How to Buy the Perfect Smartphone

There’s a lot to consider when buying a smartphone like the camera, storage capacity, operating system, cross-device functionality and accessory customization.

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Tshaka Armstrong
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April 07, 2021
4 min read

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In the market for a new smartphone? There are so many smartphone features, gadgets, and catchphrases that manufacturers throw at you. How do you arrive at a purchasing decision?

The Android versus iPhone debate is a hot one. People want to know how to switch from one smartphone after using another for years. I’m going to help you decide how to choose a phone. We’ll have a little conversation about iPhone versus Android, which actually has nothing to do with iOS or Android OS.

Smartphone buyers aren’t monolithic. Some folks care about bells and whistles while others want a phone that simply makes phone calls. Here are some ways to help you better understand your smartphone.

Which camera should I choose?

Smartphone cameras are important to people. It used to be that you really needed to consider the quality of the camera. But today’s smartphones have higher pixel front-facing cameras, meaning that you can actually take some Instagrammable pictures.

Look for the smartphone camera with the lowest F-number. You’re going to see some phones with an F2.1, or F2.0, or even F1.8 camera lens. The lower the number, the better your front-facing camera will handle different lighting conditions. So, you're covered when you're outdoors or indoors. If you see an icon in your front-facing camera's viewfinder, that means your phone will take wide-angle pictures, which are perfect for selfies or group photos.

Then there's night mode and the wide-angle setting for the rear camera. Night mode has been a popular feature with the iPhone, Samsung’s Galaxy S and Galaxy Note lines, and Google's Pixel because they allow for super low light shot supremacy. You can still take solid night shots with older phone models, like the Google Pixel 3a or Samsung Galaxy S10e. Wide-angle lenses are great because they allow you to capture group photos without having to stand 30 feet back from your group.

How big should my storage be?

Let's talk about storage. If you're going with an iPhone, skip the 64-gigabyte models and start with 128 gigabytes—unless you are the type of person who takes little to no photos or videos, and doesn't use more than five apps. What many users don't realize is that apps themselves can take up many gigabytes of storage space.

For example, just the system files on my iPhone 11 Pro Max take up almost eight gigabytes of storage space. My iMessages take up around two gigabytes of space and I have around 30 gigabytes worth of apps on my phone. That’s roughly 40 gigabytes used before I even take a video or a picture or download a picture.

On an Android phone, the choice is a little easier because you'll have the option of removable storage, so you can start off with 64 gigabytes then buy a microSD card which has a 128-gigabyte capacity. And make sure your phone stores all of your photos by default on removable storage.

iPhone or Android?

Which is easier: iPhone or Android smartphone? My answer: the one you're most familiar with. Phone companies are trying to make the user experiences as easy as possible. Though every operating system has its quirks, it’s really about what you want.

There are things to love about iOS and Android OS. To me, one of the downfalls with iOS is sharing to social. Android OS gives me multiple options for each platform, right from the sharing menu. With Instagram, I can share directly to my feed, stories, or to direct messages. With iOS, I'm able only to share with my feed directly from the share menu.

With iOS, however, there's no comparison to its cross-device interoperability. For example, if you have a MacBook Air, iPhone, and Apple Watch, text messaging works seamlessly across all devices. You can read and respond to text messages easily from your laptop or from your watch, never having to touch your phone as long as you're signed into iCloud.

With Android phones, many people use Google's entire ecosystem of apps and services. Though it's improved over the years on iOS, it’s still a smoother experience on Android OS. For example, on an Android phone, if you want to share a photo in an email or on social, you'll have more options when it comes to accessing your Google Photos and Google Drive content that you won't have on iOS. If you're a heavy Google product user, the experience on Android is definitely more robust.

What about wearable technology?

Let's talk about wearable technology. Are you a smartwatch consumer? My favorite smartphone was the Samsung Galaxy Note, but I switched to iPhone because of the Apple Watch. After reviewing other smartwatches and observing how Google handled Wear OS, I still hadn't yet tried the Apple Watch. I fell in love with Apple Watch Series 3; its integration was enough to make me switch smartwatches.

Another personal favorite is Samsung's Galaxy Gear. To get the most out of that watch, you’ll want a Samsung phone. You can absolutely use it with other Android devices and iOS by downloading Samsung's Gear Manager software, but for full access to the watch and accompanying software, much like Apple, you're going to need to stick with Samsung products.

How do I choose accessories?

How often do you think about accessories before you buy a phone? I recently reviewed a phone with no aftermarket accessories. It came with a clear case in the box. The reality is there may or may not be a market for accessories for a particular phone. A phone could be the most amazing phone, but if very few people have heard of it, chances are it won’t have many accessories to customize it.

If the smartphone you're looking to buy isn't on the market yet, you generally won't see that many accessories. But you can go on history to see if it’s a newer model. If you’re looking at the LG Velvet, for example, look at previous LG phones, and see what the aftermarket accessory availability is like. Are there options for LG G8X ThinQ?

Takeaways for selecting a smartphone

Consider these important tips:

  • Start with 128 gigabytes or more for smartphone storage options. If you care about your phone’s camera, look for front-facing cameras with lower F numbers and rear cameras with a wide-angle option and night mode.
  • Match your wearable technology to your phone. Are you considering buying a smartwatch? Look at which watch matches each phone best.
  • Search for accessories before you buy your phone.
Now that you know, here are your next steps.

Now that you've learned how to pick a new phone, check out our top rated smartphones.

Need a new phone plan to go with your new phone? Check out our picks for the best cell phone plans.

Tshaka Armstrong
Written by
Tshaka Armstrong
Tshaka is a nerd and Griot. Founder of the non-profit digital literacy organization Digital Shepherds, he’s also been a broadcast technology reporter, writer, and producer. In addition to being an award-winning broadcast storyteller, he’s also covered tech online and in print for everything from paintball gear technology, to parenting gadgets. He blathers on about his many curiosities on social media everywhere as @tshakaarmstrong.

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