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What to consider before you choose a phone

Everybody wants something slightly different from a mobile phone – there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to smartphones. To ensure that your purchase is the perfect partner to your needs, here are three important questions you should be asking yourself before you decide which mobile phone you will buy.

  • Do I need a smartphone?

    Android and iOS may dominate these days, but there are still people who are happily using basic phones. If you don't take photos with your phone, don't browse the web and aren't interested in apps you may not need a smartphone. If this is the case compare basic phones.

  • How much do I want to spend?

    Generally the biggest comparison point is price. Deciding on how much you wish to spend helps you narrow your choices and pick the best option for your price point. Remember that while buying on a contract saves you having to pay for a phone up-front, buying outright and choosing a month-to-month plan could prove cheaper in the long run.

  • What features are the most important to me?

    If you're keen on selfies, then you'll want a high-quality camera. If you work a lot on your phone, then a larger "phablet" design may appeal. If you travel, then battery life will matter. Identify your key needs before you set your heart on a specific phone.

How to compare mobile phones

How to compare mobile phones

Here are some of the key features for mobile phones you'll want to compare.

Size and weight

One useful 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. Most new smartphones will range between 120 and 170 grams, while a more basic phone will clock in between 70 and 90 grams.

New phones tend to be relatively light, but they also tend to be large in the hand. Many phones have large displays between 5 and 6 inches in diagonal size, which makes for a wider and longer phone than the classic "candybar" format. Many smartphones manage to stay thin despite this, so it's not hard to find a phone thinner than 10mm.

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Screen size and resolution

Today much of the marketing hype you hear around new phones is about around its screen how many pixels does it have, how big is it and what does it look like?

Screen resolution refers to the number of pixels in a screen. A pixel simply refers to a single dot within a display; group enough dots together and you form 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 1920 by 1080, and many new smartphones will utilise this resolution. Some newer premium handsets push beyond this to screen resolutions up to 4K, although the benefits of that level of resolution in a smaller screen are debatable.

Still, resolution is a good way to compare the level detail in screens of the same size. Imagine two phones, both with a 5-inch screen. One has a resolution of 1920 by 1080 and the other has a resolution of 1280 by 768. The first phone will have more detail in its display, as there are more pixels in the same area.

Another way to compare this is through pixels per inch (PPI). This tells you how many pixels there are on one inch of screen. The higher the number, the better the image.

Screen Technology Jargon


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 visibility in sunlight. AMOLED screens offer more vibrant colours than LCD screens.

Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) 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.

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Hardware specifications

People who use their phones for intensive games or apps will want to compare hardware. The speed of a phone relies on a few components:

Core processor

The processor is responsible for running the software on your phone. Some common processor options include:

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 would only warrant a single-core processor, while dual-core processors are better for running many different programs at the same time. Quad-core and above are sometimes more suited to gaming and other intensive applications, but may impact your battery life.
  • 32 or 64-bit?. A 64-bit processor means you phone can utilise more than 4GB of memory. At the premium end phones are starting to approach that, but in the mid- and budget space this isn't so important yet.
  • 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 will be faster.
  • Memory Random Access Memory (RAM) is used for the temporary storage of data. The more you have the faster your apps will open and close and the more apps you can keep open at one time.

Remember when comparing these components that some phones will show "worse" hardware specifications than another but may be better optimised and be faster in actual use than a phone which has good on-paper specifications.

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All smartphones 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, which is handy if you take a lot of photos or want to install more apps. iPhones don't have this option, but can be purchased in a range of storage sizes. 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, or use streaming and cloud based storage extensively then a phone with 16GB may 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 or more.

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Battery is a key concern for phone owners. 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 that measure alone won't tell you how long the battery will last. Many smartphones optimise their operating systems and hardware processors to squeeze more life out of the battery.

You can also compare battery life using the specifications given out by phone manufactures themselves. They'll list an estimate of how many hours one charge will provide. Again, these will only be approximations. Check our detailed guide on how to improve smartphone battery life for more information on getting the most from your phone.

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Many consumers put cameras at the top of their smartphone feature list. After all, we love being able to take snaps or recordings of interesting things or spontaneous moments.

Cameras are generally 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 6s and the HTC One M9 make pixels larger, and therefore have lower megapixel counts but better low-light functionality.

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