Apple and Samsung are taking opposite paths to a cheaper phone

Galaxy A53 5G

Samsung’s Galaxy A53 5G is the company’s latest midrange phone.

Samsung

Apple and Samsung apparently agree on one thing: you no longer need to pay close to $1,000 to get a good phone. But their respective visions differ greatly when it comes to what makes a affordable phone worthy of interest.

This difference in approach has been fully manifested in the past two weeks. The two companies held virtual keynotes to announce new phones that are priced hundreds of dollars below the headlines. iPhone 13 and Galaxy S22. Apple was the first with a March 8 event to announce the $429 iPhone SE. Apple’s cheaper phone looks like the iPhone 8 from 2017, but has 5G and the same processor as the iPhone 13. Samsung followed on March 17 by introducing the Galaxy A53 5Ga $450 phone with some of the same features as its more expensive counterparts, including a nearly borderless display and a multi-lens camera.

The announcements say a lot about the technology Apple and Samsung deem necessary for a modern phone. Apple prioritizes delivering the latest low-cost processor, even if that means implementing an outdated design and less versatile camera. You could say that Samsung is taking the opposite approach. Samsung’s budget phones generally run on less powerful chips than its Galaxy S phones, but they’re wrapped in a modern design that, at first glance, might be mistaken for its more expensive devices.

For Apple, the iPhoneSE is a cheaper way to attract new buyers to services like iMessage, Apple TV, Apple Arcade, and the full App Store. Samsung, meanwhile, is trying to deliver premium features for less money.

The iPhone SE is for people who just want an iPhone

Apple iPhone SE 2022

The 2022 iPhone SE looks like the iPhone 8. But it packs Apple’s A15 Bionic processor, the same chip that powers the iPhone 13.

Apple

You’d be forgiven for confusing the 2022 iPhone SE with the four-year-old iPhone 8. Like Apple’s older iPhone models, the new iPhone SE has a physical home button with thick bezels above and below the screen. It also has a 4.7-inch screen, which means its screen is considerably smaller than even the 5.4-inch. iPhone 13 Mini. There’s also only one 12-megapixel camera on the iPhone SE, while Apple’s more expensive phones have two or three camera lenses.

These specs may make the new iPhone SE look dated, but it’s what’s inside that counts. The iPhone SE runs on the same A15 Bionic processor as the new iPhone 13. Not only should that make for speedy performance, but the new chip also means the iPhone SE will support new iOS features for years to come. While iOS 15 works on phones as old as the original iPhone 6S and iPhone SE from 2016, some features are only available on phones with newer chips.

That’s the whole appeal behind the iPhone SE. It’s not about delivering cutting-edge technology like a depth scanner, multi-lens camera, or vibrant OLED display. It’s for people who just want an iPhone for basic daily tasks at the lowest possible price.

The iPhone SE allows Apple to reach buyers with tighter budgets, who may have shunned the company’s more expensive models in the past. And these iPhone SE owners could one day turn into AirPods owners or apple watch owners. They can also subscribe to Apple Music or one of Apple’s iCloud storage plans. In other words, the appeal of the iPhone SE isn’t really about the hardware – it’s a admission ticket to all things Apple.

The Galaxy A53 5G attempts to emulate Samsung’s most expensive phones

Galaxy A53 5G

The Galaxy A53 5G has a large screen and a multi-lens camera.

Samsung

Despite its lower price, the Galaxy A53 5G seems almost indistinguishable from more expensive Samsung phones like $700 Galaxy S21 FE. Like most of Samsung’s recent phones, it has a screen that covers almost the entire front of the device with just a punch-hole cutout for the selfie camera. The Galaxy A53 5G looks pretty much like any other phone Samsung might have released in the last three years.

Samsung’s goal with the Galaxy A53 5G is clear: to bring premium features to a more affordable device. It has a multi-lens camera system that includes a 64-megapixel main camera, a 12-megapixel ultra-wide camera, a 5-megapixel macro camera, and a 5-megapixel depth sensor.

The screen can also boost its refresh rate up to 120Hz for smoother scrolling, a feature that was previously reserved for the more expensive phones. The iPhone SE, by comparison, only has one standard 12-megapixel camera lens. The $1,000 iPhone 13 Pro and $1,100 iPhone 13 Pro Max are the only phones in Apple’s current lineup that can increase the refresh rates of their screens.

That’s not to say Samsung didn’t compromise with the Galaxy A53 5G. Unlike Samsung’s more expensive phones, the Galaxy A53 5G lacks a telephoto lens for closer zoom – a fair trade-off considering its lower price.

Still, Samsung seems to be doing a better job of bridging the gap between its budget and high-end phones than Apple. I haven’t tested the Galaxy A53 5G yet, but its predecessor made me never want to pay nearly $1,000 for a new phone again. However, the Galaxy A53 5G does not benefit from the same processor as its high-end siblings as the iPhone SE does.

Instead, the Galaxy A53 5G runs on Samsung’s Exynos 1280 chip, which is said to be a mid-range processor with similar gaming performance to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G, according to the SamMobile blog. It’s the same chip inside the Galaxy A52S 5G, a variant of the A52 launched in the UK last year. But the Exynos 1280 was built using a 5 nanometer manufacturing process, just like the processor inside the iPhone 13 and Pixel 6. A small nanometer measurement usually means more transistors, which should translate to more power and energy efficiency.

Samsung and Apple’s visions for what matters most in a phone

yt-iphone-se-vs-galaxy-a53-spec-v2

The iPhone SE 2022 (left) and the Galaxy A53 5G (right)

Amy Kim/CNET

Samsung and Apple have different visions of what makes a good mid-priced phone, and both approaches seem to have succeeded so far. Apple does not share sales data for specific iPhone models. But after the previous iPhone SE launched in 2020, Apple CEO Tim Cook acknowledged the device as a driver of iPhone growth during his fiscal third quarter 2020 earnings call. He also said the iPhone SE’s small size makes it appealing to buyers who haven’t updated their phones for a long time. The 2020 iPhone SE was also one of the top 10 best-selling phones of 2021, according to Counterpoint Research.

The Galaxy A series has also proven popular for Samsung. Galaxy A devices accounted for 58% of Samsung’s smartphone unit sales in 2021, according to Counterpoint Research data provided to CNET. And Samsung’s Galaxy A12 also landed on that same list of top 10 best-selling phones of last year alongside the iPhone SE.

Galaxy A53 5G and iPhone SE are beyond cheap smart phones. They tell us what Apple and Samsung think are the most important aspects of our mobile devices. For Samsung, the answer seems to be long battery life, a large display and multiple cameras. Apple, on the other hand, is focused on delivering similar performance to its more premium iPhones.

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