In 2019, smartphone manufacturers started treating their budget devices the way they treat the mid-range segment smartphones: better specifications, a more premium design, while maintaining the ‘affordable’ price tag. The segment grew even more competitive with a shorter refresh cycle. The one trend clear in 2019 was that each brand had a number of options at different price points. We evaluate the trends in the budget segment that made phones in the under Rs 13,000 market interesting for everyone.
Better cameras, more cameras
Smartphone cameras are improving year by year and it finally trickled down to the budget segment. In 2019, we saw camera sensors in budget devices that were previously used only in the mid-range segment. For instance, Xiaomi packed the 12MP Sony IMX363 sensor in its budget offering Redmi 8 that the company uses in its affordable flagship device Poco F1, thus improving the camera performance.
Although megapixels aren’t everything, budget devices in 2019 rocked cameras from 8MP and 12MP to all the way up to 48MP sensor. The 48MP camera Sony IMX586 made its way to Redmi Note 8 and the Realme 5s came with the 48MP Samsung ISOCELL GM1 sensor, both of which were priced under Rs 10,000. Redmi Note 7S was the first phone to offer a 48MP camera under Rs 12,000. On the software side, new camera modes and features were added in the budget category, and Night mode, in particular, was a welcome addition.
The dual-rear camera setup with a secondary 2MP depth sensor became a norm for the budget segment devices in 2019. Later, it escalated to triple rear camera setup with phones like LG W30 and Vivo U20, but the trend was mostly a gimmick with extra sensors not being able to add anything productive to the equation.
The camera count at the back increased to four with Redmi Note 8 and Realme 5 series, and this time around, the extra sensors did not disappoint. As 2019 comes to an end, for prospective buyers, it is now possible to get a smartphone under Rs 10,000 which can capture ultrawide shots and macro shots (Motorola One Macro) in addition to bokeh shots, and that’s quite an achievement.
A revamped design
Budget devices took a giant leap in terms of phone design. The struggle to reduce the bezels on a phone for a greater screen-to-body ratio reached the budget devices as well, giving the whole segment a total makeover. The giant forehead was first replaced by an iPhone-style notch, and later reduced to just a waterdrop-style notch, which is more elegant.
At a certain point, the front portion of all the smartphones started to look alike with a V-shaped or U-shaped notch on the top of the screen holding the selfie camera. As a result, it became harder to distinguish between a budget device and a mid-range smartphone, based on its design alone.
Notably, the change in design did not limit itself to the front. Smartphone manufacturers started experimenting with different types of designs for the back panel of the phones, which used to be plain, boring, and devoid of any kind of attention. In 2019, we saw phones with textured backs, glossy backs with 3D patterns, unibody designs, as well as variations of colour schemes and gradients to stand out from the rest.
More power for gaming
Budget phones this year came with more powerful chipset and better overall performance. Apart from older chipset, phones under Rs 12,000 also came with processors that usually power the mid-range phones, including the Qualcomm Snapdragon 665, Snapdragon 675, MediaTek Helio P60, and Helio P70.
Smartphones like Vivo U10, Realme 5/5s, and Redmi Note 8 came with the SD665, and the SD675 powered the Vivo U20— a budget device under Rs 12,000. The Motorola One Macro and Realme 3 featured the MediaTek Helio P70, whereas the Helio P60 powered the Nokia 5.1 Plus and Realme 3i.
With the ongoing craze of mobile gaming in the country, budget devices managed to appeal to users who wanted an affordable phone that could also play battle royale games like PUBG Mobile. All in all, budget smartphones managed to deliver a far better performance than they did last year.
Bigger batteries, fast charging
Smartphones last year generally came with a 3,000mAh or higher battery and even though some manufacturers started packing 4,000mAh battery across their devices, it was only in 2019 that the bigger battery became a norm. By the end of the year, 4000mAh became the minimum offered power in a budget smartphone with only a few exceptions. We also saw multiple phones in the budget segment with a 5,000mAh battery as well.
LG W30, Motorola One Macro, Realme C2, Redmi Note 7s, and Redmi Note 8 featured a 4,000mAh battery and devices like Realme 3 and Realme 3i moved on to 4,230mAh capacity. Manufacturers later started packing even bigger 5,000mAh battery in phones like Vivo U10, Vivo U20, Realme 5/5s, and Redmi 8/8A.
This shift in battery capacity was pleasant to see and so was the fast charging feature. Previously limited to flagships and mid-range segment, the fast charging feature came to the budget segment giving the phones much needed charging speed. Phones like Vivo U10, Vivo U20, Redmi Note 7s, Redmi 8/8A, and Redmi Note 8 all came with 18W fast charging, while others retained the 10W charging speed.
Expectations for 2020: For the next year, we expect that the budget smartphones will improve further with better build quality, faster processors, better camera sensors, and fast charging becoming a norm. The budget segment is also expected to become more competitive and provide more value for money options for consumers.
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