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.

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