After seeing the Galaxy Note9 pre-order prices in the Philippines, we’ve been given pause for thought. The base models, which are available in various colors with 128GB internal storage, cost Php 55,990 each. Meanwhile, the premium Ocean Blue model, which comes with a matching yellow S-Pen stylus and 512GB internal storage, has a Php 75,990 price tag. Sure, the Note9 is big and shiny, and offers a ton of bleeding edge smartphone features, but is it really worth that much? In fact, is any smartphone worth this much at all?
As years-long tech enthusiasts, that’s a hard question to ask and an even harder question to answer. Smartphones bring a lot of convenience to our lives, and it can be hard to live without them nowadays. They are designed to augment our existing capabilities, allow us to access the world’s knowledge at our fingertips, and occasionally even engage in small-scale battle royale or search, battle, and capture Pokémon, on the go. In short, there’s no denying that smartphones are useful.
And smartphones are useful in that they help us to replace or discard older, more limited, obsolete devices. Instead of carrying a number of dedicated devices for music, photos, navigation, messaging, and gaming, we’re able to enjoy all of those with just one thing in our pockets: the modern-day smartphone. Again, their utility is undeniable. What we’re questioning is whether or not they’re still worth it.
What is a smartphone?
In the past, the term smartphone used to mean something. It was a term used exclusively for phones that were either able to connect to the internet or capable of performing PDA- or personal digital assistant-related tasks. Phones that were used by businessmen were called smartphones. Phones that could send and receive emails, browse the Web, set calendar appointments or alarms were called smartphones. Phones that could be used to take photos and play music or videos were called smartphones.
But now, that is no longer the case. Now, practically all phones are smartphones. So smartphones are now just phones, though at the same time, they’re also not. You see, smartphones are now so powerful that they’re basically pocket-sized supercomputers. So that’s what they are: not phones, but tiny computers. Are these handheld computers now worth 75k a piece? That’s what we’re wondering.
We believe that smartphone companies are well within their rights to offer their premium flagship products at premium flagship prices. But beyond a certain point, despite all the niceties on offer, it simply becomes too hard to justify the high price points.
Why are smartphones now this expensive? Because they aren’t just phones anymore, right? And yet they are, literally, just phones. After all, although they may be more powerful than the most powerful computers, say, 10 years ago, they aren’t actually computers. They’re just phones. They come with near limitless capabilities, but they are actually limited by design.
Smartphones are computers by form, but not by real-world function. They don’t work as actual computers as the world has come to know them. And that is where they begin to fail. This is true especially for the likes of the Galaxy Note9, which hails from a South Korea-based company, and offers little to no integration with real world services in countries like the Philippines. It comes with many different features, but most people, even power users, will be hard-pressed to actually use them. So then even though they have everything, in the end, they do nothing. Nothing but serve as music players, web browsers, and mobile telephones. Those features are worth paying for, sure, but 75k?
Smartphones are limited by the platforms on which they are built upon. And smartphone — or rather, mobile — platforms, are in a lot of ways simply inferior to actual desktop computing platforms. Windows 10, despite all its flaws, is still much more of an enabling technology than the latest smartphones with either Android 9 Pie or iOS 12 ever will. And that’s precisely where we’re coming from here.
Beyond the hype and gimmicks
Anyone who disagrees with the idea that smartphones are only phones will have to contend with the fact that they aren’t actual computers. So what are they supposed to do? A lot of different smartphone stuff, of course. But that’s where models that are available at one-half, one-third, and even one-fourth the price of the Note9 come in. Even Samsung itself sells high-performance smartphones for Php 15,000 or less. And if the flagship Galaxy Note9 is only going to be used to browse the same toxic social media networks, talk and text on the same decades-old telephone lines, watch the same low-resolution video snippets, and listen to the same old low-quality music tracks because of failures in the necessary infrastructure, then where does the 60k difference in price come from?
Surely, not the exclusive premium color, right? Or is that the level in which smartphone companies and their customers operate these days? All the hardware in the world wouldn’t help any electronic device to reach its full potential in the absence of proper systems to utilize them. Forget about DeX, Bixby, Samsung Pay, and Samsung Health. Iris scanning tech is a gimmick, and so are dual-camera setups. Take all the fluff away, and what have you got left? We’re guessing a good smartphone with a big, touch-friendly screen, loud speakers, excellent mobile game support, and a long-lasting battery. Is the inclusion of a yellow “pencil” really worth all that extra money? Because we’ve got a box of Mongol No. 2’s that we’d love to get rid of.