The top 5 mistakes you’ll make when buying a new phone

Alex Kidman 19 October 2017 NEWS

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Avoid the common pitfalls and make the right buying decision when choosing your next handset.

Smartphones are like chocolate. Not that they're ingestible, or you can melt them into delicious cakes, or indeed that they're best made by the Swiss. Perhaps we should have thought more about that metaphor before bringing it into play, but we're committed now. No turning back.

No, they're like chocolate in that the allure of a shiny new smartphone can be very hard to resist. With countless options and a myriad of price points to consider, however, it's easy to fall into one of these common traps when choosing your next handset:

  1. Spending too much
  2. Not protecting your phone properly
  3. Not comparing outright and contract options
  4. Sticking with the same brand
  5. Getting camera specs confused with quality


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Spending too much on your handset

The allure of high-end handsets is especially hard to resist, if only because they're the ones you're bombarded with advertisements around. The best handsets attract premium prices, so your only option is to pay the high prices they command, right?

Not so fast. There are numerous ways you can save on just about any handset outside the absolute bargain space (and even then it's sometimes feasible) if you carefully shop around for your next phone.

Consider using a direct importer rather than paying the direct price, as long as you're happy that the phone you're getting will match Australian specifications if your heart is set on the latest iPhone or Samsung Galaxy S or Note series handset.

Equally, though, consider your actual needs carefully. Premium phone performance is impressive, but the smartphone market is a very mature one, and that means that the features in the mid-range are those that just a couple of years ago would have been "premium".

Challenger brands such as OnePlus, Oppo and Huawei, as well as established mid-range players such as Motorola offer a range of handsets at much lower price points than the top end premium phones, most of which cost over $1,000 easily these days. If all you want is a phone with decent email, calling, social media functions and a workable camera, you don't have to spend a fortune.

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Not protecting your phone properly

You've just made an investment in your handset that could range anywhere from $50 to nearly $2,000, but have you considered what you're doing to protect it, and whether it makes financial sense? The two traps here are in not buying a case, and in not properly considering the ins and outs of smartphone insurance.

The first point is pretty basic. There are a range of phones that offer water resistance features, so you shouldn't be able to drown them. Equally, many phone makers tout the strength of their phone's glass screens to protect them from accidental knocks and bumps. There's little doubting that the glass on modern smartphones is better than it used to be.

This does not turn your new smartphone into Superman by a long shot. Keep it under water for too long, or in water that isn't fresh, and it'll go the way of the dodo quick smart.

Likewise, while nobody plans to drop a phone, thinking that it'll survive every bump and drop is unwise is the extreme. If you're already spending hundreds of dollars on a handset, a few more on a case is a very wise investment, not to mention a way to add a little individual style to your handset. At the very least, it's an investment in being able to sell a less scratched phone when and if you choose to get rid of it!

Smartphone insurance is a little more tricky, as insurance tends to be. We've rounded up the basics of smartphone insurance options here, but it's worth carefully considering your likely usage patterns and need for repairs. Screen repairs are the most commonly cited reason to take out insurance, and that can be a godsend, but only if the insurance cost makes sense over the likely number of times you'll need a repaired or replaced screen. At the very least, research the cost of a replacement display, because if it's more than your excess, mobile insurance won't make much sense.

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Not comparing outright and contract options

Conventional wisdom says that it's always cheaper to buy a phone outright and throw it on a prepaid plan, right?

Well... maybe not. While it's true that you generally can buy most handsets and then throw them onto a cheap prepaid plan for a numerical saving, that can often involve very low-cost, low inclusion plans. There's not much point buying an iPhone X and pairing it to a plan with only a few MB of data per month, after all.

That's why it's vital to compare your outright and contract options, paying particular attention to the handset repayment portion of your contract bill. Many phones are at least semi-subsidised over the life of a contract, and if the plan you're looking at has inclusions or extras you're going to use, it could well be better value than a prepaid offering to match your needs.

With providers such as Vodafone separating out its handset and plans this can seem like a complex and overwhelming task.

That's where our Mobile Plan finder can come to the rescue, making it easy to compare plans and outright costs for every popular handset available in Australia so that you get the deal that makes sense for you, not just the one that an individual telco sales rep wants you to have.

MOBILE PLAN FINDER
Looking for a better mobile plan or a new phone?
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Sticking with the same brand

Australians are remarkably brand loyal, whether it's our favourite toast spreads, car choices, or increasingly our mobile phone choices. A quick glance at our Mobile Popularity Index shows that we're nearly always looking for the best deals on Apple and Samsung phones, and that closely mirrors the real-world sales and profit figures for those brands.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with liking a brand, of course, but it doesn't automatically follow that they're the only choices you should consider when picking up a new handset. Impressive phones, whether they're spinning budget magic, attacking the mid-range or shaking up the premium space can come from any brand at all.

To give just a few examples, the Snapdragon 835 heart at the core of great phones like the international version of the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is also found in the OnePlus 5, a phone with a price point in Australia of around half that of the Note 8.

The interesting squeeze feature found on the high-priced Google Pixel 2 XL? That first appeared on HTC's much more affordable and stylish HTC U11. If Apple's iPhone style appeals, it's one that's heavily mimicked by many of Oppo's phones, such as the Oppo R11.

By all means, stick with a brand you like if it's doing what you need at a price that makes sense for you, but compare carefully, because you could get the same or better features from a challenger brand at a fraction of the price.

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Getting camera specs confused with quality

Quick quiz: You've got a choice between two smartphones, one with a 12MP rear camera, and one with a 20MP rear camera. Which one is better?

It's easy, and instinctive to think that the 20MP camera would be "better" because it's packing more megapixels, and more "feels" better. However, smartphone photography is considerably more complex when it comes to overall quality than just a race to pack more megapixels into tiny sensors.

That 12MP camera may have larger individual sensor pixels, giving it greater low-light sensitivity. It may have optical image stabilisation where the 20MP model makes do with digital. That's not even getting into the realm of software optimisations that can make an immense difference to your photographic experience, or for that matter the impact of dual lens cameras that offer telephoto, wide angle or monochrome shooting modes.

We've got a full guide which you can read here to dispel some of the mobile photography myths before you make your purchase to ensure you get the camera phone that will make you happy, rather than just one with impressive specs that leaves you wanting more.

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