Diwali is around the corner and smartphone manufacturers can’t wait to cash in. Xiaomi has launched the Redmi 11 Prime 5G smartphone, along with a slew of other devices. The company had also launched the K50i at the end of July.
OnePlus has the Nord 2T, Oppo with the Reno8, iQOO has the Z6 Pro, Realme has the 9 Pro Plus, and Motorola is offering the Moto Edge 30. Xiaomi also has the 11i Hypercharge. You get the idea. There is an abundance of smartphones in the sub- ₹30,000 segment. And there’s little to differentiate one product from the other.
This segment continues, in fact, to account for the majority of sales. Tarun Pathak, research director and telecom analyst at Counterpoint Research, puts the figure at 91% of smartphone sales, adding that there is still a “lot of room for growth”.
But not in every pocket of this segment. “There are pockets of growth and pockets where it’s saturated. For example, the sub- ₹10,000 segment is saturated, and, in fact, declining. People are moving to mid- and upper mid-tier devices,” Pathak says. “Even the premium 5G diffusion, penetration and uptick will happen only in this price band first, especially ₹15,000-30,000.
“We think that the number of launches will decline in single digits like 8-10% as brands are gearing towards leaner and more impactful portfolios,” Pathak says.
Area of focus
The Redmi K50i is a good example of why customers opting for value-for-money and affordability aren’t incentivised to upgrade to a higher-tier segment. The Dimensity 8100 stands out as a stellar chip. While the phone lacks an AMOLED display, it has almost everything else going for it. Battery life is great, performance is stellar, gaming is smooth (144Hz refresh rate). It even has a 3.5mm headphone jack.
Harish Jonnalagadda, senior editor, Asia, at Android Central, goes so far as to describe this segment as the “new battleground”.
“The initial surge in India’s handset category was in the entry-level and budget segments but the market has matured in the last two years, and, as such, the average selling price has steadily increased,” he says. “The latest data points to an average selling price of $213 (around ₹17,000) in Q2 2022, a 15% uptick over 2021. As customers start paying more, brands are increasingly focusing on the ₹30,000 segment as the new battleground and that’s the main reason for the sheer number of phones available in this category.”
He explains why there is so little attempt to stand out. “There’s no differentiation because the hardware industry as a whole has become standardised. Most manufacturers in this category use the same AMOLED panels sourced by the same vendor, similar SoCs, and identical cameras. While there are a few variations in design, aesthetics, there isn’t much room for making something truly stand out. 5G also plays a hand here as it needs more antennae and RF hardware, leaving little room for features like motorised camera modules,” says Jonnalagadda.
Pathak believes the segment is still driven by the numbers game. “This is challenging for the brands. Some brands trade off the experience while going for specs and this is where we think a lot of improvement needs to be done, especially on the software side,” he adds.
A mere glance at the Mi India website shows that there are 32 smartphones on sale, some dating back to mid-2020. A majority of these lie in the sub- ₹30,000 segment. The same can be said for Samsung—with its F and M series phones—and companies like Realme and Vivo.
Jonnalagadda says Xiaomi has stayed with a strategy “where more choice is better”. “That’s the key driving factor behind the Chinese manufacturer rolling out similar-looking phones with little to no differentiation and marketing them in the same segment. That strategy now extends to three labels—POCO, Redmi and Xiaomi—so it stands to reason that the brand launches a lot of phones.” Xiaomi isn’t the only brand taking this route. “BBK follows a similar system where it has various models from differing brands available at the same price point, and that model has worked very well,” he adds.
Who really stands out?
The Redmi K50i was one of the most recent launches in the segment. But in a crowded market, there will always be more choices. The Realme 9 Pro+ is one option. It’s a compact phone with great camera performance (even in low-light conditions). Its design, though flashy, stands out. The solid stereo speakers are an added plus. Realme smartphones come with a lot of bloatware though.
The iQOO Neo 6 comes with a Snapdragon 870 SoC, making it ideal for gaming. A neat and clean design means it will be understated but premium. The smartphone has a 120Hz refresh rate. But the camera setup isn’t up to standard. It comes with the Funtouch OS, which isn’t the best Android skin out there.
Samsung has plenty of smartphones on this list. The Galaxy A52s or the Galaxy M52 5G, for example. The Galaxy A52s may have launched for over ₹30,000 but can now be bought for much less. It has a fantastic camera setup (probably the best in the segment), a great display, and offers excellent performance overall.
Motorola comes with a vanilla Android OS experience—and the Motorola Edge 30 fits the bill here. It’s one of the thinnest and lightest smartphones in the market, with a clean software experience and good battery life (of over a day). It matches the Redmi K50i’s 144Hz refresh rate as well. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G+ is a bit of a letdown though.
The OnePlus Nord 2T won’t stand out in any area but it will be just the right smartphone for a lot of people. It has a MediaTek Dimensity 1300 SoC, a decent chip for day-to-day performance. The camera performance is above average and the software experience is fast and fluid.
Sahil Bhalla is a Delhi-based journalist