Smartphone Buying Guide

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Thinking of buying a smartphone, but don’t know where to start and what smartphone to buy? Whether you’re shopping for yourself or someone you love, it’s time to read “Smartphone Buying Guide, Winter 2013″. This guide goes over everything you need to know to make your purchase.

Use this guide as a reference to your late 2015 and early 2016 purchases, as it will carry relevant information on the statistics of the phones featured and relevant carriers on the market. Prices are not accounted for in this guide, as they vary greatly depending on where you live and the time of year.

Table Of Contents

§1 – Introduction: Knowing The Facts

§2 – Manufacturers, Developers, and More

§3 – Carriers – Do They Matter?

§4 – Compare & Contrast – Devices

§ – Conclusion

1. Introduction: Knowing The Facts

While this holiday season may be one of the greatest we’re going to have in the realm of technology, it by far is also one of the most confusing for millions of people looking for the best phones they can buy. Phones continue to become both more affordable and more available. Perhaps the biggest craze in the mobile world is the ever increasing demand for smartphones in markets worldwide, and how it’s become the hot product everyone wants, or everyone is told they should get. While smartphones have become this top commodity, it doesn’t change the fact most people have very little of an idea of just what a smartphone is, let alone what it can do for you! Have no fear though, as this guide is here to help.

While the technology and ideas behind most smartphones are complicated, and beyond the scope of most average owners, it doesn’t change the fact smartphones are designed to be user friendly, and that there should be absolutely no reason why you can’t have a smartphone too. The purpose of this guide is to help decipher some of the complicated facts behind the smartphone so that you too can understand just what makes a smartphone tick, as well as the very many features the types of smartphones out there have. This “general idea” of what makes a smartphone a smartphone is meant to help just about anyone understand what a smartphone can do, and give insight into which one of the many smartphones out there is right for you. The idea here is to simplify the ideas, but not ignore the essential, in-depth features, so that you get the best of both worlds.

The guide tries to address a broad range of manufacturers and developers of smartphones, as well as an analysis oriented toward both a novice and experienced smartphone buyer. Use this guide as a reference to your late 2015 and early 2016 purchases, as it will carry relevant information (as of September 2016) on the statistics of the phones featured and relevant carriers on the market. Prices are not accounted for in this guide, as they vary greatly depending on where you live and the time of year. This guide will also not say any one phone is better than another, and instead suggest phones based on your needs, and compare specifications (with easy to read explanations along the way). For now, let’s just break down the facts.
Know the Facts

To understand the best smartphone for your needs (and money) we must first break down just what a smartphone is. While there are normal cellphones, which have been around for decades, the last five to seven years have seen an explosion in growth for smartphones, ever since the introduction of Apple’s iPhone in 2007. Once a luxury item, smartphones are now increasingly common – they’re in handbags and pockets everywhere.

But just what is a smartphone? Where does a regular cellphone end and a smartphone begin? Once we understand what makes a phone a smartphone, we can start figuring out what kind of features we want out of our devices, and what to look for when it’s finally time to grab that new and shiny phone.

The first, and most apparent feature behind a smartphone is its software, also known as the OS or Operating System. Almost all cellphones utilize very similar and basic software called BREW – which is something you’ve probably never heard of, and will never need to know. On the other hand, the operating system behind a smartphone is powerful, advanced, and user-oriented. The biggest thing people talk about between smartphones is which of the various popular operating systems out there it runs on. For those people not so tech savvy, an operating system is the interface that you run the smartphone from. An operating system is broken down into applications, or apps, which are what you use to make phone calls, send text messages, play games, browse the web, and much, much more. In short, behind every smartphone is an operating system, and on every smartphone operating  system are apps. Together these make up the software of a smartphone, and essentially create the cosmetic differences between an iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S III when you turn them both on. This guide will go over the basics of each of the four major operating systems used by smartphones for sale, and help you decipher which one is the best choice for you.

The second feature that makes a smartphone so unique is its hardware, which for most cellphones is an irrelevant feature. When buying a cellphone, often the features like a keyboard or large screen are about as in-depth you’ll get when figuring out which hardware is right for you; smartphones are more complex. Smartphones vary greatly in terms of hardware: touch-screen, keyboard, processor, RAM, and many other components. For smartphones, touch-screens and keyboard make up the user interface, while processors, RAM, and other such features make up the computing interface, which combine to create a smartphone.

Both the software and hardware are essential in making a smartphone what it is, and affect both its performance, and how the device will best serve you. There are also other factors to consider, such as your preference in wireless carrier, availability of special wireless services such as 4G (and just what 4G is) that contribute to analyzing the needs you have, your budget, and the best phone for you given these circumstances.
Because Knowledge is Power

This smartphone buying guide will analyze these factors and more to help you in finding the right phone. To start off, let’s take a moment to learn some of the key facts and figures behind smartphones so that we have a broad, general understanding. This isn’t hard stuff, and knowledge is some serious power. The next time you head into your local wireless store, not only will you be a whiz at smartphones, but you’ll be able to figure out which phone is right for you before even walking in. So let’s get started!

2. Manufacturers, Developers, and More

HTC, RAM, CPU, iOS, and more. There may be acronyms and names you recognize in this guide, and there will likely be many you have no idea of what they are. This chapter is going to give you a crash course in just about everything that matters with a smartphone, so you know the facts when we start comparing and contrasting the various phones on the market. It’s important to understand the terminology so that you stay on track with this guide, and also have better understanding of who makes smartphones, how they work, and how the market works. Again: knowledge is power, so let’s dive right in!

Developers & Manufacturers; What’s the Difference?

As said before, at the root of every smartphone is its operating system, which really sets the stage for what sort of experience you’re going to have using the smartphone. Along with the operating system is its various applications, which work with the operating system to create a fulfilling user experience. Meanwhile, under the hood, you have your various hardware components like the user interface and computing interface, which affect the smartphone’s performance, and whom it is best suited for. Behind the software and hardware are often a large team of different companies that help make the smartphone into what it is, and they can be broken up into two groups: the developers, and the manufacturers.

In short, the developers are behind the operating system, applications, and various software components of a smartphone, and the manufacturers are behind the user interface, computing interface, and various hardware components. Together, developers and manufacturers make the amazing smartphones we know and love. What’s important to understand about this is that there are companies that are developers, companies that are manufacturers, and even companies that are both – this guide will explain just who the most popular companies are and where they stand in the market.

Microsoft is a developer, as they currently only develop their operating system, Windows Phone OS, and do not currently manufacture any phones for the market.

LG, HTC, Samsung, Nokia, and Motorola are manufacturers, as they only build phones and do not currently develop their own operating systems. There are also many other, lesser-known manufacturers on the market. But this guide is only sticking to the largest and most popular of manufacturers.

Google and Apple are both developers and manufacturers. Not only do their make their own operating systems (Android and iOS, respectively) but they also manufacture phones for the mobile market as well. While we’re not trying to confuse things, it should also be stated Motorola has been bought by Google. So while the two companies appear separate for now, in the future this may change.

Now you may also be wondering something else – where’s RIM and Blackberry? Although RIM (Research In Motion) is a well-known company as the maker of the Blackberry operating system and series of smartphones, they have been excluded from this buying guide for a variety of reasons. For one, RIM’s smartphones are very out of date and have not been updated to match the latest hardware and software the major competitors also offer. Blackberry’s OS 7 is not very impressive, and their major update (Blackberry OS 10) also not impressed many. The application & developer support is very minimal, and the app store RIM offers is tiny with just 70,000 apps. While you can buy a RIM Blackberry, we don’t advise it, so their smartphones are not included in this guide. If you really want a Blackberry, we suggest you wait until Blackberry comes out turning the tables.

With that all out of the way, let’s start to break down the facts, a short history, and key features of these phones.

The Mobile Operating System & Their Developers

Apple’s iOS

Released: June 2007

Latest Version: iOS 10.0
It’s the underlying framework that organises, launches and runs other apps, and can perform a number of features of its own.

History: If there’s anyone who deserves credit for starting the smartphone craze, it’d have to be Steve Jobs, who unveiled iOS to a packed crowd at in January of 2007. While smartphones have been around for years before the iPhone because of BlackBerry, Palm and Windows Mobile, the iPhone was another level entirely. Featuring an all-in-one interface never seen before, a powerful app store, and a beautiful interface, it really was a game changer. Since the unveiling Apple has taken the mobile phone world by storm, selling more than 1 billion iPhone.

iPhone 7

iPhone 7

Features: Apple’s iOS centers itself on something called the Springboard, but the name is not important – you just have to know that the screen for every iPhone through iOS is a simple row of folders and applications that you can easily open and move around. On the bottom of every screen is a set of permanent apps that stay with you as you swipe through the various pages of applications you have. The interface is responsive, quick, and easy to use. Recent updates have offered great features for the iOS platform, such as a notification bar, Siri voice assistant, and interactive Game Center. In short, iOS is clean, responsive, and beautiful.

Notes: The version of iOS (6.0) uses a new type of Maps application that many are saying is terrible, and Google no longer offers a Maps application for iOS, though there are ways of accessing Google Maps if you wish. You can also use alternative applications such as Waze for your navigation needs. Later Apple released a list of alternative Map apps for iOS as well.

Apps: For years, Apple’s App Store has been the largest and most popular place to download applications from thousands of developers all over the world. While Android is in a close second place with about 675,000 apps, Apple still remains king, with a hefty 900,000 applications on their market and over 50 billion apps downloaded ever since the store opened in 2008. While there are more paid apps on Apple’s App Store compared to Google’s Play Store, it’s safe to say Apple has the most diverse and impressive selection of applications available.

For more information about iOS, check out our iOS guide.

Google’s Android

Released: September 2008

Latest Version: Android 6.0 (Marshmallow)

History: Google, along with a bunch of other big manufacturers, formed the Open Handset Alliance (OHA) in 2007, right around when the iPhone was storming the market. While Android, as a concept, has been on the table with Google since 2005, it wasn’t until 2008 that Google unveiled their first Android version and device, the G1. Ever since then Google has been building momentum against Apple, mainly because they offer the software for free and the open source usage by their partners means the manufacturer has a lot of control over the operating system. Because of this, Google has been picking up speed in recent years, and looks to eclipse Apple soon.

Google-Nexus-6

Google-Nexus-6

Features: Android’s Operating System centers on a “Home Screen” and “Application Drawer”, which are the two main components you experience in the operating system. When the smartphone is unlocked you are first presented the Home Screen, which can be customized completely to the user’s desire, ranging from a variety of wallpapers to special applications known as “Widgets”, that can show customized content and animations to the user. The Home Screen can be swiped from left to right, giving you plenty of space for widgets and other shortcuts. The Application Drawer is where all your applications are stored, and can be viewed from the Home Screen with the touch of a button, and is sorted alphabetically. While you can slide to unlock or use a PIN on an iPhone, Android supports unlocking with a PIN, a picture pattern, or even facial recognition. Android’s features are certainly much more robust, customizable, and unique, but they also are much more complicated, and have a steeper learning curve than Windows Phone 8/7.8 or iOS by far. Despite this, the OS is certainly a more advanced option for those looking for complex options and solutions.

Notes: Because Android is open source software, each manufacturer utilizes Android with their own flavor and preferences, causing something known as fragmentation. Basically, manufacturers use different versions of the operating system on their various devices. While most of the largest manufacturers try to offer the latest possible version of the operating system, some choose not to update, meaning some new phones are not running the latest version of Android and the manufacturer does not have plans to update them. We will note this as we introduce each of the phones that run Android. Other versions currently in use that are mentioned in this guide include Lollipop is 5.x, and KitKat is version 4.4.x, with 4.3, 4.2 and 4.1 all coming under the codename name Jelly Bean

Google’s Play Store has grown exponentially since its unveiling in 2008, and is just behind Apple’s once tremendous lead on the application market at 675,000 apps, compared to Apple’s 700,000. Google also features many more free and ad-based apps on the Play Store, as they were the first to offer developers the option for supported advertising through AdMob, meaning more free apps for you! It’s fair to say that while Google’s Play Store is a little behind Apple’s App Store in both the number and quality of applications, it is certainly a worthy competitor.

Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS

Released: November 2010

Latest Version: Windows 10 Mobile

History: While Microsoft is certainly the latest player in the current state of the mobile market, the company is far from new to the playing field. For years before the Windows Phone, Microsoft ran a predecessor known as Windows Mobile, which has since been discontinued. While rumors of a sequel for Windows Mobile were in the works for years, Microsoft finally spilled the beans in 2010, when they unveiled Windows Phone 7 as a successor, and a pair to their Windows 7 PC operating system. Since then, Microsoft has made strides to feature new technology, and has released Windows Phone 8 and Windows Phone 7.8. While the older, Windows Phone 7 phones will not be upgraded to Windows Phone 8, Microsoft than provided users a Windows Phone 7.8, which is a worthy back-port of the many features the new OS has featured. is the latest name for Microsoft’s phone and tablet operating system and, along with new Lumia phones, it’s ready to give you a competent alternative to iOS and Android

Features: Windows 10 Mobile is both renowned for their simplistic, yet clean, articulate, and powerful Metro UI. Microsoft now uses the Metro UI on almost all of their products, and it’s designed to be touch-oriented, and easy to access. From the home page a user can view a variety of “panels” that are in a variety of shapes and colors, and link to a variety of applications and items. There are also widgets that can be placed in panels that offer a bit of flair in the Metro interface, such as a photo gallery or the weather . The colors are bright, the design is sleek, and it’s very easy to use. The Application Drawer is simply accessed from a slide to the right, and is alphabetical. What makes Windows 10 Mobile exciting is Microsoft’s new investment in higher resolution screen sizes for devices, wallet functionality, and other impressive features it’s the latest iteration of the Windows operating system, now unified with the Windows Phone and Notebook OS.

Notes: Microsoft has brought amazing new features to Windows 10 Mobile, It is released as an opt-in Technical Preview 2 (build 9941) on February 12, 2015 to a subset of current Lumia phones, including the Lumia 635, Lumia 730 and Lumia 830. will  accommodate, and feature most of the new software options. While Windows Phone 7.8 will be available for first-generation buyers of the Microsoft smartphone, it’s best to stick to Windows 10 Mobile due to its support and reliability as an OS by Microsoft in the years to come.

Apps: Microsoft has had a rough couple of years since the introduction of their smartphone operating system, but their app store has continued to grow, and now has more than 100,000 apps, and is growing fairly quickly. Perhaps the real excitement in the Windows Phone Store is the potential for greater XNA and Direct-X development, which is something Microsoft has been promising for a long time. While Microsoft is behind in applications, the plan seems to be to lure more developers from Xbox toward Windows Phone, and if they continue to invest in their impressive XNA and Direct-X platform, this may very well happen. The Windows Phone Store may be behind, but it’s gaining speed.

The Manufacturers & Their Devices

To understand just what type of hardware there is out there, let’s first talk about the largest manufacturers out there, and who they’re building smartphones for.

HTC

History: HTC has actually been building smartphones long before both Android and iOS were around – they made phones using Microsoft’s Windows Mobile, so they’re certainly far from new. The Taiwan-based company also was the manufacturer behind the G1, which was Google’s first branded smartphone and “prototype” for Android back in 2008. Today, the company builds millions of phones for customers all over the world.

HTC

HTC

Builds Smartphones Running Android and Windows Phone 8.

LG

History: LG is South Korea’s second largest company, and builds everything from smartphones to washing machines. The company has been producing phones, like HTC, prior to both iOS and Android, and continues to build mid-priced phones to this day. While they used to build Windows Phone devices, LG sticks to Android these days.

Builds Smartphones Running Android.
Samsung

History: Samsung is the largest company in South Korea, and much like LG has been building smartphones for a very long time. Unlike LG, Samsung builds higher end, top-of-the-line devices, and has replaced LG as a partner with Microsoft for high-quality Windows Phone 8 devices. These days Samsung produces a wide range of smartphones and has had some heated competition against Apple’s iPhone.

Samsung Phones

Samsung Phones

Builds Smartphones Running Android and Windows Phone 8.
Motorola

History: Motorola has been a strong partner of Verizon Wireless in recent years, branding a very powerful (and successful) line of smartphones named DROIDS that feature the Android operating system. Motorola’s mobile manufacturing division was recently bought by Google, and will likely collaborate with their new parent company in the coming years.

Motorola Droid

Motorola Droid

Builds Smartphones Running Android.

Nokia

History: Nokia has been around for decades as one of the first major cellphone manufacturers in the world. These days though, the company has fallen somewhat into obscurity, as their Symbian operating system is far from popular in America. Earlier this year, however, Microsoft announced a partnership with Nokia, and the company has been since growing back to prominence as a major Windows Phone 8 / 7.8 manufacturer in the United States and Europe.

Builds Smartphones For Windows Phone 8

Google

While not a major manufacturer, Google does build a few of their own phones themselves. While their G1 was branded as an HTC device, these days Google collaborates with manufacturers with their Nexus series of smartphones as a Google cross-brand. Google has cross-branded with both HTC and Samsung in the past.
Nexus

Nexus

Builds Smartphones Running Android.

Apple

Last, but certainly not least, is Apple. Since 2007, Apple has been building their iPhone, changing little, but offering newer and faster hardware to provide a seamless, high-performance experience for their users. From the original iPhone to the iPhone 5, Apple has designed all of their devices in-house and has sold more than 85 million of the devices ever since.

Builds Smartphones Running iOS.

iPhone SE

iPhone SE

Now that we know the various manufacturers out there, we can go over some of the terminology used in the industry. Use this guide as a bit of a glossary for the various technical words you’ll see as we go over through this guide. Be sure to refer back to it for your convenience!

Terminology

Processors: Processors are the “engine” of a smartphone, and determine how fast a smartphone can compute, run applications, etc. With computers, the speed of a processor is extremely important, however the processing speed of smartphones can vary greatly and still be fairly effective. Some of the latest smartphones feature quad-core processors, while most still use only dual or single core processors. A quad core processor can run four simultaneous processes, and run extremely fast, but also consume an immense amount of battery life. Despite this, the type of processor depends on your needs as a smartphone user, and we’ll compare processor specifications later. Processors measure their speed in megahertz and gigahertz (MHZ and GHZ respectively), where a gigahertz is 1000 megahertz.

RAM: Random Access Memory, or RAM, is essentially a set amount of memory for usage by applications currently running.

ROM: Read only Memory, or ROM, is actually a shared term for both the storage memory that an operating system is installed on, as well as the internal storage for the device. Read Only Memory is measured in megabytes and gigabytes, and typically a ROM can range anywhere from 512 megabytes of storage to 32 gigabytes, depending on the phone.

Graphics: Smartphones also include an often overlooked feature: a Graphics Processing Unit (GPU). While a GPU is an essential part of a smartphone, unlike a computer it is not a major feature that affects performance as greatly as RAM or processing power. As a result, the GPU is often not a major deciding factor in choosing a smartphone.

Screen Resolution: The most immediately obvious feature of a smartphone is its screen size, as this affects how easy it is to handle a phone. Screens range greatly in size from smartphone to smartphone, and are measured based on the diagonal length of the screen. Screens can also vary in the type of display used, such as an LCD, AMOLED, or Retina Display. An AMOLED display has greater contrast and resolution than an LCD display, while a Retina display has a greater resolution than both LCD and AMOLED displays. What matters most is not resolution or contrast, but rather how pleasing a viewing experience your smartphone offers you, especially if you plan to use it all day.

WiFi: WiFi is perhaps one of the most common and well-known features of a smartphone connectivity, as using your data plan for everything quickly becomes expensive. It’s why most phones can also connect to your home Internet connection, using WiFi. These days, most smartphones utilize one of two different WiFi standards: WiFi 802.11g and WiFi 802.11n. They differ only in speed, and you should only be considering the type of WiFi as important for your smartphone if you plan to be using a WiFi N network. If you don’t know what kind of WiFi network you have, don’t worry, as you can use either WiFi G or WiFi N for your wireless needs, as almost every wireless network uses WiFi G, and those that use WiFi N are backwards compatible.

4G: 4th Generation Cellular Data, or 4G, is perhaps one of the fastest growing and publicized features of smartphones, as it claims to offer high-speed data connectivity. In reality, 4G connectivity is actually a bit more complicated than that, and will be explained in the next chapter.

NFC: Some newer smartphones feature something called Near Field Communication, or NFC. This allows your smartphone to communicate with other electronic devices nearby, and gives you a bunch of new nifty ways to interact. Some NFC applications allow you to use your phone as a credit card at a store, share contact information with other phones, download music from posters, and more.

Cameras: The last major feature essential to smartphones these days is the camera. While a camera is a rather straightforward component of a smartphone, it’s important to also understand the key metric of a camera is its resolution, which is measured in megapixels. Most smartphones offer both front and rear cameras, allowing you to take high resolution photos as well as video chat with your friends.

Now, before we start comparing devices, let’s talk a little bit about carriers, and just how they matter in this big guide of phones, as your carrier decides the types of phones you can buy, among other things. 

3. Carriers Do They Matter?

 

While the software and hardware are important parts of a smartphone, one cannot also forget the part that cellphone carriers play in the world of smartphones these days. Between 3G, 4G, and everything in between, it’s safe to say that carriers are important in deciding which smartphone is right for you, as they offer a variety of different plans, and cell phone coverage.

Voice over LTE or VoLTE is the system of using LTE bands to transfer voice instead of regular 2G bands. Telecom operators in India are finally rolling out the service in India and in order to use the service, users will need to have a VoLTE enabled phone but which phone to buy?

Will give you insight of some of the best VoLTE enabled phones in the country. These VoLTE phones will work Reliance Jio SIMS and other upcoming VoLTE services.

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