How much longer will low-end phones tarnish Android's reputation?

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: September 13, 2011

Android comes in a multitude of shapes and sizes. Whether you like a horizontal QWERTY or even a dual-screen phone, there is likely a form factor that suits you. Along with the benefit of a wide variety of phone choices comes a broad selection of price point, too. All is not well, however. This wide array of devices doesn't always bring praise to Google's platform.

As you would expect, cheaper phones come severely underpowered by comparison; therefore, performance takes a major hit. While the Galaxy S II is powered by a 1.2GHz dual-core Exynos (or a 1.5GHz Snapdragon) processor, the HTC Status is toting a low-cost 800MHz Qualcomm chip. It's obvious why these devices come with such drastic differences in specifications, but that doesn't stop the average consumer from piling all Android devices into the same bin. Low-end, mid-range and high-end Droids are all the same.

I've seen or heard it a hundred times – in comment wars, fanboy battles, etc. An avid user of some other platform will speak up, claiming to have used “the Android” and how it pales in comparison performance on iOS or Windows Phone 7. After a few exchanges about which platform is better, among other nonsensical fanboy talk, the inevitable question is asked: “What Android phones have you had?” To which the reply usually reads something like, “I've had several Droids: a HTC Hero, Samsung Replenish and LG Optimus S. They were all laggy, full of bugs and cheaply made. You should try an iPhone.”

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying these are bad devices. They're perfectly fine, and well worth the money saved, if that's what is important to you. But they are clearly more susceptible to lag and other performance issues than top-end smartphones with more advanced processor technologies and likely a newer version of Android. For those that don't care to throw down $200 or $300 on a new phone, they can easily gather the wrong impression of Android, instead of seeing how it performs under optimal conditions. (And no, Android isn't perfect either.)

This isn't anything new, though. Android's image being tarnished by low-end devices has been happening since day one and is a widely-accepted fact among us journos and Android fans. But Dustin Earley of Android and Me and I were talking about this and how things will eventually change in Android's favor.

Parts manufacturers are putting everything they have into churning out newer, faster, more efficient technology. In under a year, we've leaped from single-core processors to dual-core, and NVIDIA's quad-core Kal-El processor is just around the bend. High-end phones are transitioning into superphones; mid-range devices are taking the place of what was considered "high-end" last year; and feature phones are being replaced by low-end smartphones. This trend will continue until low-end phones are the previous year's high-end devices, and that already-fuzzy line between mid-range and low-end will totally disappear.

It can get a little confusing, but think about it. In light of new, dual-core toting phones, the EVO 4G – once the king of Androidland – is now a solid mid-range device. In another year's time (maybe and probably less), this will be the best of the low-end lineup (though I doubt the EVO will still be around, it will likely be replaced by something very similar).

That said, problems with Android don't end with underpowered, cheap hardware. The software has some hitches of its own, and Google is working around the clock to iron out the kinks. They plan on resolving most of the Android fragmentation issues Ice Cream Sandwich, looking to support devices as far back as possible. The update should also bring the added perk of hardware acceleration to all handsets, meaning even some underpowered phones will run much more smoothly with their 800MHz or 1GHz processors.

Android isn't perfect, but it isn't nearly as bad as some phones make it seem. The longer Android is around, the more the general public will understand it. And as these extremely cheap, feature phone-like smartphones find their way to recycle bins and the first wave of high-end Android phones take their place, we can only hope the misinformed consensus that Android is a laggy, half-finished OS gets corrected.