How to Choose a Smartphone by Brand, Carrier, or Features

Choosing a smartphone for yourself or a loved one is not an easy task. Smartphones are typically high-ticket, but seriously essential items, and there are ways to minimize your choice so that you spend your money wisely for the most important features for you. Hundreds of available options can make your selection process overwhelming, especially if you are not clear on your priorities. We can help you narrow down your choice by analyzing all the ideas you need to choose the best phone. Below are the major questions you have to answer.

Get an in-depth look at what the current smartphone market has to offer, check out our guide to the best smartphones, the best Android phones and the best cheap smartphones.

What is your price range?

First, determine how much you are willing to spend and how you want to spend it. If you are an Apple customer, then you already know that iPhone is more expensive than Android phone. However, a cheap iPhone SE (2020) for $ 400 may be the ideal budget phone for the iOS platform. Samsung is another relatively high-value brand, which has a cross-border price. At the lower end of the price scale, you will find brands such as Nokia, Honor and Motorola. You can save upfront costs with a subsidized phone through a carrier that you can pay in monthly installments in a year or two. While these financial arrangements will not save money in the long run, they will make more expensive phones with more affordable features. A look at our roundup of the best cheap phones to get a sense of what’s happening there. If you’re on a really tight budget, you can still buy a smartphone for $ 100 or less.

What features do you need?

Various new smartphones
Julian Chokkattu /

Start by drafting a list of the most important features that you need for your smartphone. Use the list to compare devices. Ask yourself: Do you need a big screen phone? Do you like one that you can use one-handed? Are you looking for extended battery life or the best camera phone? Do you need a lot of storage for your music or photo collection? Maybe you are a frequent traveler and you need a dual-sim phone. Is 5G part of the landscape in your area?

Which operating system do you prefer?

iphone 11 pro
Corey Gaskin /

Android and iOS: Only two smartphone operating systems are worth considering. Both are easy to use and support a wide variety of apps and games. When you can switch from Android to iOS or iPhone to Android, there are learning curves in both directions. To get acquainted, try to stick to the platform you use – unless you really like it and want to switch.

Android offers a wider choice of devices, more customization options, and Google’s excellent suite of built-in services and applications at various prices. If you already use Google Maps, Gmail, Google Docs and Google Assistant, then Android may be a better option for you, although you can download iOS versions of all those tools from the App Store.

Apple’s iOS provides a more uniform, accessible experience, and operations are more secure with proprietary features such as Siri, fingerprint scanning, FaceTime, and iCloud. The app store and app quality are slightly better than Android due to the app process of the app store. If you already have a MacBook or iPad, an iPhone is probably the most understandable thing for you. You’ll also find a huge choice of accessories for iPhones, something that may be limited to lesser-known Android devices.

For a more in-depth breakdown of the top two smartphone platforms, check out our guide to Android vs. iOS, where we compare them across different categories.

What are the most important specs?

Google Pixel 4
Corey Gaskin /

Seriously listen to the seller at the store and then shop around to get hands-on experience with various smartphones before buying one. If you do not know much about glasses, bring a knowledgeable friend or family member along. With more people shopping at home, you can still use the chat application and check forums and reviews for advice. Here are some things to think about:

  • Design: If you want something you can use one-handed, try to pick it up and try it out. These days, many phones have glass on the front and back, which makes them fragile and prone to smoothness. Check that the position of the fingerprint sensor suits you – on many phones, the sensor is at the back rather than the front. The right design for you should look and feel good.
  • Screen: You are spending many hours staring at the screen, so make sure that it is a good size for you and has a high resolution. We recommend a minimum Full HD, which is 1920 x 1080 pixels, or perhaps 2160 x 1080 pixels if the phone has a modern 18: 9 ratio. Anything that is 1080p or higher will be significantly faster. In terms of the underlying technology, OLED screens have better contrast with darker blacks than LCD screens, and we like them overall. Some of Samsung’s Galaxy range and Apple’s iPhones feature AMOLED screens, but they may suit the price.
  • Display: This will be determined by two main things: processor and RAM. The processor is the more important consideration, and the new one is generally better in terms of both speed and power efficiency. Apple’s A-Series chipset is set to take the competition forward. For Android phones, Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Plus is the current cream of the crop. It is debatable how much RAM you need in a smartphone, but we are looking for 4GB, at least for the Android model. However, this does not apply to iPhones, as they handle memory management differently and do not require much RAM. If in doubt, read the review or play with your potential smartphone in store to review it.
  • Operating System: If you buy a new iPhone, you will get the latest version of iOS, but this is not the case with Android phones. Because manufacturers often implement their own user interfaces on top of Android, it may take some time to get the latest updates. You may not get future versions of Android upon their release or even if the manufacturer decides not to update. Only stock Android phones from Google, such as the Pixel 5, are guaranteed to receive immediate and frequent Android updates. To see the current version Android 11. Always try to get the latest version that you can.
  • Camera: Smartphone cameras have improved a lot in the last few years. This option may be surprising, but note that good camera performance is much higher than just high megapixels. If you are able to test the phone for yourself, then you definitely should, but you will also find useful information in the reviews. We do many camera shootouts here in digital trends.
  • bloatware: Be aware of blotware or hobbled features, especially with Android. Sometimes carriers block specific features or alter defaults. Carriers and manufacturers often add a lot of great applications, and you cannot uninstall them.
  • battery life: Removable batteries are rare these days, so you want a phone that stays with you. Please check the consensus on battery life in reviews. The MAh rating will give you some hints, but the capacity is also influenced by screen size, resolution, and software, so you need to look beyond the number.
  • Storage: The latest smartphones usually come with enough storage. When 16GB phones were common, which already used 10GB out of the box, you could run faster in space. The minimum 32GB is good, but 64GB is better. A lot depends on how you use your phone. If you prefer to load your music or photo collection, then you will obviously need more space. Having a microSD card slot allows you to increase your storage space relatively inexpensively. However, Apple never includes microSD card slots, so this is something you’ll only find on some Android devices.
  • Durability: If you mainly buy a glass phone, and you’ve got Butterfinger, be sure to buy a protective case. You should also get a phone with some water resistance. The top flagship nowadays has an IP67 or IP68 rating, which means they can sink into the water without damage. Many budget phones also come with some water resistance.

Choose a Wireless Carrier

AT&T Store

It is important to choose a carrier that provides good coverage in your area so that you have a strong signal. We recommend doing a little research on Open Signal, where you will find comprehensive coverage maps for different regions and carriers. Just enter your location and choose a carrier to see where you live and work. If you want to be able to do data-intensive things without Wi-Fi – such as stream video or play multiplayer games – make sure 4G coverage is good in your area. New phones, like the iPhone 12 range, are also now incorporating 5G, but this protocol is still in the early stages in most places, so it is not yet a big priority. If you intend to hold onto your phone for several years, however, 5G will become a factor in your purchase decision.

The main network options are Verizon, AT&T and the recently merged T-Mobile / Sprint, but there are other carriers, such as MetroPCS, Boost, Cricket and Virgin, which may be worth considering. If you plan to buy your smartphone from your service as well as your carrier, make sure that they offer the phone you want. We recommend buying an unlocked phone when possible as it will be cheaper in the long run and will give you the freedom to change carriers in the future.

Choose service plan

There are hundreds of different cell phone service plans in the market today, and market competition can mean lower prices for consumers. However, you will have to do a little shopping to find the best deal. These days, choosing the best and cheapest plan is easier than ever. We have already done some legwork for you Best family plan, Best unlimited data plan, And Cheapest phone plan.

It is also not a bad idea to try and Get a better deal if possible. If you currently find a better plan in a different career, call your current provider to discuss. Ask to speak with the customer’s retention department, as they are often eligible to give you discounts and incentives to stay.

Carriers will always try to sell you expensive plans, so consider what services you really need. If you use Wi-Fi, you probably don’t need a lot of data. Minutes and lessons are very cheap, so it is usually the data plan that determines the monthly cost. Our guide to data usage will help you find out how much you use and need.

Once you have an idea of ​​the data, minutes and texts included in your plan, try using a comparison service Wirefly To quickly find the best deal. Services such as wirefly can compare both cell phone plans or cell phones. You will be able to narrow down your choices, such as how much data, minutes and messages you are ready to deliver. The more products and services you buy from a single carrier, the more discounts you can expect, although you may have to ask for it. When it is available, a price match guarantee, especially in service plans, is a great way to ensure that you get all the features you need and at a price you can buy.

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