How to choose a smartphone in the modern age

A modern day guide to choosing a smartphone

Choosing a smartphone isn't an easy task

Choosing a smartphone isn't an easy task

In a modern world where a phone becomes dated quicker than a computer, just how do you choose a smartphone that's right for you?

Would you like a 3.5in screen with that? Or what about a 3.7in, 4in, 4.3in, 4.5in or 4.7in screen? Is a 5-megapixel camera enough? Perhaps you'll be better served with an 8-megapixel snapper? Have you used Apple's App Store before? What is the Android Market? Is a Windows Phone better for you?

Welcome to the incredibly difficult task of choosing a smartphone in the modern age. With a wealth of choice comes the difficult process in finding a phone that's right for you. Cutting through marketing hype and picking a phone that will serve you best is certainly no easy task. Just how do you avoid getting sucked in by features you'll probably never use? What is most important and what is irrelevant? Is it a case of one size fits all?

Foad Fadaghi, Research Director at Australian independent analyst firm Telsyte, says one of the most important choices when deciding on a new smartphone is one of the least advertised.

"I would say that battery life is one of the key things that is universally important when choosing a new phone, so avoiding devices that have a poor battery life is key," he explains. "Smartphones these days have similar features but it depends on whether you will be able to use these features all day without the battery draining."

Battery life is traditionally measured in standby time and talk time, but whether or not a smartphone will last a full day will depend on a number of factors other than numbers on a specifications sheet. These include your usage patterns, the phone's power efficiency when the screen is in use and how often you are using cellular data through mobile Internet.

"For power hungry users, it may be worthwhile choosing a phone that has a removable battery so you can carry around a spare and replace it," says Fadaghi. However, this rules out Apple's ever-popular iPhone, which uses a non-removable battery that can only be opened by a certified Apple technician. Some newer Android phones and many Windows Phones also utilise designs that lack a removable battery.

Battery life aside, Fadaghi raises a key point when he explains that each user will have a different consideration of a phone's important features. This is a matter that will ultimately depend on how and why someone uses their phone, what models they have owned and used in the past, and whether they are a beginner or an expert when it comes to smartphones.

"It's tough to just say these are the key things to look for in any new smartphone, because it really depends on whether you are an existing smartphone user or regular phone or feature phone user," he explains. "A person who hasn't owned a smartphone may not realise exactly what they can do with the apps available and the amount of data services that they may want to use. It really comes down to an individual user and their particular needs and wants."

A big part of those needs and wants is apps. Fadaghi stresses it is important to have at least a basic understanding of the app platform.

"The availability of apps that the consumer may want to use is increasingly important. Whether it is Android, Apple or otherwise."

Apple has the widest collection of apps, but Google's Android platform isn't far behind. Microsoft's little promoted Windows Phone OS and the flagging BlackBerry platform languish further behind in the number of apps available. However, it is important to note that most of the core, popular mobile apps are available through most mobile platforms. Some popular examples would be Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Evernote and Skype, for example.

Once you've decided on a software platform, it comes down to a choice in hardware. If you've opted for Google's Android platform, the choice gets even harder from there. There are a wealth of models available. Most offer similar features and capabilities but differ by screen size, hardware and critically, size and weight.

The push for large touchscreens has seen smartphones continue to grow in size. Most popular manufacturers continue to focus on a thin form factor but this often comes at the cost of sheer size. Some popular models, like Samsung's Galaxy Nexus and the HTC One X, come with screen sizes over 4.5in -- over 1in larger in diameter than Apple's 3.5in iPhone 4S.

Before purchasing any smartphone, it would be wise to go into a retail store and get a feel for the phone in your hand. Most telco stores have dummy models on display at the very least, while some even offer full working models to demo.

Importantly, Fadaghi advises to stick with the major brands when it comes to choosing a particular smartphone model.

"It is very difficult to go past the hero products, so the likes of HTC, Motorola and Samsung for Android phones," he explains. "For existing Apple users the new iPhone will likely appeal to them considering they have purchased apps and have bought into the ecosystem."

Another factor that a smartphone buyer will need to take into account is a mobile carrier. Fadaghi stresses that choosing between the likes of Telstra, Optus and Vodafone is equally important as selecting the phone itself.

"I would definitely advise to look at the networks that are going to support your usage pattern. If you are more of a cost conscious person then look for cheaper plans with included value like unlimited text messages and a good amount of data."

Most current smartphone plans cater for a reasonable amount of data and included "value", but heavy users are advised to look for a plan that will satisfy their particular needs.

"If you are a person who wants to watch a lot of streaming video on your phone for example, then it might be worth waiting for upcoming 4G handsets before upgrading," says Fadaghi.

And you thought choosing a car was hard?

This article was first published in ARN Magazine.

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