Basic Guide To Buying A Phone

Person's hands holding two phones

Those people of a certain age will remember how easy it used to be to buy a cellphone. You looked at them all for a few minutes, and then bought the best Nokia you could afford.

Now, of course, things are a little different. Seemingly hundreds of models from dozens of manufacturers, at prices ranging from the equivalent of a dinner for two, up to selling a kidney.

So where do you start? How do you know which model will be best for you? Surprisingly, perhaps, it’s reasonably straightforward to figure out. Just decide what you need, and then buy a phone which does it all. Okay, that’s probably a bit too simplistic, so the following might help you to decide.

Simple Or Smart

LG B470 Opened front

LG B470

Even the humble feature phone packs a decent punch these days. If your main purpose for owning any mobile phone is calls and texts, with no intention of becoming embroiled in Twitter arguments or posting pictures of your lunch on Instagram, then a feature phone might be all you need. Most do offer a built in web browser, even though browsing speeds will be slower than a 4G data connection. You’ll also be able to send and receive emails, too, as well as take pictures. There’s no real gaming capability, and watching movies is also a non-starter, but still. If your needs are simple, why spend a fortune on features and hardware you don’t need?

Look for well-equipped devices such as the ZTE Altair 2 or the LG B470 flip-phone, both available for under $50.

If you think you’ll need a little more than what a feature phone can offer, then you will need to look at the smartphone marketplace. All will have the ability to browse the web, install apps, take pictures, send and receive emails and more. The problem is that some smartphones cost many hundreds of dollars. But the good thing is that many don’t.

Whether you need a simple phone or a smartphone, the specs in each one can be very different. But how do you know which are important and which aren’t so much?

Main Processor

What drives any electronic device is the processor or CPU. With brand new, high-end devices we routinely see 8-core processors. What this means is that the heavy lifting work of driving everything along is split between 8 equally powerful sub-processors. Obviously, in general, the more cores, the faster the processor. But it may be that you don’t really need such a powerful CPU. Unless you are watching 4K movies or playing really demanding games, even a dual-core processor may be enough.

Phone opened, showing its Quad Core Processor

Quad core processor

The CPU is one of the most expensive components of any device, but especially smartphones. 8-Core is nice, but 2 or 4 should do what you need it to.

Battery

The more you do on your phone, the more power is drained from the battery. That much is obvious, at least. But the types of tasks you do will also have an effect. Some apps, notably social network apps, and gaming can drain the battery very quickly. If an app is constantly connecting and disconnecting from the internet, it uses a lot of power. Similarly with games, the more demanding the graphics, the more stress on the battery.

Broadly speaking, the higher the capacity in mAh, the longer the battery will last. Some smartphones are better at battery management than others, but it’s a useful guide. Feature phones don’t need anywhere near the power a smartphone needs, and so a 1500mAh battery is pretty sizeable for those. For a smartphone, though, look for something over 3000mAh if you think you’ll be flogging it hard.

Memory and Storage

For some reason that isn’t clear, many reviewers and sellers of smartphones treat memory and storage as interchangeable, but they’re absolutely not. Memory, is the amount of space the phone has to shift information around while it performs the tasks you ask it to. The more memory, the quicker it can do this and the faster your phone will perform.

Storage is simply the measure of how much space you have to store files. These will be the OS, apps, audio, video and more. Like with memory, more is good. If a smartphone has a MicroSD card slot, you can add more storage to carry more files. This doesn’t improve the performance of the device in any way.

The difference between memory and storage is one that is worth knowing.

Keypads

There are 3 main types of keypad. The original, which is still used on feature phones is the alpha-numeric keypad with numbers 0-9 plus # and * keys. To type texts or emails, you need to tap the corresponding number key 1-3 times to get the letter you need. Although this seems a tad long-winded, once you get the hang of it, typing is amazingly fast.

LG Expression for comparison post

LG Xpression

The next type is the full hardware QWERTY keyboard of the LG Xpression or HTC MyTouch 4G. Because these keyboards take a lot of space, they often slide out from under the display of the device. The advantage is that they are the closest thing to a real-world typing experience you’ll get.

Finally, we have the on-screen keyboard. This is usually a QWERTY keyboard which appears on screen when needed. They are very useful and convenient but the lack of a physical key and only a simulated “click” isn’t to some people’s taste. On Android, there are several swipe keyboards available where you don’t need to lift your finger off the screen to type each letter, but just slide from one to the next. iOS has similar keyboard apps, but they don’t come close to levels of those available for Android.

Cameras

Sometimes plural, occasionally singular, but always a cause for debate amongst smartphone users and reviewers. If all you need is the odd snapshot and occasional print then anything at 1.3MP or over will suffice. 1.3MP will print easily at 6×4 inches, with 5MP able to print up to about 12×10 inches. Manufacturers new sell phones off the back of how many megapixels the camera is, but this isn’t always a good indicator of how good the pictures will be. Smartphone camera sensors are incredibly tiny so, to pack more and more pixels onto them, those pixels have to be smaller and smaller. Small pixels usually mean lower quality, but only usually. Some cameras do a great job of turning out excellent pictures at high resolutions, whilst some produce even better quality at lower resolutions.

In short, this is probably the most subjective part of discussing how good a particular device is. If you can, compare images from your desired smartphone with other phones online. It’s likely you don’t need 24MP or even 13MP, and 8MP or even 5MP will do perfectly well.

Conclusion

There’s no easy formula to deciding what phone you should buy. Start with establishing whether you really need a smartphone or whether a feature phone will do the job. Then decide whether tons of pictures or movies or gaming is your thing. On that back of that, battery capacity may or may not be a consideration. Finally, the aesthetics of whether you need a keyboard, and how many files you want to carry will be your next decision.

Each choice isn’t a difficult one to work out, so think and choose wisely to get the best from your chosen cellphone.

Rachel C.
Rachel C.
Rachel is the researcher and blog writer for the Mr Aberthon website. She grew up in Brooklyn, New York and eventually made her way to Connecticut in order to become a part of the Mr Aberthon Team. She is passionate about technology and electronics, and nothing gives her more pleasure than discovering insights into the latest gadgets to hit the electronics market.