What defines a phone as high-end, mid-range, or low-end?

Sydney Myers
Teen Lifestyle Editor from  Dallas, TX
| February 17, 2012

I just finished writing my review of the Pantech Burst and the entire time I found myself having a hard time deciding exactly what tier this phone belongs in. It used to be so simple. If a phone had a 1 GHz single-core processor or a dual-core processor, a camera that captured HD video, a high-res display, and possibly 4G capabilities, then it was automatically a high-end phone, plain and simple. Nowadays, we have phones like the Pantech Burst that have all of those features, but somehow seem to fall short of what have now become known as superphones. The Burst has a beautiful display, but it's a Super AMOLED display, not Super AMOLED Plus. It captures HD video, but in 720p, not 1080p, and it's not the best quality at that. The 4-inch display is a good size, but it seems that most top-tier phones these days have a display larger than four inches. On top of that, Pantech isn't necessarily known as making high-quality devices. It may sound crazy, but are phones like the Pantech Burst now considered mid-range? If not, then should we add a new tier, a "superphone" tier? Or do we simply need to redefine what a high-end or mid-range phone is? (As a note, this article primarily focuses on Android phones. Windows Phone, BlackBerry, and other OSes have their own tier system.)


High-end or mid-range?

Think about some of these phones: Samsung Stratosphere, Pantech Breakout, HTC EVO Design, Huawei Impulse, and LG myTouch. All of these phones have at least a 1 GHz processor, single-core, are 4G capable, have cameras that capture HD video, and most of them feature somewhat impressive displays. Is that still enough to call them high-end phones?

Think of phones like the Pantech Burst, mentioned in the outset, and the Samsung Captivate Glide. These two phones have a dual-core processor, a camera that captures HD video, are 4G capable, and feature an impressive Super AMOLED display. That seems like enough to be called high-end, right?

When you dig deeper, though, it gets a little tricky. The Samsung Stratosphere, LG myTouch, Pantech Burst, and Samsung Captivate Glide, despite having an AMOLED or Super AMOLED display, do not feature a Super AMOLED Plus display, the latest technology. All the phones listed in the previous two paragraphs, though they may have a high-res display, do not have an HD display. Though they all have a well-specced camera that captures HD video, the overall quality of photos and videos is lacking. So the hardware is there, the specs are there, but they seem to fall short just a little bit. These minor shortcomings don't seem like enough to relegate them to the mid-range market, especially phones like the Captivate Glide and the Pantech Burst that have a dual-core processor, but they also can't be put in the same category of overachievers like the Samsung Galaxy S II, Motorola DROID RAZR MAXX, and HTC Rezound. So where do they go?


New tiers or new definitions?

It would appear that the lines between high-end and mid-range phones are not as clear as they used to be. Or maybe they are and we just need a new tier, like the superphone tier that I mentioned earlier. I think we should keep the same tiers, just redefine them. This may require a new way of looking at things, but when technology changes, we must change.

It used to be about processor speed, camera, display technology, and 4G capabilities. Those are not the new definitions. The new definitions are based on screen size, camera quality, RAM, processor performance (perhaps the generation of said processor), display technology, and possibly even brand. Allow me to list the new parameters of high-end, mid-range, and low-end phones. Keep in mind that this relates to Android phones only.

High-end phones will have/be:

  • Dual-core processor (newest generation)
  • 4G capable
  • High-res display with latest display technology (ex. Super AMOLED Plus, Super LCD; HD)
  • 4+-inch display
  • 1080p HD video capture
  • High-quality camera
  • 1 GB of RAM or more
  • New version of Android (as of now, this would be version 2.3 or later)

Mid-range phones will have/be:

  • Single- or dual-core processor (not necessarily newest generation; at least 1 GHz)
  • Med-res display with impressive display technology (ex. Super AMOLED, not HD)
  • ~4-inch display
  • 720p HD video capture
  • 4G capable
  • 1GB of RAM or less
  • Android 2.3

Low-end phones will have/be:

  • Single-core processor
  • Med-res display (LCD/TFT)
  • Display smaller than four inches
  • No HD video capture
  • Not 4G capable
  • ~512 MB of RAM
  • Old version of Android (as of now, this would be version 2.2 or earlier)

So there they are. As it stands, this would make phones like the Pantech Burst and Samsung Captivate Glide mid-range phones. I know that sounds crazy, but when you compare them with phones in the high-end category (Motorola DROID RAZR MAXX, Samsung Galaxy Nexus and Galaxy S II, HTC Rezound, etc.), it makes sense.

Now, I clarified a couple of times that these parameters only apply to Android phones. Why? Because each OS is different. BlackBerry, Windows Phone, and iOS devices operate smoothly even with "only" a single-core processor. Therefore, while a phone with a single-core processor may be considered mid-range for the Android world, it would still be considered a high-end device by Windows Phone or BlackBerry's standards. When we see phones running those OSes with more powerful processors, then we'll have to change our viewpoint for those as well.

We are definitely in a new age of smartphones. Remember when we used to freak out over phones with a 1 GHz Snapdragon processor? That was the end all and be all of smartphones. Thankfully, technology continues to move forward which means we have to look at it in new ways. A year from now, phones with a dual-core processor may be considered mid-range. Who knows?