In fact, even as the world tangles with the COVID-19 virus, it seems that the budget flagship segment is dying. Or worse, it is dead!

Is Rs 40,000 the new Rs 30,000?

We know some of you might object to that statement. After all, OnePlus DID release the OnePlus 8 for a starting price of Rs 41,999 in India. And even before that, the iQOO 3 was released at Rs 36,999 and the Realme X50 Pro at Rs 37,999. Surely these are very affordable flagships when you consider what the likes of an iPhone 11 Pro or a Samsung Galaxy S20+ are priced at? Our point is that they are comparatively affordable when you consider the super-premium segment. But throw your mind back to 2019, and the price equation was rather different. You could get a Redmi K20 Pro or a Realme X2 Pro with a flagship-level processor for under Rs 30,000. The innovative Asus 6Z also started at Rs 31,999. In fact, even the OnePlus 7 was priced at Rs 32,999. And the insanely specced gamer-oriented Asus ROG II and Black Shark phones were going for under Rs 40,000 – even that was below the pricing of the OnePlus 8, which folks are raving about. Today, however, to think of getting a flagship now for under Rs 30,000 or even Rs 35,000 seems to be a dream. Some phones might come down to those prices well after their launches but it is kind of difficult to see any brand launching a budget flagship right off in the vicinity of Rs 30,000 – 35,000!

The budget just expanded!

And this is a very recent phenomenon. Right until December 2019, and January 2020 actually, a budget flagship was seen as something that was below Rs 30,000. We even had some which were well below that price point. The period since February 2020 seems to have changed that. Now we are in a world where being around Rs 40,000 is the new benchmark for a budget flagship – so much so that a Rs 41,999 phone is considered very good value for money. Some would say that this is so because of technology getting more expensive – many have blamed Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 chip for the increase in price (although with no real concrete evidence).

Now, that may be true, but what is also true is that on the flip side, there has been no corresponding price increase in other segments. And this is even when flagship features are arriving in lower price segments. We today have phones with 90-120 Hz refresh rate displays in the zone of Rs 10,000-17,000, 6GB and 8GB RAM are commonplace in the mid-segment as are punch hole notches, and there are 48 and 64 megapixel Sony sensor and quad-camera setups in phones that are well below Rs 20,000. Actually, you can get a decent PUBG or Call of Duty experience and shoot 4K from a sub-Rs 20,000 phone now. In the past, the budget flagship segment was just above the higher part of the mid-segment, now it suddenly seems in a different zone altogether. It is as if you can get a lot of bang for not too many bucks right up to about Rs 16,000 or Rs 17,000 and then you suddenly have to spend about two and a half times as much to touch a budget flagship. There suddenly seems to be a huge price gap between the mid-segment and the budget flagships. In fact, the new age budget flagships seem closer to their premium counterparts rather than their mid-segment siblings.

Room for a new king, but is the old king dead?

Perhaps the greatest irony is that the players who made the old budget flagship segment so prominent have stepped away from it. Xiaomi’s Mi 10 is expected to be expensive and well above Rs 40,000, OnePlus has already crossed the Rs 40,000 river, Realme is inching towards Rs 40,000, Redmi so far has shown no signs of a successor to the K20 series in India, and as for Motorola, well…that’s another story. Perhaps the last hope of many is with that mysterious brand, Poco, and its F2, which many predict will be priced very competitively. We do not know if that will happen but what we do know is that at the time of writing, the budget flagship segment of 2018-19 seems to be dead. It does leave the field open for a new player ready to risk it (and given the “oh the prices are crazy” groans from some of the brands, we believe the risks are high), but until that happens, perhaps we can just say “long live the new budget flagship.” Or not, given its pricing.