Picking the right smartphone

Not every smartphone is equal.

December 30, 2012

Ever more people are carrying smartphones that double as digital organizers. Picking the right one, though, is difficult.

Not every smartphone is equal. People looking for an electronic private secretary to help them sort their life need to consider what their priorities are and why they want the smartphone. Here are seven points to consider:

BEGINNERS: Your first smartphone doesn’t necessarily have to be the most expensive one on the market. But that doesn’t mean you need to go to the cheaper ones, costing less than 100 euros (131 dollars).

“They can’t handle a lot,” warns Michael Wolf of Stiftung Warentest, a German consumer products tester. “They often don’t have much memory and come with weak processors and pretty small displays without a lot of definition and flat image quality.”

He recommends considering a somewhat older mid-range model. “You can find good smartphones between 150 and 250 euros that don’t require a lot of compromises by the consumer.”

UNDERWAY: If you travel a lot, you need a long-lived device. But displays, processors and data traffic eat up a lot of energy. Check tests and forums to see if the smartphone you’re looking at is power-hungry. If it’s supposed to double as a navigation device, make sure the display is big enough and has decent loudspeakers, says Wolf. Also read the reviews of navigation systems: there are big quality differences.

HEAVY SURFING: Just about every smartphone has a good UMTS connection. Wi-fi is also standard.

“Some newer models can even handle the new mobile transmission standard LTE,” says Bernd Klusmann of Bitkom, a German technology industry association. “In an ideal case, that can mean speeds of up to 100 megabits – faster than your home internet connection.”

Proper surfing requires a decent display.

“The user doesn’t need to do so much zooming and scrolling,” says Wolf. But that size might not make the device convenient. Get a feel for it before buying.

GAMERS: Big displays are also key for gaming. “If you want to play demanding 3D games, you need an appropriately fast processor,” says Wolf. The best quality comes from high-end smartphones with dual- or quadcores. If it’s truly important to game, look for one with an integrated graphic chip.

MUSIC LOVERS: Most smartphones deliver decent sound quality, but the earphones packaged with them aren’t always up to standard. That’s easily fixed with an extra purchase. “By using high-end earphones, the music player on most modern smartphones sounds pretty good.,” says Wolf.

SHUTTERBUGS: Contemporary smartphones can usually hold their own with digital cameras. Plus there are all kinds of fun apps for creative fun with pictures. Nonetheless, the possibilities are limited “especially if the light levels aren’t optimal,” says Constanze Clauss of the German Photo Industry Association.

It’s also hard to snap the shots, since doing so means touching the screen with one finger and holding the device with only one hand, increasing the chances of wiggling. Wolf says to focus less on megapixels advertised and more on the quality of the lens.

MINIMALISTS: Multimedia mobile phones without touchscreens, also known as feature phones, are not seeing much production. “In 2012, we assume that about 70 per cent of sold devices will be smartphones,” says Klusmann.

But if you only want a device for phone calls and texting, there are plenty of devices out there for less than 100 euros. There are even options for a built-in music player or email service. Plus, without all the bells and whistles, battery lives tend to be longer.

By Jan Ungruhe

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