Once upon a time, mobile phones were just that: telephones you could take with you when you were on the go. Today’s smartphones are hard-working multi-taskers that let you access email and the internet, send text messages, take high-quality pictures and video, stream movies and your favourite TV shows, listen to music and more. It goes without saying that these quality features aren’t free. So how do you sort out what you need in a smartphone? We asked Ian Hardy, publisher of Canadian cellphone review website MobileSyrup (mobilesyrup.com) to highlight the key features worth considering if you’re in the market for a new phone.
iOS versus Android
There are two basic smartphone platforms: Apple’s iOS system for iPhones or the Android system, which Samsung, Motorola, Google and others operate on. Techies like the greater variety of brands and amount of customization possible with Android phones; Apple fans like that user-friendly iPhones seamlessly sync with the programs on their other Mac devices, and that FaceTime video conferencing is built in.
In the end, either platform will offer everything you need. Unless you’re up for learning a whole new set of functions, you’re probably better off sticking to the platform you’re already familiar with.
Like TVs, phone screens are measured diagonally. Small phones (5 inches or less) are easier to fit into your pocket and manipulate one-handed. Larger screens (6 inches or more) make it easier to watch movies, if that’s your thing, but some approach tablet dimensions and can be hard to hold in one hand. Regardless of screen size, your device will allow you to increase legibility by adjusting features such as font size and brightness.
All new phones are fairly durable. Look for an IP67 rating to confirm dust and water resistance. Some higher-end phones have shatterproof glass. The cheaper option is to buy a protective case, though these can make the device feel bulky.
A phone camera with 12-megapixel resolution will take images that rival those of any dedicated digital camera. Newer phones feature multiple lenses enabling enhanced zoom, or use features such as portrait mode, which focuses on the subject in the foreground while blurring the background.
Video is the biggest memory hog, so if you plan to download movies to your phone or store dozens of videos of the grandkids, look for a model with 64 gigabytes or more of memory.
You can get away with less memory (and therefore a cheaper phone) if you regularly purge old images and video clips, or store everything in the cloud.
Battery life is rated in milliamps per hour (mAh). A phone with 2,000 or more mAh should easily last a full day or more on one charge.
With the wide array of manufacturers around these days, there are more lower-price options available among Android phones. That said, all the cellular network providers offer “free” phones if you lock into a two-year plan with the newest phones tied to the priciest plans. You can save money by pairing an older-model phone with a less-pricey monthly fee. When shopping around for a plan, be sure to ask about discounts for seniors and teachers.
An even cheaper alternative is to buy an older, refurbished model and sign up for pay-as-you-go service with only the features you need, such as “talk and text” plans that don’t include cellular data. But, then, you’re really opting for more of a phone-phone than a smartphone.