Find the Perfect... Smartphone
Today’s phones let you send and receive email and text messages, surf the web, and play music and videos. And there’s no time like the present to buy a new one, whether it be the newest iPhone to an Android superphone to a business-friendly Windows Phone.Armando Rodriguez | Friday, December 07 2012
The Big Picture
Today’s phones let you send and receive email and text messages, surf the web, and play music and videos. And there’s no time like the present to buy a new one, whether it be the newest iPhone to an Android superphone to a business-friendly Windows Phone.
Before you hit the stores, however, do a bit of research and read this guide so that you’ll know exactly what to look for. And when you do visit a store, perform some simple tests to ensure that the handset has everything you need.
The Samsung Galaxy Note II
The Specs Explained
When evaluating phones, be sure to make a few test calls. In our hands-on tests, we generally make some calls in a quiet room and several calls in a noisy environment. You might not be able to replicate such tests indoors, but try your best. Listen for static, tinny voices, or any interference. Ask the people you call if they can hear a disruptive amount of background noise.
Choices range from phones with large touchscreens to slider-style handsets with full-QWERTY keyboards. Whichever type of phone you select, check to see if it’s comfortable to hold against your ear, if you can hear callers without constant adjustment, if you can use it with one hand (or scrunching your neck and shoulder), if it fits comfortably in your pocket or bag, and if it’s durable enough to handle some rough treatment. Consider investing in a case or display protector, too, especially if you’re somewhat accident-prone.
The mobile operating system you choose will greatly affect the capabilities of your phone. The most popular platforms are Google’s Android (found on multiple devices), iOS (found only on iPhone models), BlackBerry OS (found on BlackBerrys of various designs), and Microsoft’s Windows Phone. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, so familiarise yourself with all of the platforms before settling on one.
If you intend to do a lot of web browsing or movie streaming, make sure that the screen is big enough for you to take full advantage of the phone’s features. For surfing the web or editing Office documents on your phone, a screen that measures less than 3 inches diagonally will feel cramped.
The higher the resolution, the better the screen will look — an important factor if you plan to watch videos or view photos on your phone.
AMOLED displays perform well in sunlight, but they tend to make colours look oversaturated. qHD displays (whose resolution is one-fourth of a full-HD 1080p frame and three-fourths of a 720p frame) do well in video playback and games.
If your phone lets you adjust contrast and brightness (including backlighting), you can make text and graphics more easily viewable in well-lit places, and you can also save battery life in a pinch.
If you expect to take a lot of photos with your phone, you’ll want to pay attention to the camera specs. For mid- to high-level smartphones, 5 megapixels is the bare minimum standard. Some phones ship with 8- or 12-megapixel cameras, but a higher megapixel count doesn’t necessarily mean a better camera. Verify that the phone camera you’re interested in has a flash — dual-LED or Xenon flashes work the best. Otherwise, pictures you take indoors or at night will come out looking like blurry messes. Try to take a few pictures in the store to get a good idea of the camera’s photo quality.
Most cell phone cameras have video-capture capabilities, and some high-end phones can capture high-definition 1080p video. If video is your thing, make sure that the OS provides an easy way to upload your videos to services such as Facebook or YouTube.
Many modern smartphones have front-facing cameras. These are mostly good for making video calls; but some camera apps, such as photo-booth apps, use the front-facing camera too.
Some phones use dual-core processors, but for most users such power isn’t necessary. Unless you’re doing a lot of app multitasking or playing games with 3D graphics, you’ll probably be fine with a 1GHz processor. Aside from the processor speed, factors such as the version of software your phone is running (Android 2.3 is faster than Android 2.2, for instance) and the speed of your network contribute to speedy, fluid phone performance.
There’s no easy way to predict how long a phone’s battery will last. In our PC World lab tests and our hands-on evaluations, LTE phones have a shorter battery life than 3G phones do (New Zealand doesn't have LTE yet, but it's something to consider if you want to future-proof your phone). Ultimately, however, it all depends on how much you use your phone. You can download battery-management apps or task killers that may alleviate some of the drainage. You can also buy a case with a built-in wireless charger, or carry around an extra battery for your phone.
Apple's iPhone 5
If you’re considering buying a phone as a gift, consult with the recipient before you go shopping. Although it will ruin the surprise, you should probably bring the recipient along on your shopping trip, too. We recommend getting as much hands-on time as possible with multiple phones before settling on one.
When dealing with store representatives, ask them to be as straightforward as possible. Tell them exactly what you’re looking for, and describe the kind of phone or plan that meets your requirements. If you’re completely unsure, ask the reps what phone they use, or which phones impressed them this year. Don’t let them launch into a sales spiel, or you’ll spend way too much time in the store. But remember, they’re human beings; so be courteous, and you’ll receive the same treatment in return.
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