How do I choose the right mobile phone?
With so many new smartphone releases and constant updates in technology, it’s tempting to be wowed by features that you might not even use much in your day-to-day life. While the newest phones will have the latest technology, narrowing down your selection to phones with functions and features most suited to your lifestyle and habits will save you time and money.
For example, if what you value most is a phone battery that lasts and taking amazing photos, check out a phone’s product information or specs on its brand website, to investigate whether a phone performs well in these areas.
Most important factors to consider before buying a new phone
Since mobile phones can be expensive, the first step is to set a budget for how much you’re willing to spend. The most basic smartphones start at around $100 in price – even a Samsung phone like the Galaxy A11. This ranges all the way to $1,699 for the iPhone 12 Pro, and an almost-as-premium price for the Samsung Galaxy S20+, at $1, 499.
However, there are plenty of mid-range models that offer solid performance at an affordable price. Some of these include the Samsung Galaxy A71 5G at $899, or one of the popular OPPO phones, like the Oppo Reno Z (2019) which retails for $499.
You’re also more likely to save money if you do the following:
- Buy a slightly older phone model compared to a new release
- Purchase outright rather than through a payment plan (which often refers to mobile plans with locked-in contracts)
- Buy at an opportune time for savings (for example, on Black Friday).
A long-lasting phone battery is important, especially if charging your phone is a chore that often slips your mind.
Battery life refers to the length of time a phone can be used before dying and needing its next charge. For example, 15 hours is considered a solid battery life for most smartphones. This battery life is the most reliable way of determining the effectiveness of a phone battery before purchase.
Also look for quick or fast charging. Some phones can go from 0 to 50% charged in half an hour, and 0% to a full battery within the hour – ideal if you’re in a rush. This is preferable to wireless charging capabilities, as there are relatively few wireless charging ports available at public locations.
There are other indicators of battery, such as battery capacity, measured in mAh. Generally, the higher the mAh the larger a phone battery is. 4,000 mAh is considered high. However mAh alone isn’t a reliable indicator of an enduring battery, with battery life being more true-to-life.
There are also steps you can take to preserve your phone battery, such as activating any power-save modes, dimming the screen brightness, using Wi-Fi rather than 4G or 5G network technology, and disabling apps that heavily drain your phone battery, such as Google Maps.
For many smartphone owners, the in-built phone camera is now the sole camera in our photography and videography arsensal. It’s often used to capture snaps of both Sunday brunch and overseas trips. As a result, impressive camera quality is an important feature to look for in any prospective phone.
- Front camera: This is used to take selfies, and for making video calls. A front camera with a wide-angle lens or ultrawide selfie mode means more of the background will be captured in your shot, or on screen – while making the selfie subject (i.e. you) sharper in focus.
- Rear camera: This is the primary camera on a phone, and will take the majority of your shots and videos.
- Multiple front and multiple rear cameras: Many smartphones today have multiple cameras (referred to as dual, triple or quad cameras). While the addition of extra cameras can often work to enhance picture quality (e.g. one camera may be exclusively used for ultrawide lens shots), there’s no guarantee that they will.
This is determined by a number of factors that, when combined, work to create overall image quality.
- Software: A phone’s software plays a huge role processing images before they’re displayed. This influences the overall quality of photos significantly, affecting colours and dynamic range, while sensors will affect low-light performance, depth and night-mode quality, to name a few. Look for stabilisation if you shoot a lot of videos using your smartphone.
- Megapixel count: This refers to the number of pixels on screen, e.g. 8MP = 8 million individual pixels. More megapixels are thought to create a more detailed, crisp image. However, some phones (including those made by Samsung and Apple) have a low MP count, but they do have superior software that creates high quality photos. This is why software should often be prioritised when scoping out the effecctiveness of a smartphone camera.
- Pixel Density: Denoted as PPI, e.g. 400 PPI or pixels per inch, this refers to how many pixels are packed in an inch of space. A higher PPI will often result in clearer, sharper images. Again, this should be read in conjunction with the above two indicators of image quality.
This includes RAM and internal memory.
Internal memory refers to the storage space that holds data, such as photos, videos, apps and music. Choosing a phone with higher internal memory is often convenient, particularly if you frequently use apps or play games. This means you won’t have to ration phone space, and constantly live with a notification popping up to remind you of ‘Insufficient storage space.’
How much storage you opt for is really up to you, but generally 32GB or less is towards the lower end of the spectrum, 64GB and 128GB are average but comfortable, while more than 128GB is towards the higher end (with 512GB and 1TB being the absolute highest).
As mentioned below in the section Should I get an Apple iPhone or an Android?, many Android phones come with the option of expandable storage. You can insert a microSD card into your smartphone, to increase the amount of available space on your phone for external storage.
RAM is also part of storage, and how much RAM a phone has determines how efficient it is at multi-tasking and switching between various apps. At least 3-4 GB of RAM is considered a good entry point, while 8GB or 10GB of RAM are high, but rare to find.
The screen size is important not only for aesthetic purposes, but also for ease of use. Ideally, a phone should fit comfortably in your hand (and perhaps also in your pocket), so you can easily use it with just one hand.
Small screens: These are most readily available in phones that don’t have a touchscreen, i.e. non-smartphones, sometimes called ‘dumbphones.’ These phones may not look as flash as their smartphone counterparts, but they’re also likely to be basic and easy to operate, which may be a plus for some phone users.
Medium-sized screens: Most smartphones fall in this category, and are around 4.7-5.7 inches, measured diagonally. They are generally easy to handle and to use for most people.
Large screens: If you spend a lot of time playing games or watching videos on your phone, a large screen will likely be a better choice for you. Anything above a 5.8-inch screen can be considered large, like the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, which is 6.7 inches. These phones have been dubbed ‘phablets,’ as their size makes them appear like a blend between a phone and a tablet.
Should I get an Apple iPhone or an Android?
This question often elicits passionate responses in favour of one camp or another. But what if you’re yet to make up your mind?
In a nutshell, the difference between these options is that iPhones are made by Apple, and exclusively use iOS software. An Android phone uses an operating system designed by Google, and different versions of it are designed by a host of non-Apple brands and phone models, such as Samsung, OPPO, Huawei, and LG phones.
If you’re new to the whole Apple vs Android debate, here are some basic Pros and Cons to help compare the two.
Easy integration with other Apple products: If you already have an Apple Mac or an Apple smart watch, investing in an iPhone will be convenient. For example, the Continuity Camera feature allows you to snap photos on your iPhone, then instantly view them on a Mac.
Ease of use: Many long-time Apple fans praise iPhones for having a simple user interface, and the phones for generally being easy to use.
Street cred: There’s no denying that Apple is a highly popular brand, and some smartphone users will always prefer Apple because of the brand name reputation. Whether this is a ‘Pro’ or not is really up to you.
Premium price: This matches Apple’s often-premium features. Even relatively cheaper iPhones like the iPhone SE, which sells for $649, are equal in price to their mid-range Android equivalents.
No expandable storage: Apple has no option for a microSD card; so you’re stuck with the fixed amount of storage the phone offers when you buy it. The alternative is paying for an iCloud storage plan for extra space on your phone.
Cheaper than iPhones: If you need a new smartphone but don’t want the purchase to leave a hole in your wallet, opting for an Android phone may be a savvy option.
High level of customisation: More third party apps can be downloaded with Android, which also offers a more flexible user interface that can be customised to look how you prefer. With Apple, you tend to be limited to apps from the App Store.
Expandable storage: Using a microSD card (which can cost as little as $20 for 128GB) you can expand the storage on your phone, making more space for photos, videos, apps and games.
More choice of brands: If you’re opting for a phone that uses iOS software, you have one brand to choose from – Apple. With Android, there is a wealth of brands and phone models available to suit more individual needs.
Overall, which new phone you should buy depends on factors that are unique to you. These include how much cash you’re willing to part with, how you use your phone, and which functions and features you value in a phone. Being clear on your criteria can not only help you save big bucks, but ensure you choose a phone that performs in a way you’re happy with, and lasts for many years.