty players. The cheapest Galaxy S20 Ultra and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra are priced at $ 1,400 and $ 1,300, respectively. The cheapest Galaxy S10 Plus and Galaxy Note 10 Plus variants started at $ 999 and $ 1,099, respectively.

Chipset pricing is widely seen as the main driver behind flagship price increases.

Unfortunately, even affordable flagships saw their prices soar significantly in 2020.

Xiaomi, for example, offered the Mi 10 series from 799 euros for the standard Mi 10. In the meantime, the Mi 9 started at 449 euros. That’s a massive jump in price for a brand typically associated with affordable high-end phones.

OnePlus is another OEM known for making cheaper, high-end phones. However, with the OnePlus 8 Pro priced at $ 899, all doubts about its premium plans have been dispelled. Last year’s OnePlus 7 Pro sold for $ 669, making it cheaper than the OnePlus 8 for $ 699.

These price hikes made the best cheap phones look even more enticing, but also encouraged the rise of a new category that bridged the gap between the mid-range and premium segments.

The rise of the super mid-ranger

LG Velvet screen is upright

Recognition: David Imel / Android Authority

Instead of paying the premium for expensive top chips, some high profile brands simply opted to pull out of the traditional flagship race and go their own way.

Google and LG are two brands that were operated with this “super-mid-ranger” formula and forego expensive silicon in favor of high-performance 5G silicon in the middle class. That decision meant the two brands could then bring the warmth to other areas. The LG Velvet and Pixel 5 may not have a Snapdragon 865 chipset, but they do offer water resistance, a bigger battery, and wireless charging.

This decision by Google and LG represented a major change in strategy for the smartphone industry as it represented yet another avenue to bridge the gap between premium and mid-range phones. We have often seen brands launch affordable flagships with uncompromising performance but sacrifice in other areas. This also applied to the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE and OnePlus 8 in 2020.

The super-middle class bridged the gap between budget phones and premium flagships.

The super-mid-ranger strategy, however, takes the opposite approach: performance is sacrificed in favor of numerous premium extras elsewhere. Usually, power down selection isn’t a good approach, especially a year or two later. But between the Snapdragon 765G’s solid performance, premium design, and other nice touches like water resistance and wireless charging, the Velvet and Pixel 5 are an interesting proposition.

In a completely different form, we’ve even seen some phones use older flagship silicon instead of mid-range hardware or current flagship chipsets. A notable example is the Realme X3 Superzoom worth 500 euros, which offered last year’s Snapdragon 855 Plus chipset. In return, the phone delivered a 5x periscope zoom camera, two selfie cameras and a 120 Hz LCD panel.

What to expect from mid rangers in 2021

Mid-range phones were clearly one of the few bright spots in a rather disappointing year for the smartphone industry. We definitely expect this momentum for the segment to continue into 2021.

Even cheaper 5G

2020 was the first year that 5G fell under the flagship. We definitely expect the price of 5G phones to drop even further in the US, Europe, and beyond as chipmakers sell even cheaper 5G silicon.

Another 5G-related trend that we expect is mmWave 5G connectivity, which is offered at cheaper prices. The spirited 5G standard significantly increases component costs due to additional antennas and other parts. However, we’ve already seen the TCL 10 5G UW hit Verizon for ~ $ 400. Hopefully the cost of mmWave connectivity will decrease somewhat.

Faster ads

Xiaomi Poco X3 NFC held in hand to show the display

Recognition: Ryan-Thomas Shaw / Android Authority

The Poco X2 was one of the first budget phones to offer a high refresh rate panel in early 2020. Since then, the technology has rapidly expanded to devices under $ 400. That dynamic is expected to continue into 2021, as MediaTek previously told journalists that 90Hz screens are essentially set to become the standard on most mid-tier phones over the next year.

Cameras under the display

We expect flagship phones to pack selfie cameras under the display by 2021, but the first phone to feature this technology was actually a mid-ranger. Yes, the mid-size ZTE Axon 20 5G has the feature packaged in China for a starting price of ~ $ 322. Even a $ 100 premium to global markets would mean you can get the device for less than $ 500. With Budget Kingpin Xiaomi announcing its plan to bring under-display selfie cameras to phones in 2021, you can bet that they’ll have a budget-conscious offering too.

Fast loading is becoming more common

Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro 65W charging stone

Just a year ago, thanks to the Oppo Reno Ace, we were able to charge 65 W smartphones for the first time. However, we’ve already seen some mid-range phones packaging this technology in 2020.

You can expect more mid-tier phones to introduce fast charging solutions over the next year. Higher speed charging is also gaining traction as more phones offer large batteries that would take longer to charge at earlier speeds.

Improved 4K video

Horizontal photo from Google Pixel 5 of Ocean 1

Recognition: David Imel / Android Authority

Some mid-tier devices offered 4K / 30fps recording support in 2020. We’ve also seen the launch of 4K / 60fps support from the Pixel 5 and OnePlus Nord, so we’ll likely see both options for more devices in 2021.

Could we see 8K footage on mid-tier phones next year? Well, between the storage requirements and the performance required for a smooth capture, we’re not holding our breath yet for many (if any) large mid-rangers to offer this.


Do you think 2020 was the year of the mid-range smartphone? Let us know in the comments below!

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