By Tracey Dowdy
With all the great options available, choosing a smartphone can feel like finding a needle in a haystack, except that the haystack is made of needles and you’re looking for the one needle with your name on it. Sure you’re going to find it if you have the time, but it’s going to take a while and it’s probably going to hurt.
It doesn’t have to be that way. The good news is that once you have a clear idea of what your specific needs are, you can sort through that haystack pretty quickly. And the even better news: no bloodshed!
Here are a few guidelines to get you started:
1. Consider your budget. Before you get dazzled by all the features of the iPhone 6 or the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge and its curved screen, decide how much you can spend and stay within your budget. A fantastic phone with all kinds of features is really a waste of money if you can’t afford the data plan to support those features.
2. Don’t go for the cheapest phone just because it’s a bargain. The old adage “You get what you pay for” is just as true for phones as it is with every other purchase. Mobile phones have long since morphed from being a convenient way to make a call into handheld computers. Think long term; you’re probably going to be using the device for at least the next year or two, so choose the best phone you can afford.
3. Talk to a sales associate in store or online about what costs are involved in the various service plans. Major carriers like Verizon offer family plans that allow you to bundle services and customize them to your family’s specific needs.
1. Weight – Are you going to be carrying the phone in a pocket or a purse? On your belt or in a backpack? Will you use it as a primary device and hold it all day or will it rest at the bottom of your bag? A few ounces can feel like a whole lot more; remember – they’re called handheld devices for a reason.
2. Screen size generally falls into three categories – Small (less than 4.5 inches), Medium (4.5 to 5.4 inches) and Large (5.5 inches or more). Generally speaking, the only smartphone with a small (4 inch) display is the iPhone 5 which makes it easy to use one handed. The iPhone 6 sports a 4.7 inch screen and the Moto X jumps up to 5.2 inches, making them harder to use one handed but that extra inch is huge when you consider how much larger the display area becomes. Devices with displays of 5.5 inch and greater fall more into the “phablet” category – a hybrid of a phone and tablet.
3. Phone size and screen size are not the same thing. There can be a significant difference between phones with equal sized displays. For example, while the iPhone 6 has a 4.7 inch display, its need for a physical Touch ID button on the home screen means it’s a larger handset than the Moto X with the same size screen.
4. Durability is another important consideration. My first cell phone was an ancient black Motorola that I once dropped down a stairwell – roughly four floors. I picked it up and made a call – the fall didn’t even make a mark on the phone. On the flip side, my first iPhone got dropped two feet onto a hardwood floor and the screen shattered like a special effect in a sci–fi movie.
5. Display quality will be more or less important depending on the primary use of your phone. If you use your phone to watch movies, you’ll want to choose a phone that offers the highest quality display with quad-HD resolution or 2560 x 1440 pixels. If that’s not a deal breaker, a full-HD panel with 1920 x 1080 pixels (1080p) is often detailed enough, and screens with 1280 x 720 pixels (720p) while not great for movies are perfectly adequate for gaming.
6. We all think in terms of megapixels when we think cameras but other factors play an important role as well. A 13-megapixel camera will take poor quality photos if the lens isn’t up to par. Phones with high shutter speeds and autofocus mean less lag and better photo quality as well.
7. Ah battery life, the great white whale of smartphones. The more dependent we get on our phones the more power manufacturers try to cram in. Batteries typically start in the neighborhood of 1,700mAh and go all the way up to 3,500mAh but it’s important to remember usage plays a huge role in the length and strength of your phone’s battery life.
1. Android offers one of the most customizable interfaces of all the major players. Phones offer plenty of features straight out of the box, but if you’re tech savvy and like to play around, Android is a great option. The Google Play Store now offers well over 1 million apps.
2. Apple devices all run off its iOS platform. It has an intuitive interface and a huge selection of apps available through iTunes. The downside is that you are pretty much locked in to Apple’s interface, as it allows for very little customization.
3. Windows (Microsoft) was late to the party but that doesn’t mean they can’t play with the big kids. The Windows Phone OS has a simple interface and the latest version (8.1) helps level the playing field with the Cortana voice assistant and a notifications center.
My suggestion is to do a little research on your own and make a wish list. Talk to your friends and co-workers about their phones and plans and see what they love or hate, what they wish they knew before they bought, and how they feel about the customer service levels of their provider. Ideally, take your wish list to your local store and talk to one of the sales associates. They’ll help you sort through features, provide you with demos of the phones, and give you the opportunity to physically hold and feel the phone before you commit.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.