Making Sense of Smartphones
There’s no doubt that smartphones boast considerable popularity in the consumer electronics segment, and for a good reason. Smartphones have become an integral aspect of our lives for their ability to do more than make calls and receive SMS messages. On the flip side, buying a smartphone has never been more challenging. With new flagship models coming in each year, consumers now have to choose from various cutting-edge designs, remarkable features, and enticing specs. Even within a single carrier or brand, you’re not short of options.
Fortunately, we’re here to help take the guesswork out of the smartphone buying process by taking an in-depth look at the options to consider before buying your next smartphone.
Choosing a Smartphone
Our tech-savvy experts have reviewed hundreds of smartphones over the years, and there are a few crucial features in every phone that carry greater weight when it comes to evaluating a phone. You don’t need to break the bank to get a decent handset. You only need to know what attributes to look for before making your purchase. Here’s what the sages behind WirelessWizard recommend you consider.
Making Sense of Smartphone Specifications
Picking the right smartphone can be daunting if you’re going it alone and you should avoid drowning in ‘spec’ hype. Getting some hands-on experience with various phones beforehand will help you gain a greater sense of what features matter to you and steer you in the right decision-making direction. Whether you’re buying your first phone or upgrading an older model, help from a knowledgeable family member or friend may come in handy.
A few smartphone specs to consider include:
The RAM and processor determine a smartphone’s performance. When it comes to the processor, a newer one will often provide excellent results in power efficiency and speed. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 and Apple’s A-series chipset should be your top considerations.
The amount of RAM that suffices is a longstanding point of debate but we recommend at least 4GB for Android phones. The narrative is quite different for iPhones since their memory management is quite different—so they don’t typically don’t need as much RAM. In fact, you’ll notice Apple’s marketing rarely references RAM as a selling point.
While most of the latest smartphones come with sufficient built-in storage, we recommend that you get at least 32GB of internal storage. 16GB won’t suffice if you need to store more photos, videos, and games. Fortunately, flagship phones now have 64Gb as the new standard. Of course, the relentless march toward cloud computing has reduced our reliance on device storage.
Cloud storage is arguably the easiest way to expand your phone’s storage capabilities. Besides the precious gigabytes of free storage, cloud storage also serves as an affordable built-in backup for your important data. If anything happens to your gadget, the files you store in the cloud remain intact, ready for you to restore.
From metal and plastic to glass bodies, manufacturers are continuously iterating on smartphone designs. Design plays an important role in overall phone usability and aesthetics. Maybe you want a phone you can use one-handed or want the volume and power buttons within thumb’s reach. Pick up different phones and try them out—the right design should feel and look good to you first and foremost.
Android or iOS? The choice of OS isn’t easy, moreso for a first-time phone buyer. Both operating systems have their fair share of pros and cons. If you like playing around with your gadget, customizing it to your liking, think Android. It offers excellent versatility and is a great option if you’re looking for more hardware choices.
If you prefer a simple-to-use OS with timely software updates, you wouldn’t go wrong with iOS. It also boasts no adware and better security—which we discuss either. However, iOS is limiting in some aspects. For instance, you can’t download apps that aren’t available on the App Store, you can’t customize the home screen, and split-screen mode isn’t available.
Choosing a Camera
The camera has been at the forefront of the smartphone evolution, and manufacturers are continually altering the dynamics by expanding shooting models and increasing the number of lenses. We recommend that you take your smartphone camera research beyond raw megapixels. While a higher number of pixels implies that the image size is bigger, phone cameras now allow for optical stabilization, hybrid autofocus, special effects, and manual modes. Besides, you should also pay attention to image quality, speed and aperture.
Most of the high-end phones, like iPhone 12 and Galaxy S20, are particularly adept at taking crisp pictures, even in low lighting. Most of the budget phones we’ve come across don’t have great cameras, so you may consider spending more if your phone does double as your primary shooting device.
While most phone reviews will provide insight into the camera quality, we recommend having first-hand experience with the phone camera. It won’t cost you anything to launch the camera app and take a few shots to make a personal assessment.
Screen Size and Display Quality
Phone screens come in different sizes, from as small as four inches to seven inches. Depending on your use case, screen size is important. It can complement a compact phone design, keeping everything within thumb’s reach and making it more porciketable. Large-screen smartphones are a great option, on the other hand, if you like reading e-books, watching videos, and running apps side by side. Phone manufacturers are getting more innovative by minimizing bezels (borders between the phone’s frame and screen) to create a big screen in a compact phone design.
Display quality often comes down to the technology used, with LCD and AMOLED being the most popular options. The difference between both lies in the projection of light. AMOLED displays offer more saturated colours, sharper contrast, and wider viewing angles. LCD screens tend to provide better display in direct sunlight. The more advanced HDR technology supports more colours, allowing for superior contrast in TV shows and movies.
Screen resolution is an equally important aspect and often depends on the phone diagonal. If you’re buying a phone with a five-inch screen or larger, we recommend a resolution of at least 1920 x 1080p (Full HD). You also have the option to choose higher resolutions like 2560 x 1440p (Quad HD) and 3840 x 2160p (4K Ultra HD), though you may hardly notice the extra pixels.
Battery life is an important feature to consider in a new smartphone—and it depends on usage patterns. Factors like screen size, screen resolution, processor and operating system will also determine how long your phone can keep going. The latest processors allow for better battery life optimization—and there’s also fast charging technology to consider. A battery life of more than 10 hours of on-screen time is excellent.
Remember, a higher battery capacity (mAh) doesn’t translate to more battery life as phones manage power differently, but ~4,000 mAh is often sufficient for Android phones, whereas iPhones can make due with ~3,000 mAh.
IP67? IP68? It sure sounds impressive—but these designations on your phones measure their water resistance and ruggedness. Currently, most of the latest flagships from Samsung and Apple are water-resistant. Every smartphone that’s considered water-resistant will have an IP rating attached to it, typically IP67 or IP68 rating.
The IP code has two numbers: the first digit relates to dust protection, and the second connotes water resistance. With the IP67 rating, for instance, the six means your phone is dust-tight, and the seven connotes water resistance. The best water-resistant handsets will survive for a maximum of 30 minutes at depths of up to 4 meters.
Some cheaper phone brands skip true water resistance in favour of water repellency through a nano-coating. This can save your phone in the event of an accidental spill but won’t do any good should your phone sink to the bottom of a pool.
Learn more about how to protect your smartphone from water damage.
Facial recognition, fingerprint sensors and iris sensors are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to much-needed smartphone security. Security against malware is also an important aspect to consider. For instance, Apple devices can only install apps that have been run through Apple’s vetting process, protecting you from installing a potentially malicious app.
When it comes to security, look for a phone whose manufacturer has a history of regular updates—iOS and Android predominantly excel in this. Most OS updates usually include bug fixes that can enhance your phone’s security against potential exploits.
Should You Buy a 5G Phone Now or Wait?
For the first time, 5G-enabled phones are hitting shelves in the Great White North. Is it time to jump to jump on the 5G bandwagon?
There’s no doubt—5G is the next generation of network technology. It’s incredibly fast, so it can accommodate many more connected devices than its predecessors. Due to this remarkable innovation, a glut of new tech products will be enabled and available for users. And among them, smartphones!
While 5G networks have been available in the US since 2018, you might be wondering how pervasive they are in Canada. After all, sometimes the true north—as strong and free as it may be—can be a little late to the game compared to our southern neighbours.
5G wireless networks are top-of-mind for Canadian telecom companies wanting to stay ahead of the curve. Interested in learning more about 5G? Check out some specifics of 5G technology and how Canadians can take advantage of this exciting innovation.
Could A Smartwatch Replace A Phone?
There’s no doubt that with the popularity of smartphones that can manage virtually every aspect of our lives, the trend in technology is to get more and more “connectivity” into smaller and smaller packages. Simultaneously, wrist watches have become a lesson in technological redundancy for many people. After all, we can do little without smartphones these days—so they’ve supplanted the need for watches. But the newest wave of smartwatches aims to change that. After all, in many situations, it’s helpful to have discreet access to your phone. Smartwatches enable you to respond to emails, texts, social media notifications, and even calls. If the device comes with GPS and cellular, you can use it even if your phone is not on your person. Smartwatches require at least Bluetooth 3.0.
Check out our Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Smartwatch.
Conclusion: What’s Right for You?
With so many features to consider, almost every smartphone will come short by at least one measure. The rule of thumb is to choose a cell phone with most of the features you’re eyeing. So if you’ve got your eye on a particular phone, check when it was released. If it’s coming up on a year, you might do well to wait.
Buying around the time a new phone is released is a great strategy—you can get the latest and greatest features, or you can take advantage of the price drops that will inevitably occur on the phones that were upgraded.