Smartphone manufacturers release dozens of new devices each year without fail. These devices range from budget devices to premium flagships. Also, each device comes with its own operating system. Google's Android OS is the most popular mobile operating system on smartphones today by far. Millions of Android devices are sold annually, and sales figures are expected to continue growing. Finding an Android phone can prove daunting with so many options, so potential buyers don't always know where to start.
Here's an in-depth guide on how to spot a good Android phone worth purchasing:
Android devices can be broken into three categories by price. Budget devices cost anywhere from $50 to $200 on average. From there, midrange devices span the $200 to $500 range. Premium devices with top specifications cost anywhere from $500 to $1,000. Each category comes with increasingly better hardware and software as well as special features. Typically, budget-minded users opt for budget to midrange devices, and this applies to new Android users, too. Advanced users prefer midrange to premium devices.
Operating System Version
Android 5.0 Lollipop is the latest version of Google's operating system. However, most devices are running versions 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich to 4.4 KitKat. Jelly Bean is a popular version sandwiched between these two versions. A smartphone buyer shouldn't settle for anything below Android 4.1 today. Then again, Android KitKat and Lollipop are recommended above all else, too. Having the latest version of Android comes with various benefits, including improved performance and more features.
Processor and RAM
Every smartphone comes with a processor and allotment of RAM. Budget and midrange devices often feature a low-performance, low-cost processor. Likewise, they feature 1 or 2 gigabytes of RAM, often the former option. Premium devices tend to come with the latest processor and 2 to 4GB of RAM. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 system-on-chip is the most advanced processor today. For most users, a Snapdragon 400 chip and 1GB of RAM will handle basic tasks like surfing the Internet and using basic apps.
A more powerful processor is necessary for intense gaming and more intricate apps. Plus, power users will want a better processor and more RAM for multitasking. Devices with a Snapdragon 600 chip and above are recommended. The same goes for devices with at least 2GB of RAM because smartphones are coming with more and more features. In the near future, devices will come with 2GB of RAM standard. Only the most serious smartphone users need the most recent processor, but many opt for this power anyways.
In simple terms, ample amounts of RAM ensure that a device won't run out of memory. Running out of memory causes app and system crashes among other problems. A powerful processor guarantees that a device can run its operations without slowdowns. For instance, a graphically intensive game will perform at 30 frames per second on a newer processor. Older processors might not even be able to get such games up and running. RAM and processor are becoming more important as time goes on.
Screen Size and Resolution
Everyone likes a good looking screen, and certain options should be considered the bare minimum. These days, screen sizes continue to rise, and most devices come with a 4.5" screen or larger. Phablets feature screen sizes of at least 5.5" and are popular among smartphone owners. More screen real estate allows users to see more and access more content at once. Unfortunately, nothing is worse than blurry text and images, which occur with devices that have low-resolution screens more often than not.
Devices with 480p screens tend to look fuzzy and lackluster. Users will notice that colors bleed together, and nothing looks that crisp. On the other hand, a 720p resolution screen looks well-defined with images and text. 1080p screens look even better and are recommended for phablets. 2K resolution screens are becoming more widely available and offer the best viewing experience at the moment. Still, users have to realize that higher resolution screens use more power to run these displays.
Non-2K screens often use relatively the same amount of power. Users aren't going to notice large battery life differences between these devices. For 2K screens, the effect becomes much more noticeable. Not everyone sees these screens as necessary, and they use a lot of juice from a battery standpoint. That's why devices with 2K screens often feature batteries that are fairly large. Battery life continues to be an important factor uses, and screen impacts battery life more than people realize.
Battery Size and Life
Many smartphone manufacturers tout that their smartphones feature "all-day battery life". In reality, that's an inflated claim because battery life depends upon users' individual habits. Android devices tend to feature batteries between 1,800 and 3,500 mAh. The average device lasts somewhere between seven and 15 hours on moderate usage. For most guidelines, this means some Web surfing and app usage as well as calls and texts. Heavy gaming or screen-on time will reduce battery life considerably.
Users should settle for no less than six hours of battery life per charge. Even that's a low number, and a better target is nine to 10 hours. For the best results, buyers should find a device with a decent-sized battery. Anything from 2,000 mAh to 3,200 mAh should be considered ample for most users. External battery packs can always be used, but these packs tether to device and add more bulk. To avoid this issue, users should get a device with a battery that meets their daily usage needs.
At this point, most smartphones come with a rear-facing and front-facing camera. The rear camera tends to come with more features and processing power. Front-facing cameras are designed for selfies and quick shots, though. For most users, an 8-megapixel camera is more than capable as a rear shooter. Front cameras should be no less than 2-megapixels. Each manufacturer uses different software to handle images and videos, so that must be kept in mind, too.
Budget Android devices always feature lackluster cameras. Nowadays, 5MP rear-facing cameras are popular here, and front-facing cameras rarely eclipse 1.2MP. Premium devices start at 8MP and top out around 20MP for rear cameras, which is more than enough for users. Front-facing cameras are improving with time, and 5MP options are becoming standard for flagship devices. Undoubtedly, smartphones won't replace a powerful digital camera, but plenty of users care about image and video quality.
Other Hardware and Software Features
Device manufacturers are constantly trying to one-up the competition by adding special hardware and software. Currently, most manufacturers place a special UI skin over stock Android, no matter the version. Samsung's TouchWiz features multitasking software, and HTC's Sense offers plenty of social media features. Some devices come with stock Android, and a number of users prefer the basic operating system. Either way, these UI skins can make a device more functional and powerful.
Curved screens and other design tweaks are all the rage, too. More smartphones are being built with curved screens and curved edges. Otherwise, certain devices feature extra ports and special camera hardware. These design differences can help set smartphones apart from each other and give niche users something worth using. Not all designs are that functional or critically acclaimed. That hasn't stopped users from adopting devices with unique hardware that sets those devices apart from others.
The Bare Minimum For Each Price Range
Individuals buying a budget smartphone shouldn't settle for a barebones device. Plenty of budget devices feature commendable hardware and software. For that reason, the bare minimum here should be considered a Snapdragon 400 processor (or equivalent. Users should expect 1-2GB of RAM and a rear-facing camera of at least 5MP. Android versions 4.3 and above should be considered mandatory, too. Also, a buyer shouldn't have to pay more than $180 for a decent budget smartphone. Plastic designs are to be expected.
Midrange devices are going to take things a little further. A Snapdragon 600 processor and 2GB of RAM should be considered standard here. For some devices, metal might be included in the design, and the device shouldn't feel cheap. Operating system and camera specs apply from the budget tier. Newer OS versions and better cameras are always recommended, though. On top of that, these devices shouldn't cost more than $450 on average, and older flagship devices with great hardware are available here.
For obvious reasons, premium flagship devices should come with the latest hardware and software. Buyers shouldn't settle for anything less than a Snapdragon 800 processor and 2-3GB of RAM. Advanced camera hardware and software are necessary at this range. When it comes to battery life, the device should come with 10 hours of life or more, which means a 2,300 mAh battery or larger. The latest version of Android is a necessity for premium devices, and premium metal designs are recommended, too.
Looking For An Android Smartphone?
Locating the perfect Android phone often proves difficult because so many options are available. In the end, users with a given budget should follow the recommendations listed above. Nobody should settle for a device that doesn't meet the minimum specifications that have been outlined. Not everyone needs a premium device, but they do need something that will run smoothly for at least a year or two. For the best results, buyers should purchase a device with hardware and software that's not already outdated.
Wirefly Is America's Most Trusted Source For All Cell Phones, Plans, TV, and Internet Deals
Wirefly offers great deals on a large selection of smartphones, cell phones, tablets, mobile hotspots, and other wireless devices for the nation's most popular carriers. Use Wirefly’s innovative cell phone and plan comparison tools to ensure you are getting the best deal on the market. Shop with confidence knowing that Wirefly wants to help you find the best prices on cell phones, cell phone plans, TV, and Internet service.