Not all phones are made equal. We have high-end ones, mid-range ones and low-tier ones. We have pricey flagships at one side and the budget-conscious ones at the other end. Well we also have some low-quality clunkers out there that need to be avoided at all costs.
But not to worry, as this guide is geared towards people both well-versed in the technical specs of phones out there as well as the casual person who just needs a phone that gives them the best value.
The bare basics of choosing a smartphone
Smartphones have come a long way. Manufacturers such as Apple, Samsung, HTC, Motorola, LG, Oppo, Microsoft and more keep on surprising us by how much power and performance they can cram into their phones today.
For the smartphone buying customer in 2015, here are some of the basic features they need to look out for:
- Battery Life: Here’s why this feature is at the top of this list – modern smartphones are gluttons for battery life, with most of them lasting only a day or less before you scream ‘Charger!’
- Software and OS: Phones are as good as their Software and Operating System. Keep an eye out on the latest and the greatest (more on this later).
- Screen Size – So these sophisticated phones come in sizes as small as 4 inch and as big as 6 inches! So deciding on the screen size and its resolution (more on this later) is also important.
- Cameras – You want a phone for selfies? A great quality camera? Or maybe not (I kid, I kid!). Phones from different manufacturers carry cameras of varying quality and features.
- Speed and Processing Capabilities – There are fast phones for power users and then there are normal phones for casual users.
So without much further ado let’s go in-depth with these features.
Ask any smartphone owner about the biggest annoyance on ‘modern’ smart phones of today and many people will say battery life as if it was some plague on earth. Many phones are constantly cramming bigger batteries and battery-saving tech in their phones so that running times can get better.
For first time buyers, remember this rule of thumb – get a phone with at least 2000 mAh battery as a baseline, specially if the screen is above 4.7 inches. This can ensure that you make it through your phone throughout one and a half day at least. Results may vary based on the display size and usage patterns but generally speaking this is the right approach to choose a phone.
If you want to go for the best : High end phones like HTC One M8, Samsung Galaxy Note 4, iPhone 6 Plus are all putting 3,000 mAh batteries in their phones. Please note that bigger batteries may not necessarily mean longer runtimes. These high end phones have humongous displays and bleeding-edge tech on them which can affect battery life.
If you are going for mid range : Some of the mid to high end phones also come with battery saving innovations that can help you get extra running time from your phones. Phones like the Moto X (2013), HTC M7 are examples of software optimizations helping and enhancing battery life.
Software and OS
Since this is a guide geared towards casual users AND power users both, we will simplify this.
- If you are getting an Android Phone – Try getting a smartphone with Android 5.0 OS (also called ‘Lollipop’). If not, then go for phones with Android 4.4 update (KitKat) at the very least. If you want to buy something lower than that, make sure there is a planned software update.
- If you are looking to get an Apple device like iPhone 6 – You are pretty much taken care of in terms of software updates. Apple will drop the 8.1+ iOS updates for almost all of its devices.
- If you are getting a Windows Phone – Any phone that you are buying should run the Windows Phone 8.1 update. Anything older is not recommended especially Windows Phone 7! And we are hearing that Windows 10 is going to come to these phones as well. You heard that right folks, Windows 10!
Many smartphone manufacturers have a habit of installing junk software. For Android users, going with either a Nexus or Motorola brand is a good choice if you like vanilla Android. Samsung and Sony and HTC feature modified skins that are required for their special phone features to perform as advertised. Anyways, thanks to Google, phones in 2015 will have less crap apps on phones.
Apple iPhones don’t tend to have some extra apps by comparison, other than those which are part of its OS. Same goes for Nokia (or is it Microsoft now?) Lumias.
Do you want the extra real estate on a phone or not? Do you want a small, portable and a more ergonomic phone or a device that makes consuming media and reading stuff a lot easier? This is more a matter of personal preference.
Things that people should probably keep an eye on to ensure that they choose the right phone display quality:
- AMOLED, IPS and Super LCD – These are 3 different display panels that are great on phones. Each one of them has their pros and cons. AMOLED makes for some saturated and vivid colors, IPS is sharp looking with great viewing angles and LCD offers a mixed balance between the two but excels in superb brightness.
- PPI – Do you want text on your smartphone screens to be easily readable and images to be sharper? The higher the pixel-per-inch (ppi) rating of a phone’s display, the better it is. Choose 250 ppi as a good baseline for your display.
- Scratch-resistant and Durable – Get a phone with at least Corning Gorilla Glass 3. You may run into one of those situations where your car keys might rub against the phone’s screen and Gorilla glass is made exactly to deliver the kind of protection you require.
Many phones come with the front and the rear camera both. But which one is worth your while? This guide can tell you how to settle for a good camera.
- For Android Phones: Sony, Samsung, HTC’s high end phones feature great camera tech. They are all rounded and deliver everything from their 8 MP to 20 MP shooters. Quality is great. Some phones do have issues with low light performance so make sure you do your research here. Nexus phones are ok in terms of camera. Motorola is better.
- For Windows Phones: Nokia Lumias are some of the best camera phones in the market, both in terms of hardware and software. Camera quality is variable from their low end to high end offerings but these phones, some would say they were created to take high-quality videos and pictures.
- For iPhones : Another brand of phones that take brilliant snapshots and videos are the Apple iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. They are great for casual photographers who don’t want to fiddle around with complicated settings. In fact, these are the smartphones with the camera tech to beat.
Speed and Processing Capabilities
Last but clearly not the least, you want phones that perform like race cars. You don’t want your apps or games to limp along and take forever to load now do you?
- For Android Phones: Any processor with at least quad core capabilities and a baseline 1.5 Ghz processing speed will do. And since you are buying a phone now, get one with at least 2 GB of RAM to stay future proof.
- For Apple iPhones: No need to worry about processing specs because Apple has you covered with the A9 processor with 1 GB RAM of memory.
- For Windows Phones: In general Windows Phones require less horsepower than Android devices. So even if the device has a processor, a high clock speed would still make it run quite smoothly.
The last word on buying phones from local markets
They say to be forewarned is to be forearmed. Now when you either order the phone online (go for stores with proven track record in returning and replacing sets) or pay a visit to your local mobile market, you will be in a better position to cut through the hyperbole the mobile wala feeds you.
Most of these shops let you test out the phones and you will have an overzealous shop keeper telling you how that phone is the best thing since sliced bread (or naswar if that’s what they are into). They say that about all the phones to all the people all the time. But of course, you know better than that.
Now that you know which specs matter (and which don’t), you won’t ever have to encounter buyer’s remorse. Which brings us to the question of warranties. A lot of shop keepers promise you the moon and offer you ‘checking’ warranty of a few days or a year (depending on the smartphone model). Insist on seeing the warranty card first.