How to punish our working class: Make Chinese smartphones expensive

On the eve of smartphones becoming cheap for everyone, President Donald Trump wants to ruin it.

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Last year, I embarked on a one-month experiment to see if an inexpensive, $200 Chinese Android smartphone could replace my $1,000 iPhone as my "daily driver." Based on my application workload, the answer turned out to be a resounding "yes" -- particularly if we were slightly more generous with the spending.

At the time, $250 was about the sweet spot for a device with a relatively fast Qualcomm SoC, an HD display, 3GB of RAM, a good camera, 4G LTE that was compatible with most North American radio bands, and at least 16GB of internal storage.

Smartphone survival test

Swapping my iPhone 6s for a $200 Android handset

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Since I wrote that article series, the Chinese smartphone manufacturers have been upping their game considerably in terms of how much technology can be packed into $250 or less.

For the last week, I have been using a ZTE Blade V8 Pro for most of my smartphone needs. At a street price of about $229.00, it packs an amazing amount of technology into a low-cost smartphone, including a 5.5-inch full HD display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 octa-core SoC, 3GB RAM, 32GB Flash, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, dual 13MP rear cameras, dual SIM and micro-SD storage, fingerprint scanner, 3140mAh lithium battery, and a Qualcomm 2.0 USB-C fast-charging connector.

The device supports 4G LTE bands on AT&T and T-Mobile as well quite a few international GSM bands, so it's an ideal travel phone.

Huawei makes a similar phone for slightly more money, the Honor 6X. I've also heard it's a great phone for the price, and I thought its predecessor, the Honor 5X, was very well-designed.

Finally, decent Chinese Android phones are cheap. But it appears the Trump administration doesn't want to keep things that way.

If Android smartphones go back to being $650 and up (the current price of Google's Pixel 5, considered to be more of a premium device) -- due to increased tariffs on imported goods or manufacturers passing on the capital expenditure of financing expensive robotic assembly plants here -- then the only people it will hurt is the working class.

It's certainly not going to hurt me or one of ZDNet's average readers if they have to spend $650 or more on a smartphone every two or three years. I won't like it, but for me, it's a cost of doing business. I buy a few of these things a year to keep up with the technology.

So how much would Donald Trump's all-American iPhone really cost?

Would you pay an extra $100 to have an iPhone that was made in the US? And even if it was, would it be truly American?

But for the blue collar worker? That would make the difference between paying the bills that month and not.

And it would almost certainly slow down spending and reduce tax revenue by creating huge underground markets for new and used black market and "grey" goods.

If you want to see how well that works, just take a look at the former Soviet Union and other ham-fisted oppressive regimes like Cuba and North Korea. Or Venezuela.

Unlike the middle class, where the average family member may have access to multiple computing devices, many blue-collar workers use smartphones as their primary and only computing device.

They don't own PCs or laptops, and many don't even have residential broadband. They use free Wi-Fi at places like Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, and McDonald's to get onto the net when they aren't using up their data allotment on pre-paid SIM cards.

It is this ubiquitous access to information and resources that was formerly only available to the middle class and the wealthy that has allowed minorities like Latinos (as well as African-Americans) to bridge the digital divide.

In the US, access to the internet is not a luxury. It is a necessity which Americans use to find employment, communicate with family members, and locate and use important services.

It is a lifeline for very large groups of people, and for those, a smartphone is their on-ramp to those services.

If the Trump administration gets its way, in addition to the rise of unregulated secondary markets, what we might see is the equivalent of "Digital Hoovervilles," where access to information and data usage will be concentrated among a privileged few, and those who go normally without will have to pay heavy premiums for occasional access.

Brother, can you spare some Wi-Fi? Count on it being the next pop hit if expensive smartphones are the new norm.

I don't want our basic on-ramp to the internet to be gold-plated. It's undemocratic and when you get down to it, oppressive and racist. Keep smartphones cheap.

Is punishing China with new tariffs and other trade restrictions simply punishing America's working class? Talk Back and Let Me Know

VIDEO: Did Trump convince Apple to make an all-American iPhone?

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