A giant conglomerate released a new phone this week. It has outrageous specs, nice design, some funky new camera tech, and a bunch of bizarre ideas about software. So far, there are two companies that fit the description—Samsung and Huawei. Here’s where the narratives differ: The one we’re talking about only costs $400. And you’ve probably never for one second considered Huawei in your phone-buying decisions. Silly you.
Huawei’s new device, the Honor 8 (there have been many other Honors before), is every bit the spec monster smartphone. Glassy, colorful design; 12-megapixel camera, plus a second sensor just for good measure; ultra-fast processor and four gigs of RAM; fingerprint sensor that doubles as a clickable shortcut key; latest version of Android; lots of storage, with room to add more. In most practical ways, it’s not that far off from Samsung’s new Galaxy Note 7, or other Android phones like the new Moto Z. The only thing the Honor 8 is missing is the absurdly high (and VR-friendly) screen resolution, but you know what else it’s missing? $400 on the price tag.
Globally, Huawei’s the third-biggest smartphone seller. Only Apple and Samsung sell more phones. But the company’s hardly made a dent in the US, because most people still flock to carrier stores every two years to wait in line and sign stacks of paperwork just to pay way too much for a new phone. The Honor 8 won’t be in a Verizon store, and it won’t come on a contract. It’s just $400 (or $450 with more storage), click buy, end of transaction. That’s how it’s so cheap, by the way—turns out if you don’t have to pay AT&T to carry and market your phone, or pay rent on retail stores, you can sell your phone for a lot less. Of course, there are definitely things you get for your extra money, like Samsung’s extra design flourish and superior camera. But the gap is vanishing.
The $400 smartphone has become a truly exceptional beast. The Honor 8’s just the latest entrant into a group that already includes the OnePlus 3, the Nextbit Robin, the Xiaomi Mi 5, the ZTE Axon 7, the iPhone SE, the Alcatel Idol 4S (which looks a lot like the Honor 8), and more. You’ve probably never heard of most of them, which is the problem—they don’t have the marketing budget, because they’re not overcharging you for their phones. Truth is, you can get a great phone for much less, all the way down to $200 or so, but right now the price for a truly great smartphone is $400. Anything above that, you’re paying for retail stores and Lil’ Wayne commercials. So maybe next time you’re shopping for a phone, don’t just roll down to your carrier store. Just use your current phone to go online and buy your next one.