Today's phone market is a shiny metallic jungle, here's how you can navigate through it.
If you've walked into or logged onto a mobile phone store recently to buy a new phone, we know your pain.
The sheer number of devices available might cause technophiles to smile crazily with glee, but the average consumer will be doing some major head-scratching.
Super AMOLED? Back-illuminated sensor? Oleophobic coating?
These are all some of the terms you'll be bombarded with when comparing phones. If you feel like you'd rather just go back to life with your outdated handset rather than make a decision, fear not.
Here are the ways you can compare mobile phones, and some handy explanations for the more technical words thrown around by handset manufacturers.
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Before you compare mobile phones
Choosing the right phone for you will have different importance depending on how often you use your phone, and what you plan to do with it. Before we delve into the nuts and bolts which make up the modern phone, ask yourself how you're going to use it. Here are three important questions every phone buyer should be asking themselves.
Do I need a smartphone?
The younger readers of this guide may have already glazed over and moved on, but considering that recent research puts the number of adult smartphone users in Australia at 65%, there are still many who are using basic phones. If you don't take photos with your phone or don't browse the web you may not need a smartphone. If this is the case compare basic phones.
How much do you want to spend?
Probably the biggest comparison point is price. Depending on how much you wish to spend you can limit your choices down and choose the best option for your price point. If you're buying a phone through a plan calculate what the cost of your handset will become over the length of the contract, and establish whether or not it's cheaper for you to buy the phone outright.
What features are the most important to me?
Smartphones today excel in many different areas, but some phones are the kings of specific fields. The Motorola Droid Maxx for example is largely accepted as the current leader in the battery department, while the iPhone 5S is arguably the leader of phones with fingerprint scanners.
If you mainly use your phone for taking photos, the Nokia Lumia 1200 is largely seen to have the best camera on a smartphone. If you're preoccupied with how your phone looks the HTC One would be the winner of any smartphone beauty pageant if they existed, and if you're into a competitive all round mixture of features, hardware and operating system you can't go past the Samsung Galaxy S4.
Current leading mobile phones in the market
iPhone 5S grey 16GB from Apple
The iPhone 5S is an powerful and very thin phone. It incorporates dual-LED flash and a fingerprint identity sensor.View details
iPhone 5C green 32GB from Apple
This phone, with 32GB of storage space, gives you more than enough memory to store your photos and music.View details
How to compare mobile phones
Once you've decided between the major features you want out of your next phone you'll need to pull up your sleeves and view the market. Here are the different ways you can compare mobile phones.
- Operating system - App availability
- Size and weight
- Screen - size and resolution - pixel density
- Other features
Operating system - App availability
Apart from the brand, there's no one phone feature which is more divisive than operating system. Some will swear Apple's iOS is the easiest to use, while others will beg to differ. The operating system is important too because of app availability. Your favourite apps may only be available on one operating system and not others. Here's the major operating systems in the market and the number of apps they currently have:
|Apple iOS||This operating system is only available with an Apple phone or tablet, and has over 1 million apps in its Apple Store. Apple iOS runs on 20% of all smartphones.|
|Android||Android leads the operating system race and runs on 43% of smartphones. It's a Google operating system and found in phones from many brands including Samsung, Motorola, HTC, LG, Sony and more.|
|Windows Phone||Windows Phone is Microsoft's foray into the mobile world, and was launched in 2010. Many Nokia smartphones utilise this operating system, as well as some Samsung and HTCs. It has been reported this operating system has approximately 126,000 apps available through the Windows Store.|
|Symbian||Symbian was an open source operating system which was released in 2010, but had roots in the late 80s and late 90s. This operating system was mainly offered on Nokia phones, but since they abandoned it for the Windows Phone operating system this operating system is now defunct.|
|BlackBerry OS||This operating system is offered on BlackBerry handsets, and has been completely redesigned from the ground up to combat the advanced systems of Apple and Google. There are approximately 235,000 apps available through BlackBerry World.|
So how do you decide between them? Here are a few ways to compare operating systems.
- Ease of use - This is subjective, so go out to a phone store and play around with the different systems to see which is easy to use.
- Lock screen - Do you like how a phone operating system lets you unlock your phone? What applications and functions can you access without unlocking your phone? The iPhone 5S adds a fingerprint scanner to the locking process so be sure to factor all of these factors in your comparison.
- Home screen - iOS and Android presents users with a home screen with individual apps and widgets, limited to 24 and 20 app shortcuts in total respectively. The Windows Phone on the other hand works on a tile system, with the ability to choose between three different sizes of tiles, some of which are 'live' and function in the same way as a widget.
- Customisation options - What options are there for wallpapers, widgets and custom launchers?
- Contact organisation and phone dialer - How easy is it to add contacts into your phone, organise and call them? How can you check your recent or missed calls?
- On-screen keyboard and messaging - This is arguably one of the most important features for someone interested in browsing the web or writing messages or emails. Do you prefer to use one or two thumbs when texting? Wider screens will accommodate two thumbs, whereas screens of the iPhone 5's size and smaller will allow you to use one thumb only. Does your keyboard provide you with quick access to the symbols or characters you regularly use? Does the operating system allow free messaging such as Apple's iMessage?
- Multitasking - If you swap between apps regularly during sittings ensure your operating system will allow for this.
- Internet browsing - How easy is to search for what you need and use websites? How does the tab system work? Remember too that you may be able to download different browser apps on your phone so this may not be too much of a problem.
- Camera UI and image gallery - how easy is it to take a photo? What features does the camera give you when taking a photo or video?
Size and weight
Another way to compare phones is by comparing the physical dimensions and weight of the handset. If you're regularly on the go or use your phone at the gym or while doing any other physical activity you may not want a phone which is heavy or big. In terms of weight, most new smartphones will range between 120 - 170 grams (with the average resting at around 130g), whereas it's common for a basic phone to weigh between 70 - 90 grams.
Let's have a look at some of the more popular smart phones and their respective dimensions.
|Samsung Galaxy S4||Apple iPhone 5S||HTC One||Samsung Galaxy Note 3||Nokia Lumia 1020|
The dimensions of many smartphones will be affected by its screen size. Because most new smartphones have large screens between 4 - 5 inches in diagonal size, your phone will be physically wider and longer in what's called the 'candybar' form factor. Many smartphones do manage to stay thin regardless of this, so it's not hard to find a phone thinner than 10mm.
On the basic side of town, phones are noticeably shorter and slightly narrower than their smartphone cousins in what's called the 'bar' form factor, although they're usually quite a lot thicker. Remember that flip phones are still present in this market, so you can manage to squeeze your phone to an even smaller size. Let's have a look at the dimensions of some basic phones.
|Samsung E1150||Nokia C2-01 - NextG compatible||Nokia 101 Dual SIM|
Screen - size and resolution - pixel density
Today much of the marketing hype you hear about a new phone is centered around its screen—how many pixels does it have, how big is it and what does it look like?
If you regularly watch movies, browse the web or take photos you'll obviously be interested in a screen which is of the right size and quality.
Screens can vary in size from 4 inches all the way up to 6 inches and above. As mentioned, the size of a phone is obviously linked to the size of its screen so take this into account depending on how you plan to use it.
Screen resolution refers to the number of pixels in a screen. A pixel simply refers to a tiny area on a screen, which together with other pixels make up an image. Resolution can be a good way to know the quality of a screen when combined with the screen size.
Full high definition has a resolution of 1920x1080, and many new smartphones will utilise this resolution. Resolution is a good way to compare the level detail in screens of the same size—if two phones have a 4.5 inch screen, and one has a resolution of 1920x1080 and the other has a resolution of 1280x768 the first phone will have more detail in it's display, as there are more pixels in the same area.
One way of being able to compare this is through pixels per inch (PPI). This simply gives you an idea of how many pixels there are on one inch of screen.
Screens will usually be one of the following:
Active Matrix Organic Light-Emitting Diode (AMOLED) - These screens use a layer of organic chemicals which light up when an electric current passes through them. This means AMOLED screens can be thin and don't require a backlight. Some Samsung Galaxy handsets use a Super AMOLED or Super AMOLED Plus screen, which are tweaked versions of this which try to address some of the shortfalls of a regular AMOLED screen, such as poor viewability in sunlight. AMOLED screens are largely accepted as having more vibrant colours than LCD screens.
Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) - These types of screens have been around and are offered on big name phones such as the iPhone 5S and HTC One. As the name suggests these screens uses liquid crystals which have lights placed behind them, and will either allow light to pass through or block light depending on what the screen needs to display.
Many of those who use their phones for intensive games or apps will be interested in comparing hardware. Part of the speed of a phone relies on a few components:
This is one of the components which make up the heart and soul of your phone. It basically reads and interprets your instructions when using your phone. If you've compared phones recently you may have noticed a few different processors being regularly mentioned, such as:
- The A7 chip seen in the iPhone 5S
- The Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 seen in the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One
- The Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 seen in the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and the LG G2.
- The Tegra 4 seen in some tablets such as the Kobo Arc 10HD and the 4i processor which is yet to make an appearance in Australia
- The Motorola X8 chip seen in the Moto X and Droid Maxx.
So how can you compare processors?
- Number of cores - There are currently single-core, dual-core and quad-core processors, six-core and eight-core processors. The number of cores you'll need depend on what you intend to do with your phone. Simply checking emails and using your phone for calls might only warrant a single-core processor, whereas dual-core processors are better for running many different programs at the same time. Quad-core and above are more suited to gaming and other intensive applications, but remember this is not a hard and fast rule. Some dual-core processors are faster than quad-core processors, so be sure to do your research first.
- 32 or 64-bit? The vast majority of phones apart from the iPhone 5S employ a 32-bit processor. A 64-bit processor means you phone can utilise more memory (more than the 4GB that a 32-bit processor can use), but most smartphones will have between 1GB and 2GB, so this isn't so important yet. Other benefits of a 64-bit processor is that it can make some 64-bit apps run faster.
- Clock speed - This is the rate at which a processor completes a given speed, and is given in Gigahertz (Ghz). Because each of the different processors on the market utilises different optimisation technology clock speeds are only useful if comparing two similar processors, such as a processor rated at 1.9Ghz vs the exact same processor at 1.6Ghz. In this case the first processor may be faster.
- Memory - Random Access Memory (RAM) is responsible for the temporary storage of data. This basically means it's responsible for your applications, and the more you have the faster your apps will open and close and the more apps you can keep open at one time. As mentioned, most smartphones have between 1GB and 2GB, but as always in the world of technology, this is constantly evolving.
The theme to remember when comparing these components is that some phones will show worse hardware specifications than another but may be better optimised and be faster than a phone which looks good on paper. Check out reviews on websites like CNET or Phone Arena to learn more about how a phone performs in reality.
The importance of storage in a phone comparison again depends on how you plan to use your phone. Phones will have inbuilt storage, measured in Gigabytes (GB). Some phones may allow you to insert a memory card into your card which effectively expands the storage, and this may be useful for some.
Remember phones in the same family will be more expensive as you add more space, so keep this in mind when comparing.
If you're the type of person who is happy to delete and manage what they keep on their phone then a phone with 16GB might be fine.
If on the other hand you plan to store your television shows, movies and your huge music collection you may want to look for a phone with 32GB and above.
Battery is a key concern for many, and it's not hard to see why. Smartphones have a habit of draining quickly if you use them to browse the web, read an e-book, watch movies and play games.
Basic phones won't have as much of a problem in this regard, as they are as the name suggests simply used for calls and messages.
Battery storage is measured in milli Ampere hours (mAh). Batteries on new smartphones can vary from 1,500mAh up to 3,500mAh and beyond, but it's important to note that some phones will optimise their operating systems and hardware processors to squeeze more life out of a battery, so it's not always the best way to compare a phone battery.
You can also compare battery life using the specifications given out by phone manufactures themselves. They'll list how many hours one charge will provide when using the phone for calls, if it's on standby or when watching movies. Always read a phone review before using these times as gospel.
Many consumers will place the cameras on their smartphone high up on the important features list. After all, we love being able to take snaps or recordings of interesting things or spontaneous moments.
Cameras are often rated in megapixels. Pixels, as mentioned above, are little dots which combine to make a picture. Megapixels simply refer to multiplying the number of horizontal pixels by the number of vertical pixels.
In reality there are many other things to consider when it comes to cameras on smartphones.
When comparing a camera take into account the lens and the sensor it uses to take photos. Some sensors like those on the Apple iPhone 5S and the HTC One make pixels larger, and therefore have lower megapixel counts but great low-light functionality.
If you like getting into the nitty gritty aspects of photography, such as ISO and exposure settings you'll want to compare phones which cater to this, such as the Nokia Lumia series.
The best piece of advice when comparing phone cameras is to do some research. There are excellent guides online where reviewers will compare the cameras of various phones in a range of lighting conditions, including inside and outside shots, with and without the flash.
The emerging 4G network in Australia may not provide complete coverage everywhere you go, but it should be noted that only recent smartphones have support for this network. This should factor into your comparison if you regularly use the 4G LTE network or wish to in future.
Near Field Communication (NFC)
This is a technology which allows you to transfer data wirelessly over short distances but tapping your handset with another handset or payment terminal, such as a MasterCard PayPass or Visa payWave terminal. If you're big on mobile banking and digital wallets, then this feature may be important to you.
How to compare phone plans
Thankfully choosing a phone plan isn't as hard as choosing a phone, but it's still important. The best place to start when choosing a phone plan is what features you need from your plan what level of usage you have.
If you have no idea how many calls or messages you make a month check your existing phone bill and find out. This will give you an accurate number to work with so you can find the best balance between price and features.
Once you've selected a price point look through the options and try to find the most messages, call and data you can get for that price.
The next ingredient to add to the comparison is the network carrier. Ensure existing customers of a potential carrier are satisfied with their services, so browse forums and product review sites to get an idea about what you can expect. While you're researching try to find out what the reception is likely to be where you live and work.
Matching a suitable plan for your type of usage
- Best low usage plan
- Best plan for the average user
- Best unlimited plan
- Best handset plans
- Cheapest broadband plans
Best low usage plan
Methodology: The winners were ranked by considering the monthly cost without calls, the cost per 2 minute call (including flagfall); the SMS cost and monthly charges assuming the user made 10 calls of 3 minute duration and 10 SMS each month. Service quality was considered by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) complaints received last year.
|Plan||Min Cost (per month)||Cost per 2 Minute call||Cost per SMS||Credit Expiry||Network|
|Savvytel SavvyLite||$4.20||20c||12c||90 Days||Optus|
|Aldi Mobile PAYG||$4.80||24c||12c||365 Days||Telstra|
Best plan for the average user
This is for someone who uses Wi-Fi when they want to browse the net, and is not a business or frequent caller or message sender.
Methodology: Winners were ranked by best price plan offering over $500 in call inclusions, 1GB+ of data and unlimited SMS.
- Vaya - $17.60
- TPG - $19.99
Best unlimited plan
Methodology: This is based on the data inclusions for the monthly cost followed by any additional extras. Service quality was considered by the TIO complaints received last year.
|Plan||Min. Monthly Cost||Data||Extras||Network|
Best data plan
Methodology: The winners were ranked jointly by considering price excluding modem and set-up charges, data and any extras. finder.com.au estimates most mobile broadband users require approximately 2GB per month. Service quality was considered by the number of TIO complaints received last year.
|Plan||Min. Monthly Cost||Data included||Contract Term||Network|
|Aldi Mobile Data||$15||2GB||30 Days||Telstra|
Best handset plans
Methodology: Winners were ranked by the cheapest total cost of ownership with the latest handset (iPhone or Samsung handset) along with the most amount of data, calls and SMS inclusions. Service quality was considered using the TIO complaints received last year.
- Virgin Mobile
Cheapest broadband plans
Methodology: These were ranked according to 12 month costs and gigabytes included. Plans were required to offer wide coverage, unlimited downloads and ADSL2+ speeds.
- TPG - $79.99 - Unlimited ADSL2+ with unlimited Australian calls plus select international calls
- Dodo - $79.80 - Unlimited ADSL2+ with unlimited Australian calls
- iiNet - $79.90 - 100GB ADSL2+ with unlimited Australian calls
Your phone will most likely be your closest companion - with its ability to call or text anyone at anytime, organise your appointments, show your emails, share a photo with the rest of your friends all with one touch of a finger. Make sure you choose your companion the right way by using our tips and hints in this guide.