Cell Phone Buying Guide

Have your eye on that top-of-the-line Apple or Samsung smartphone? These days, wireless carriers give you the option of paying it off in interest-free installments or buying it outright and enjoying a lower monthly bill. Many cell phones are also available unlocked through major retailers. 

Follow these steps to find the best service and phone for your budget.

Do You Really Need a New Phone?

Take a clear-eyed look at whether your phone is past its prime. Here are three cases when it might be wise to replace it.

Your Current Phone Is Giving You Trouble
You can replace a cracked display or an anemic battery, but when system improvements from Apple or Google reduce the performance of your phone, it’s probably time to replace it. Ditto sluggish response times, frequent crashes, and a battery that gives out before the end of the day.

And if your phone is so old that it’s no longer receiving security updates, it’s definitely time to say goodbye.

You’re Moving to Another Provider
In the past, switching carriers meant you were definitely getting a new phone. Providers locked the phones they sold so that they could be used only with their service. But that’s no longer true for most phones. Both Apple and Samsung sell unlocked models with the technology to operate on multiple networks. So you don’t have to get a new phone if you’re switching providers. But it can still be a great idea. You may be able to trade in your old phone for money toward a new one, or even replace a model from your old provider with one that’s the same or similar at no additional cost.

You Can’t Resist a New Gadget
These days, annual improvements in handset technology are less significant than they were a few years ago, so there’s less incentive to upgrade. For instance, the iPhone XR is still recommended by Consumer Reports, even though it was introduced in 2018. Ditto for the Samsung Galaxy Note20 5G, which came out in 2020. Phone cameras and displays have been excellent in many smartphones for several generations now. Only you can say whether the incremental improvements are enough to make you want to upgrade. 

Consider Your Options in Operating Systems

Smartphones all share the ability to browse the web and run apps, handle office and personal email, and facilitate social networking. But how easily and how well you can do these tasks varies by operating system. The OS also affects app selection, though highly widely used apps such as Facebook, Google Maps, and Spotify are available on multiple platforms.

And although most people tend to stick to the same OS, it’s worth knowing all the facts. A switch could bring you additional features or a way of interacting with your stuff that’s more appealing than what you have now. 

An Android smartphone.

Android

If you want a wide choice of phones, you’ve come to the right OS. Google’s Android platform supports a large variety of hardware from handset makers such as Google, OnePlus, and Samsung. Options include everything from compact models to phones with displays larger than 6 inches.

The Android OS is highly customizable, thanks to widgets and other tools for tweaking phone controls, as well as the desktop’s overall look and feel. Android’s native Google search engine, Gmail, Maps app, and cloud-based Drive and Photos services are among the most widely used smartphone apps (even among iPhone users).

The major drawback to Android is that many phones are sold with older versions of the OS, and users don’t always get updates in a timely way. And the individual companies that make the phones tend to layer their own software on top of the OS, which can eat up storage space and clutter your home screen. 

Smartphones Ratings
An Apple smartphone.

Apple iOS

iPhones complement their sleek designs with intuitively simple operation. The iOS interface is not only ultra-easy to master but also among the best for accessing music, videos, games, and other content. Consistency is another plus: iOS is the same from carrier to carrier and almost identical to the OS on the iPad. Older iPhones have a home button for closing or backing out of apps and returning to the home screen. Newer versions eliminate all of that in favor of a system of presses and swipes.

The Siri voice-controlled assistant is quite adept at interpreting and executing an impressive number of requests. Recent versions of iOS brought peer-to-peer payments to Apple Pay, along with new augmented reality capabilities.

And it’s hard to beat the immense selection of apps, content, and gaming options from iTunes and the App Store. You’ll also find accessories galore from Apple and third-party vendors. On the downside, iOS is less customizable than Android, though you can create folders to organize apps.  

Smartphones Ratings

Features Worth Considering

In addition to making calls and giving you web access, today’s smartphones are loaded with features to help you be more creative, productive, and efficient. 

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