Most phone contracts last two years, which is a lifetime when it comes to technology. There are more choices than ever, and it’s hard to tell the difference. What’s clever marketing hype, and what’s real value? Here’s the scoop on how to choose the right phone for you.
Operating System (OS)
Are you a Mac fan? A Droid rebel? A Windows 8 convert? Smartphones come in all three flavors these days. If you already have other devices on any of these platforms, you may want a smartphone to match.
The iPhone, which runs iOS from Apple, set the standard for smartphones when it first came out in 2007. Each new release still makes big headlines every year. It is well-known for superb design and ease-of-use. If you have a Mac or iPad, you will probably want an iPhone.
Droid phones run the Android operating system. Android was developed by Google to compete with the iPhone and iOS. It is well established and very popular. Power users favor Droid for its flexibility and ability to customize. Amazon.com created a special Droid variation they call the “Fire OS.” They use it on the Kindle Fire tablet and the newly-introduced Fire phone. It combines the power of the Android OS with the ease of use normally associated with Apple.
Microsoft, never one to be left behind for long, has been paying close attention to the phone market. They now offer the Windows Phone, which has the same look and feel as Windows 8. Their app store isn’t as robust as the iPhone and Droid stores, but it is growing rapidly.
For those Crackberry addicts out there: you can still purchase Blackberry phones from a few carriers, but this is a dying platform. You’ll be better off with a different choice.
Cellular Service Provider
Your carrier makes a huge difference in your phone experience. Some are more reliable than others, some offer faster data connections, and everyone’s coverage is a little different. There is no one right answer but generally Verizon and AT&T are the highest-ranked. Others may have a cheaper price tag, but that is usually an indication of more limited services. Travelers will benefit from the top-tier carriers, since they are more likely to offer coverage nearly anywhere you might go. If that’s not an issue, just make sure you have good coverage at home and the office, and anywhere else you spend a lot of time.
Sorting through plans is frustratingly complex. Usually you will pay for talk time, in minutes; texting, in quantity; and data, in gigabytes. Bundled plans are starting to offer unlimited talk and text, so all you have to do is predict how much data you will use. Most people don’t use as much data as they expect – a few gigabytes a month – and you can keep it to a minimum by setting your phone to connect to wifi whenever you are at home or work. The main thing to watch out when it comes to data usage is music, pictures, and video. If you are sending or receiving these over the Internet all the time, you can blow through a small data plan in a few hours.
All the Other Details
Once you’ve sorted through the operating system and the carrier, the rest is a piece of cake. Here are some of the key features to explore:
- Battery life: this varies widely. Bigger phones typically have bigger, longer-lasting batteries.
- Screen size/phone size: some people prefer the large phones because they can substitute for a tablet. Others prefer smaller phones that fit better in a pocket. This is strictly personal preference.
- Durability: some phones offer more rugged cases, and a few are now water resistant. This is a huge benefit for some people. If you like a phone without these features, there are cases that can provide these same benefits.
- Speed: you’ll see CPU and processor speed on some phone comparison lists, but be careful, as this can be confusing and misleading. Test the phone yourself to see how it performs.
- Camera: pixel counts are so high these days you can take a great picture with any smartphone. Look for software features that allow for editing, focusing, video, etc. Offering front and rear cameras gives you more flexibility.
The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are the latest release from Apple. They offer noticeably larger screens to compete with some of the most popular Droid phones. The operating system has been redesigned again, with a slew of new and intuitive features designed to make it even more effortless than ever.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 is one of the leading iPhone competitors. Cutting edge features and a large display have set it apart from the crowd and won over loyal fans.
Since Google created the Android operating system, it’s no surprise they offer their own phone, the Google Nexus 5. You can buy this directly from retailers, unlocked, to use with the carrier of your choice. (Check with your carrier before purchasing, just to be sure.)
As mentioned above, Amazon has rolled out the new Fire Phone, using their own version of the Android OS originally built for the Kindle Fire. This phone is currently only available with AT&T.
The Nokia Lumia 635 offers the latest in Windows Phones, with a new voice recognition feature called Cortana (much like Siri on the iPhone). The HTC One is also available for Windows or Droid.
Not Sure Yet?
The best way to decide is to visit your local wireless or electronics store. Check out models in real life to see how they look and feel, and ask plenty of questions to make sure you have all the facts. With so many phones on the market, there is no “one” right choice for everyone. Do your homework before buying, but don’t sweat the final decision. In the end it all comes down to what you like best.