Choosing The Right Smartphone

Not a Blackberry.

But seriously. Smartphones come in such a bewildering array of choices that it can be difficult to know what to get. Here are a few tools for thinking about smartphones that can help guide your decision. The breakdown I am going to use is functions, features, operating system, and carrier.

Functions

A smartphone is a computer. Because computers are general purpose, smartphones are also. Nevertheless, a pocket-size computer with specific components and an always on internet connection does lend itself to certain tasks. In no particular order these are:

  • Phone/Messaging/Email
  • Web browser
  • Camera
  • GPS unit
  • Calendar/Organizer/Address book
  • Gaming device
  • eReader

Every smartphone available now will provide all of these functions. Each one has its strengths and weaknesses. A large screen, 4G LTE capable (fast internet) phone will give a better web browsing experience than a small screen, 3G phone. The small screen 3G phone might have a better camera. If you can figure out which functions matter most to you, you are in a much better position to get a phone that excels in those areas.

Features

Is it waterproof? Shatterproof? There seem to be an endless list of features to sort out. Here are the ones we think are the most important:

  • Screen size
  • Screen resolution
  • Memory
  • Processor speed
  • Wireless speed
  • Waterproof/water resistance
  • Ruggedness
  • Removable battery
  • Expandable memory
  • Quick charge

Some of these features involve trade-offs, some do not. For instance, if you have poor eyesight a large screen phone will be appropriate, but it will be heavier and less pocketable than a phone with a smaller screen. On the other hand, a phone that charges to 50% in 15 minutes is just better than one that takes an hour. Sometimes the trade-off is more subtle. While a phone that has a crisper, higher resolution display may seem like a win, it often comes with a shorter battery life as those screens use a lot of power. Again, as with functions, if you know what matters to you, you are much more likely to get it.

Operating System

This one matters less than most people think. There are really two choices, Android and the iPhone Operating System (IOS). While they were two distinct products when they launched, years of stealing ideas from each other has left them more alike than different. Having said that, if you value ease of use and predictability, IOS is probably your best choice. If customization and options appeal to you, Android would be a better fit. Also, if you are strongly tied to one ecosystem (for instance, iTunes, a Mac and an iPhone), you might want to stick with what you have. Making transitions from one ecosystem to the other generally require effort, expense, and aggravation. If you are not married to one or the other, Android provides better value overall.

Carrier

Most people pay less attention to this than they should. While a new phone may cost you $800, the wrong plan with the wrong carrier can cost you hundreds of dollars a month. Of the large carriers in the US, T-Mobile is generally the best value, Verizon may edge them out in terms of coverage but at higher prices, and AT&T and Sprint have fewer compelling arguments in their favor. Another factor to consider is whether the carrier uses GSM or CDMA. The first is better supported internationally and is less locked in. So, if you buy an unlocked phone from Best Buy, it will likely work on T-Mobile and AT&T (GSM) but probably won’t on Verizon and Sprint (CDMA). If you are happy with the coverage/service of your current plan, it can be risky to switch as you may discover dead zones in places you frequent. However, if you are on any carrier and have been for a few years without changing your plan, you owe it to yourself to call and find out if there are better plans available. I recently spoke with someone who is paying $250 a month for a Sprint plan for two people. Sprint is currently advertising $90 for a two person unlimited plan.

I hope this has provided basic guidance on how to buy a smartphone and choose a plan. If you need more information, feel free to call.

If You Don’t Change Your Ringtone, We’ll Kill This Dog

The world is filled with problems and annoyances, big and little, that we cannot control. Natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes happen. So do MTA delays and the Mets. So it seems particularly strange when we don’t fix the problems we can.

Who has been in the following situation?

You are standing in a crowded room when a cellphone rings. Suddenly twenty people all reach for their pockets to see if it is for them. Ten seconds later nineteen people put away their phones.
I sincerely hope that if you have been in that situation you weren’t one of the twenty people.

Modern phones make it easy to change your default ringtone. If you want to be lazy, you can change to one of the included ringtones. Even making that small change makes it far less likely that yours will match another phone ringing nearby, meaning that you will have to reach for your phone far less often. If you are more adventurous, you can use a sound clip from a song or other audio file to completely personalize your phone. I use a clip from a band called The English Beat. The odds that someone else is using the same clip are minuscule.

Diving into the deep end of the pool, you can customize the rings for various contacts. I use the song Mother and Child Reunion for my mother, Crazy Little Thing Called Love for my wife (that will get you extra brownie points) etc. Now when my phone rings, I know who is calling before I even reach into my pocket.

It’s funny. When I first discovered the custom ringtones feature, I thought it was goofy, a vanity plate for your phone. I was wrong. Custom ringtones are one of the simplest productivity tools available, and not enough people are using them. Change your ringtone and there will be one less. Here are two links with instructions for changing ringtones on iPhones and Android phones.

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