These days, purchasing a smartphone is an intimidating, challenging process. It seems that everywhere you turn, an advertiser is trying to convince you that their new phone is cream of the crop. They list off every single feature that the phone has even though you have no clue what half of them are.
However, having a wide range of options isn't always a bad thing. If you have the knowledge to know what you're purchasing, shopping for smartphones can be fun! This smartphone buying guide will help you learn all of the ins and outs for purchasing a smartphone in this competitive market.
Three Things to Remember
Prepare to spend a pretty penny. Smartphones are expensive. It doesn't take a tech junkie to know that, but it's important to remember that you truly get what you pay for when it comes to smartphones. Even after you make a choice, the device you wind up with will have to last you for quite a while. It's imperative to keep the phone's hardware in mind (so that it doesn't become obsolete too soon), but you'll also want a phone that will yield a high resale value. Phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S5 and the iPhone 6 typically resell at great prices. Mid and low range phones don't seem to hold up against the test of time.
Think about what you want out of your smartphone. Practically every smartphone on the market is advertised as the "best thing yet," but when it comes to personal needs, some phones are much better than others. What features are you searching for? For example, if you plan to take lots of photos with your smartphone, you'll need a device that has exceptional camera hardware and lots of free space. Always thoroughly test out potential smartphone picks in the store before buying a new cell phone.
Look for an intuitive design. People spend lots of time on their phones. This means that its exterior design, user-friendliness, and flexibility will be extremely important. For example, if a phone just doesn't feel right in your hand right off the bat, you'll likely be better off with another model. Small annoyances can turn into major inconveniences down the line.
Smartphones are the most popular types of phones on the market today, and they come packed with state-of-the-art features and hardware to support their software. They can be navigated with screen taps and swipes, and they have WiFi capability, crystal clear image resolutions, massive storage capacities, and the ability to run powerful applications. These phones are generally the most expensive devices in the cell phone market because of their vast capabilities.
A feature/messaging phone is one step below the smartphone. However, it is capable of doing many of the same things has a smart device. The screens on feature/messaging phones tend to run a bit smaller, and they often sport full keyboards for quick messaging. However, because the smartphone market is broadening to cater to users who want more affordable options, feature and messaging phones are becoming more sparse.
For those who want only the most necessary features in their devices, there are basic phones. Basic phones are only useful for making calls and sending the occasional text messages. These phones are often either designed in a "brick"-like shape, or they can be flipped open. They tend to be extremely low in price, and often carry little to no resale value.
What to Consider
Screens that are at least 5 inches (measured diagonally) tend to be considered large. There are many phones with 5.5 to 6 inch screens that are considered "phablets" (phones that can double as tablets). The Google Pixel 2 XL, iPhone 8 Plus, and Samsung Galaxy Note 8 all come with massive screens that are considered to be the largest of the large.
Medium size screens are generally anywhere from 4.5 to just under 5 inches. The iPhone 8 is a great example of a phone featuring a mid-size screen; it can be comfortably gripped and most users can reach all areas of the screen using a single thumb.
Small screens tend to fall below 4.5 inches. Smartphones with small screens are beginning to become sparse in availability due to developers pushing bigger, more crisp screens as time marches on. Options are slim for those looking for portability, and phones with smaller screens tend to be considered entry-level.
Typically, when sales reps try to hawk phones, one of the biggest things they push is processing power. The average user typically doesn't know enough about cell phone hardware to care about smartphone processors, but taking the time to learn about them can increase the overall longevity of the purchase.
Simply put, processors are what makes smartphones either fast or slow. A faster processor will typically feature multiple computing cores in its architecture, and it will handle multitasking, menu navigation, and app opening/closing very well.
"What is the camera like?" This is one of the most popular questions asked by consumers who are in the market for buying a smartphone. Certain smartphones will tout 13 megapixel cameras that shoot high resolution photo and video, but when it comes to comparing cameras, it's best to test hands-on. Because there are many factors that can make a smartphone camera "good or bad," it's often nearly impossible to judge the hardware from a spec sheet alone. If the camera's photo/video quality is high on your list of priorities, head to your network provider's store and test the various cameras out yourself.
The smartphone's battery is essentially the powerhouse of the entire device. If the battery life stinks, you won't be able to enjoy your phone's features for very long at any given time. Look on the spec sheet for the smartphone's "talk time," "music play time," "standby time," etc. These numbers will give you a pretty good idea of how long you can expect the phone to perform a particular task before the device powers off.
LCD screens are rather common in smartphones, and they can scale in resolution all the way up to 2560 x 1440 pixels. LCD displays rely on backlights, and this can often cause limited angles for viewing and low contrast levels. However, LCD displays display color in a much more natural way.
Certain LCD screens are marketed as "retina displays." This term is heavily pushed by Apple marketers to describe their 326 ppi (pixels per inch) LCD displays.
AMOLED (active matrix organic light-emitting diode) displays are newer on the market, and they are currently projected to overtake LCD screens in the future. Rather than relying on a backlight, AMOLED displays utilize organic chemicals to generate illumination. This technology is similar to that of plasma televisions and neon lighting. These displays typically generate more vibrant images, and they feature higher contrast levels. Many of Samsung's devices utilize AMOLED display panels.
OS (Operating System)
Keep in mind that the operating system you inevitably choose will be extremely important. Each one caters to a different type of user.
iOS can be described as a user-friendly and flexible environment. Users have access to a wide range of apps, and the devices are fairly easy to troubleshoot. However, users must make use of iTunes or the App Store to access or download content. If you already have a multitude of Apple devices, it's likely best to purchase an iPhone.
iOS receives regular updates, and many devices generally see the same upgrade at the same time.
Android is truly the tinkerer's OS. It can easily be customized, and Google is much more lax about regulating apps in its "Play" store. However, because many different manufacturer's utilize Android, updates are much more complex.
Windows Phone is the desktop Windows' mobile counterpart for small device users. It is considered to be a unique mix between iOS and Android, but it lacks the flexibility and customization capabilities of Android. It is perfect for smartphone shoppers that are trying to stick to a budget, and it's integrated well with Microsoft Office and similar services.
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