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Smartphone Buying Guide

Posted in Articles on 04/9/2015 (updated on 16/5/2018)

Smartphone Buying Guide at PB Tech

Here at PB Tech, we’re proud to have NZ’s biggest range of smartphones, with over 80 different models in stock. We know that lots of choices can end being quite confusing when choosing your next phone though, so we’re here to clear the air and give you our top tips on picking the right phone first time.

Check out our guide below to help figure out what you want in your next – or first – smartphone.

Choose an Operating System (OS)

The operating system is the software that runs on your phone – you can pick from Google, Apple, or Microsoft’s take on a smartphone OS.

Google Android

Google’s Android is the world’s most popular smartphone software, running on phones from Samsung, Huawei, LG, Sony, OnePlus, HTC, Meizu, Xiaomi, and heaps more. With millions of apps available on the Google Play Store, you can get everything you need at a price that fits your budget. Android phones all tend to look a bit different, because the manufacturers all offer their own tweaks and unique features. That means you have heaps to choose from - whether you’re after a big phone, a small phone, a cheap phone, or a premium flagship phone, there’s an Android for you.

Android Phones can be completely customised. If you want your phone to look unique, you can replace almost anything with a third-party alternative from the Play Store. You can add widgets to your home screen for quick access to information, change the icons, or swap out the entire home screen for something new. Or if you liked a feature on your last phone that your new phone doesn’t have, there’ll usually be a way around it. Alternatively, if that all sounds like too much work, you can just use your Android phone as it comes out of the box.

Because Android is powered by Google, Android phones offer robust integration with all of Google’s services like Gmail, YouTube, Chrome, Chromecast, Google Search, Docs, Drive, and more.

The latest and priciest models will be running the latest versions of Android and come with the most features, while older and cheaper phones may not - it pays to check which features matter most to you before deciding on a phone.

Apple iOS

Apple iPhones need little introduction as these smartphones are extremely popular! They’re a great choice for first-time smartphone owners too.

The latest iPhones run the latest version of Apple’s operating system, known as iOS. iOS is well known for straightforward, intuitive design, which incorporates powerful features like the iMessage messaging system and pressure-sensitive “3D Touch” screens. Apple’s App Store, having been around since 2008, has a massive range of apps available to users, all curated by Apple to ensure a high standard of quality.

A major advantage of iOS is its integration with other Apple products like Mac computers and Apple TV. Owing to the iPhone’s ongoing popularity, Google and Microsoft make their services readily available for iPhones, so you don’t have to be deeply invested in everything Apple to make good use of the phone itself. iPhones also benefit from the broadest array of accessories, as there is often small variations from model to model.

Microsoft Windows 10 Mobile

Microsoft’s Windows Smartphone OS brings a stripped-down version of desktop Windows to the palm of your hand. If you use and love Microsoft apps and services like Office 365, OneDrive, Skype, and Xbox, Windows Phone may be worth a look. These days it’s primarily geared towards business users due to its easy integration with Microsoft platforms like Exchange Activesync.

As there are significantly fewer third-party applications available for Windows 10 Mobile, it’s not as popular as the other platforms. However, because Windows 10 Mobile works in much the same way as full Windows 10 does on a desktop PC, it offers a great degree of familiarity to first-time smartphone users who have experience with Windows.

Choose Your Screen Size

Deciding on a screen size is completely up to you and will depend on your needs, your preferences, or both. In general, there are three sizes to choose from, small (less than 4.5”) medium (4.5-.5.4”) and large (5.5” or more). Do you prefer a pocketable phone that’s great for calling, a massive phone that’s great for multimedia, or somewhere in-between?

Small

If you’re looking for a phone with a smaller, more compact design, one where you won’t need to stretch your thumb under any circumstances, a small screen phone is a good one to go for.  Fewer customers are going for smaller screens as more people gravitate toward larger canvases for media consumption and gaming, but if small if what you’re after there’s still a sizable range of small-screen smartphones. Smaller phones are more pocketable and a little more comfortable for taking and making phone calls. Also a device that can be operated with a single hand. Shop all Small Smartphones

Medium

The medium screen size is a popular choice among many smartphone users, with the standard models of iPhone and Galaxy S falling into the medium screen size category. Most phones this size are comfortable to use one handed, depending on button placement, and easier to type on with two thumbs than their smaller counterparts. They’re pocketable, yet their screen size still works well for web browsing and media consumption. Shop all Medium Smartphones

Large

These larger phones are referred to by many as ‘phablets’, due to them being tablet-like in size. Popular big phone lines include the iPhone Plus models, OnePlus, Galaxy Notes, and Huawei Mates, and tend to be used two-handed. Their bigger displays make them ideal for the more ‘computery’ tasks we perform day to day - watching videos, playing games, browsing the web, editing documents, social media, and more. Large phones also tend to have larger batteries for the weekend warriors out there. Shop all Large Smartphones and if you're up for it, shop all Massive Smartphones

Picture of Smartphones in different sizes at PB Tech

Size and Weight

The overall footprint of a smartphone is primarily determined by its screen size. Recently, brands like Apple, Samsung and Xiaomi have moved to strip away the ‘bezels’, or space around the screen, to maximise the available screen real estate while keeping the overall footprint manageable.

When it comes to weight, generally the screen size will be a good indication of what to expect. Smaller screens generally use less power, allowing for a smaller battery to provide as much battery life at their larger versions, so, if portability is a priority for you, you may want to consider a smartphone with a smaller screen, as this will generally bring down the total weight also.

Screen Quality

Paying attention to the screen resolution, underlying display technology, brightness, colour quality and viewing angles is a very important aspect when looking to buy a smartphone. After all, we look at the phone’s screen every day!

Common display resolutions include:

HD: HD, or High Definition, refers to a display of 720p resolution, or 1280 vertical pixels x 720 horizontal pixels. This is a fine resolution on smaller screens, but you’ll be able to see pixels and jagged lines on larger screens.

Full HD: Full HD refers to 1920 vertical pixels x 1080 horizontal pixels, or “1080p”. This is great on most screen sizes and for most use-cases – text will be crisp, high resolution video and photos will look great, and battery life will not be heavily impacted.

Quad HD: Quad HD is 2560 x 1440, AKA 1440p. A standard in high-end, more premium devices, Quad HD is super-sharp and suited to larger screens. It is also an ideal resolution for mobile virtual reality headsets, such as Samsung’s Gear VR.

4K and the future: Phones keep on getting better, and resolutions keep on getting higher. The world’s first 4K (3840 x 2160) smartphone was the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium in 2015, and it was followed up by the Sony Xperia XZ Premium in 2017. This ultra-high resolution does take a toll on processing power and battery life, but is completely unmatched for clarity.

Pixel Density

The resolution isn’t the only important factor in choosing a sharp display. The bigger a screen is, the higher the resolution required to keep it on par with smaller screens. Consider a 4.7” HD screen vs. a 6” HD screen – on the smaller display, the pixels will be closer together and harder to see. On the flip side, a super high resolution on a smaller screen may be hard to tell apart from lower resolutions. Pixel density is measure in Pixels Per Inch, or PPI. For example, a common screen setup is Full HD over a 5.5” display area. This offers a PPI of 401, meaning there are 401 pixels for every square inch of the screen. If you want a larger screen that’s just as sharp, you’ll need to go for a phone with higher resolution to get the same PPI.

Display Technology

The two major competing display technologies in smartphones today are IPS LCD and AMOLED. LCD displays are the kind you’ll find in most laptops, monitors, and televisions. They have a layer of liquid crystal sandwiched between thin sheets of glass, with a backlight behind them to provide luminance. AMOLED displays, meanwhile, light up each individual pixel rather than having a backlight. This means AMOLED displays can save power by turning pixels off in order to display black images, giving them fantastic contrast. There are pros and cons to each technology – AMOLED displays will usually have brighter, more saturated colours, and wider viewing angles. However, they have a shorter overall lifespan than LCD displays. Samsung’s Galaxy S range is well known for AMOLED displays. Which display type you prefer is completely up to you.

Colour Accuracy

If you edit photos and videos on your smartphone, colour calibration will be important – it really helps to know that the people you share your great photo with will be seeing the same picture you are! iPhones are well known for their great colour accuracy out of the box. Other brands, such as Samsung and OnePlus, offer an “sRGB” colour mode so you can choose between vibrant, saturated colours or a calibrated, accurate display.

Design

The way your smartphone looks is, for some people, the most important deciding factor one which phone they buy. The materials your phone is made from affect how it will feel in your hand, as well as its durability. High-end models tend to be made from glass or metal, with entry-level models made from plastic. Increasingly, it’s possible to get a premium metal design without breaking the bank, as seen with Meizu, OnePlus, Xiaomi, and Huawei.

Most mid-range to high-end phones now have embedded batteries, which should only be replaced by a qualified technician at an authorised service centre.

Many different cases and accessories are also available for a range of different models of smartphones, which allow you to give your phone a personal spin.

Camera

These days, the camera on a smartphone is among the most important features, so much so that it matters more than the processing power for many users. Most user’s smartphones are their primary cameras. Due to this, many smartphones boast cameras with high-resolution sensors, stabilised imaging, and great low-light shots. The camera remains the biggest point of difference between entry-level to mid-range smartphones and their premium, high-end counterparts.

Megapixels aren’t the only indication of camera quality, it’s good to also assess the images produced, the aperture (camera opening) speed, the stabilisation, focus, and features. iPhones will usually have lower resolution sensors than competing Android models, yet still produce excellent pictures. Don’t just look at the megapixels - look for reviews with sample images to see if you like the results.

In terms of camera features, optical image stabilisation is one to look for. This reduces blur from shaky hands and improves low-light performance. Some smartphones come with a wide range of manual camera settings for power users, such as white balance, manual focus, exposure and ISO.

Some premium smartphones from Apple, Huawei, LG, and more now feature dual cameras on the back. These vary in implementation and are often designed to give quite different results. Apple’s second camera is used for zoom and to blur the background of portrait shots. LG’s second camera is used for stylistic wide-angle shots. Huawei’s latest models feature one monochrome (black and white) camera paired with one colour camera, and combine the results for better overall quality.

If you’re a selfie-lover or regularly make video calls to friends and family, look for a high-quality front-facing camera too.

Smartphone Cameras

Processor

A good processor provides faster open times for apps, higher frame rates in games, quicker photo editing, and smoother web browsing. Buying a phone with the latest processor means you’ll get better performance year-on-year than the previous generation while consuming even less power.

Three important factors come into play when comparing mobile processors:

Number of cores: While the debate rages on about whether fewer, faster cores are better than more, slower cores, more cores do mean better multitasking. The cores are often divided into “performance” and “power-saving” clusters, with the high-performance cores kicking in when you need it, and the power-saving cores handling the regular tasks.

Clock speed: The higher a processor is ‘clocked’ at, the more operations it can perform in a shorter period of time. Faster, premium processors will be well over 2GHz.

Core type: Not all cores are created equal! A fast set of four cores will outperform a slow set of eight cores. Some brands, such as Apple, Samsung, and Huawei, opt to build their own mobile processors rather than use off-the-shelf designs from processor manufacturers like Mediatek or Qualcomm’s Snapdragon series. Apple have been a market leader in this space for some time, while Samsung and Huawei are the best of the bunch for premium Android performance. Qualcomm’s high-end Snapdragon 800 series is also a benchmark of premium performance. Another factor to consider is power consumption - If you want to find a happy medium between a snappy phone and long battery life, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 600 series is a great choice.

RAM

RAM in a smartphone is just as critical to multi-tasking as it is with a PC, and the types of apps you can easily switch between. Entry-level smartphones will usually have 1GB or less of RAM available, which is enough for calling and texting, but won’t cut it for heavy gaming, constant web browsing, or demanding social media applications. Flagships like the Galaxy S9 now have 4GB or even 6GB of RAM available like in the larger Galaxy S9+. 

Storage

Games and high resolution photos and videos can easily take up more than 1GB, so when it comes to internal storage, the best bet is to go for as much as possible. On many mid-range handsets, the minimum amount is 16GB, however, more and more smartphones are including 32GB as standard. 64GB and 128GB options are available at the high-end.

Micro SD card slots are available in select models which can help expand your storage, in particular by storing media - although it’s not a good idea to use these for application storage as internal memory is of a much higher quality than that used for Micro SD cards. iPhones do not support MicroSD cards, so if you’re set on an Apple smartphone it’s best to bear in mind how many GBs of storage your phone will support.

There is a balance to be found between local and cloud storage as well. Services like Spotify, Google Photos, and OneDrive mean you don’t need to carry all your music, photos, or documents locally on your phone. However, you will need mobile data coverage and a suitable mobile data plan to make the most of cloud storage. Which is right for you will depend on how often you travel and how much you’re willing to spend per month on your mobile plan. Check out our range of Micro SD cards

Battery Life

Many different factors contribute to how long a smartphone battery will last. Some include: display brightness, screen size, processor and operating system – but most of all, the size of the battery itself. In general, a phone which lasts longer than 8 hours of straight 4G surfing is considered to be satisfactory with greater than 8.5 hours being even better. It would be ideal to look for battery capacity of 3,000mAh or more. Larger phones usually have accordingly larger batteries – look for 4,000mAh+ in models from Meizu and Huawei.

More and more phones are arriving on the market with fast charging capabilities. This can counter a smaller overall battery capacity by juicing your phone up quickly. Fast charging can be found in models from Samsung, Huawei, OnePlus, Meizu, LG, HTC, Sony, and more – although you will usually need specialised chargers for each brand.

If you need even more longevity, consider a portable power bank to stay charged on the go - and if you use your phone for navigation, picking up a car charger is all but essential. Grabbing both will make weekend road trips a breeze.

Shop all Smartphone Power Banks

Shop all Charging Cases

Wireless charging

A wireless charger is still more of a luxury feature as opposed to a ‘must have’, yet it can be incredibly convenient. Rather than plugging your phone in to charge, simply place it on a wireless charging pad – that’s it. Wireless charging is a standard feature of Samsung’s Galaxy S range in particular.

Security and password with facial recognition, iris and fingerprint scanning

Facial Recognition

This is very new technology for smartphones that allows us to quickly access the device by simply looking at it, with software and sensors being used to identify distinctive features of the user. Looking at the iPhone X specifically, this is made possible with a combination of an infrared emitter and TrueDepth sensor to paint 30,000 points of infrared light on and around your face.

Iris Scanning

Iris scanning is another way to secure and access your smartphone by looking at it. Much like the facial recognition above, sensors are used to capture the uniqueness of your eyes which is then stored in the device like a password allowing you to unlock by looking. Iris recognition is said to extremely accurate, with zero false results in 2 million test simulations although the implementation of this technology in smartphones is still quite new. Certainly one to watch though!

Fingerprint Security

The fingerprint security feature has become extremely popular since the iPhone’s Touch ID sensor launched with the iPhone 5s. This feature enables a faster, easier and more secure way to unlock your device. Touch ID can also be used to purchase items in the App Store. Previously exclusive to high-end handsets, quality fingerprint scanners can now be found on entry-level and midrange phones as well, such as those from Meizu.

Fingerprint scanners mean you can keep your phone secure with a PIN or password without needing to enter it every time you pick the phone up. While they aren’t the be-all end-all of mobile security, they are convenient, and much better than leaving your phone unlocked 24/7.

Smartphones are everywhere – You’ve got one, your friends have one, your mum probably has one too – you may even be reading this on your phone right now. But when it’s time for an upgrade, how do you know which one is right for you - there are heaps of models to choose from, so there should be something for everyone, right?

We hope this guide helps narrow down the many choices available and we'll continue to update it as more features become available, keep your eyes on PB Tech Tips & News for the latest!

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