Smartphone Buying Guide

Our Smartphone Buying Guide contains everything you need to know before buying a smartphone, including the operating system, display size, camera setup, processor, RAM, and price. We’ll also tell you which carrier offers the best service for your phone. Our Smartphone Buying Guide will surely help you to make sure that you get the very best handset for your needs and budget.

Contents

Price: How Much Should You Pay?

While the providers are trying to ease the sting by splitting the cost into monthly payments over two years, you can quickly liquidate by paying $650 to $1,000 for your next smartphone. We’re not saying the smartphones aren’t worth it. However, there are compelling alternatives. If you want to save some money and still have a very capable handset, take a good look at the unlocked Android phones.

The best of these models offer a surprisingly reasonable price, including reliable performance, full-HD screens, and long battery life.  Please note that many unlocked phones only work with GSM carriers, such as AT&T and T-Mobile, and not Sprint’s and Verizon’s CDMA-based networks. But there are more and more unlocked handsets that work with all carriers. Check the specifications to see which wireless bands the phone supports.

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Operating System: Android or iOS?

smartphone buying guide
  • Android

Android dominates smartphone sales worldwide, and for a good reason. You’ll find many more options than iOS when it comes to design, screen size, specifications, features, and price. What’s more, Android is an open operating system, which means it’s easier to customize it with great launchers and widgets. Google now offers faster performance, a split-screen feature for opening two apps at once and Notification Dots to quickly glance at what’s new.

However, when a new Android version arrives, it may take several months (or more) before the updated OS is connected to your phone. However, there are exceptions: Google’s Pixel phones, which receive security and software updates directly from Google. Otherwise, make sure the phone maker has announced when (and if) it plans to upgrade his devices to the latest version of Android.

  • iOS

All the newest iPhones – including the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X, as well as older handsets such as the iPhone SE – run the latest version of Apple’s operating system. iOS 13 offers several enhancements, including a more useful Control Center, Live Photos editing, a real file app (finally), and a redesigned app store.

The main reasons for choosing an iOS device are its ease of use, access to OS updates as soon as they become available (unlike most Android phones), and the ability to work seamlessly with Apple devices (such as the iPads, iPhone, and Mac). iOS is also safer than Android. Apple’s App Store tends to get the most popular apps and games for Android, in part because developers can more easily target a smaller set of devices with similar specifications.

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Smartphone Buying Guide – Display Size

  • Small size – The main reason to buy a smartphone with a small screen is the compact design. You don’t have to stretch your thumb to reach anything, and the phone fits easily in a pocket. Small phones like the iPhone 8 and Google Pixel 4 are compact and powerful.
  • Medium size – Phones in this size range are suitable for people who want the right balance between pocket-friendly design and immersive entertainment experience. The Pixel 4XL is a good example because of its durable battery and affordable price, just like the outdated but still reliable Samsung Galaxy S10. The Apple iPhone 11 is a new small device because it is a 5.2-inch device that unfolds to give you two screens.
  • Large size – Smartphones with massive screens, such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus and Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, are called phablets because they are almost tablet size. These phones are great for watching multimedia, reading e-books, gaming, and running two apps side by side. What’s more, smartphone makers are looking for ways to minimize bezels so you can get a big screen in a reasonably compact design.
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Smartphone Buying Guide – Display Quality

The size of the screen is just one consideration. Pay close attention to the brightness, color quality, and viewing angles of a smartphone. First, make sure that the smartphone you are buying has a panel that is bright enough to read outside in direct sunlight. How colorful a screen is is another important consideration; phones with AMOLED screens, such as the Samsung Galaxy line and iPhone 11 Pro, tend to offer more vibrant shades than handsets with LCDs, as well as deeper black levels and wider viewing angles.

If you want most colors in a phone, look for a device that supports HDR. This technology also enhances superior contrast in movies and TV shows. Both Amazon and Netflix offer some HDR content. For the resolution of a phone, full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) is the absolute minimum we propose. Most high-end phones today offer a quad-HD resolution or 2560 x 1440 pixels. A handful of phones have a resolution of 4K, like the Xperia XZ Premium (3840 x 2160), but you are unlikely to notice the extra pixels. Our smartphone reviews contain valuable test results on brightness, color gamut, and color accuracy to help you make the most informed purchase decision.

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Smartphone Buying Guide – Design

The definition of good or bad smartphone design is very subjective, but if you care about building quality and aesthetics, look for a metal or glass design, or a phone that offers both. There are several cheap handsets with plastic housing, but generally, we would avoid them unless your primary goal is to save money. (One of the advantages of a glass back is that it allows the phone to charge wirelessly, but you should check to make sure this feature is offered).

If you are concerned about durability, make sure your phone is water resistant. A typical specification you’ll see is IP67, which means the phone should be able to survive submerged in 3 feet (about 1 meter) underwater for 30 minutes. In other words, you don’t have to worry that your phone will be damaged if it gets wet. Few phones, such as the Moto Z2 Force, go a step further with a splinter-free glass display. But at the very least, you should buy a phone with a Gorilla Glass display, which should protect your phone from short drops (although a protective case will help).

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Smartphone Buying Guide – Camera Setup

We have reached a point in the evolution of the smartphone where the camera is more important than the processor, especially considering that most people use their phone as their primary shooter. More and more smartphones have cameras with at least 12 megapixels, but they don’t just ignore that status. Instead, pay attention to image quality, aperture, shutter speed, and features.

smartphone buying guide

For example, the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max impress with their triple cameras on the back, a 12-megapixel primary camera with an f/1.8 aperture, a second 12-megapixel camera with an f/2.4 aperture and a third 12-megapixel camera with an f/2.0 aperture. The rear camera setup has autofocus. It sports a 12-MP camera on the front for selfies, with an f/2.2 aperture.

Samsung has chosen top-of-the-line hardware for its Galaxy Note 10+ smartphone and has left no stone unturned when it comes to the cameras. The primary rear camera has a 12-MP sensor, a variable aperture (f/1.5-f/2.4), a 1.4-micron pixel size, Super Speed Dual Pixel AutoFocus, and even the optical image stabilization (OIS). The secondary camera is a 16-megapixel camera with an ultra-wide-angle lens, an f/2.2 aperture, and a 123-degree field of view.

Then there is a 12-MP telephoto lens with PDAF, OIS, and 2x optical zoom. Finally, Samsung has also added a depth perception camera, a Time-of-Flight sensor that can scan objects in 3D. On the front, Samsung has chosen a 10-MP selfie shooter with Dual Pixel AutoFocus, an f2.2 aperture, and an 80-degree field of view.

When it comes to recording video, pay attention not only to the resolution but also to the frame rate. 4K at 60 fps is considered the cream of the crop. But the stability of that video is also essential, so look for lenses that offer optical (and not digital) stabilization. If possible, test the smartphone you plan to buy to make sure it captures images fast enough; some midrange and low-end phones suffer from delay. And if you plan to take a lot of pictures and videos, look for a handset with a microSD card slot.

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Smartphone Buying Guide – Processor

A good processor in a phone should translate to faster open times for apps, smoother gameplay, and faster photo editing, but you don’t have to pay attention to cores or clock speed. It’s better to look at the performance in our reviews, such as the Geekbench, which measures overall performance, as well as the tests we do in practice.

Currently, the fastest mobile chip (by far) is Apple A13 Bionic is a 64-bit ARM-based system on a chip (SoC), which can be found in iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max. Among Android phones, the Snapdragon 855 processor is the leading chip. It’s the processor to get if you desire the best possible VR experience and gaming performance, as well as better efficiency, which translates into longer battery life.

The Snapdragon 700 Series provides mid-market smartphones like the OPPO Reno and Realme X series. These processors offer excellent overall performance but don’t expect to be able to play the most demanding games without delay or experience great VR.

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Smartphone Buying Guide – RAM

Here is an easy way to look at the RAM of smartphones, which is crucial for multitasking. Try to avoid handsets with only 1 GB of system memory. On medium-sized devices, 3 -4GB is excellent and standard. But you’ll often find 6-8 GB on the latest flagships, and 8-12 GB on ultra-premium phones like the Galaxy Note 10 Series. Some phones even go up to 12GB as the base model, such as the Asus Rog Phone 2, which is designed for gaming.

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Internal Storage

We all know that some games can easily take up more than 2 GB of storage – not to mention the number of high-res photos and videos captured by smartphone owners – we strongly recommend choosing as much internal storage as possible. The minimum on most premium handsets today is 32GB. We recommend 64GB if you take a lot of photos and videos, and 128GB or more if you want to record 4K videos and download a ton of games. A microSD card can help you expand your storage. It’s available on many Android phones, but Apple phones don’t offer this option.

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Battery Life

Many factors – including the size of the screen, processor, and operating system – determine how long a smartphone will last on a charge. But if you’re looking for the longest possible endurance, take a look at our list of battery charging combs. We consider any phone that lasts more than 10 hours of upright 4G LTE surfing to be very good. The battery capacity is a specification that can help determine a phone’s potential power. Nevertheless, look for a phone battery with at least 3,500 mAh if you want the best chance of extended battery life.

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Smartphone Buying Guide – Fast Charging

If you love to be able to juice your phone quickly, check if your phone can be swiftly charged wirelessly. For example, Oppo Reno Ace is the world’s fastest rechargeable phone. Behold! This is the quickest chargeable phone in the world, fully charging its 4,000 mAh battery in just 31 minutes and 31 seconds. If you buy an Android phone, check if it supports Qualcomm Quick Charge 4.0 (or an earlier version of the standard). The latest iPhones also offer a quick charger, but these don’t have a fast charger in the box. Only the newest iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max comes with a fast charger out of the box.

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Phone Carriers

  • Go Through a Carrier or the Unlocked Route

One of the biggest trends in smartphones is the emergence of affordable, freely accessible phones. Instead of buying a device through your provider, you can buy a well-equipped unlocked handset for hundreds of euros less than a typical Apple or Google flagship phone. The open route isn’t for everyone. You still need to sign up for service through a provider and get a SIM card for your unlocked phone once you’ve decided what networks that unlocked smartphone supports. Most unlocked devices not purchased through the carriers tend to work with AT&T and T-Mobile, but some are “multi-band” capable, meaning they work with CDMA providers such as Sprint and Verizon.

  • Price/Plan

Of the three major carriers (AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint), Verizon offers the broadest and fastest 4G LTE network. T-Mobile’s performance has dramatically improved in recent years, even though there are still some coverage gaps. The provider came second in our national performance test. It generally offers more affordable prices than Verizon and AT&T. AT&T and Sprint ranked third and fourth, respectively, among the leading performance carriers.

The most significant tendency for customers to switch is to offer unlimited plans, as all four major carriers now boast a kind of unlimited offer. Sprint offers the cheapest plan at $60 a month. T-Mobile’s plan is also aggressively priced at $70.

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Other Key Features

  • Wireless Charging
smartphone buying guide

Now that Apple is finally embracing wireless charging with iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X, much more attention is being paid to the wireless charging feature and also in our Smartphone Buying Guide. The idea is to place your phone on a compatible wireless charging mat. Qi is the predominant standard, and Qi Wireless Chargers work with the latest iPhones, Galaxy phones and other handsets that support wireless charging.

  • Fingerprint vs. Facial Recognition Security

A fingerprint sensor makes it relatively easy to unlock your phone without having to enter a password or PIN. Most of these devices are pretty fast but can be activated if you have sweat or crumbs on your fingers. When buying a phone, we would pay attention to the placement of the sensor. For example, many brands place their sensors in the middle on the back of their phones. Also, many of the flagship smartphones, such as Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus, OnePlus 7 Pro, etc. are now giving in-display fingerprint sensors.

With the iPhone’s Touch ID, you can buy apps from the App Store and apps from the real world via Apple Pay, while the fingerprint sensors in Samsung phones can be used for the Samsung Pay or Android Pay services. Thanks to Face ID in the iPhone 11 series (also in iPhone X), and the scanning of the face and iris in Samsung’s devices, facial recognition is starting to gain momentum. Face ID, in particular, is reliable in bright sunlight and the dark, but it is slightly slower than Touch ID.

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