Why it's time to buy a new phone

Brilliant cameras, gorgeous displays, long-lived batteries might make this the year to spring for a phone upgrade

Published: December 2014

The 5.7-inch Samsung Galaxy Note 4 has a 15.9-megapixel camera.

Smart phones are finally getting smarter about serving the people who actually use them: us. If you're in the market for a new model, you can expect a larger, sharper display that's easier to read; better performance; and perhaps for the first time, a battery you can lean on for a full day before needing a recharge. (Phones rated very good or better for battery life in our Ratings should deliver that.)

Watch our smart phone buying guide video, below.

And if you're in the market for a new cell plan, check "How to Save Money on Your Cell Phone Plan" for tips and advice.

More phone improvements coming

Smart-phone cameras are improving, too. Most have sensors with at least 8 megapixels and allow you to shoot high-definition videos. If ­camera performance ranks high on your list of criteria, look for models in our Ratings that earned scores of very good or better for image quality and good or better for video.
The Apple iPhone 6 has a 4.7-inch HD display with excellent quality.

The latest trend in smart-phone screens is Ultra HD—which should mean sharper pictures and more detail. But in our tests we found that most users won't notice the benefits of UHD, partly because even the largest phones have relatively small displays.

You will notice a difference, however—and not in a good way—if you buy a phone with a display that isn't at least HD. Stick with resolutions of 720p and higher. (If the resolution is expressed in pixel density, you want 300 ppi or higher.)

Most handsets we tested have displays in the 4.5- to 6-inch range. The larger screens are great for viewing Web pages, maps, and videos, but the phones may be hard to manipulate. If you're considering one of these so-called phablets (the two phones pictured both fall into that category), make sure you can use it comfortably with one hand.

Money-saving tip: Don't sign up for insurance

Extra-cost insurance or warranties may seem like sensible protection for the day your phone breaks or leaves you unexpectedly, but neither tends to pay off. In Consumer Reports polling, only 15 percent of buyers had acquired a new phone because the old one broke and only 2 percent because the phone was lost or stolen. Monthly insurance premiums for smart phones are typically $10 or more, with deductibles well north of $100. If you do make a claim, don't expect a new version of your old phone. Insurance plans might replace your phone with a refurbished, equivalent model. Skip the extended warranties, as well. They have similarly high up-front costs and service deductibles.

Editor's Note:

This article also appeared in the February 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.  

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