When you think about it, your smartphone isn’t just your phone. It is now your computer. It’s the way you communicate with the world, from the phone to texting to Facebook. And checking your email, your stocks, your bank account.
It also takes the place of dozens of other devices. It is your main camera, video camera, flashlight, calendar, address book, and maybe even your desktop/laptop computer. It also replaces a spirit level, useful for hanging photos or hanging a new door. In fact, it is the true convergence vehicle for so many technologies.
This is why it’s a good idea to look at something that has some power and some size to it. Bigger phones mean bigger screens, better readability, and often better battery life.
Some current smartphones have huge screens, nearly 6” diagonally, and can virtually replace your tablet.
When the first Samsung Galaxy Note came out, it was amazing! We wanted one, the screen real estate was fantastic for viewing websites, playing games, reading anything. Some people mocked users who had them, saying it looked like they were talking into a tablet. That device was affectionately known as a “phablet”, a portmanteau of the words phone and tablet. It’s in its fifth generation, and the Note 5 is a fantastic phone with a 5.7” screen and a stylus with a built-in holder. It’s very fast, the screen is bright, and the battery life is very good.
On the iOS side, there’s the iPhone 6s with a 5.5” screen. The smaller iPhone 6s has a 4.7” screen. There’s a fairly significant difference in the size of the two phones. You do have choices of colors, including the new one they call “Rose Gold”.
THE FIRST CHOICE
You have to choose which operating system you want with your smartphone. There are two main choices, Android and Apple’s iOS.
If you already have one or the other, and you’re happy with it, stick with it and look at upgrading to a newer phone. Why might you need a new phone? A couple of reasons. First, phone batteries are lithium ion batteries, which are good for 500-2000 full charge cycles. Eventually, it will wear out. If you have a smartphone with a removeable back and replaceable battery, you can simply replace that. But there’s another reason why it may be good to upgrade.
Most manufacturers make phones that they think will last about 2 years. After that, they stop supporting them. Apple iPhones get support for a few years; iOS 9 will still install on a 4-year-old iPhone 4s. The Android OS is updated often to improve security and stability, but that has to then be specifically set up for individual phones by the manufacturers and then pushed out to the phones by the carriers. This can take a while for new phones, and may not happen at all for older phones, leaving them less secure.
If all of your friends have Android phones, it may be better to get an Android phone, as well. Same goes with iPhone. If your friends mostly have iPhones, you might be better off with an iPhone. You can trade tips and tricks on using the phone and the latest apps.
If you’re still unsure, go into your carrier’s store or a retailer who carries them all like Best Buy. Play around with the different sizes and brands of phones. See which one fits in your hand and your lifestyle the best.
BACK IT UP OR LOSE IT
Always back up your phone to either a cloud service, like Google or iCloud, or to your computer. If your phone is lost, stolen or broken, you can replace it and everything is reinstalled automatically. You don’t want to lose all your great photos and videos of the grandkids and your latest cruise, do you? Back it up regularly. At least once a week.
Back up your old phone before buying the new one. Back in the feature phone (aka flip phones) days, you’d have to pay your carrier to transfer your information over.
In the U.S., most carriers subsidized their phones. You would pay a couple of hundred dollars for your phone, and the carrier would essentially build the cost of the rest of the phone into their plans. You would then have to keep your plan and your phone for two years. Now, they’ve all gone to selling the phone to you outright for the full price. It can lead to sticker shock. Paying nearly $1000 is scary, but remember, this is a powerful computer that fits in your pocket.
The cool thing is how the carriers work the payments on the phone. You pay installments of $25-40 per month (depending on the price of the phone) for two years. Verizon, for example, charges $31.24 per month for the 64 GB version of the iPhone 6s, then offers a $25 per month discount on their plan. Effectively, you feel like you’re only paying an extra $6.24 a month to have that new phone. And after a year, you can turn in your phone and get a new one, keeping your monthly payment the same. This way, when the iPhone 7 comes out, you can upgrade.
Apple also sells the unlocked version of the phone for full price, or they will finance it for you at similar prices per month as the Verizon plan, and also lets you upgrade to a new phone after a year and keep your same payment. The caveat here is that your carrier won’t offer you a discount on your plan.
Check with your carrier for what they offer in phones and plans. And if you don’t have a carrier or would like to switch, shop around. Do some research, ask your friends which carrier they have and whether they are satisfied with the service. Some areas have better cell coverage from one carrier over another. If you’re in a remote area or surrounded by mountains like we are in Los Angeles, check to which carrier covers your area the best.
Another tip is to check with slightly older phones. Last year’s phones are often cheaper, since the companies want to get rid of them. See what your carrier has to offer, you may save a couple hundred dollars.
We don’t recommend buying the low-end version of any phone. Apple, for example, currently offers a 16 GB version of the iPhone 6s. It’s only real purpose is to show that they do have a phone that costs significantly less than the 64- and 128 GB versions. But by the time you install the operating system and the basic apps onto that 16 GB, you have little left for apps, photos, etc. We recommend that you get at least the 64 GB version of any phone, or a phone that lets you add more storage via a microSD card.
Remember, you’re getting more than a phone. It’s also the latest camera, video camera, gaming system and computer, all built-in to something small and light enough to fit in your pocket or purse.
There are a couple of accessories we’d recommend. A case for your phone is the first thing to look at. It will provide some protection for your phone, often make it easier to hold. There is a case for every personality out there, whether you’re very conservative, very active, really outrageous, quite clumsy, etc. Simple silicone bumper cases come in a variety of designs, from looking like something from Star Wars to something with wood or jewel inlays. All will help keep your expensive smartphone out of too much trouble. Replacing a cracked screen can run over $100, a case can set you back a few dollars.
There are even waterproof/shockproof cases for those of us who are truly clumsy.
Something else to consider if you are active and outside, away from power, and your phone’s battery doesn’t quite make it through your day. Some phones have a removeable battery, so you can carry a fully charged spare with you. Most phones are getting away from this. Our suggestion is to skip the spare battery and buy an external charging pack. It will cost about the same as a spare, but will provide many times the capacity, AND you can charge your friends’ devices as well. Including tablets. You can be their hero.
Lastly, if you have poor coverage at home, especially for phone calls, consider getting a cellular signal booster. It’s a device that will connect to your home network and act as a mini-repeater tower to improve your signal. You may have to get one that is specific to your network, and you may have to assign your phone numbers to it. They aren’t cheap, but they work very well and make phone calls much more reliable.
You can get these through your carrier or at Amazon.com.