Amazon and Flipkart are bustling with festival sale offers and last year’s top-tier iPhone 13 is hot on everyone’s minds. This came after Prime Minister Narendra Modi flagged off the much-awaited launch of 5G in the country at the recently concluded Indian Mobile Congress. Its rollout has been carried out at light speed already by telecom operators like Airtel. Just in the nick of time, Apple launched the latest iPhone 14 models. Likewise, Samsung’s foldable models launched a month earlier and Xiaomi have also been running attractive offers on its six-month-old flagship gadgets. But should you be looking to buy a new phone that costs upwards of Rs 50,000?
The short answer to the question is no. The more nuanced answer is that at the moment no one should be looking to upgrade to a high-end gadget—especially a smartphone—unless their previous purchase happened before the pandemic. Don’t get me wrong, the progression of technology has been quite rapid, but latest phones have gotten so good that they will last you a long time and incremental upgrades will not result in tangible benefits.
iPhone 14 Pro Max
Let’s take the example of the big kahuna of smartphones, the latest iPhone 14 Pro Max, which I have been testing for the past two weeks. It looks the same as the iPhone 12 and 13, apart from the smart cut-away in the screen that Apple calls the dynamic island. It gets a new colour called Deep Purple, which is nice. It has highly upgraded cameras with a 48-megapixel primary sensor and a new software trickery makes low light photo and video better, but the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro cameras were already so exceptional that unless you’re a professional like Austin Mann or imaging hardware expert at DXOMark, you’ll be hard pressed to find the difference.
But the battery life of the new hero iPhone has gone down from the previous generation — though it still is good enough to last a full day on a single charge, probably due to new features like the always-on display. While all this happens, Airtel users like myself can’t get a slice of all the 5G action just because Apple supposedly is yet to push out a software update.
The performance of the iPhone is legendary and the latest 20 per cent performance boost from the A16 Bionic chipset is also unnoticeable even when compared to an iPhone 12 Pro. Apple is extremely good at what it does and it has become so good that its new phones are upgrades meant for first-time buyers and for people who have an iPhone from the previous decade.
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New generation, old generation, little change
Apple is not alone. On the Android side of the spectrum, Samsung’s Galaxy Fold 4 and Flip 4 phones are very similar to their predecessors. They are only incrementally faster with big major updates in the camera and better overall durability. I have been using these two phones for a while as well, and in the case of the Fold, besides the initial wonder and the obvious advantage of watching content on a big screen, the productivity benefits aren’t clear. The software and the operating system aren’t mature enough. Samsung S22 Ultra looks identical to its Galaxy Note phone from 2020. It also has an upgraded camera system with a 10x zoom lens. But in regular use, it is not the lens that people will use all the time.
Samsung and other original equipment manufacturers’ performance is gated by innovations from third parties like Google and Qualcomm. Everyone gets the same chip — either by Qualcomm or MediaTek — and some are good, some aren’t. For example, the latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 launched with phones like Samsung Galaxy S22 and Vivo X80 had overheating issues. So, Qualcomm came up with another upgrade just months later called the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1, which is only marginally better with improved thermal efficiency equating to better device stability and battery life on phones like the OnePlus 10T, the new Samsung Foldables and iQOO 9T.
Brands like Vivo have resorted to developing their chip. Vivo’s V1 chip handles the processing for the camera on its X80 series. These phones have stunning cameras and a micro gimbal, which enables super steady video. But then again Vivo has been doing great work with the X70, X60 and X50 models as well. If you have either the X60 or X70 then the camera of the X80 will not feel like a dramatic update.
Google is going to launch Pixel 7 later this week in India that will also have a new chipset, the Tensor 2. Reports indicate that it will not include a significant boost in CPU or GPU performance; instead, it will focus its innovation on AI, something Google likes to do. But unless the new chip enables its camera to blow past that of iPhone 14 Pro Max, Galaxy S22 Ultra or the Vivo X80 Pro, will it be worth it?
Some people will be understandably drawn towards it as Google hasn’t launched its flagship phone in India since 2018. But that could be all whittled away as Google’s phones are known for poor customer support. Will you buy a new Google phone that will almost certainly cost near a lakh and will have atrocious after-sales?
My advice would be to hold onto your iPhone, Fold, Galaxy or Vivo — unless they are starting to show their age. The year 2023 will be big for smartphones — it will be the year for the iPhone 15 that is expected to have more dramatic changes. Samsung’s Fold line will also mature with upgrades and Google is expected to launch its own foldable phone. Vivo and Xiaomi are expected to enter the foldable phone space in India soon.
Of course, if you want the swankiest gadget — for iPhone users — the iPhone 14 Pro Max or iPhone 13 Pro Max would be my recommendations. On the Android side of things, I suggest the Vivo X80 Pro or if you want something more exotic than the Galaxy Fold 4 or Flip 4, depending on the budget and form factor you prefer.
Sahil Mohan Gupta is a technology journalist based out of New Delhi. He tweets at @digitallybones. Views are personal.
(Edited by Ratan Priya)