5G Push have killed Flagship killers this year?

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The push for 5G may have unintentionally killed the “Flagship Killer” this year – is 5g really needed in india?

In the beginning of Android, cell phone wars among OEMs were exclusively about the spec sheet. Enormous numbers, quick numbers, numerous numbers — it was each of the a race to the top. The possibility of a lead was to toss the same number of things as you could together and introduce it to the purchaser at a value that gave you an average edge to work.

An endeavor was made to undermine the following contender, yet not really consistently, as leads shouldn’t be cost cognizant. These were the best and the most significant cell phones among the entire lineup, and OEMs were forceful pleased with them.


Some of this pride was assaulted in 2014 when OnePlus launched the OnePlus One. For just $299/₹21,999 for the base 16GB model, the OnePlus One offered a great deal of the huge numbers that contending devices like the Samsung Galaxy S5, costing $599/₹51,500 off-contract, gave. There were a couple of bargains en route, eminently in the construct, the camera and the showcase, however execution on this $299 telephone was viewed as far better than that of the $599 telephone.

Thus was born the “Flagship Killer”, a term the community gave to the OnePlus One, for it was a phone that took away the shine from competing flagships. You no longer needed to pay top dollar just to get the best in terms of performance. Facilitated by the top of the line SoC and complementing RAM and storage technologies, the OnePlus One was a runaway success.

Video Credit XDA 

OnePlus came out with several phones after the OnePlus One, but there was a general price creep over the generations.

This gradual bumping up of the price tag faded the allure off the Flagship Killer title, and somewhere along the way, OnePlus smartphones could no longer do complete justice to the Flagship Killer legacy of the OnePlus One.

A spiritual successor towards the label arrived at us coming from a various OEM in 2018. POCO, a Xiaomi sub-brand in the past, came into the Indian market with all the POCO F1.

The POCO F1 built upon exactly the same guidelines how the OnePlus One had adopted — fast overall performance, but a below average screen, a sub-par digicam (but maybe not so sub-par in the end), along with a much less-attractive develop. The company along with the audience embraced these compromises rather than receiving leading overall performance at a tiny part of the primary value.

The POCO F1 started off at a price label of ₹20,999 in India (~$380 counterpart in Europe), that has been a small part of the OnePlus 6‘s ₹34,999 / $529 kick off price tag, and not even half of the Samsung Galaxy S9‘s ₹57,900 / $720 start price tag.

The push for 5G may have unintentionally killed the “Flagship Killer” this year

Whether it be the OnePlus One or the POCO F1, the idea behind the “Flagship Killer” remained the same — provide the best, top-of-the-line SoC (usually from Qualcomm), complement it with other key advancements in RAM and storage technology, sprinkle it with a few other niceties as far as the budget allows, and deliver it at an affordable price tag of $300-$400 — that is a fraction of the price of other conventional and “premium” flagships. Flagship killers thus democratized flagship performance, a feature that used to remain exclusive to premium flagships, as they lowered the bar of affordability.

For users that preferred function over form, flagship killers provided the best bang for their buck.

Make no errors — primary killers were actually not best plus they experienced their own compromises — however the opinion on these compromises was not as harsh, his or her reasonably priced asking price shielded them from primary tough critique when in comparison against premium flagships.

From the cost bracket of $300-$400, you undoubtedly couldn’t complain a lot in the event you still acquired the best Qualcomm Snapdragon SoC onboard.

Flagships in 2020

While the definition of a flagship has remained somewhat constant over the years, the price envelope has continued to expand. $600 used to be enough for a flagship once upon a time, but constant tech innovation and increased consumer expectations have led us to this point where premium flagships cost as much as $1,400.

Most of this value improve is caused by more pricey bulid materials, a lot better screens, significantly better and a lot more cameras, and an greater focus on the cohesive smartphone ecosystem experience. But, in 2020, there is certainly one specific factor that has unveiled a larger than usual hit in costs YoY, and which may be the main reason why the Leading “Flagship Killer” this season.

It’s the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865.

The push for 5G may have unintentionally killed the “Flagship Killer” this yearThe Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 is the current flagship & most powerful SoC from Qualcomm, incorporating all the latest and greatest in mobile chip technologies.

Over the Snapdragon 855, the Snapdragon 865 boasts of 25% faster raw CPU performance, 20% faster graphics rendering, better sustained performance, 2x increase in AI performance, support for LPDDR5 memory, support for display with QHD+ resolution at 144Hz refresh rate, support for 8K @ 30fps videos, 4K HDR videos, support for processing images up to 200MP in size, and processing 64MP images with Zero Shutter Lag, and support for Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1.

Well That’s a long list of new features, but it isn’t uncommon to see such additions on a YoY basis. This is a flagship SoC after all, and it needs to stay a step ahead of the flagships themselves.

What is uncommon

However, is the jump up to 5G network technology as a mandatory upgrade, and we see it in the form of the Snapdragon X55 modem support.

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 does not include any modem, not even one for LTE, which breaks away from the convention of recent years from Qualcomm.

The push for 5G may have unintentionally killed the “Flagship Killer” this year

As a result, as ArsTechnica points out, every phone company that intends to build a flagship with the Snapdragon 865 also absolutely needs to purchase the 5G-enabled Snapdragon X55 modem as well, as there is no integrated 4G modem to fall back on to keep things cheap. But just including the X55 modem does not guarantee full spectrum 5G access either. The Snapdragon X55 5G Modem-RF system includes compatible hardware modules for sub-6GHz 5G.

For mmWave, you also need to purchase Qualcomm’s QTM525 or QTM527 antennae, likely in the multiples to keep things running seamlessly across phone orientations. The result is that phone OEMs have to purchase several new and expensive components to purposefully deliver on the new marketing buzzword of 5G.

The push for 5G may have unintentionally killed the “Flagship Killer” this year

As ArsTechnica also noted in their article, 5G will raise prices of the phones by approximately $200-$300. This price increase was mentioned in the context of Snapdragon 855-based 5G phones from OnePlus (the OnePlus 7T Pro 5G, as it would turn out). But with mandatory 5G in 2020, the same situation is seen across the entire current generation of Snapdragon 865 5G flagships.

Snapdragon 865 with compulsory 5G spells fate for Flagship Killers

As we have already witnessed, premium flagships in 2020 are much more expensive. Devices like the Samsung Galaxy S20 start at $999 and go all the way up to $1,399 for the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra; the OnePlus 8 series starts at $699, and goes all the way up to $999.

The same trend continues across the brands — Motorola Edge+ costs $999, Mi 10 Pro costs €999, OPPO Find X2 and Find X2 Pro cost €999 and €1199, LG V60 costs $800, and so on. Even the “cheaper” crop of flagships aren’t exactly cheap — the Realme X50 Pro costs ₹37,999 / €599, making it Realme’s most expensive smartphone yet.

There are multiple examples at this point, and the general trend has been the same — the Snapdragon 865 with 5G is expensive, and devices will get unusually more expensive compared to their predecessors.

The Exceptional Device

The outlier here is the iQOO 3, but it is an exception because of two reasons: one, it is the cheapest Snapdragon 865 device in the market right, and two, it is the only one that comes in a 4G-only variant as well.

The iQOO 3 5G costs ₹44,990 (~$589) [launch price: ₹46,990 (~$615)], while the base 4G variant costs ₹34,990 (~$459) [launch price: ₹38,990 (~$512)]. The iQOO 3 managed to undercut the Realme X50 Pro in India at launch, but it could only do so by decoupling 5G away from the flagship experience.

We aren’t sure how iQOO managed to pull off a further price cut — it goes against all the indicators in the Indian market, as we all were bracing for more expensive smartphones because of GST changes, but iQOO went the other way somehow.

And we aren’t sure how iQOO managed to ignore 5G away from the Snapdragon 865 either — the iQOO 3 4G could possibly have 5G bands software-disabled using tools provided by Qualcomm — but we could not locate any concrete information to explain the phone and its 5G-less variant.

From a 5G plus Snapdragon 865 perspective, the argument continues to stand: Qualcomm’s latest SoC and the accompanying 5G hardware makes flagships more expensive than ever before, with a steep price jump.

The blame also rests on the Snapdragon 865 by itself, as Qualcomm is selling this SoC to OEMs at a much higher price than its previous flagship chips. As POCO’s GM Mr. C. Manmohan mentioned in an interview with Android Authority:

Chipsets right now, all 800-series chipsets, are extremely expensive. And [the Snapdragon 865], being the first 5G generation, is just a lot more expensive. The 855 was launched with a higher price point and we expected that also to undergo some depreciation. But 865 has launched extremely high and now the transition from 4G to 5G is happening across the board. So the depreciation the 855 should have seen did not happen.

The same report cites various sources and gives us a rough estimate of the price per chip. Snapdragon 845 reportedly cost manufacturers around $45 plus an additional licensing fee per chip. The Snapdragon 855 and Snapdragon 855+ cost $53 plus an additional licensing fee per chip.

This price increase not only affected the price of the flagships released in 2019, but it also continues to affect the viability of flagship killers into 2020 as the chip has not depreciated as much as previous trends. Xiaomi’s CEO Mr. Lei Jun had commented that the Snapdragon 865 cost them about $70 on the Mi 10  — making it one of the biggest jumps in cost in recent times and one that directly contributes to a steep rise in flagship pricing.

A teardown analysis of the Mi 10 from TechInsights pitches the SoC to be $81, while the modem costs another $26.50, and the RF component costs $33.50, equalling a cool $141.

While this is an estimate from a teardown and can miss out on the benefits derived from factors-of-scale, it does make one point clear — the Snapdragon 865 is expensive, with a price increase greater than previous flagship SoCs.

The push for 5G may have unintentionally killed the “Flagship Killer” this year

Not exclusively is the Snapdragon 865 progressively costly, however it likewise requires different parts and different changes that further drive up the expense. The discrete 5G modem and the additional multiple antennae require more space inside the phone.

As a result, the phone body gets larger, the display gets larger, the battery gets larger, and OEMs have been throwing in larger and more camera sensors into the mix too, to make the most out of the situation. All of these cost money, and the consumer has to pay for it.

Snapdragon 865 and Qualcomm’s monopoly in the upper end of the SoC market has forced “premium flagships” to devlop into “ultra-premium flagships”.

OEMs are also incorporating more advancements in the display and camera segments, which exerts further pressure on this forced evolution. A price increase in this “luxury” segment is easier to digest keeping in mind that the target audience for these ultra-premium phones has a higher propensity to spend.

What isn’t anything but difficult to process is the fate that the Snapdragon 865 illuminates for Flagship Killers, as it eagerly eats up the ~$400 spending plan as upheld in the network definition.

There is sufficiently not spending left over for different parts regardless of whether an OEM were to adhere to an ordinary quality level.

5G in no-5G Land

What exacerbates the situation is the way that 5G accompanies its own constraints. The innovation despite everything has far to go before it develops and sees across the board reception, and this is with regards to created markets that have just hopped onto the train.

There are still others that have not even taken the first steps to 5G yet. Case example — India, one of the biggest smartphone markets in the world, but one that has yet to even begin spectrum auctions for 5G, leave alone rolling out consumer infrastructure, and making 5G economically available to a population that loves its cheap and abundant 4G.

Spectrum auctions were expected to be conducted in April 2020, but the poor health of the country’s telecom industry and the COVID-19 pandemic has put this on the back burner for the foreseeable future.

For India, mandatory 5G with the Snapdragon 865 was expected to make smartphones prohibitively expensive. But to bring some solace, the current releases are just mildly expensive and not prohibitively so. The OnePlus 8 series, with 5G support, launched in India lower than it did in the rest of the world.

Same goes with the Realme X50 Pro 5G and the iQOO 3 5G.

The cheap cost of these phones could be for the fact that they are missing out on incorporating support for all 5G bands and restricting themselves to just a handful of probable ones, and thus, saving themselves on certification costs for the market. But we believe there is a catch here that OEMs have not entirely been transparent about. While these phones support 5G, they may not really support 5G in India.

As the spectrum has not yet been actioned in the country yet, certifying authorities should not have the mandate available to them to certify phones for usage in these scenarios, logically speaking.

Certificates are issued after testing the equipment for safety by authorities such as Telecommunication Engineering Centre, and one can only wonder how phones already released would have been tested for safety on a spectrum that is not yet available for use in the country.

So while you may have a “5G-ready” phone that is being marketed as being “future proof”, its acceptance on the 5G network is very likely subject to subsequent regulatory approval when the network finally becomes available.

Even if you presume that all is rosy on the certification end, consumers in India can realistically see 5G on their smartphone not earlier than 2022. Such an estimate is also an optimistic one, one that presumes that all the expensively-priced spectrum is scooped up in the first auction (and does not necessitate multiple auction rounds as companies decide to stay away due to high prices), with other presumptions such as minimal economic fallout to the telecom sector despite the COVID-19 pandemic, and a swift end and recovery from the pandemic induced lockdown measures.

By 2022, the Snapdragon 865 would be 2 years of age, and the glossy mobile phone in your pocket won’t be as gleaming any longer.

If you could afford an expensive smartphone with the foresight to use expensive 5G on it two years later, you may be in a good position to buy a more rounded and polished product for 5G use in 2022, too. Do you really need to buy a 5G-(probably)-ready flagship right now in 2020 though?

The overall industry-wide push for 5G also needs a mention over here as a factor that is driving up costs prematurely. Carriers in 5G-markets have begun aggressively marketing 5G, which makes consumers want 5G on their phones.

This then stimulates OEMs to incorporate 5G on their phones and market 5G further, even in markets where the infrastructure is not in place. Having a 5G-enabled phone will then increase the priority of having a 5G infrastructure in that market, and so goes the cycle. Qualcomm is a piece in this bigger puzzle and the push is indeed industry-wide.

For the present, no-5G in India will add to the disappointment of missing out on a Flagship Killer. Creating markets are the practical objectives for this item classification, as clients here regularly organize the arrangement which gets them the most value for their money.

Including unusable and not-future-accommodating 5G on a Flagship Killer troubles it with dead weight, one that pushes it outside of its financial plan for no evident advantage in the present or what’s to come. To this, recall the Snapdragon 865 was at that point entirely costly, so there was insufficient headroom to play with, either.

Adding unusable and not-future-friendly 5G on a Flagship Killer burdens it with dead weight, one that pushes it outside of its budget for no apparent benefit in the present or the future.

The Snapdragon 865 with its mandatory 5G requirement, is thus, the end of the $400 Flagship Killer, for better or for worse. What makes a flagship is what kills the flagship killer, this year.

The idea of a flagship killer stays alive — but the price envelope is forced to change

While we were discussing this opinion piece, an interesting counter-opinion came to light. As Pranob brought up in our discussion, the flagship killer may not necessarily be dead yet.

The actual maning of the “flagship killer” is to offer flagship performance at a fraction of the flagship price. But since the price definition of a flagship has expanded with the introduction of ultra-premium flagships, it is only fair that the price definition of a flagship killer should also expand.

similarly, what was once sold for $700 is now being sold for $1400, one can no longer expect that what once cost $400 remains at that price point while still offering some of the best features present in the industry. It is only obvious that flagship killers also seek a price hike — not necessarily out of a desire to expand their profit margins, but out of a need to maintain it.

Flagship killers, aka the phones with the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 SoC but with other compromises, should now be expected around the $800 price ballpark — and we do have a few examples of the same currently existing in the industry.

The arguments of future-proofing also come back into play here with the inclusion of mandatory 5G. Customers who aims for Flagship Killer are unlikely to have a high budget to purchase a new phone every year, or even every two or three years.

These worth chasers are substantially more prone to utilize their telephone for a more extended time term as long as it cheerfully capacities and serves their need. There is a lower probability of them binge spending cash on another telephone, in light of the fact that a glossy new telephone exists.

For these people, having a telephone with 5G (compulsory or something else) gives their telephone a sufficient future-sealing coat to be on their requirements for a more drawn out time span. Such a contention may not really apply to areas where 5G doesn’t exist, similar to India, however it extends to different districts where 5G is seeing a continuous rollout.

There is also a point to be made about flagship killers being dead only temporarily. 2020 can be considered as the first year where 5G truly goes mainstream on smartphones, so there is bound to be a larger capital overhead to bear per smartphone. We can expect that the cost will go down with the next generation, as there is a valid possibility that the next Qualcomm flagship could integrate the next Qualcomm 5G modem and lower down the costs from current levels.

There is no assurance that the advantages will be passed onto the purchasers — they could be retained to cover the progressions in different bits of innovation in the telephone, for example, further showcase improvements, better form materials, etc.The push for 5G may have unintentionally killed the “Flagship Killer” this year

Another argument comes up in that the entire price increase on flagships cannot simply be attributed to the Snapdragon 865, or to 5G for that matter. Smartphones this year have made great strides in terms of display and camera technology.

As We are getting features such as 10-bit 120Hz color-accurate displays with headlining technologies such as MEMC and dedicated display processors. For cameras, we are seeing quad and even penta camera setups, with bigger sensors all through and even further additions in the form of a periscope zoom lens.

All of these features require a tremendous amount of R&D to be made possible, and this is recouped through added costs on the smartphone. Since these have become the standard on leaders, what we expect out of a leader executioner likewise ascends by a piece — a 60Hz FHD+ display and double camera setup may not, at this point slice it for a device to be known as a lead executioner. This adjustment in buyer desire isn’t setting off a comparing change in value desire, and that is its own concern.

Final Note

Even with this kind of extended-winded essay, We have got stayed unclear in any case. Obligatory 5G through the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 does damage the bank account, a lot, specially in the times of COVID-19 combined with the economical uncertainties a pandemic brings alongside.

The traditional value envelope of any principal fantastic is not really feasible without “downgrading” (utilized very loosely here) by having an “inferior” SoC much like the Qualcomm Snapdragon 765 or perhaps the Snapdragon 730. This implies we might no longer observe a perform repeatedly of the insane value offer from the OnePlus One and also the POCO F1. And that’s an issue that I am going to sorely miss.

On the other hand, improvements in technologies will need money belongings to visit forwards. In case the very cost concise outline of a top alterations, there could invariably be a rise in what “half for any main price” will be.

Price level slip and client expectancy pressure major killers to get the specific concern they searched for to get rid of — a main.

“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain”

What do you think is the future of the Flagship Killer? Should 5G be a mandatory inclusion in smartphones in 2020? Should 5G be a mandatory inclusion for Flagship Killers? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below! Do rate this post to 5* if you like it.

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