Smartphone buying tips

25 tech pros and gadget bloggers share the most important features to consider

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Smartphone buying can be intimidating, especially since there are aspects to consider. Like if you’re the type who needs the latest, most advanced, flashiest smartphone on the market, you have quite a selection of devices that offer the best technology. Or you might be considering whether to switch from your current operating system for Android or iOS. You might even be the type to hang on to your current device until it can’t go on any longer, and then get overwhelmed with the functionality of the currently available smartphones.

There are a variety of specific features and functions that vary among different smartphone models. These variations range from SD card ports for external storage, app compatibility, the all-important keyboard, battery life, and more. To help guide you in making the decision on which smartphone to buy, check out our experts’ opinions:

“What is the single most important thing to consider when deciding which smartphone to buy?”

 

Meet Our Panel of Gadget Pros and Tech Bloggers:


Shane Hook

@Eventsdotcom

Shane Hook is the Director, QA Engineering at Events.com. He is an incredibly dedicated and detail-oriented Quality Assurance tester with over seven years of diversified experience in the field of Information Technology/Computer Engineering. Known for big picture thinking while having an eye for the finer details.

“I want to make sure the phone has all the apps I use all the time.”

Normally this is easy, as most apps are on both Android and iOS. But not always. If you are a gamer, you’ll typically lose all of your game info and progress if you switch from one OS to another. As for screen size, I normally don’t want such a huge phone that it doesn’t fit in my pockets, but a good medium-sized phone. But the biggest criteria, for me, is battery life.


Michal Nemcok

@michal_nemcok

Michal is the PR & Marketing Manager at LIFARS and international cybersecurity and digital forensics firm based in NYC. Michal regularly writes blogs about technology, cybersecurity, and marketing. He’s got a weak spot for Android smartphones.

“When buying a smartphone, we must consider what we will be using it for…”

For example, if you know you’ll primarily be making phone calls and travel a lot, choose a phone with a large battery. Establish your needs and features you will be using the most. Focus on those when selecting your device. There’s a misconception that the most expensive smartphone is the best. That’s false. Although when comparing a $200 phone to a $700 phone, there will likely be a major difference in quality and features.

If you decide to go with Android, there are some things to consider:

Most Android smartphone makers replace the interface with their own, which usually contains bloatware – apps you’ll never use and which are difficult or impossible to remove. These apps take up space on your phone and they also tend to use RAM in the background, thus slowing down the phone. Phones that have no modifications to the original Android interface and no/limited bloatware: the Google Nexus line, Motorola phones, and possibly some others.

Security – a major factor for many users. Many Android smartphone makers include security features such as fingerprint sensors. These are your second line of defense. The first line of defense is your operating system. Android is constantly evolving as hackers find new ways to hack into your device. Most smartphones include very limited and very delayed updates to the OS.


Jason Bauman

@JasonB_TI

Jason Bauman is the Junior SEO Associate for Trinity Insight.

“The most important things you need to consider when buying a new smartphone are…”

The security updates.

These don’t come with flashy new features, and they don’t always have the best cameras or displays. But with digital attacks getting increasingly sophisticated, having a phone with unpatched exploits is dangerous.

This does reduce your phone choices. But thankfully the ones that remain are some of the best options out there. The phones all update on a set schedule, often for a few years, and when Apple identifies and fixes an error they can push out an update directly.


Jonathan Hurdman

@JJAutomation

Jonathan Hurdman works with J & J Automation, providing general support to end users. J&J assists users in making computers work effectively. Computers can make sense. He can help you understand them!

“Buying a smartphone can be a daunting task with the huge number of smartphones available…”

However, there are a few key items to consider when making your purchase. This particularly applies to Android and Windows phones, as iPhones have very limited choices. Switching ecosystems is generally not ideal, as previous purchases would then be lost. And there’s also the challenge of transferring contacts and other settings.

The two biggest considerations are going to be battery life and support. Battery life is a big deal, as this is a feature that everyone uses. The importance varies between people. Some people are only concerned with a single day’s use, while others would rather have a battery that last two, three, or four days.

Support is most likely the biggest issue for the largest number of people. For instance, not getting software updates from the manufacturer typically means security holes that were unknown at the time you purchased your phone. This is one benefit of buying one of the main devices being marketed. If you are not buying a phone that is likely to be updated consistently, make sure it is currently running up-to-date software.

Also of concern to many people is the ability to get help with their device. You should figure out who’s able to assist you when you run into challenges with your device. For more tech-savvy users, this isn’t a concern, as you can easily connect with someone online to assist you. But for most people, it helps to have someone you can rely on to assist you with your new device.


Christian Boyce

@christianboyce

Christian Boyce is an Apple specialist with over 25 years of experience helping people and businesses with their Macs, iPhones, and other technology. He is a published author (both books and magazines) and has spoken at computer conferences such as Macworld Expo. Mr. Boyce teaches people how to get more out of the equipment and software they already own, offering classes and seminars on a variety of Apple-related topics.

“By far, the most important consideration when buying a new smartphone is…”

How much storage can I afford?

After answering that, spend a little more and get the next size up! Over and over, I see people saving $100 on an iPhone by getting the minimal storage, and then when they’ve filled it with photos and videos, they spend time throwing things away so they have room to take another photo. It happens all the time. And when it does, they would GLADLY pay $100 to make the problem go away! But it’s too late then.

Spend a little extra and get more storage. On an iPhone, instead of $199 for 16 GB, spend $299 and get 64 GB. Or, if you can afford the 64 GB, think about spending a little more and getting 128 GB. You’ll never be sorry you have too much space.


Ashley Turner

@GadgetValuer

Ashley Turner is director of Gadget Valuer – one of America’s biggest gadget trade-in comparison sites. Launching in 2009, the founding team wanted to create a completely independent recycling comparison website after running an actual phone recycling site. Such experience in the recycling market means Turner is constantly in touch with the latest trade-in trends and consumer habits.

“When looking to buy a cell phone, it’s important to know…”

… how they hold resale value if you upgrade to the latest tech regularly. Our website aggregates trade-in values from multiple vendors in the U.S. and U.K., which gives us the ability to analyze which cell phone brands hold resale value, and which don’t!

The top cell phone brands that hold trade-in value are:
1. Apple
2. Samsung
3. HTC
4. Sony
5. Google

The top cell phone brands that lose the most value are
1. Amazon
2. Acer
3. Vertu
4. Sony Ericsson
5. Nokia

Where the flagship Apple, iPhone, and Samsung Galaxy phones cost the most, they hold their resale value the best. So if you’re looking to upgrade your cell phone regularly and offset the new device cost by trading in the old one, these are good investments.


Annkur Agarwal

@annkur

Annkur Agarwal is the co-founder of pricebaba.com.

“The single biggest thing to consider when buying a smartphone is…”

How long do you want to use it?

While you may have preferences like a good camera or RAM, a lot of people don’t account for the amount of software updates your phone might need. You’ll use apps and store data you never expected. So if you plan to use the phone for a longer time, you should then allocate your budget per that time frame, and think about what your monthly cost of ownership would be. Today’s premium hardware would be standard a year or two down the line. More money will almost certainly buy you better hardware, and the best way to think about the budget is how long you would use the smartphone.


Richard Batt

@theRichardbatt

Richard Batt is a former manager of an O2 mobile phone shop in the UK and is currently a blogger for First Class Watches.

“The most important thing to remember when buying a new smartphone is…”

Which feature is the most useful for you.

For example: Is the camera most important for you? Do you use Gmail, and would you like push email? Do you need compatibility with other useful devices (your Apple Watch, iPod, iTunes)? Do you need a big screen to watch videos on?

It’s important to consider your usability when you decide which smartphone to buy. Otherwise, you risk buying a smartphone which is very good, but completely useless for the things you need it for. Ask yourself these questions, and then eliminate any devices which don’t include the features you need.


Randy Downs

@DownsNumber

Randy Downs, of Downs Consulting Services, is a verified Veteran-owned small business (VOSB) in the Veteran business database at www.vip.vetbiz.gov .

“The single most important thing for buying a smartphone is…”

That it gets updates immediately without waiting on a vendor. I also like phones without a contract, and it doesn’t hurt that they are reasonably priced.


Luke Ford

@MyCompWorks

Luke Ford is the CEO of My Computer Works.

“The single most important thing when buying smart phone is to ask yourself…”

What are you using it for, and what do you need? However, because most smart phones can do the job, I would say the single most important thing to keep in mind when buying a phone is durability! Motorola has a great Android phone that has a unbreakable screen!

 


Brendan McCue

@NextWorth

Brendan McCue is a CE expert, gadget analyst and sales manager for Nextworth, the electronics trade-in and recycling service. With over 15 years of experience in the trade-in and buyback industries, Brendan has deep knowledge of the consumer electronic industry as well as an in-depth understanding of hardware and software for CE devices.

“The single most important thing to consider when purchasing a new smartphone is…”

Which platform you want everything to run on and how that will interface with your other existing connected devices. Most people have multiple devices and purchase some form of digital content. It is important to know that these devices will easily communicate with each other and allow for that content to be shared across multiple devices. Running multiple devices across the same platform will also allow a user to take advantage of some built-in redundancies. For example, an iPhone and iPad user can easily back-up and access their data through iCloud or iTunes.


Hubert Southall

Hubert Southall is an Associate Creative Director at the tech agency Publicis Sapient in Miami. Throughout his career in tech, he has lived and worked in Miami, Sydney, Melbourne, Dubai and Saigon, working on countless projects with clients such as AXE, Xbox, Land Rover, and Microsoft.

“There are so many things people tell you to look for when getting a phone…”

The hardware. The OS. The size of the app store. Screen size. It can be endless.

But the one thing I always tell people is to make sure you’re in love with your choice. Listen to your heart, not your brain. That might sound counterintuitive. But the quality difference between phones is so negligible these days. There are no lemons anymore. So read all the reviews, ask friends, and watch all the YouTube videos. At the end, go with the one you love.


Michael Ajah

@Naijatechguy

Michael Ajah is a Computer Science student of the University of Port Harcourt. He is the CEO of NaijaTechGuy Inc. He’s a researcher, Web Developer, Programmer and ICT expert.

“The most important feature to look out for when buying a smart phone is…”

The RAM (Random Access Memory) capacity, because if the size of the RAM is low, the device may lag and become slow when apps are run. And nobody likes a slow smartphone. So the RAM is a major feature one should look out for.


Carlos Rohrer

@RohrerCarlos

Carlos Rohrer is a Latin American serial entrepreneur, focused on disrupting the hiring industry. His latest startup, DoneHire, launched on June 1st. He’s the type of entrepreneur that doesn’t know how to quit. He’s always focused on improving the quality of life.

“When buying a new smartphone, you should focus on…”

The operating system.

If you’re a normal user of smartphones that doesn’t require super cameras and super fast processors, then you are better off just thinking about the OS behind the smartphone. What type of person are you? Do you like to keep things simple? Just turn on your smartphone and it works? Then go with iPhones. Or, do you like to play with configurations and setting up the smallest things? Then go with Android. Nowadays, the hardware is almost the same for each one, processors are really fast, you have tons of memory, etc. It all comes down to the OS. And that’s linked to the type of personality you have.


Galin Kolev

Galin Kolev is one of the creators of GoFantastic, an on-demand home services app for Londoners. Other than his passion for technology, he is a good cook and an excellent fisherman.

“There is no single most important thing to consider when buying a new smartphone…”

The choice is purely individual. There are several questions you must ask yourself before making a purchase:

– Does my budget allow it?
– Do I have a favorite brand?
– What will I use my phone for mostly?
– Do I have a preferable OS in mind?
– How powerful do I need my phone to be – system specifications?
– Is the battery good and long-lasting?

If you are a gamer, you’d probably prefer a phone with a bigger screen and good specs. If you’re a sucker for social media or a passionate photographer, then you’d go for a good camera. But if you are me, then the single most important thing to consider when purchasing a smartphone is the battery life. I feel more secure knowing that my battery will not die in a situation where I need to use my phone the most.


AJ Santos

@TechOTG

AJ Santos is the owner of TechOTG.

“When considering which smartphone to purchase, evaluate the following factors…”

Internal storage vs. external storage

It’s important to consider how much storage you’ll be needing. Many flagship smartphones, including the iPhone and some Samsung Galaxy models, no longer have expandable memory. Thus, it’s important to consider whether or not you should opt to purchase a higher capacity iPhone or Samsung Galaxy phone from the get-go. Storage amounts include, 16gb, 32gb, 64gb, and even 128gb.

Apps
If you’re looking to purchase a smartphone for a particular app that you’ve seen, double-check you’re buying the smartphone on the right platform. For the most part, developers build apps for both the Apple and Android market. However, this is not the case all the time.

Screen size
Although, this one is a bit more obvious, screen size is another factor to consider. If you have small hands or you don’t necessarily want a particularly big phone, purchase appropriately.

Battery life
Personally, this is a very important factor for myself. Running my business, I’m constantly on the phone and need to make sure that I have enough battery life to use my phone throughout the day. Battery life is measured in mAh, and the higher mAh, the more battery life.


Bruno Wong

@BrunoWong

Bruno Wong is the co-founder and CEO of Orchard, a company which buys and sells used smartphones across North America. A self-taught UI/UX designer from Toronto, Canada, Bruno recently relocated to San Francisco for Orchard’s U.S. launch.

“Before buying a new smartphone, people should ask themselves one question…”

Is this phone future-proof? A phone is future-proof if it’ll be able to handle the latest OS updates, newer apps, and whatever else it’ll encounter in the distant future.

It’s a good rule of thumb to keep in mind when buying a new smartphone, because it will immediately rule out the most common issues that make people want to upgrade their phone when they’ve had it for less than a year. For example, does the phone have a big enough storage capacity to handle new OS updates? If not, you’ll quickly find it’ll get sluggish and painful to use.

What I also really like about the idea of buying a future-proof phone is that it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to buy the top-of-the-line or most expensive phone out there. Instead, you just have to consider the specifications of the phone and ask if they are still in-line with what newer models are using. The iPhone 5S, still widely considered future-proof, is running the same 1GB of RAM that the newer iPhone 6 has.


Murray Suid

@MurraySuid

Murray Suid is a former college teacher, magazine writer, and online content developer. Currently, by day, he helps run MobileMovieMaking, which aims to help folks use their mobiles to shoot video in all genres. By night, he writes screenplays.

“For me, the key is buying a phone that…”

A few friends already own and like. This is important because these users generally will be able to help me figure out how to accomplish a task or solve a problem.

It happened just today. A friend with the same phone I own cleared up a question about how a certain app worked. Sure, I could have found the answer online, but frequently that approach takes a lot of time, and often the online answers are lacking. But a friend can whip out her phone, demonstrate how to handle a task, and it’s done.

This is very different from choosing an automobile. While cars, like smartphone, are highly complex devices, at the user end, most cars drive pretty much like all other cars. But smartphones are quirkily different, especially the way the apps work.

While usually I don’t like to follow the crowd, with smartphones I think it’s a plus to be part of a community of friends who have the same device.


Ed Brancheau

@Goozleology

Ed Brancheau is the CEO of Goozleology.

“The number one thing that I think about when buying a new smartphone is…”

The small fortune I’m going to spend on it.

That’s why when the Samsung Galaxy S3 came out, I decided to figure out a way to buy the newest phone when it comes out. To my surprise, I’ve actually ended up saving money.

To do this, it’s important to understand that new phones roll out about every 18 months and that they are less expensive to buy outright. Now, here’s how I do it:

1. When the new phone comes out, take the price to buy it outright. Then to save enough money each month, add 5% and divide by 18. So, if a new iPhone gets released today and costs $700 right now then you would save $61.25 each month.
2. Save that money each month for 18 months.
3. When the new phone gets released, buy it without a contract. Bonus: you’ll save a ton of money on the phone and the actual calling plan.
4. Sell your old phone. You should be able to get 30-50% because it’s still relatively new.
5. Go out for dinner. You’ll have money saved even after you buy the phone.


Matt Van Every

@UFantasyDude

Matt Van Every is the President of Cut the Cord in OKC, full-service IT repair. He received his BA in Public Relations from NSU and is a contributor in the fantasy sports community where he is known as The Unknown Fantasy Dude. He loves to travel, and spend time with his family – Veronica (9), Hudson (7), and wife, Amanda.

“We all have unique home environments, so one consideration when buying a smartphone is…”

Are you an Apple person, with a home full of MacBooks and AppleTVs? If so, then why are you considering switching to Android?  Our phones work much like an assistant for us, keeping us on time, on task, and generally simplifying our lives.  Don’t rock the boat!


Jeremy Hill

@JXJHill

Jeremy Hill is a Software Engineer for Vonage.com and a small business owner.

“When purchasing a phone, I am always very concerned with…”

Battery life. The phone may be able to take video, send Tweets, and re-organize your entire work calendar. But if it only lasts three or four hours on a charge, I am constantly scrambling for an outlet. That’s why my favorite accessory is a cell phone case that has a built-in battery. On many occasions, lasting ten or fifteen minutes on a conference call has made the difference between closing a deal and frustrating a client.


Ankit Seth

Ankit Seth is a co-founder at VedSutra.

“While most experts would argue that processing power and RAM should be the deciding factors while purchasing a new smartphone, looking at consumer behavior and usage, I would lean towards…”

A smartphone with the best camera specifications. And while looking at camera specs, you shouldn’t look at megapixels alone, the quality of images is equally important. Most smartphone cameras these days pack enough megapixels into images. Hence, it really boils down to the picture and video quality.Isaiah Nwukor

@IsaiahNwukor

Isaiah Nwukor is a web developer, designer, and digital MacGyver at StoreMods.

“If you are a hardcore mobile gamer and your apps are often sluggish and stall, the single most important factor in future purchases should be…”

Chipset. This will determine the level of quality you get in your audio, video and communications. To know which one is better, simply go with the one made the most recently.

For example, Snapdragon’s latest chipset is the Snapdragon 820. You may find other phones that look nicer, but have an older chipset (snapdragon 651) inside.

To smartphone owners with basic usage, this would be barely noticeable, but for gamers and smartphone owners with processor-intensive apps, the lag from having an older chipset is quite tangible.


Anna Johnson

@cardio_tech

Anna Johnson works on the marketing team of CardioTech and contributes to the company blog.

“In my experience the most important factor is finding out the phone’s…”

Functionality, and if you will use it. Ask yourself if you are buying the latest and greatest because you need all the functions it offers, or just because you want to look cool with the latest model. (Which, by the way, is totally fine, if that’s what you’re in to). But if price is also a factor for you, then considering when you will use the functions is important. It could become just an expensive talking device and camera.

With that said, don’t be a cheapskate and go for the cheapest handset on the market. Get the best phone that will meet your needs and that you can afford at the time.

I’m not a heavy phone user. However, I can personally speak to this. I recently bought a new phone outright, out of contract and got one of the cheapest models. Being into fitness I do like to have various apps installed. And six months in, I’m now having issues with storage (not having enough to cope with the apps) and the battery life!


German Rodrigo

@GerRodrigo87

Former Co-Founder and Managing Editor at AndroidZone.org, Germán Rodrigo is a mobile device expert with years of experience in the smartphone and wearable industry. Germán has worked in South America, Asia, and Europe and is currently the marketing manager at MainTool, a French wearables company that makes smart straps for classic watches.

“It all depends on what you are looking for in a smartphone…”

The main things to consider are the Operating System (OS), the use you have in mind for the device, its design, and your budget. If you prioritize a premium design, ease of use, security, and smooth integration with other Apple products, you should go for an iPhone. All of these features come with a price, however, as iPhones aren’t the cheapest smartphones out there.

But, if you prefer more control over your user experience, and integrate with Google services and have more hardware choices, an Android smartphone is the one for you. There are many brands that you can choose from at different price points.

In addition, depending on what you are going to use the phone for, you should also consider its hardware (especially the screen, the processor, RAM, GPU and the camera). If photos are important to you, you’ll want to pick a smartphone with a great camera. If you want it to play video games and watch videos, pay more attention to the screen, processor, GPU and RAM.

Finally, you should also keep in mind that the most important thing is not the hardware itself, but the integration between hardware and software. A smartphone that has powerful hardware on paper may be less powerful than another phone with lower hardware specifications, but with better software integration.

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