10 tips/questions you should definitely consider before buying your first smartphone

Friday, January 31, 2014

If you have never owned a smartphone before, but are looking to buy one and feel unsure as to what product to buy exactly and at which price - look no further - here is a list of 10 tips/questions you should definitely consider in order to ensure you get the smartphone that provides you with all the functionality you need and offer you the best value for your purchase.

Question #1(the obvious): Do I really need a smartphone and can't I just do away with my current phone, laptop and/or netbook?

I mean, are you really sure just exactly what kind of features or functionality you need and for which you are going to be spending your hard-earned money ? Are you really sure they will not overlap those your current laptop/netbook already offer and that they will definitely help you improve your activity and/or well-being ? That you are just not buying some expensive tech gadget because others already have it? Weigh first the pros and cons and ask yourself honestly whether you really need one or not.

10 tips/questions you should definitely consider before buying your first smartphone

Question #2: iOS or Android or...?

While both are meant to more or less serve the same purpose, achieve roughly the same results, at least from a beginner user point of view, iOS is a proprietary system designed by Apple Inc to be used in... what was originally called iDevices, therefore iPhones, Ipad, etc., while Android is an open-source Operating System designed by Android Inc (later bought by Google) to work with...many phone brands.
Some argue that Android is great for tinkering with your smartphone but that if you need something that actually works, then consider getting an iPhone. Personally, I am the owner of an Android phone which works perfectly, gives me the results I have been expecting all along and I can confidently say I am totally happy with it.
Now, if we have to make a simple but technical comparison, iPhones would be like Macintosh computers and Android phones would be like Linux stations, as Android is linux-based, but the difference being that you do not need Linux knowledge to be able to use an Android phone. In fact, you do not even need to know anything. Windows users do fine on Android.  
Other systems exist too, like Blackberry, but it's your first smartphone and we want to make it simple, don't we?
But the bottom line being that you should not expect to be able to buy the latest iPhone for less than 500 euros, if brand new and not counterfeit. This while you can definitely get a descent entry-range  smartphone with Android 4.1 on it for less than a hundred euros.
Last but not least - the apps you will be likely to download for your smartphone, most of them will be completely free and available directly from Google Play Store, while you will hardly find free apps in the Apple's AppStore, which holds apps for devices running iOS. Choice is your alone.

Question #3: Does size matter?

Looking back at the time before I actually went on buying my first smartphone and although I had researched the internet for clever advice on what criteria to take into consideration, I still wasn't sure my thin fingers wouldn't betray me on my future keyboard, would allow me to type a simple sentence in less than half an hour. And as i began to research that topic more consistently, it became clear that in the ever-growing smartphone world, fat-fingering really was an issue. And I started wondering - what if it turns out i can read emails, but can barely type to reply to them, what if I should have gone for a bigger model?
Well, as it turned out, and even though it's true my fingers do look thin, from day one I have never had any issue getting along with the typing part. I probably fat-finger once in a while but not more than I usually do while using my standard laptop's keyboard. So basically, to have a problem with the size of your smartphone, you would have to have really big hands with huge fingers, trying to use them on the smallest smartphones you could buy nowadays. Meaning generally that, if you have average hands, screen size should definitely not matter.
Passed the size of your fingers, it seems there's a trend going on nowadays to buy the largest smartphone just because it looks more expensive or somehow more powerful, but this is a tendency that is balanced by the sense taboo most of us can feel while holding a device the size of a tablet almost, by their ear, talking to it. It is entirely up to you though to decide whether you really need a device of that size or not. No one will blame you if you do.
Question #4: What kind of protection will I need to buy for my smartphone?

Good question. The answer starts with...what kind of user are you? And also, do you happen to have moist hands?
Your new smartphone will not be your old black & white telephone that only allowed you making/receiving calls and sending sms/mms. Your new smartphone is something that will - or should - impress you to the point that you will spend countless hours discovering new features on it, starting from when you still haven't even gotten out of bed yet, up until the podcast/mp3's you will be wanting to listen to before getting asleep. So there will be a lot of screen touching and device handling involved, probably to the point where you will realize...where you will realize you had never realized how greasy your fingers had always been.
For some, this is an issue that can be easily addressed by placing a thin vinyl/plastic foil on top of the screen so that your fingers never actually hit it directly. But the problem with that being that your screen then become less sensible and you end up having to hit harder to exercise the same amount of pressure. Another issue with that system being that, after some time, there seems to exist a whole glue-sphere effect going on between the foil and the screen, which is basically something one would store in the unpleasant effect category.
Now what if your new smartphone falls off the table? You need a case - that's right - you need a case, a hard one, that not only will keep the back and sides of your phone off your (potentially) greazy fingers, but that will also make for the strongest protection you could provide your new device with. What's more, you don't even have to get it in/out of its case every time you get a call or place one. Simply lift/remove the top part of the case, fold it back once you are done. So that no matter how many hours you will be spending on your smartphone each day, your fingers will essentially be in contact with the case only.

Question #5: Should I try the smartphone first before buying?

If you have that possibility then yes, go for it, as this could reinforce the legitimacy of your well-weighed choice, help you convince you have made the right choice, otherwise, you will already be on spot to try new models if necessary - but remember, being at the phone shop does not mean you should automatically come out with a brand new smartphone in your hands. This is a device you will probably spend a great deal of time with, so why not taking your time to carefully choose what you need?

Question #6: How much should I spend on my first smartphone?

That's an interesting question, to which I would reply - How much money would you spend for your first car? Would you buy a BMW while you just got your driving license?
Since you are (supposedly) only new to the smartphone world, the idea here is that it is probably best for you to buy an entry-range model, which should definitely meet all your expectations, and then, as you grow in knowledge and experience, you might consider buying a smartphone that has more advanced features.
On the other end, buying exactly the cheapest model might not be the wisest choice to make, as it might seriously lack in features, even or because of the price you will have paid.
Best in my opinion would be, let's say, if prices start a 60 euros and stop....say at 250 euros, best would be to perhaps choose a smartphone which price is in the range of between 80 and 120 euros.
Read reviews about the smartphone you are likely to buy, it should give you an overall idea as to whether other people would pick this brand/model for the same specific reasons you yourself would. 

Question #7: Should I buy a smartphone while I'm on holidays in a foreign country?

Quite frankly, best would be to avoid doing that. Because some apps are actually restricting downloads to certain geographical zones. So, supposing you live in the U.K and you just came back from a holiday in India where you bought yourself a nice smartphone and want to try downloading the BBC's official iPlayer app right from Google Play Store (you have bought an Android phone) - but surprise - you get a message that actually tells you "this app is not available in your country".
Now, while it's possible to fake your phone's geographical location using proxies, this is probably not the way you wish to be using your first smartphone, because this process will automatically force you to install apps that will require rooting your phone and here we are talking about a process that, depending on how it's done, can seriously damage your phone, 'brick' it, which means leaving it as slow/dead as a brick, therefore totally unfit for normal use. It is however true that, a sometimes available workaround is to install the sought app directly using a package (.apk) but this not always being an available option.

Question #8: Should I buy an extended battery?

The one issue that puzzles new smarphone users, and that did puzzle me too at first, is battery longevity - or else - for how long can your smartphone stay operational before having to recharge its battery.
While most traditional phones can stay lit for a week or more, smartphones, it seems, have a hard time staying on for more than....two/three days in a row without needing a refill. I'd even go as far as saying that most new smartphone users cannot make it through the end of a single day without having to plug the battery cable in. And this is all for good reasons since a smartphone has so many extra energy-consuming features that standard GSM phone just do not have.
But deciding whether you need extended battery life or not will first depend on how you will use your smartphone, meaning, do you need to listen to mp3's all day, show your videos to your friends at school? Are you constantly on the road for your job? etc, etc.
It's worth mentioning that, although it seems as though using battery-saving apps is the wise thing to do, and there are a lot of them out there, doing so could also dramatically reduce your battery's life and performance. 
As you gain knowledge and experience, you become better able to recharge less often, without having to rely on such energy-saving programs.

Question #9: Should I buy an extra memory card and if so, what kind should I buy?

Well this also depends on how you are going to be using your smartphone anyway.
If you buy it just to have a way to check your email while on the road, buying an extra card might not be that urgent or necessary. But if you decide after a while, once you have a good feel of what your purchase can do for you, that you do need an extra card, let's say to have a few movies ready for watching while in the train, then there are a few things you should consider, namely three. The type of memory card, its capacity and class.
For the memory type, meaning microSD, etc., you will need to read your manufacturer's manual or search Google for your phone's full specifications - this info should be available, that is, what exact kind of extra memory card will work on your smartphone.
Memory card sizes nowadays can be of 8, 16, 32, 64 gb and having used your smartphone for a few weeks already, you will definitely have a good feel of what capacity it is that you really need, although, your phone's specs should tell you up to how many gigs you can insert in the device. But in any case do compare prices, because it is likely that you find a 16 gb card that ends up being almost the same price as for a 32 gb, for the same brand, model and class.
All of which is leading us to discuss the meaning of memory card classes. So what is the class of a memory card? Simply put, it defines the read/write speed of your card. Classes range from 1 to 10 and you're absolutely better off with a 10 than with a 2. That is why you can find incredible promotions on some cards, because they are of class 2. The thing being that it is definitely worth spending more for class 10 already. 
Last but not least, I find it is not worth spending more than a third of your phone's price on a memory card. Indeed, it does not really make sense, so for a smartphone bought at the end of 2013, it seems wise to either buy now a 32gb extra card, or wait a few months to buy a 64gb one, once the price has gone down a little and basically once that your card does not cost more than a third of the price you have paid for the main device itself.

Question #10: SD, HD or Full HD? What are those and which to choose?
SD stands Standard Definition, HD means High Definition and Full HD means well... Full High Definition. Those are terms that refer to the image quality/definition of your screen. The more pixels your screen definition has, the better the image, whether photo or video, but the higher the price would be too.
So even though you might be in a position where you can easily afford to buy a smartphone that offers FullHD resolution, the truth is, I find smartphones that have this feature way too expensive for now, at least in regard to the proportion of devices that come with only SD or HD resolution.  All while SD devices offer great human-perceptible image quality anyway.
But chances are it probably won't be long until FullHD becomes the new SD and is available at fair prices, affordable by everyone.

In the meantime, I strongly hope this article will help you choose the smartphone that is right for you and that suits you best, comes with all the functionality you really need, all at an affordable price, offering you the best possible value.


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