Buying a new smartphone is tough. There are so many great options out there. How do you prioritize your needs and find the right phone for you? According to the latest research from Kantar Worldpanel, on the last quarter, a third of people did no research at all before buying their new phone. If you’re here, it’s probably safe to assume you’re in the other two-thirds, visiting stores and carriers, reading up, and asking friends and family for advice (or maybe giving it).
How do you decide what’s important? What are the key things driving your purchase decision? What would your perfect smartphone look like, and have you ever found everything you wanted in a single device? Let’s take a look at what might make a great phone, section by section, and you can weigh in on the polls and in the comments.
The iPhone always won a lot of fans on this score, but smartphones in general have been getting better looking. When HTC introduced the new One range it was universally praised for being gorgeous. The Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge represent new aesthetic heights for Samsung. However, the lukewarm response to the One M9 suggests that it’s not just about beauty, the design also has to feel fresh.
Beauty rarely goes hand-in-hand with durability, but are they truly mutually exclusive, or are the manufacturers just not trying hard enough? Sexy designs also often preclude removable batteries and SD card expansion.
Some people feel that bigger is better, but flagship smartphones are now frequently bumping up against phablet territory. Officially the phablet category starts with a screen size of 5.1 inches and goes up to 7 inches where devices become tablets, but that probably needs to be reassessed. The original Galaxy Note had a 5.3-inch screen, the Galaxy S6 has a 5.1-inch screen. Shrinking bezels allow us to get away with much bigger screen sizes than before without having to have huge devices.
There’s definitely a point at which a big screen makes a phone tougher to handle one-handed, but it depends on the size of your hands.
Are we really taking advantage of the processing power we already have at our fingertips? A lot of people rarely push their processors to the limits. The standard for RAM is fast-becoming 3GB. Taking advantage of what’s already there, without causing overheating problems and draining the battery, is a real challenge. But, some people want as much raw power as they can get.
The best camera is always the camera you have with you, and that’s why smartphone cameras are growing more and more important to people. The megapixel war has tapered off a bit. Sheer power wasn’t enough to tempt many people to buy the Lumia 1020. Manufacturers have started to focus on quality and added features, with speed and low light performance growing in importance. LG, Sony, and Samsung are all offering amazing camera experiences on their latest flagships, and the popularity of selfies has led to phones like the HTC Desire Eye, with a 13MP front-facing shooter.
A lot of people take connectivity for granted, but Kantar’s research found that LTE capability was a key driver for purchases. With a greater range of cheap, Android phones on the market from China, it also pays to check out what bands your phone supports, or you could find yourself stuck on 3G. For a lot of people it probably makes more sense to check out the Wi-Fi performance, but much depends on how you use your phone. For example, Bluetooth and NFC may be vital for one person and meaningless to the next.
Back in the day mobile phones were pretty indestructible, and if your dropped your Nokia, you could always buy a new face plate. Nowadays, brushed metal and glass, make for some nasty accidents. Sony pushed waterproofing into the mainstream, but it doesn’t seem to have caught on. Rugged phones are still very much a special category apart, that’s often because they look like rubber bricks.
Without consumer demand there’s not much benefit for manufacturers in making phones tougher and more durable. How important is it anyway?
Some people never even fill the internal storage on their smartphones, others carry their entire digital life around with them. Your need for storage probably depends on your camera usage, music collection, movie or TV habits, and how many apps and games you play.
Expandable storage, or the lack of it, is still a real deal-breaker for some people. Others will be content with the ability to expand into the cloud. Which camp do you fall into?
Do you care if your smartphone has a fingerprint sensor, an IR blaster, or the ability to track your heartbeat? Maybe mobile payment support or wireless charging are important to you? A set of loud, clear front-facing speakers could make all the difference. There are a lot of potential extra features that can really help you choose one phone over another. While most of the other categories have an average standard, extra features vary wildly from phone to phone.
Putting it all together
There are a lot of other things that are probably going to weigh into your decision. Most people have a budget which inevitably limits the options. You’re also going to be swayed by the platform, the manufacturer skin, and maybe the prospect of updates. Some people are in love with a particular brand and they stick with it. Whatever your tastes, it can be very hard to find everything you want in a single smartphone.
What does your perfect smartphone look like? Have you ever bought a phone that was perfect for you at the time?