Buying a Smartphone: 8 Things You Should Consider

Given the price of even the lower-tier smartphones and the cost of a data plan, your smartphone is a significant investment and something you should hope to have for years. That makes buying one something you don’t want to do on a whim. A little research is required to find something you’re happy with.

And while you might want to look up what phones are best right now, the truth is that there are so many phones on the market it is hard to keep track of releases. The research you did last month might be outdated now and separating the specifications from the marketing hype can be tough. And you probably have better things to do than look through every phone without guidance. We recommend only looking deeply into matters once you are set on buying a new phone and set on your budget. 

What you can keep with you, though, is the knowledge of what to look for and what to prioritize. Base features and workings of a smartphone aren’t going to change anytime soon. A phone is always going to need a battery, for example.

With these larger aspects in mind, therefore, here are eight things you should consider before buying your next smartphone:

1. Your Service Provider

There is a strong chance you have a service provider already. And if you are happy, there is usually little need to change over just because you got a new phone. In fact, you might be rewarded for your loyalty or be due for a phone upgrade through your service provider. You can get a good deal either way (though always compare with other options). Also, service quality doesn’t really change per phone and instead by provider and location. As far as calls and data plans are concerned, your upgrade might be able to make better use of what was always there, but that’s it.

However, buying a new phone might be a perfect time to go over your contract, your payments, and more. Has anything changed to your dissatisfaction? Have your needs changed or have you moved to a new area? What about the price of the service? Switching can sometimes save you hundreds of dollars each year and reset the creeping monthly phone bill so many people experience each year. And if you want to change the service or number of lines you plan on working with, now is the perfect time to do so as well.

And if you’re getting your first smartphone or are in charge of picking the service provider for the first time, congratulations! The good news is that at least one provider is working in your area that will be suitable. You may want to do some comparisons, but you can also trust that there will be an option that fits.

Outside of this, the main thing about a provider you should consider is the phones they have on offer at a discount, whether there are common problems and complaints from other customers in your potential position, and whatever else you can find out online. Whether you want to check out the providers or the phones first is up to you, but make sure you do both. This very site can help you, and we hope you use this resource.

2. Camera Quality

Many people consider the camera one of the key features that make a smartphone a smartphone. They have come a long way since the first cameras on flip phones were introduced, and now people are making full movies using iPhone cameras. And the best part is that they just keep getting better, if incrementally some years. And even if you aren’t one for taking photos all that often, you’ll be glad you had it once you need it for an emergency.

Additionally, a better camera adds more functionality to a smartphone or at least makes many of the apps you use every day more efficient and effective at their tasks. Depositing checks and scanning documents becomes easier. Your phone will be better able to identify signs and objects when it needs to. It will even be able to better recognize people. All because of a better camera.

What should you look for in a camera? This is one of those things that it can be best to try out for yourself if you are able, or at least tryout something similar. However, the specifications should be listed if this is impossible. There should also be multiple cameras on the phone, both for selfies and for taking various kinds of photos. It is not uncommon to see four cameras on a single phone now. Megapixels also matter, of course, and the more, the better. Just keep in mind that after even 48MP there will be diminishing returns.

What else you might want to look at is the software that comes with the phone for photography or videography. What filters are available? How easily does the phone focus? What do you have for additional options? These are features of convenience and utility that can make or break a phone for many phone photographers. There are apps you can download and additional peripherals, etc. you can buy, but the base kit is what you’ll have with you day to day and think to open first. 

Overall, it’s all a balancing act, and you should look deeper into what makes a good phone camera (or array). But the better it is now, the later you will have to worry about it getting outdated.

3. Durability & Longevity

How long did you keep your last phone? According to studies, the average is about two to three years. There are outliers, of course, and many perfectly fine phones are replaced as a simple upgrade. But you want to be the one in control of that decision, and therefore you will want a phone that won’t quickly become obsolete. This is partially not picking a model that is too old in the first place, and partially a matter of looking at the phone to see if there are problems. If you aren’t an expert, there are also plenty of reviews that will tell you everything you could want about a phone.

You probably hear a lot about planned obsolescence when it comes to the longevity of phones, and people complaining about it a lot when it is near time to upgrade (and spend hundreds of dollars in the process). You want to make sure not to become one of those people, and find a model that is future-proofed as best as possible, with an excellent processor, screen, battery, and other features. You want a phone that will not only run the apps of today but the apps of two years from now with no issues. Keep this in mind always, and you’ll save money in the long run.

However, the planned longevity of a phone doesn’t mean much when you drop it the screen shatters and you can hardly use it anymore, even after repairs. A phone you need to replace because it broke feels so much worse than one you must replace simply because its time has come. There is a reason durability is a key consideration when getting a phone. And while there are phones that are designed to survive explosions and fall from several stories up, you probably don’t need anything so extreme. Durable screens and cases have been developed over time, and the glass used in phones is getting more scratch resistant. Yet some models and brands are still better than others, and for this, you will have to do your research.

Of course, you also want to invest in a great case for your phone (the $30 will be more than worth it, and you can use it to personalize its appearance). Even the strongest of phones can still be broken, and an extra layer of protection is a great idea. Similarly, you will want to treat your phone well while you have it, avoiding damage where possible and not trying to modify it in potentially hazardous ways. Regular updates and getting rid of bloatware can also make a phone last longer.

4. Operating System

You probably have a preference already, but are you interested in an Apple system or an Android system? You’re probably vaguely familiar with both by this point and what they offer, but if there’s any time to make a switch, it’s when you’re going to get a new phone anyway. And it’s not a light matter for many people who have been used to one or the other all their lives.

Android users like the additional flexibility they have in using and customizing their smartphone, the wide variety of phones and price points that are offered, and the greater sense of innovation that one can find in Android apps. It is the default for many devices, is built closely with Google in mind, and can often more easily connect with non-Apple devices. iPhones have tighter systems with less bloatware, better data usage on average, and better support if something goes wrong. For people who aren’t used to technology or want something reliable, then the iPhone has them covered. 

If you prefer Apple, then the decision on which phone you should get is nearly made for you. You will probably want the latest or near-latest release, and you will be able to find it easily. Your biggest choice from here might be the color you want.

Android users will need to look through whatever phones they can, using the metrics and facets they discovered here to make their decision. The market is vast, and there is something for everyone.

There may also be other systems you can install on a phone after the fact of buying it, but we wouldn’t recommend this. It is something that requires much more research and consideration. There also won’t be much support, if there is anything to be learned by the efforts of the Windows Phone. It might be an option if you’re already into customization and don’t really need to read this article. For now, focus on the two major players in the market and choose between them.

In any case, your choice of the operating system might be the most important one you make, especially if you have a clear idea of how you want to use your smartphone. 

5. Processor

With all the fancy features available on smartphones, too many people do not pay attention to the processor (chipset), which is essentially the heart of the smartphone. With a poor one, your phone isn’t going to be able to do much at once, or maybe not even run some apps. If you notice lag on your old smartphone, it is likely an issue with the processor, though there are other potential reasons.

The processor is also vital if you enjoy mobile gaming, or are using several apps at once. There is a top standard for processors, and while the chip shortage and supply issues around the globe might be interrupting the normal progression of things, there are still plenty of smartphones to go around with excellent processors.

When comparing phones and their processors, you want to consider the following:

  • The number of processor cores. The more of these there are, the more tasks the smartphone can handle simultaneously. If you’re regularly doing a bunch of tasks at once on your phone, this is an important metric.
  • The clock speed, which is the number of instructions a processor can complete per second. The higher the clock speed, the faster the phone.
  • You may also want to consider the company that made the processor. Is it reliable? The last thing you want is a poorly made processor in your phone.

6. Screen Size & Display Quality

What screen size is best for you? Many will say that bigger is better, and it certainly has its advantages. But there is also a point where you are just buying a fancy tablet and you’d look quite silly holding up the device to your ear. The bigger the smartphone, the heavier it often is, and the more energy it uses. Also, you want to find a phone that is comfortable for your hands, considering how much you might be planning on using it. For this, we recommend just checking to see what feels right in your hand, and what you’d feel comfortable using for hours each day. There are tons of variations, and we promise there will be something just right for you.

While we’re on the subject of screens, we would like to point out and remind people that screen size and screen resolution are not the same things. A smaller screen can have a better resolution. A larger screen can have a relatively poor resolution. As for what the standard is today, you can do so much better than the 1080p that was the standard for a time. There are plenty of smartphones that have a 4k screen (or something close), and they look brilliant despite their small size. It might be a bit much for some, but for others being able to stream 4k movies on their phone can be wonderful, especially on those occasions where you have to wait. Yet there are many phones with around a 1440p resolution that will do you just fine and allow you to see all the detail you want on such a small screen. There is such a thing as overkill, and high-end phones get expensive.

7. Battery Life

Ideally, you want a phone that will last you all day. You might not always have access to a charging station or plug, and heavy use does occur depending on circumstances. Battery life might not be the most exciting thing to review, but it is more important than one might think. 

How smartphones do this can vary. Some might have heavier batteries that can hold more of a charge, while others might instead be focused on energy conservation options and general efficiency. Both can work, and ideally, a phone would have both, but there is always a tradeoff somewhere when it comes to a device so small.

The battery life of a phone will slowly decrease over time the more you use it, and that is to be expected. Certain practices can help, and with many phones, you can replace the battery midway through its lifespan, but ideally, you want a phone that will be reliable in its battery life for at least a few years without outside intervention. 

When looking up the battery life, check both the specifications easily found for the phone and reviews. Check for discrepancies, but otherwise, trust the information you find and make your best judgment. After a certain point battery life might not be too important, but up until then, it is all that’s important.

8. Ports and Potential Peripherals

It seems like an odd thing to note for some when you are buying a phone, but what ports does it have available, what connectivity does it have, and what types of devices can you use with it (and how easily)? 

Some common things to look for include:

  • Is there a headphone jack to allow for a direct connection to your favorite headphones or sound system?
  • Is there a USB port that you can use to connect to a wide variety of devices? Note that Apple prefers to use a lightning port, which might not be so compatible without an adapter.
  • Is there a micro-USB slot (it will likely be inside the phone) that you can use to expand the smartphone’s memory? This is important if you download a lot of files onto your smartphone and you want regular and easy access.
  • Depending on how much you plan on using your phone, you will want to investigate the peripherals and attachments for your phone as well. What is supported and what isn’t?

Depending on what you use, the ports can make or break a phone. Pay close attention and try to visually inspect the phone (virtually or in-person) before you buy it.

On Price

While we strongly considered adding price to this list, in truth we found that a simple price listing might not be the best way to think about a phone or compare them. Not all phones are alike, and while there is a place for the cheapest phone you can find, the fact that you are reading this means you are probably looking for something a little more than an emergency phone for your parents.

On top of the price, we also encourage you to think about the value you’ll get out of the phone and the investment in your own life. What is better: a $1000 phone that will last three years or a $700 that will last two? And you’ll likely enjoy using the $1000 phone for longer as well, potentially getting more out of it. Quality pays for itself, so long as the quality is substantial and you aren’t paying for bells, whistles, and features you’ll never use. There are upper limits, of course, and don’t buy a phone for more than a suggested retail price. Similarly, note that there is a premium for getting the absolute newest and best phone. That might not be worth it for you.

You may be paying for it on a payment plan, or buying it outright. If buying it outright you’ll have some more freedom about which service provider to go with, and you’ll be able to switch without getting a new phone or going through some extra trouble to unlock the phone. If you are using a payment plan, then you might be locked in for a while, so make sure you’ll be happy with the service provider.

Additional Notes

While they aren’t specifically about a thing you should look at, keep the following tips in mind when getting your next smartphone:

  • You would be surprised what deals you can find online. Online shopping is easier than ever, and that includes phones. If you have seen the phone before or are confident in what you want, shopping around can save you a fair bit of money. And in most cases, you can have your phone shipped to you in a day or two if you need a quick replacement.
  • What priority you place on the above is up to you. Sometimes there will be a need for an exceptional camera, and some people might need a phone that’s as tough as them. If you’re uncertain, write down what you are looking for ahead of time. This will help you keep a clear head when shopping.
  • While advertisements and outlets might try to sell you the best phone available, it might not be needed in your case. If all you want is a phone for emergencies and basic web browsing, then cheap options for you exist. You might just need to look for them and still make sure you get something you can rely on.
  • Phones do update regularly. If there is a software feature you want to have, note that it might become available on other models after a while. There might also be ways to replicate a feature you like that you don’t even know about. There are more settings on smartphones than people realize.

Conclusion

No phone is perfect for everyone. This is a purchasing choice that you must make for yourself (with perhaps some guidance to narrow the field for you). Only you know your needs, habits, and budget. However, we hope that with the above information you can make a more informed choice and know what to look out for. Compare some of the top phones on the market today along these lines. What is lacking from what would otherwise be a favorite? What stands out in an otherwise ordinary phone?

Whatever your answers are, we hope you come to a fruitful conclusion and get exactly what you are looking for. Happy searching and enjoy your new phone!