The smartphone has become an absolute essential piece to everyone’s gadget portfolio. In almost any social situation you see people using them for all sorts of tasks like social media, email, and streaming.
When it is time to upgrade or if you are purchasing a new one, choosing a smartphone should require time and research because it is an investment that will most likely be present in your pocket or purse every single day.
Here are 17 smart tips to consider when choosing your next smartphone:
- Choose Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android operating system
- Look at what smartphones family and friends are using
- Determine features
- Consider apps you are already enjoying or wish to install
- Set a budget
- Determine the best screen size
- Colors and contrast
- Refresh rate
- Consider devices that you already own
- Choose a new smartphone model or previous model
I go in to much more detail about the about these buying tips below and explain why they are important factors for choosing a smartphone.
Follow these tips so that you choose a smartphone that is totally stress-free, and not one that leads to a massive headache.
1. iOS vs. Android
These are two of the biggest titans in the smartphone operating system arena.
Apple, who runs their smartphones on their operating platform called “iOS”, has numerous notable features including iCloud: their proprietary cloud storage service for backing all of your things up, iBooks: one of the widest selection of e-books in the world, and the smart voice assistant Siri, just to name a few.
Google also has developed their own smartphone operating system called “Android” that runs on many different manufacturer devices.
The Google play store, that is their app marketplace, and its integration with the massive Google search engine are two primary standouts for the Android system.
But another area where Android differs from Apple’s iOS is the freedom to customize your software inside the device to make it look the way you want it to and download programs from the internet outside just the Google Play store. Gaming emulators anyone?
Apple does not allow iPhone apps or programs to be installed outside the App Store, and trying to download them through ways like jailbreaking will actually void the warranty of the smartphone.
It is for this reason and the strictness of iCloud access that Apple smartphones are more known for their security and privacy than smartphones that run on Android.
On the other hand, since Android runs on so many different devices that are made by competing manufacturers, costs of these smartphones tend to be lower than Apple.
2. Look at What Smartphones Family and Friends are Using
Do you always connect with some family members and friends more than others? If so, this tip should help you choose the right smartphone.
Before picking your next smartphone look around and see what your closest friends and family are using.
If they are using Apple iPhones, buying a smartphone of the same company allows you to transfer photos, contacts, and notes much faster and easier than if you have a different smartphone thanks to Airdrop.
You can also use FaceTime, which is native only to iPhones, share music recommendations, and send special animated emojis to each other to make your message threads pop.
If you have an Apple iCloud account and link it to your family, every member can share storage, app and book purchases so that there is no need to buy multiples of the same.
Google also has similar connections with their android devices like Google’s Chat and shares through native Google apps like Google Maps, Docs, Sheets, and Slides so that everything is consistent among the group.
On newer Samsung phones, if you find that your device is running out of battery, you can hold the back of your phone up to another friend or family member’s Samsung and wireless charge your battery from their device.
It is not the end of the world if you have a device that is different from your immediate group, but I find that it does make life much easier in certain cases when everyone has similar phones.
3. Determine Features that you Use
Google and Apple both have a full ecosystem of features, and should be determined for what suits your needs best.
For instance, Google has their Drive system that backs up various formats of information like photos, documents, and spreadsheets. You can also call up your Chrome internet browsing tabs from any device under the same Google account across all devices.
Apple has a Face ID that secures all of your information that is stored via your phone or the cloud and opens with just the look of your face. You can also use Apple Pay across all their devices to securely pre-fill credit card information, billing, and shipping if you plan on purchasing products.
Although some of Google’s features spill over on to Apple devices, they are much more native (and are pre-loaded) in to Android devices.
You should determine what features you are most comfortable with using on a daily basis and lean towards the brand that aligns with your preferences the best.
4. Mind Your Budget
Like laptops and computers, smartphones have prices that range from rock-bottom to ultra-premium.
At its most fundamental form, almost all smartphones can accomplish the same basic tasks. The speed, clarity, and efficiency of these jobs that smartphones handle vary widely and, therefore, affect their cost of ownership.
iOS (Apple) phones are usually more expensive than their Android counterparts, especially when the specs prices between two similar devices are compared on paper.
Still, Android does have premium brands that sell expensive phones, like Samsung and OnePlus, but a majority of their other brands like HTC, LG, and Motorola have smartphones that are aimed below the $500 price point.
If that still sounds like a lot of money to you, there are carriers that also offer device payment plans, which is similar to leasing a car.
These payment plans require little to no money down and can make higher-end phones more budget friendly since the payments are spread out over time.
5. Consider Apps you Already Enjoy or Wish to Install
Are you already using apps on a certain operating system that you like using? If so, your app purchases go with you when you upgrade your smartphone, as long as it is on the same operating system.
You should thoroughly consider how many apps you have purchased and what that cost will be to buy the same ones on the new operating system before you plan on switching.
There are several popular apps that are offered on both iOS and Android devices like Microsoft Office, Outlook, Apple Music, and Google Maps.
Check to see if the corresponding app store of the respective operating system has the apps that you are looking for before purchasing the smartphone.
If you find that a certain app is not shown on another operating system’s app store, it’s not the end of the world. Chances are there is most likely another app that is much similar to the one you are searching that is functionally similar in nature.
6. Consider Devices you Already Own
Electronic brands have gotten real good at keeping customers inside of their ecosystem, and coming up with ways to make it harder for them to leave.
You should count how many devices you have that are powered by the same brand and determine how you use their compatibility between each other.
Apple in particular is very good at device compatibility.
If you have books, photos, music, etc. that are stored on one device, as long as the others are signed into the same iCloud account, you can pull up all the same information wirelessly.
If someone texts you on your iPhone, you can text them back from the luxury of your laptop keyboard without taking your eyes off the screen.
Like friends and family that share with the same devices, having similar brands in your gadget arsenal can make your life much smoother and hassle-free.
7. Screen Size
In recent years, smartphones have been trending to larger and larger screen sizes. And it makes sense why.
Having a larger screen size allows more information to be displayed at the same time, for font to be bigger and more readable, and photos to be taken and viewed with ease.
People who prefer larger screen sizes also enjoy streaming and gaming with the bigger display due to their clarity.
If a larger screen size is what you are looking for, you should have no problem finding one. Many smartphones these days have a “Plus” or “Max” version that have a larger screen than their smaller predecessors, and even the “smaller” models boast screens above 5 inches.
A screen size below that amount is usually beneficial for portability. Smartphones that have smaller displays can fit easily into hands and pockets. They also tend to weigh less too.
However, keep in mind that the size limitations on these lighter models do affect the readability of text and pictures.
So if you are not sure whether to buy a smartphone with a larger screen or not, head over to the store and use the phone like you would on a normal day of cranking out tasks.
This choice will most likely narrow down to preference.
Under normal and dark lighting conditions, brightness may seem like no big deals when considering what smartphone to buy.
But there are a lot of times that we use our phones out in bright daylight, which can wash out displays and make them hard to see.
Most budget-conscious smartphones feature an LCD screen that provides adequate brightness in lower lighting situations, but will need to find shade in some outdoor situations.
Premium smartphones have started to make the switch over to OLED screens, which have improved to provide substantially brighter picture than LCD displays.
If you are at a phone store it might not be easy to tell the brightness difference between an LCD and OLED smartphone display.
But if you have owned an older LCD phone and now have a newer OLED unit, you can probably tell the difference.
If you find yourself doing activities outside with your smartphone, or if you prefer looking at a brighter display, consider upgrading to an OLED-equipped model.
9. Color Quality
Today’s smartphones have vastly improved color ranges throughout their displays as compared to those of old.
Even if you choose to buy a smartphone with a regular LCD picture, the color quality should not be an issue.
If you like a little extra power in this category, premium smartphone feature a technology called HDR. To the average person this might not make a huge difference, but to someone that has an eye for visuals you can spot the added benefit of HDR.
Displays that feature HDR show pictures that are more vivid, sharper, and have deeper tones than non-HDR similars.
iPhone X and higher also feature a True Tone display that shifts the backlight with the ambient lighting in the room so that colors look consistent throughout the day.
10. Refresh Rate
When you notice a scrolling screen that shutters or rolls smoothly is mostly determined by its refresh rate.
Most smartphone have a refresh rate of about 60hz, which is perfect for most tasks.
Like color quality, if you are looking for that extra boost there are smartphones that have upwards of 120hz screen refresh rate, like this Asus ROG Gaming Phone that I found on Amazon (aff. link).
As the title of the Asus smartphone states, if you are a serious gamer that plays shooters that require the faster frames, then a refresh rate of 90hz or more will be for you.
Most tasks like spreadsheets or email the refresh rate difference will be nearly unnoticeable.
Perhaps maybe scrolling through your favorite social media feed might look cooler with the faster refresh rate.
Many smartphone cameras today take photo and video that have high quality looks.
The difference you want to look for is how the image quality varies between brands and models.
Megapixel count is not as big of a deal as it used to be, since most all cameras are in the double digit arena. The way a smartphone camera takes pictures in low-lighting, ISO, noise reduction, and brightness are more important factors to consider.
Most modern smartphones come with front and rear-facing cameras and are compatible with a ton of third party lens attachments.
Depending on the tasks you are doing on your smartphone, the processor on most models can accomplish low-power duties like email and texting.
Heavier duty streaming, internet browsing, and gaming may require additional processing firepower.
If you find yourself using social media a lot you may also benefit with a higher-end processor since photo and video streaming can require a lot of computing power.
If you are running a newer operating system on an older processor that can also affect the overall performance of the phone.
Since new operating systems are designed with the latest smartphones in mind, slower processors may not be able to handle even the lightest tasks in a newly updated operating system, and should therefore be upgraded.
RAM is the tech that allows multiple apps to be open and operational at the same time.
In general, it is best to have more RAM than not enough. But unlike computers, you usually cannot customize how much RAM your smartphone comes with.
The rule of thumb is to assume that an older smartphone has less RAM than newer units. Therefore, it is best to demo the phone you are looking for at a store and determine if it can open and operate all the tasks you want to use at the same time.
14. More Storage is Always Better
Especially when it comes to the iPhone, it is always beneficial to have more storage than you think you need.
This is because Apple’s mobile devices do not come with expandable memory.
So once you plan on purchasing an iPhone with a certain amount of memory, that’s what you get. Worst case you can store any additional information into iCloud for a small monthly fee.
Android smartphones, on the other hand, do feature expandable storage, so you do not need to be as worried about purchasing a phone that is pre-built with with enough space up front.
Regardless, you want to have a smartphone with at least 128GB of storage space if you take more than a few photos and videos, or like to listen to music and podcasts on the go.
There are a lot of smartphones that have 64GB of memory, but with the amount of space that is required for operating systems to be installed, there is less available for storing the stuff that matters most, like your documents.
Have you noticed newer phones have gotten heavier lately?
That’s because manufacturers are realizing that people want longer battery life on their smartphones so that they don’t have to always look for a charging port.
With so many apps, streams, and social media feeds, there is no shortage of things that try to deplete the juice of our precious batteries every day.
That’s why you want to look for a smartphone that has at least 10 hours of battery life, and not settle for less.
Choosing the right cell phone service provider is not as strict of a choice as it used to be.
When the iPhone first came out, it was launched only under AT&T service, which left Verizon customers (like me) bummed out.
However, most carriers offer a wide-range of smartphone choices including Apple and Android, so picking a phone within a provider shouldn’t be an issue.
Sometimes providers will offer subsidies or discounts for switching over to their service, pitching to even buy out your existing contract if you decide.
Ultimately the choice of carrier should come down to what your monthly bill will look like with all things considered and how strong the signal will be in the areas that you are in most of the time.
17. Should I Choose a Brand New or Older Model?
One school of thought is to purchase an old smartphone for an inexpensive price after it has been used.
Believe it or not this is still a gadget category that is advancing at a blistering pace, so smartphones that have been used for only a couple years can perform like dinosaurs.
Be diligent when purchasing a used smartphone. I recommend only purchasing a smartphone that is a year old or less, and that has little cosmetic wear.
Smartphones that are older than a year contain less RAM and processing power, and may seem sluggish or battery draining when running an operating system that has been updated.
Speaking of batteries: since these devices are unplugged and used on battery almost (if not) every single day, those charge cycles deplete the total amount of storage that the battery has, making them much less effective.
Brand new models have batteries that are fresh, designed alongside the latest operating system software so that it runs smooth, and has the best computing capabilities for the toughest tasks.
But they also have the highest price points.
If budget is a priority but you still want a newer smartphone, look for the previous model of the newest smartphone just after it is announced.
Since there is no longer as much interest in the now-not-new model, it immediately gets discounted less than the brand new version.
This way, you will have a new phone in the box, the battery will be fresh and the tech is fairly recent.