Smartphones are common accessories, and there are hundreds on the market. And as a result, there are hundreds of phones out there probably not right for you. Here are some common pitfalls people make when buying smartphones, and how to avoid them.
1. Do You Really Need A Smartphone?
This may sound odd, but bear with us for a moment. Most of us will get a lot out of a smartphone… but if you already own a tablet with a cellular connection, and you take that with you everywhere, a smartphone is very likely a waste of money. Similarly, if you never use apps or don’t want to, a smartphone won’t suit you. Believe it or not, dumbphones still exist, and are dirt cheap. Don’t pay a monthly fee for something you won’t use.
2. Don’t Be A Loyal Consumer When It Comes To Platforms
Consumer loyalty shouldn’t mean anything to you when buying a smartphone. You don’t have to get an Android device just because you mostly use Google services, for example, and you don’t need to buy an iPhone because you happen to use a Mac. Always consider your needs and all the platforms available to you before buying a new phone, and put your needs first. Regardless of how many apps you own on a platform, it may not suit your needs anymore; you won’t be getting your app money back, so walk away if you need something different.
3. Don’t Be Afraid To Dump Your Carrier Or Change Your Plan
To be frank, most mobile carriers are objectively pretty awful. They overcharge, they lock you into long-term contracts, and they will do their level best to freight you with as many charges as possible. So, when your contract’s up, it’s up: Look at every carrier, their coverage maps, and what you’ll pay for the services you want. Similarly, pull the data and look at what you use: If you’re on WiFi everywhere you go, you can cut down on your data plan.
4. If Possible, Buy An Unlocked Phone
It may not be possible, mind you unlocked phones are more common now than they have been in the past, but they’re still relatively rare compared to “locked” phones. “Locked” in this case means “will only function on a specific network.” Again, this is to keep you from jumping carriers when they decide to increase your rates, but worse, it means that the phone you’ve paid for won’t work if you decide to switch carriers after your contract is up. So, if possible, eat the costs and get an unlocked phone, such as Google’s Nexus 4 – it offers a wide variety of features and is just $300 without a contract.
As a bonus, unlocked phones don’t generally come with awful bloatware that you will never use and you yet can’t delete.
5. Remember There’s More Than Just Android And iOS
It’s true that Android and iOS take up a lot of room on the wider market, but there are other platforms as well. It’s about your needs, not who’s using what, so take a careful look at what’s out there before you decide you’re only going to get an iPhone. You may find other platforms, like Windows Phone, BlackBerry, or the upcoming Ubuntu, may better suit your needs.
6. Don’t Be Fooled By Numbers
Is a cutting edge phone really neat? Absolutely. Do you need a cutting edge phone? Probably not. If you’re just going to play Angry Birds, check bus times, and send emails, the truth is that there’s no reason to buy a cutting edge phone; most mid-range models will suit you just fine. If you want one, by all means go for it, but keep your needs in mind before laying down the cash. That said, take a close look at the processor before you put down the money – something in the lower part of the mid-range might not be able to handle apps you want in the future.
And while we’re on the topic of “cutting-edge technology”….
7. Not all Cameras Matter
Smartphone manufacturers love talking up their cameras, but here’s a dirty secret no smartphone manufacturer will ever tell you: On an objective scale, every single smartphone camera is crap. A good digital picture depends on the size of the sensor, the quality of the lens, and the size of the pixels on the sensor: A tiny sensor crammed full of pixels could actually give you a shoddier picture compared to one of the same size with larger pixels, because there’s more likely to be “noise” in the image as the pixels wind up duplicating information. And even as image processing improves, there are still limitations.
This doesn’t mean that some smartphone cameras aren’t better than others, objectively, and plenty will have bells and whistles built to make your snapshots look better. But don’t make a “high-quality” camera the focus of your purchase: Buy a phone based on your needs for a phone.
8. Look Closely At The Screen
Not all smartphone screens are created equal. Go to a store and put the phones you’re considering to the test. How bright are they? How big are they? How sharp? How responsive to your touch? Also check the technical specifications. A TFT LCD screen, for example, is dirt cheap to make… but also hard to view and a battery killer. An IPS or Super AMOLED might be a better choice.
9. Make Sure It’s Something You Want To Use… And Can Stand Up to The Abuse
If possible, find a friend with the models you’re considering buying and spend a little time with it. Do you like the size? The weight? The software? Get a few personal points of comparison, before buying. Also, make sure that it feels strong enough to withstand your lifestyle, or has a case that can take it. If you drop your phone a lot and buy something more obscure than the major brands, it may not be able to take the abuse… and you may not be able to find a case that helps.
10. Commit For the Long Term
Switching phones is not only expensive, but a perfect lever for carriers to extend that contract just a little bit longer. So don’t buy a phone “for now”; pick the one you think you’ll be happiest with in the long term. That said, many of today’s phones should last you well over a year in terms of power and speed. Again, take into considering what you’ll be doing, but a Nexus 4 will suit many people’s needs just as well as the latest Samsung device, the Galaxy S4.
Any suggestions from personal experience? Let us know.
Dan Seitz is an obsessive nerd living in New England. He lives in the Boston area with a fiancee, a dog, a cat, and far too many objects with processors.