With all the new smartphones on the market, it’s an exciting time to buy. Companies like Samsung and HTC have released phones that are better than anything we’ve seen in history. And then there’s always Apple with its line of iPhone devices. There has never been a better time to buy a new smartphone.
There are so many choices, in fact, that you might have a hard time choosing the best one for you. Do you want an Android or an iPhone? What about Windows Phone or BlackBerry? Then there are choices about the devices themselves: small or large screen, for instance. You have many phones to choose from, and each one offers you something unique.
Confused? Here’s a little guide to help you narrow down the choices and find the phone that fits you perfectly.
1. Pick a carrier first
The most important factor to consider when buying a new smartphone is the network. While a smartphone is powerful by itself — it’s a mini computer, really — it is only as good as the network it runs on. A top of the line smartphone running on a second-tier network won’t do you much good. You’d probably be better off with a second-tier smartphone on a top of the line network.
There are two considerations with a network: coverage and costs. Different carriers cover different areas. There are many areas where Verizon has coverage and T-Mobile does not, and vice versa. In addition, each carrier has a different set of smartphone plans that fit different budgets. T-Mobile, for instance, has plans that run far, far cheaper than Verizon’s. If price is a big consideration for you, this is a factor you need to consider before deciding on a phone.
When it comes to smartphone usage, the network comes before the phone. Everything runs through the network. Choosing a poor one will create a negative experience, no matter what smartphone you buy.
2. Decide an ideal size
Today’s smartphones come in all different sizes. Older Apple iPhone models, in addition to many mid-range Android phones, come with 3.5-inch screens. For many consumers, that is too small. On the other extreme, many manufacturers have created “phablet” devices that can measure as large as 5.5 inches. Many consumers find these far too large and bulky. You will have to decide for yourself what size is appropriate.
Here is a quick chart of common screen sizes:
3.5 inches like the iPhone 4S. It is good for consumers who want a compact phone they can fit into tight places.
4 inches like the iPhone 5. It is good for consumers who watch a fair amount of streaming video and browse media-rich websites.
4.3 inches like the HTC One S. It is good for consumers who do a little more with their smartphones and need a larger surface area.
4.8 inches like the Samsung Galaxy S3. It is good for consumers who are power users, and who need extra screen real estate for web browsing, video streaming, and reading.
5.5 inches like the Galaxy Note 2. For professionals who take notes with a stylus and need other professional organization applications.
3. Look at software, not specs
When you see a new smartphone announcement, chances are there is an emphasis on specs. You’ll hear about the processor speed, the internal memory, and other technical details that manufacturers love to tout. But what does that mean to you? Chances a phone with a quad-core 1.5GHz processor won’t make your life any better than one with a dual-core 1.2GHz processor — if those terms even mean anything to you in the first place.
What makes a difference for the end user is software. Does the smartphone have the apps that you want and need? More importantly, does it run an updated version of the main operating system? With Apple you know the answer is always yes; they push out new iOS updates going back three or four iPhone generations. With Android some phones will always update. You can be sure that the Google Nexus 4 always has the latest version. The same goes for the Samsung Galaxy phones. Just avoid phones that ship with anything less than 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.
4. Check the rumor mill
There might be a phone on the market that you like, but there’s a good chance that there is a phone you like even more coming soon. Manufacturers release many different phones every year, and each one builds on the last. The last thing you want is to buy a brand new phone, only to have an even better one come out in a few weeks. That’s why it’s important to check for rumored devices on sites like MobileMoo. That way you know about any devices that are coming soon.
Be careful to not wait too long, though. There will always be a shiny new phone in the rumor mill. If you wait a few months for one, chances there will be a new rumor of a phone that is even better. The game goes on and on, and you’ll be stuck with your old phone and no upgrade. Once you decide it’s a good time to buy a new phone, set a limit. Wait only a few weeks if there is a really nice phone coming soon.
5. Compare overall costs
The last thing you’ll want to compare is the overall cost of the phone. This isn’t just the base cost, but instead the total two-year cost of ownership. There are two main ways cell phones are sold:
A) Full-price, with no contract
B) Subsidized price, with a two-year contract
The best way to determine your overall cost is to figure out the two-year cost of ownership. Let’s take an example of both of the above.
A) The full-price phone costs $500, but the service costs $55 per month. Total two-year cost of ownership: $1,820.
B) The subsidized phone costs $200, but the service costs $90 per month. Total two-year cost of ownership: $2,360.
Doing this complicated math will make your smartphone buying experience much easier.