It’s a more difficult question than you’d expect given the options out there now. Large, or as Apple would have you believe, “bigger than bigger”, or compact, like Sony’s offerings? Size is just one consideration when purchasing a new Smartphone. There are many more. Here’s my Top 5: Considerations When Purchasing A Smartphone.
Budget! Whilst it’s not the case for everyone, most of us need to really consider the cost of a device. There are many options to allow purchasing a new device. Carrier contracts are the usual route as they provide a subsidised Device price, offset against a contract term to which you are tied. Contract terms usually range from 12 to 24 months and will include certain bundled text/voice/data services. You could be paying a lot more for your device overall for this particular option, however you get a manageable payment plan over the course of the contract to allow budgeting. Then there is the Pay As You Go (PAYG) option. This option is less utilised than previously, however it’s still a viable option. PAYG devices usually come with a slight discount on the device and a rolling monthly Top Up subscription. This gives freedom to switch with relative ease, but provides a heavy up front cost, and usually the phones come with Carrier branding on them. Finally, there is the SIM Free option. Effectively this is purchasing the one, up front, all at once, for full retail pricing, and then utilising a SIM only plan from a carrier. SIM Only plans are usually cheaper as there is no device cost to offset over the life of a contract, but the downside again is the large up front cost. Either way, do your sums, and ensure that you are getting the best value, and more importantly, most appropriate deal for your circumstances. It may benefit some to pay a larger overall amount, but over a number of months, than bare an up front cost. Do the math!
Use case! There are many reasons to own a smartphone, not least of them actually making phone calls, but you have to make sure you know what you want to get out of the phone in order to make the correct decision. Understand how you want to use your phone. Are you going to be streaming lots of video/audio from the Internet? If so you’ll require a large data bundle to offset your usage. Will you be using more texts and voice minutes than the average? Are you looking for a phone that simply works, and that you’re not going to actually utilise much? You can probably do without the bells and whistles then. Just make a list of what you’re likely to use your phone for, and then start looking for a matching device. Typical categories of users include Messengers, Content Consumers, Corporate and Gamers. Messengers will send lots of text and social media messages. These users will require a free allocation of SMS messages and a data bundle to ensure that they aren’t paying over the odds for their Tweets! Content Consumers will utilise YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, Spotify and many more streaming media services. These users will require large data bundles on a carrier that has good coverage and speeds in order to get the most from their requirements. Corporate types will usually simply require the basics; Email, Internet, voice calls, SMS with the access to a few apps. These users might require less horsepower overall, and might find it best to look at a fairly balanced overall contract. Then we have Gamers. These users will look to harness the undoubted power of the latest and greatest hardware on the market to play the latest mobile titles. Large screens, more RAM, and better SoC (System on a Chip) packages are a must for these users. Make a list, and start from there…
Battery Life! User requirements will no doubt dictate the overall hardware of a potential smartphone, but battery will remain the defining attribute which will ensure the user can actually utilise their desired services. Battery life has improved over the last 12-18 months in Smartphones, but it is still a challenge. For many, getting through one whole day with a Smartphone is a must. There are others however that spend most of their time at a desk, within arm’s reach of a power cable. Whilst batteries lasting much longer remains the panacea for Mobile phone manufacturers, they are getting wise to the fact that users are less worried about batter life per-say, and are instead more concerned with how fast users can get back to using their device once it’s run out of juice. HTC recently released a Rapid Charger which allows certain HTC phone to utilise specific hardware to speed up the time it takes to get a Smartphone juiced! Nokia have long been the leader in Wireless charging, providing small pads upon which a Smartphone can be placed to trickle charge the device. However, a small battery might be just fine if you have the power handy most of the time to keep it topped up. Do your homework on battery sizes, and marry that against your use case.
Footprint! As stated in the intro, there are numerous difference sizes and shapes of smartphone on the market. Blackberry has a phone named the “Passport” which, as its name implies, is the size of a standard Passport, with squared edges, and a fully keyboard on display, these devices might suit the corporate market more? HTC on the other hand have a device called the One Max. It is, as its name suggests, large doesn’t quite cover it. At 6.5″ in height with almost a 6″ screen, and weighing in at approximately 217 grams, it’s quite a beast. Further still, Sony have released a suite of phones over the last 12 months, monikered the “Compact”. The latest of these at the time of writing, the Z3 Compact, houses a 4.6″ display in a 5″ body, and weighs just 129 grams. There really is something for everyone. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that bigger is better – it’s not always. A phone is onyl as good as the interaction with it. If you’re a user who likes to use your phone one-handed, stay away from anything larger than a 5.5″ display and stick to the smaller devices. No longer does size equate to performance in a smartphone with the hardware package in the aforementioned Sony Z3 Compact up there with any of the latest devices in terms of horsepower. Choose wisely.
Ecosystem! Ecosystem is, in essence, how the Smartphone operates with other services provided by the software vendor (or hardware at times). For example, Apple deploy iOS software to their iPhones. iOS has tight integration mainly due to the controlled environment that developers must work within. Their software all seeks to provide familiar menus to allow user interaction to be as fluid as possible. Their Mail, calendar, contacts, and tasks applications all share a design aesthetic and are specifically tailored to deploy the company’s chosen standards. Ecosystems have further spread to encompass additional services such as, in Apple’s case, iTunes, iCloud, and App Store. All of these services look to seamlessly integrate to provide a strong, intuitive feel to the devices they produce. Blackberry, Google and Microsoft all have similar deployments, each with their own design language, and applications attributed to the operating systems. As a consumer, it’s important to make peace with the fact that very few organisations play nicely with competing platforms. For example, users opting for Microsoft’s Lumia range of devices will find that it’s rather difficult to utilise Google services. Whilst, on Android, Google’s platform, those same services will run without incident. The key is understanding which set of applications you use most currently, and make that a very heavily weighted deciding factor when looking to purchase a specific device. It might save you some pain in the long run. However, if you fancy something different, don’t be scared to cross that big divide, and make a switch to another platform; just be mindful of the dangers of doing so. One final thing to remember, applications are not cross-platform for the most part. Purchasing a Twitter application in the Google Play store will not entitle you to use that same application on Apple’s iOS without purchasing it again. Furthermore, vendor specifics devices are also often not cross-platform, so be careful when hunting for a new device as your brand new Smartwatch may not be compatible with your initial choice. Annoying right?
Are there more considerations that have been missed – of course there are. The above serves as a handy buying guide for those wishing to dip their toe into the Mobile marketplace. Happy hunting and pay attention to the details!
Let me know in the comments below what your tips are?