By Tracey Dowdy
With so many options out there, the prospect of buying a new phone can be more than a little daunting. But, if you take the time to do a little research, think through exactly what you want and sort through your options, you’ll end up with the phone you need and not just what’s trending.
Before you start shopping you’ll need to decide whether you want a smartphone or a feature phone, as there is a significant cost difference between the two. Smartphones are more expensive as they function like handheld computers, with access to the Internet and a range of built-in and third-party apps. Feature phones, which are significantly cheaper, are used primarily for making calls and sending texts. There are often added features like a camera, a basic calendar and a few games, but again, the primary function is to communicate through calls and texts.
Not only will you need to look at upfront costs when choosing a phone but also the ongoing cost of a service plan. It’s great to have access to Netflix and Facebook, but the cost of carrying a data plan can be significant, especially if you go over your plan’s limit. Keep in mind that you’re investing in a product that should last you at least two years, which is the length of a standard contract. Low cost may seem appealing upfront, but two years is a long time to be stuck with a product that wasn’t worth the investment or doesn’t offer the features you really wanted.
Currently the two most popular operating systems are Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. Android is by far the most commonly used, is available on dozens of devices in a multitude of designs, and is highly customizable. Apple, on the other hand, aims for quality over quantity, releasing only one or two phones a year. Apple offers a myriad of third-party apps but iOS allows very little customization of its user interface and configuration options are much more limited.
A third option is Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS. Users can integrate popular programs like Office and Outlook, which can give the phone a familiar feel even if the hardware is new to the user. If choice and customization are important to you, an Android phone is your best choice. To compare, the Apple store currently offers just four options: iPhone 5C, iPhone 5S, iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. In contrast, the Verizon store alone offers 26 different Android models.
You wouldn’t buy a car without test driving it and a phone is no different. Take the time to visit a store and actually hold the phone in your hand. Does it feel comfortable? Is it too heavy? Too flimsy? Are you going to carry it in a pocket or your purse? How big is the screen? Think about it: if the primary use of the device is as a phone, screen size is less important than if you wanted to use your phone to read documents, watch videos or play games.
You’ll also want to consider your lifestyle. If you work or play in an active or outdoors environment, you’re going to want a phone that can stand up to being dropped or knocked around. You can buy good cases to protect the phone, but you’re still going to want to choose durable hardware to put in that case.
Innovation in technology moves at the speed of light but just because something is touted as hot or trending doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Consider what features are important to you and choose a phone based on those guidelines. Will you be on-the-go and have limited access to a charger? Look for a phone with a long battery life. Will you use it primarily as a phone? Look for a phone that offers call quality with clear speakers and a good mic. Touch screens are popular but if a QWERTY keyboard is more familiar, you may want to skip the iPhone and look at the options Android phones have to offer.
It won’t matter how many features your phone has if you never learn how to use them. If you’re not tech savvy and don’t care to be, the simpler the phone the better. You don’t want to pay for features and services you don’t want or need. On the other hand, if you’re tech savvy or at least willing to learn, look for a phone with the features you want. Have the staff at the phone store walk you through a demo of what the phone can do and how to access those features. Once you’re home, there are countless online tutorials that will help you make the most of the camera, music player and other fun features.
Choosing a phone doesn’t need to be a chore. Think about what you need, set a budget, and explore. Take your time and ask your friends or family for their opinions and whether they’re happy with their own phones. Choosing a phone is a big investment and ultimately you want to choose the phone that’s right for you.
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.