What do you look for when you buy a smartphone?

September 27, 2013
We are all mobile geeks, here at Android Authority. We love everything with a power button. We like to comment the latest news and endlessly argue over which phone is better. On the Friday Debate, we pick a hot issue and proceed to discuss it. Join us!

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Evan Forester

On this edition of the Friday Debate, we discuss the things that we look for when we buy a new phone. Some of us are hardware junkies, others have a taste for fine design, while for others the price comes above everything else. Is there such a thing as a perfect device? Probably not, and that’s why we usually have to choose one quality or one feature over the others. But what’s that supremely important quality?

Join us in the discussion, vote in our poll, and sound off in the comments!

Robert Triggs

I suppose I’m a little bit of an odd ball in a way, in so far as what interests me in smartphones doesn’t actually translate into what I end up buying.

For example, I’m usually much more interested in hardware tech and reading up what’s going on with highest end devices, but I can never justify spending £300-£400 on something that I primarily use for sending text messages, listening to music, and flicking through news articles.

That’s not to say that budget is the only thing on my mind, but there’s definitely a balance to be struck between hardware, functionality and software, and the cost. I don’t tend to find myself suckered in by promises of the most megapixels, the highest screen resolution, or the largest display size. Instead, regular updates is something that has become more important to me recently, so decent manufacturer support or easy modding is something that I’ll be looking for in my future purchases.

For a tech enthusiast I’m still old school when it comes to my purchasing habits, it’s all about practicality, longevity, and price. Perhaps (hopefully) the Nexus 5 will be the next handset to find that sweet spot.

Adam Koueider

For my next smartphone purchase I’m lining up the Nexus 5 or the Sony Xperia Z1. My current smartphone the Nexus 4 has three major problems with it right now. The glass back due to it being prone to scratches and cracking, the camera which is down right sub par and the battery life (which you could say for almost every smartphone).

As far as design goes, I much prefer the all-black slate design similar to the Nexus 4. A little design flourish is okay as long as the OEM keeps it free from too many labels. My software choices lean towards the stock design, but anything that doesn’t look too horrible (LG’s Optimus UI) or is prone to lag (Samsung’s TouchWiz) is fine by me so my next choices would be Sony’s Xperia UI, Oppo’s new ColorOS or Sense 5.

Battery and camera are big on my agenda and that’s why I’m contemplating purchasing the Xperia Z1 even though the back is still glass. With that 3000mAh battery and the 20.7MP camera it’s certain to get two ticks in that department and my only concerns with the Xperia Z1 are its size. A 5-inch display is as big as I’ll go, but with those massive bezels surrounding it, things could get out of hand (pardon the pun). The display has also not proven to be the best on the market, but as long as it’s legible in the sunlight, I’ll give it a pass there.

The next Nexus smartphone looks to be my choice unless Google skimps out on battery. Rumors are claiming that the Nexus 5 will not contain the 3000mAh battery and instead feature a 2300mAh battery and if so, I’ll most likely be purchasing the Xperia Z1 or skipping out on this round altogether (although that’s unlikely considering my trigger happy finger and the one-click purchases swirling around these days).

In the end it’ll come down to the battery capacity of the Nexus 5, because if it retains the large battery of the LG G2 or Google weaves some magic around Android 4.4 Kit Kat to make battery life better that’ll definitely be my choice, because the camera will be much improved and based on the FCC pass by, it’ll be smaller than the Nexus 4 which means greater pocketability. As far as features go, as long as the phone can do all of the regular smartphone stuff well (email, internet, photo taking, calls, text) that will do me.

Final words. Google, show me the mo…erm… I mean NEXUS!!!

Andrew Grush

What do I look for in buying a phone? That’s a good question, as it seems to vary so much.

Many years ago, I picked up a Samsung Continuum because I liked the idea of having a tiny display for important notifications (turns out the phone wasn’t very good though…) The phone’s small size and limiting specs didn’t matter much at the time, as I generally used a larger tablet for all my apps and browsing.

My latest smartphone purchase was a Nexus 4, which I bought earlier this year. I was drawn to the handset because I wanted quick software updates, a budget-friendly price tag and a way to escape contracts.

For my next smartphone purchase? Right now, I find myself waiting to see what the Nexus 5 will bring. I’m also very interested in Oppo. While the Oppo N1 seems too big to be pocketed comfortably, I’m still very impressed by the company in general.

Summing up my purchasing habits, I don’t let just one factor – like brand or specs – decide what I’ll buy. It’s about weighing all your options, and finding a handset that makes the most sense for you at the time.

What do YOU think?

Join us in the comments and vote in our poll.

What do you look for when you buy a smartphone? Pick three.

View Results

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Comments

  • Luka Mlinar

    Easy to change a ROM.

    • http://iamzb.com/ Andres Quintana

      I agree a strong Dev community is king :]

  • Patrick

    I own an HTC, so I will now start making decisions based on battery life.

  • AndroidBrian

    A Nexus logo…..

    • GigaCode

      exactly

  • Tylerstravis

    In the past it was all about specs… but now with my second broken phone I need some god damned durability.

  • wezi427

    Next phone will be a Nexus for me. Updates are the most important aspect for me. 2nd would be battery.

  • skrtpeeper

    tri band lte
    premium build
    software optimization
    rgb screen
    great loud speaker
    battery to actually increase in a good amount
    no bloat
    no gimmicks

    these are the things the note 3 do not have

  • promise7

    OS support, I don’t want the phone I’m using to stop receiving updates in a year. I want them to keep updating for as long as it’s technically possible.

    • Leonardo Rojas

      I never updated my Xperia Pro to ICS. I couldn’t find a good reason. Now I have other device and can’t find a good reason to update it to JB. Ha
      But support for OpenGL 3.0 does seem appealing in 4.3, that’s the only thing I find like “a reason” to update or to want to update if it’d be possible.
      Apps do almost all in an instant that most updates do in months. I think :D

  • Grman Rodriguez

    Price
    Screen Quality (HD AMOLED)
    Premium Build
    Screen Size (4.7″ to 5″)
    Android or iOS
    Good Accessories Support
    That’s why the Nexus 5 is catching my eye, but without a real way to purchase it, I can only cry in my room (stupid US-centric Google)

    • Rooney-

      Nexus 4 still not available in india thru google! Lg does but compared to google’s price, its bit high. Im very much disappointed with googles us centric man!

    • Leonardo Rojas

      No SD card spoils the Nexus 5 for me, if it now has 64GB option, good. Then the stupid US-centric Google will spoil it.

  • CommancheNinja

    http://youtu.be/S1aLqMJPQC4

    That pretty much sums up why android phone > iphone ANY day

  • Balraj

    Battery specs storage !!!
    Most of them are into nexus 5
    Interesting….

  • Tuấn Ankh

    I look at to many things. I can’t pick just 3.
    Well, Nexus 5 will be my next phone. XD

  • Ben Bauer

    Top 3 are battery, software and build quality, because they are the most practical. Battery is obvious, good software is really important to get good features and a smooth experience, and build quality translates to making it last; I cannot see buying a plastic phone and expecting it to successfully last 2 years.

  • Magnetic1

    I want to point out that I get easily turned off by every single contracted phone in the usa. Because at the end of the day I discover $100 a month data plan no matter how you slice it, it’s still a lot of bread.

  • not a spark

    Need good silicon credentials and a good battery

  • John Bailey

    Need to add “prompt updates” as a choice….and perhaps “nexus logo on the back”

  • Ruz

    Not only 3 but more than that is required. I dont want the latest processor and highest ram as even the descent spec will do the job well.. ya but i dont want any hanging or sluggish interface.

    Apart from that we want best camera so that we dont carry our digi cam along with it. We also want water & scratch resistance so that we dont pour our investments in water, we also want all the latest connectivity so that we dont have to use any connectors, we also want higher capacity battery so that we dont run out of power, we also want all the apps to run smooth and specially i dont like those fancy fading effects tht iphone has started, I disable fading on my windows Xp & 7 but i cant stop it in phone so pls manufacturer take a note of this :)

    it would be nice to include HDMI on my phone as i dont want to use
    connectors for my old tv, i desperately want IR port on my phone as it
    will keep my remotes insured when needed badly.Finally just want a descent piece of phone and not a monster as we have tablets for that purpose which will do its job..,

    • Ivan Myring

      Who is we?

      • EvenInTheDarkestHour

        *are

    • Leonardo Rojas

      So you don’t like the UI animations. You can get rid if them easily.
      Go to settings> Developer options and check Window animation scale and Transition animation scale.
      I have them set to 2x, I find it really nice n.n
      I hope this helps.

  • deepen03

    where is the “All of the Above” choice?

  • David Reese

    I’ve read all of the comments and and still struggling to understand what is so big about the nexus. May be I am missing it, but what is hot Apra phone that doesn’t have the latest specs, is glass and had poor battery life? Polar help me understand.

    • pro

      Things ‘big’ about nexus4 is practical screen size and consistant software updates

    • On a Clear Day

      The Nexus managed to give performance specs that were right up there with handsets costing $600.00 or more for $299.00 (depending on internal storage and shipping). It’s draw backs were a glass back, a sealed, non-replaceable battery with only adequate battery life and no micro-SD card.

      Since I refuse to buy a phone with a sealed battery – believing it a perfect recipe for frustration and a blatant, built in obsolescence ploy on the part of manufacturers to “help” us buy a new phone sooner rather than when needed – I declined to bite. Such will be my reaction to the Nexus 5 if it too – if it has a sealed battery.

      Oh well, being patient, I can wait for the Galaxy 5. Anticipation is half the fun they say.

      • Leonardo Rojas

        My PC with an old but good Core2Duo E8400 CPU is backed up by 4GB of RAM. Ha And sometimes when I do lots of things, it gets used up to 90%. I don’t know nor can imagine what the S5 could use its 4GB of RAM on.

  • David M Whittley

    I doesn’t have Plants vs Zombies I’m not buying it! ;-)

  • Southall87

    Picking just 3 from that list was the hardest decision, harder then picking my last phone was!

  • samsparkin

    Battery is most important. Not just a higher mAh…. but os n hardware integration should be such that its utilized efficiently. Other specs r almost the same in every phone except for software updates

  • asd

    If it has an sd card… I’m in love already

  • Rushan

    Poll says why Samsung is on top with their plastic dressing

  • padlock1

    as of a few days back, anything that’s not region coded!

    • mobilemann

      you didn’t read those articles, huh?

      :(

      • padlock1

        sure did…which would you rather have…the unlocked Asian version or the coded European or North American? I certainly dont wanna put up with any dicking around.

        • mobilemann

          To me it’s a wash. I pre-ordered a att version just because I’m on nyc the most. I’ll be using it in the UK one month after I get it. I guess I’ll find out:-)

          • padlock1

            Hope it turns out all right for ya’. I just don’t get why corporates need to mess around with the consumers needlessly. If its a matter of grey market control, then surely price is the more transparent way to go. In any case my last 2 phones have been Sony so I’ll be watching this space.

  • Kimi

    Maybe “Update”

  • Sagar

    Value for Money.

  • ergergerg

    wow, i am shocked how naive people are.
    looking for specs? wtf do faster cpu’s do? more ram or more cores? i don’t get it. but this explains why smartphone companies till follow this road. seems as if people want it – for whatever reason. which app does require even more performance???

    i wish more phones went then moto x route. decent battery life, camera and a reasonable phone size. size growth for phones really needs to stop…

    • Amadeus Klein

      I like specs, but even the best with an os not optimized to run smoothly on the device cripples it in my eyes, (thinking of touchwiz here) a new phone with 2011 specs no, but one with great specs and an awesome os designed to work well on it equals yes, even if it’s not the super beast

    • Leonardo Rojas

      The faster the multi-core CPU the better the multitasking and loading speeds.
      The stronger the GPU the better the gaming.
      The larger the RAM the more awesome the software features + multitasking + gaming and the overall usability and benefit we can get from the device.

      If my smartphone hadn’t an speedy 2GHz dual core CPU I couldn’t multitask nor see games,browser, switching apps and apps opening as fast as I see them do. And if this smartphone hadn’t at least 1GB of RAM to backup the CPU I couldn’t load/use processes like Set CPU profiles, AirDroid push service, Applock service, avast! Antivirus services, Clipboard monitor service, Dock4Droid service, WhatsApp, Greenify service, Maps, Google+ and email,…as I currently have running and benefiting me with their respective functions. You start to get it?
      And all these services are on top the system services like Keyboard, launcher, Google services, Settings, even widgets, etc.
      The device is running without a single stutter nor hiccup, gaming is not being affected at all, multitasking is reasonably good, battery life is good for the use and my overall satisfaction with the device gets an A. This wouldn’t be like that nor I could benefit from the several apps I have running if the device hadn’t these minimal specs which together with this nice OS give this kind of experience.

      So, what’s up with the smartphones with better specs than this? Just multiply the benefits, the software features, the multitasking, the awesomeness of the gaming and the overall satisfaction by 2 or more, depending on the upgrade.

      You see now dude?

      I have to avoid some apps services I’d like to load and be pleased with a “good” gaming because there are some little limitations in my current smartphone, but a better one, with higher specs, will let me do and be amazed at all its power with NO limitations.
      That’s it. n.n

      • Bob Mac

        Is your fone a nokia 5110?

  • Amadeus Klein

    In a little late to this but:
    For me it is battery life, storage, camera, user experience

    I know many people think it is blasphemy to not want a nexus but in order for a nexus phone to be my next it needs to have 4 things
    1) sd (or 200 gig of free cloud storage in a single shot)
    2) all day battery if sealed it needs to last 12 hours of hard use (that’s 1.5 s4 batteries for me)
    3) camera with OIS and excellent low light quality
    4) thin bezels for maximum screen size with form factor no bigger than an s4…

    Here’s to hoping….

  • Bobby Phoenix

    First is call quality. What’s the point of a phone that has bad calls? After that it varies. Specs, design, reliability.

  • Groud Frank

    When I go to gsmarena I jump to a couple things first:
    Screen Size – Below 5 inches is a deal breaker.
    RAM – 1 GB is the minimum.
    Processor – Nothing below 4 cores and nothing clocked below 1.5 Ghz
    OS – Nothing earlier than 4.1.1
    Battery Life – This is important to me! Anything below 3000 mAh is a deal breaker.

    The above are my major, non-negotiable specs. Things I can compromise on but also influences my decisions are:
    OS – OS upgrade-ability is something I like. At the moment the Oppo N1 is most appealing to me.

    UI – I like my UI unmolested so the further away from AOSP you go, the less likely it is that I’ll get that phone. There are some exceptions though. I love Emotion UI and MIUI. I know I could just skin it but from my experience, some 3rd party Launchers slow down your phone more than some OEM versions.

    Design – I wanna feel good when I pull out my phone in public….

    Things I care little about:

    Brand Name – Zoppo, Xiaomi, Oppo, ZTE, Huawie and a lot of lesser known OEMs make good phones, very often higher spec-ed and cheaper than the more well known brands.

  • box

    I wish Verizon carried the Nexus devices. So I purchased the S4. But I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the Nexus 5 on Verizon.

  • hamboy

    Expandable storage is a must for me. I also think it is inexcusable for a phone to lack a dedicated camera button

  • sinewave

    “What do you look for when you buy a smartphone?”clearly it’s based on previously owned phone (and all its issue).

    my next phone should be better than my current one, that’s for sure.

    so let’s see,
    - I’m currently use dual-core, and still feel slow sometimes, so my next phone should be at least quad core or better.
    - currently have 32gb sdcard slot, yet it’s used up pretty quick, so my next phone should at least support 64gb sdxc, and usb otg.
    - screen still on 4.3″ with good outdoor visibilty, I’m comfort with that, but recently had difficulty playing games, primarily one from ppsspp & drastic ds. so my next phone should have at least 4.7″ screen. probably with stylus support. good outdoor visibility is a must.
    - I’m tired to charge my phone twice everyday, so my next phone should have good battery life, and replaceable one,

  • DarxideGarrison

    I really think Google should include a removable battery and micro SD slot in their Nexus devices. Yeah we’ve got online storage options but you may be in a location with poor data connections or have no place to charge the device right away. I’m still going to get the Nexus 5, but those are the two biggest things a lot of us would prefer!

  • Leonardo Rojas

    It has to be like the Xperia Z Ultra: powerful, with nice set of features and polished design (the size has to be above 4.3″)

    Most of the times I go and see directly to the top tier smartphones cause I want to get the best I possibly can, but I do know how to use and appreciate entry level ones, like the LG L3, L5 ll, and such n.n

    Btw, I appreciate developers, but I don’t and won’t likely be using any custom ROM, ever. I do my own little tweakings.

  • APai

    Battery is a huge issue for most people.

    specs – having the latest and greatest actually applies for people buying flagships, for the vast majority – I still assume its a mid range phone which does well overall.

    software updates has been mitigated by google clever use of google play services to issues regular “core app” updates even to the oldest devices. the other side however ugly – the crooks are qualcomm, and their ilk, who do not see it fit to push proprietary binaries downstream to the phone makers to increase their bottom line.

    storage is still an issue, as plenty of sd cards are getting toasted, while phone makers give extra space at a premium. I still have hope in the nexus line plus the chinese phone makers who will teach the front runners a thing or two about giving more for less.

    for the rest of the choices (like accessories, camera, design, durability, display etc)
    we are spoilt silly since the last 2-3 years, it’s been better than even the slow evolution of PC/ laptop market over the last 20 years

  • HugoMathee

    Software design, sorry Samsung and LG. That rules you out.

  • Froggy

    I don’t go for contracts any longer, so price is top of my list. Good hardware but not the best is fine, sd card and removable battery. No bloatware. Basic Android. So I buy direct from Honk Kong for $200 or less for 4.7″. Those phones are not the best, but you cannot beat the bang for the buck (Feiteng, Haier, ect.)

  • Chris

    Simply htc one