You don’t have to spend more than $250 on a new smartphone
I won’t spend more than $250 on a phone. I know what you’re thinking: that doesn’t sound like a lot of money considering how expensive some phones are these days. (And by these days, I mean yesterday, and by expensive, I mean the Pixel Fold’s eye-watering $1,800 price tag.)
But yesterday, I also ordered a new Pixel 7A and, after two years of rebates on Google Fi, it will come out to a clean $250. That’s the same $250 I spent on the Pixel 6A last year, which I will hand over to my partner to replace the Pixel 4A 5G that I bought in 2020, which also cost me… you guessed it, $250.
It’s not that I have always lived by this rule. I bought my first iPhone in 2008, the iPhone 3G, whose 16GB variant cost me $299 on a two-year contract. Before the iPhone — from my Danger Hiptop (🥰), which had that $20 monthly service charge, to the Palm-powered Treo 650 (not that one), to my HTC Apache (an absolute unit) — I’ve been spending more than $250 on phones since smartphones were a thing. Even my first Android phone, the Pixel 3, was significantly more than that.
But with the A-series, I’ve discovered this simple and compelling truth: I simply don’t need to spend more than $250 to get a really capable smartphone and, I’d wager, neither do you.
The idea of carrying around many hundreds of dollars of mostly glass in my pocket has been the source of a not insignificant amount of anxiety for years. All the AppleCare in the world didn’t help when my iPhone 6 inexplicably bent. A trip to the Apple Store was rewarded with the suggestion that I not carry the phone in my front pocket…the sizable deformation was not covered by AppleCare. My iPhone 4, also not $250, had loose reception, also not covered. Come to think of it, nearly all of my iPhones had some meaningful issues (vanishing battery life!) often not covered by insurance, but their price kept going up. But my A-series Pixel phones have not only been affordable — again, I haven’t spent more than $250! — but they’ve also proven to be quite resilient.
I moved to the Pixel series for a host of reasons. First, because I use a Windows PC and, until very recently (like, “mid-May” right now kind of recently), iPhone users hadn’t been afforded the simple pleasure of being able to reply to text messages on a Windows computer . Innovation! And second, after becoming a parent, I realized the most important thing my phone can do is take good pictures at a moment’s notice and store them securely — two things Google’s Pixel line excels at.
Now, almost five years after switching to Android, I’ll add a third reason: it’s far too economical to make any other decision. Parenthood has reconstructed my brain at the molecular level to respond positively when I hear something is “a heck of a good deal,” which is how we described the Pixel 7A in our review. Regardless of what happens to my phone, regardless of whether it’s covered by insurance, I don’t carry the permanent anxiety of traveling with a $1,000 piece of glass in my pocket. And I don’t know that I ever clocked that intangible cost before, but I have now.
Going the A-series route has historically meant giving up some niceties of the fancy phone feature set, like a higher waterproof rating or wireless charging, but I’ve circumvented these limitations by not tossing my phone into the pool and using a corded plug. While that’s been working okay for me so far, the new Pixel 7A has added some features traditionally reserved for fancy phones, like wireless charging and a 90Hz display, so I can really feel the spin on those pokeballs.
I don’t mean to make those of you with fancy, expensive phones feel bad — I genuinely hope you enjoy them and also that they don’t bend when you store them in your front pockets. But for me, the Pixel A-series continues the tradition of delivering more than enough phone for an entirely reasonable sum and has me further convinced that smartphones are increasingly a commoditized category.
Will my future phones always be this affordable? It would take something really innovative beyond a faster processor and a fancier camera array to convince me it’s worth more than $250.