There’s plethora of great smartphones out there right now. So much so that its easy to become overwhelmed by all the technical details that goes in choosing one of them.
But what are the things that you have to look for when buying a smartphone this 2016?
For those wishing for an upgrade this coming holiday, while not necessarily opting to get the latest (and expensive) flagship offerings from top manufacturers (aka. iPhone 7 / Galaxy S7 / S7 Edge), then here are the top things to look for in a smartphone (by level of importance).
Disclaimer: Article is specifically targeted for Android smartphone selection. For those interested to get an iPhone, my personal recommendation would be to opt for an iPhone no more than 2 generations old (iPhone 6 as of the moment of this writing).
1. Screen Size
iPhone 4s (3.5 inch display), Galaxy Note (5.7 inch display) and Galaxy S7 (5.1 inch display). Image source from GSMArena.com
More than 70 percent of a smartphone real estate is taken up by the screen or display. So it only makes sense to first determine the quality of display more that anything else when looking for a brand new smartphone.
The first thing to look at is the display size – and this entirely depends on how large of a phone you want.
In today’s market, the most common screen display size ranges from somewhere near 5 inch in diagonal. Phones with significantly lower screen size (like the original iPhone size which is 3.5 inch in diagonal) is considered small in today’s standard while larger displays (like the Note series) are considered phablets (term derived by merging words “phone” and “tablet”).
2. Screen Quality
Quality of the display is also an important factor to consider. While some flagship Android smartphones boasts 2k resolution displays, having such a sharp screen is not essential in a phone.
At the minimum however, for 5 inch screen displays and above, a 1080p screen resolution should suffice for a good quality smartphone display without any compromise. Anything lower (like 720p) would result in noticeable reduction in display quality, especially when reading text and/or watching movies.
Also, for higher-end phones you might have heard smartphones with Gorilla Glass or Dragontail displays. Basically smartphone displays that has either of those will have better protection to scratches (making screen protectors redundant) and in some cases, even offer better drop protection.
Smarphones have really been revolutionary product; It gives you the ability to browse the web, listen to music, watch movies, use Facebook, Google, Viber, etc – all at your fingertips.
But here’s the thing: In order for your phone to open and use a lot of applications your phone will need additional memory, with some applications using more memory that others.
With lots of background applications (apps that run even when you’re not using them) in your smartphone, like Facebook, Viber and even the Android OS itself, its essential to get a smartphone that can accommodate all these applications that you plan to use.
So at the minimum, a 2GB RAM should be sufficient for basic multitasking support for your phone. Anything above is additional luxury as of the moment, while anything below and you’ll need to start monitoring the apps that you will use before your phone slows down.
We now live in a time overtaken by Facebook posts and Instagram selfies. If you’re the type who likes to constantly upload selfies or photos for social media use, then its essential for your phone to, at the very least, have respectable shooting capabilities.
While there’s more to camera quality than just megapixels, a minimum of 8MP shooting capability should be sufficient for your everyday social media use.
Of course higher-end phones will excel more in this regard. So for those looking for a phone with an excellent camera, better invest more when purchasing your next smartphone.
Storage entirely depends on your use. Will you be installing lots of applications, lots of games? Do you have a lot of multimedia in your phone? If so, better opt for a phone with higher storage, or at least an expandable storage.
My minimum recommendation is at least 32GB for phones with non-expandable storage. For smartphones that do, there’s a lot less to worry about, as you can simply buy a micro SD card to further expand your phone storage.
A helpful tip when purchasing SD cards, opt for a Class 10 card, as read and write speeds will be essential in this case, that is if you want apps installed in the SD card to perform better.
Click here for more information regarding SD card speed class.
5. Android version / OEM modifications
You might have noticed that not all Android smartphone interfaces looks the same for every manufacturer. For example, a Android smartphone from Samsung will not look the same compared to a smartphone made by LG.
That is because OEM’s like to add their own personal touches to their smartphones – be this for better or worse.
If you want a phone with a more vanilla (non-modified Android OS directly from Google) experience, you can opt for phones from Google itself (like the Pixel phones or the now-discontinued Nexus phones).
If that is not an option, Android launchers like the Nova Launcher or Google Now Launcher can better remedy this solution.
But if you like how a certain manufacturer creates the phone’s interface (say you like how a Samsung phone looks better that its competitors), then that is a good reason to stick to that buying phones for that brand.
With that said, for Android version, always check if its running the latest Android version (Marshmallow prior to the date of this writing). Anything less, then I would suggest to opt for another phone – since you never know when (or even if) an update will come.
6. Aesthetics, Build quality
Of course you also have to look on how a phone looks or feels.
Does it look sleek and not-so cheap? (or you don’t mind). Does it feel durable?
This things – you have to check this for yourself, and see if a certain phone meets your standards.
Premium phones obviously will have better build quality, like aluminum builds and chamfered metals built to them.
Budget phones, on the other hand (as their name implies), usually does not have this luxury. There are exceptions (like the OnePlus 3), but in general they’ll be made in plastic.
But a gentle reminder: not all plastic phones looks bad. There are many that looks great even with a plastic finish. So check if you like how a certain phone looks and feels.
You might be wondering why the processor is not listed high in this list, despite being such an important component to a smartphone (or any computing device in general).
Basically that is because I feel it is no longer that important in this case (for smartphones).
Most smartphone chips (ARM-based) this days are capable enough to run most of basic applications in the Play Store (key word here is basic).
So unless your looking for the fastest phone out there, or you want a phone capable of running the most demanding games in Android, then the phone’s processor should not be of major concern.
There may be other specific things that, while not essential, is nice to have in a smartphone, like fingerprint sensors, dual SIM support, FM Radio, NFC, water resistance, etc.
Obviously this will now depend on your use case. Is fingerprint sensor essential for you? If so, then obviously a phone that has one will cater more to your taste rather than one with, say, a FM Radio.
So in the end its really up to you to decide what things are essential and what are not. Hope this simple guide helped you decide on what’s essential for you when looking at your next smartphone purchase.