Is $1,000 too much for a phone? Yep, but it won't stop me

Commentary: Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 and Apple’s upcoming iPhone are on track to be more expensive than a phone should be. I’ll take one of each, please.

Daniel Van Boom Senior Writer
Daniel Van Boom is an award-winning Senior Writer based in Sydney, Australia. Daniel Van Boom covers cryptocurrency, NFTs, culture and global issues. When not writing, Daniel Van Boom practices Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, reads as much as he can, and speaks about himself in the third person.
Expertise Cryptocurrency, Culture, International News
Daniel Van Boom
4 min read

Between Samsung and Apple, there are a whole bunch of shiny new toys being paraded around this month. September is smartphone Christmas. 

It's also like Christmas when it comes to the price tags. 

Samsung this week released its Galaxy Note 8. I have held one in my hands, and it's beautiful. I have seen the light. I have also seen the price tag: $949. In Australia, where I live, it's AU$1,499 -- about $1,200 in yank money!

That's a lot of dollarydoos.

That's the same amount I spent on my last laptop, the Razer Blade Stealth. More importantly, with that money, I could buy a OnePlus 5, an Oppo R11 and a Moto G5 Plus. All three. 

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Hidden Features

Hey bae. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

iPhoneMania is also upon us, brother. Apple is expected to unveil new iPhones Tuesday, with rumours saying there'll be three this time. There'll be the usual iPhone and iPhone Plus combo, as well as a freaky new iPhone with an OLED screen and no home button. (These will apparently be named the iPhone 7S, 7S Plus and the iPhone 8.)

iPhones aren't cheap. That third phone is expected to hit four digits in the US, with an estimated price of $1,000. I can only imagine how much this will cost here in Australia, the land of deadly animals and even deadlier markups.

The cost ceiling for premium phones is rising on multiple fronts. In the US, Samsung's Galaxy S range for the past few years has started at $650. That changed this year, with the S8 bringing a stunning new design and bigger screen -- and an extra $100. The Note line saw a similar increase, going from $800-something last year to $900-something this year. (Prices vary based on carrier.) The new iPhone looks to nudge that price up even further.


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On one hand, this is concerning. The price goes up, but what truly meaningful features get added? The screens and processors get better, but they're improving on already-vibrant screens and speedy processors. Camera improvements are more notable, especially with the advent of dual cameras, though at this point I wouldn't call sharper cameras a game changer.

On the other hand, the Note 8 is beautiful. When I got my hands on it, my first thought was to sell all my possessions and start a new life. I wouldn't have clothing or appliances, but I would have a spiffy new phone. I suspect the new iPhone 8 will incite similar urges.

There's little justification for this desire. I've heard it said the allure of premium phones is in them being status symbols, but that's not quite it. It's more like expectation. 

The first smartphone I owned was an iPhone, as is the case for all of my friends. And even those of us who drifted off to Android did so through equally expensive phones from Samsung and HTC. In my head, thanks largely to it being the case during my teenage years, smartphones just cost AU$900 and up. I've already mentally committed to spending that amount when I decide I need a new phone. This makes cheaper alternatives, even if they're almost as good and half the price, less attractive.  

I'm more guilty than most, since I'm acutely aware of what's out there. I know the OnePlus 5 has the same processor as the Note 8, and that Oppo's R11 also has great dual cameras. Paying hundreds more for a phone that's only slightly better is absurd.  

But what about the average Joe and Joette, whose smartphone knowledge begins and ends with Apple and Samsung? They've got no chance.

I have tried explaining to friends that they don't need to spend AU$1,000 on a phone. I tell them, but they don't listen. 

Half of them use iPhones, so the idea of using an Android is itself suspicious -- their brows furrow further once the idea of an AU$500 phone is introduced. Most of the Android users would rather go on a plan with a carrier and pay AU$0 upfront (converts roughly to $0 and £0) for a Samsung or Google Pixel than go through the effort of ordering a phone online and paying full price upfront. (Keep in mind, almost everyone in Australia gets their phones through $0-upfront carrier plans.)

It's not just me and my dumb friends, either. Over 3 million people bought Samsung's Galaxy Note 7 last year, and that was just in the one-month period before the phone infamously had to be recalled following, y'know, the fires. Meanwhile, the costly iPhone 7 Plus was key to Apple enjoying record-breaking sales last year. There is quite obviously a market for lavish phones.

So yes. Samsung's Note 8 is expensive, more so than a phone needs to be. And Apple may on Tuesday unveil an even more expensive iPhone, as well as a clever marketing line that justifies its cost. (Courage, anyone?)

Some people will be mad. Are you one of those people? So am I. I'll see you in line at the Apple Store. 

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