Opinion: Why 2020 was the year midrange smartphones triumphed

The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE (L) and Oppo Reno4 5G (R) are two premium midrange phones released in 2020. that come highly recommended.
The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE (L) and Oppo Reno4 5G (R) are two premium midrange phones released in 2020. Photo credit: Newshub.

As 2020 draws to a close and technology companies reflect on a difficult year, one of the few positive outcomes is the return to power of the midrange smartphone.

So that's it - the year is almost over which means no more announcements and no more disappointments.

The technology world has wrapped and with it go the neverending delays, failures and bizarre design choices that plagued 2020.

Smartphones certainly didn't escape the curse of 2020, from Samsung's expedition into redundant flip phone technology at a sky-high price to Apple's controversial ditching of a charger from new iPhone boxes and of course, Huawei's fracas with the West.

But one unlikely branch of mobile phones saw a resurgence unlike any other: the premium midrange.

Sitting right in between supermarket smartphones that cost less than a Christmas Eve grocery shop and hyper-expensive flagships with enough grunt to power a small home, the midrange smartphone occupies an interesting space.

Buying the latest flagship smartphone will get you the latest and greatest tech, accompanied by an equally astonishing price tag. But if you pay around $1000 for a midrange phone you'll likely still get a cracking device that balances value for money, innovation and durability.

Prior to 2020 it had been a tough few years for the midrange phone. Consumer technology, advancing at light-speed, left little room for anything other than the very top-of-the-line tech, leaving more affordable technology to languish.

Just look at how phones have progressed in the last decade. Samsung's first real foray into android smartphones began with the Samsung Galaxy S in 2010: a top notch smartphone with a five megapixel camera, single core processor and 5GB of RAM to boot.

Fast-forward to today and Samsung's cheapest phone eclipses their first three years of smartphone technology. Pick up a Samsung Galaxy A01 from a bargain bin at Noel Leeming and you'll get a pathetically-small 32GB of storage, 8MP camera and octa-core processor - but it's still better than a Samsung Galaxy S3.

For me, the midrange phone represents the middle sibling. It's the second PlayStation controller, the Turkish Delights left in the bottom of the box of Favourites, and the most overlooked when it comes to phones.

In 2020, devices like the Oppo Reno4 5G and Samsung Galaxy S20 FE exceeded expectations, while higher-end devices like the iPhone 12 Pro Max and Samsung Galaxy Z flip failed to impress me.

Technology companies may want to keep this secret as it might just ruin the fun of buying an expensive phone - but flagships are almost always packed with the same tech as the midrange devices, despite sometimes costing around $1000 more.

The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE has an ultra high refresh rate that makes playing games and watching Youtube utter bliss, owing to the vibrant AMOLED screen it shares with its flagship sibling.

It was recently rated as the overall number one phone of the year by influential tech reviewer Marques Brownlee, he was so impressed with it.

Likewise, the Oppo Reno4 5G comes with the same front and rear camera, a marginally smaller battery and a significantly better Android build ColourOS 7.2 - all for less than $1000.

Getting to check out the Reno4 5G left me with serious questions about the price tag of my daily phone, the Oppo Find X2 Pro.

I haven't mentioned the latest suite of iPhones - that's because Apple's hostile approach to anything less than the latest-generation flagship phones has left the iPhone SE, their midrange phone, lagging behind in a field of strong competition.

Tech fans can laud the iPhone 12 Pro Max's 4K video camera, or bask in the glory of the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra's gargantuan battery; but does any of it really matter when for just a minor downgrade, you can save yourself hundreds upon hundreds of dollars?

So if you plan on rewarding yourself with a new phone as we head into 2021, definitely consider the savings a midrange smartphone will offer over a flagship.

Your wallet will love you for it.

Oskar Howell is a freelance tech journalist and reviewer.