When friends ask me for help in choosing a cell phone, I always ask what features are most important and how they normally use their device. Now that smartphones have so many options, it’s important to know which ones are make-or-break, and which ones are extras. There are some things (good and bad) that you can expect across the board, while other phones really shine in specific areas.
Battery Life – I’m going to be straight with you: if you want a phone with a really good battery, don’t get a smartphone. Phones today are mini-computers with quite a bit of processing power. It’s not surprising that they eat up batteries. If you read through a review of almost any phone, you’ll find everyone complaining about the battery. We’ve adjusted our expectations for features without making a similar adjustment for battery life. That said, I’ve got a Droid Razr Maxx and it has fantastic battery life. It was designed specifically to meet that need.
Camera – As a parent who is immersed in social media, having a strong camera on my phone is important to me. When I’m out with my kids, it’s fun to be able to share pictures with their dad and with other family members and friends. While there are other phones with excellent cameras out there, iPhones are known for their image quality. In addition, their popularity has led to a huge range of apps and accessories specifically for delving into photography on your iPhone.
Apps – Apps make smartphones fun, educational, great for productivity, and more. If apps are your thing, the Apple App store has the best curated collection. Google Play (aka the Android Market) is rapidly growing. You’ll find plenty of choices, but have to use more judgment in terms of choosing quality. Apps for Windows and Blackberry phones are more limited and will likely remain that way for quite some time.
Screen Size – Whether you’re entertaining yourself or your kids, a bigger screen makes all the difference. Android phones are your best pick if you believe that bigger is better. You’ll be sacrificing a lot of real estate on the iPhone, at least until we see the next iteration.
Hard Keyboard – Using a virtual or “soft” keyboard on the screen of a device is the norm, but it’s not for everyone. There are still (non-iPhone) devices that have a hard keyboard built-in. Selections are limited, though, so be prepared to make sacrifices on other features.
Storage – This is something that’s easy to overlook, but if you’re storing music, images, apps, and other media on your phone, it can quickly eat up onboard storage. If this may be a concern, look for phones that have a slot for additional storage.
Durability – I have friends who seem to drop their phones on the pavement on a daily basis. Others allow their toddlers to chew on them. Make sure your phone is going to match your lifestyle in terms of durability. In particular, advances like Gorilla Glass (which is difficult to break and even scratch) make your phone more suitable to an active lifestyle.
Overall Size – This is going to be directly related to screen size, but if you want to pop your phone in a pocket, you may not want something very large. Consider also your comfort typing, and hoping the phone to talk.
Sound – There’s no reason to carry an MP3 player in addition to your phone. Get a device with great sound and you’ll kill two birds with one stone. The HTC One with Beats Audio is a notable choice, while the iPhone is another obvious contender.
There are yet more features to look for in a smartphone, but this is a strong list to get you started. Have you noticed a glaring omission? I’ve left out sound quality. This is, in part, because most of the phones out there are solid in quality, but also due to the fact that it is heavily impacted by signal strength which will vary based on location and carrier, among other factors.
When you head out to go shopping, think about what you value most. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the choices, an iPhone is a solid bet, especially if you already use Apple products at home. If you’re a PC user and want something compatible and intuitive, a Windows phone will likely make you very happy. And if you’re someone who likes more options and more customization, go Android. I can’t recommend a Blackberry (RIM operating system) as it’s simply not going to give you the same options as the other platforms. In the end, however, it’s about finding the smartphone that matches your needs, budget, and lifestyle.