This has been the year of smartphone design. Smartphones from nearly every single manufacturer featured a notch, 18:9 Univisium display and full-glass back body. The less exciting part of smartphones—the internals—have also seen massive changes.

Most phones, including those in the budget range, come with an AI-enabled processor, are built on a 14 nm process, which ensures more efficiency and power. And not to forget—octa-core has become nearly synonymous with a processor nowadays. RAM is also upped by a gigabyte in base variants, going all the way up to 8GB and so has the minimum internal storage.

So here comes the question—how do smartphones built five years ago, boasting specifications like 2 gigabytes of RAM, Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 processor and a “Slo-Mo" mode, fare in 2018? Is it a good idea to buy them now, a time when we have budget phones offering the same features? Let’s find out.

Samsung Galaxy S4 (2013)

The Galaxy S4 came with jaw-dropping tricks, like Air Gesture, Ripple unlock effect and S Voice, all of which saw little usage in everyday life. But it wasn’t really an all foam, no beer affair. It came with some serious specifications—that still hold up very well in 2018. To begin with, it came with an octa-core Exynos 5 processor built on a 28nm process with four cores running at 1.6GHz and the other four at 1.2GHz, paired with 2GB of RAM and up to 64GB of internal storage. It was backed by a 2,600mAh battery that is measly by today’s standards.

And that screen—a 5-inch Full-HD Super AMOLED display with a resolution of 1920x1080. It had a pixel density of 441 ppi—something that smartphone manufacturers still struggle to squeeze inside a smartphone in 2018. Thanks to its perfect pitch blacks and vibrant colours, you’d think twice before considering an LCD display on a phone.

The cameras were also pretty solid for the time— a lonesome 13.0 MP auto-focus rear camera with LED flash and a 2MP front-facing camera, also with flash. While the daytime photograph was decent, the low-light photography wasn’t all that great—we can say with confidence that this still hasn’t changed for its modern day budget phone counterparts.

It ran Android 4.2 Jelly Bean with Samsung’s TouchWiz “Nature" UI, which was known for childish icons and app animations.

So how does it fare today? Not so bad, actually. I had the chance to use the phone recently and the owner had installed a custom-ROM based on Lineage OS on it—just so it runs the latest version of Android with software updates—since Samsung stopped rolling out updates for the device after 2015. It tackles light tasks with a few stutters here and there but don’t expect to run PUBG on high graphics with high frame count. Since this was a five-year-old device, it had considerable pixel burn as OLED pixels tend to burn out after prolonged usage. It also comes with a tiny battery, so you might want to swap it with a higher spec one.

So, it is recommended that you buy a brand-new device with a custom ROM installed and a higher capacity battery. If you’re wondering, there are sellers that sell S4s at a price of 13,000 online.

Apple iPhone 5S (2013)

The iPhone 5S started a fingerprint scanner frenzy among smartphone manufacturers, thanks to Touch ID that was embedded in the home button. It featured a dual-tone, all-aluminium body and measured in at only 4.87-inch—the entire phone was smaller than the screen size of the Samsung Galaxy S4.

It was powered by Apple’s dual-core A7 chipset that clocked in at 1.3GHz and was paired with a gigabyte of DDR3 RAM. It came in three storage variants ranging from 16GB and going all the way to 64GB.

At the front of the iPhone 5S was a 4-inch LED backlit LCD panel with a resolution of 1136x640 and 326 ppi pixel density.

Something that is still relevant in 2018 is its camera setup— an 8MP rear facing camera with f/2.2 aperture, capable of recording 1080p videos at 30fps and “Slo-Mo" 720p videos at 120fps.

I have used its rear camera for making several short videos and it has almost never let me down. Be it well-lit scenarios or low-light settings, it can still take it all. Here is a video sample.

The most important part about the iPhone 5S is upgradability—it received the iOS 12 update a week ago. No other smartphone of its time comes even close to this—you’ll either have to root the phone and install a custom ROM or make do with its existing version.

Coming to the modern-day scenario, it is not uncommon to spot someone using an iPhone 5S in 2018. It has stood the test of time and reliability for several users. Yes, there are several issues like the home button coming off or the phone struggling to cope with resource-hungry applications or always running out of storage, but hey...it still works fine.

You can find the 16GB variant of the iPhone 5S selling for around 14,500 online.

HTC One M8 (2014)

The HTC One M8 was launched in March of 2014 and was known for its minimal yet functional design while at the same time running flagship specifications that we’ll come to in a moment.

It was also one of the first phones to feature front facing stereo speakers and was amped-up by Beats Audio, delivering what the company called “deep and rich sound".

It was one of the first phones to feature the industry-leading Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 SoC clocked in at 2.5GHz and was coupled with 2GB of RAM and upto 32GB of internal storage that was expandable to up to 256GB via a micro SD card.

It made the dual-camera game cooler before the iPhones did—it boasted an additional 4 MP depth-sensing camera alongside the primary 4 MP sensor with f/2.0 aperture.

Why a low resolution 4MP camera? Because of UltraPixels.

HTC thought it was clever to include that feature, which basically means using a larger pixel size instead of a higher pixel count all together. A larger pixel allows more light to fall on the sensor, which in turn gives better low light performance. For comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S5 came with a pixel size of 1.1 microns, while the One M8 had pixels 2 microns across.

Combine all of that with a 5-inch Full HD LCD display with a resolution 1920x1080 and a pixel density of 441 ppi along with an all-aluminium build, and you have a phone that looks straight out of a sci-fi movie.

I was able to get my hands on the 32GB variant of the HTC One M8 which was four years old. It was still snappy and ran Android KitKat v4.1, which sent me into an instant wave of nostalgia, and had a major issue with the rear camera—the images clicked with it were hazy and appeared purple. This was a common issue with the M8’s camera and was seen mainly under low-light conditions.

The older version of the Android OS also means it will lag behind in security updates, which can be a point of concern. The interface was still considerably fast if not snappy and handled most light tasks pretty well.

You can find the HTC One M8 on Amazon India selling for 15,999.

Conclusion:

It is not a wise decision to buy a five-year-old flagship smartphone even though it comes with essentially the same specifications as their modern day “budget" counterparts. With a change in hardware there also has been a shift in the software end of things, as they are now optimised to take full use of the latest processors and the RAM capacity.

However, if you have the money and wish to experience the nostalgia, you can always go for one of these phones. They were surely made with the future in mind.

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