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Buying a new smartphone is an investment, not just in terms of the physical product but also in how you use the device. With many phones purchased on two-year contracts, making sure you’re happy with your purchase over time is nearly as important as your desire for the shiniest new phone.
Whether you’re picking up a top-of-the-line phone or a cheaper prepaid device, you should consider a number of factors before making your purchase.
- Price. While cost won’t necessarily stop you from choosing the device you want, it will affect what you can afford. Many of today’s flagships cost well over $1,000 and are subject to extra monthly payments, even if you’re picking up the phone on contract. That said, you can pick up cheap phones from retail partners if you shop around, which can help ease the strain on your wallet.
- Operating system. In general, you have two mobile operating systems to choose from: Google’s Android or Apple’s iOS. While Windows Phone technically exists, it accounts for less than 1% of market share. Other custom operating systems are also too small to consider a viable choice. Consider your preference for hardware, with Android on the vast majority of smartphones and iOS exclusively on iPhones.
- Screen size. The past few years have trended toward “bigger is better,” with phone screens approaching 6 inches on the diagonal. A bigger screen makes reading text and watching videos easier, but it can quickly drain your battery and limit one-handed control.
- Screen resolution. Smartphone screen technology has come a long way, with 4K screens now possible. For the most part, those resolutions are wasted on a device that’s smaller than 6 inches. But it’s worth comparing pixel density to see just how many pixels the manufacturer was able to cram into an inch. Higher pixels per inch (PPI) generally result in a crisper image on screen.
- App availability. It’s tied to the OS, but this factor can be a deal-breaker. Most popular apps and games are available for both iOS and Android platforms, yet plenty are available on only one. Choose a phone that will support those apps you’re interested in.
- Battery life. This is one feature that hasn’t changed too significantly. Manufacturers have managed to both squeeze more battery into larger phones and reduce battery consumption through smarter software, but battery technology remains largely the same as it was with Apple’s first iPhone. For a full day’s battery life, focus on phones with 3,000mAh or more.
- Connectivity. Not all carriers use the same network frequencies, so ensure that your phone works on the full spectrum of frequencies for your carrier. It’s fairly complicated, but you can compare the networks and their respective frequencies to get a better idea.
- Camera. Smartphone cameras have all but replaced the compact digital camera market, and the quality of photos gets better every year. It’s not all about megapixels however: Sensor size and twin lens technologies is helping to further improve smartphone pictures.
- Storage. If your phone is going to house your entire life — contacts, photos and videos and everything in between — make sure you have enough storage to store it all. Lower storage devices are cheaper, but look for an expandable memory microSD card slot so that you can expand your capacity at will. Or look for a higher-capacity device.
- Contract availability. Not all phones are available on contract over 24 months. If you can’t grab a phone on contract, prepare to pay more for the phone up front. This could save you money in the long run, however.