Most people buy a new smartphone every year or every 2 years. This is because the features and specs of the old smartphone get outdated over a period of time and there are better options available. The specifications of your new cell phone may not be up to the mark as per your needs if you do not know the latest trends.
So instead of repenting later, you have to understand what features and specs you are being provided in the new smartphone before buying it. There are many specs like processor, camera resolution, RAM, internal storage, etc that you have to know before deciding on the brand and model of your choice. It is not easy to choose the handset which is the most suitable to you as there are countless models if you take into consideration Chinese manufacturers as well.
While if you are planning to buy a used i.e. second hand phone, please read our second hand mobile phone buying guide.
Before proceeding further, I would like to specify here that…
If you are an Apple fan, you will most probably buy the latest iPhone available!
If you are a Samsung Galaxy or a Sony xPeria loyalist, you are also most likely to buy their latest flagship model!
But there are many others all over the world who are searching for good smartphones at an affordable price that suits their pockets. They have a wide range of choices from among Samsung, Sony, LG, HTC, Lenovo, Huawei, Xiaomi, Oppo, OnePlus, etc.
The features mentioned below are according to todays standards and obviously if you read it later these specifcation will get upgraded to a huge extent. We are going to see a lot of advancements in smartphones of the future.
Specs and features to understand before buying a smartphone
1. Operating System:
This is the first thing you have to decide upon. It will shortlist your options to a great extent. Which Operating System will you prefer?
You have 3 options:
- iOS: iOS stands for iPhone Operating System. There are lots and lots of Apple fans worldwide who prefer to buy only Apple. The latest iPhone should always be there on their palms!
- Android: Android is the only platform where you have ample choices within brands as well as their models.
- Windows: If you opt for Windows platform, you have a choice from among the various models in Microsoft Lumia series. HTC, HP and some other companies had also introduced a few Windows phones but have discontinued it due to lack of response from the consumers. Its better to avoid Windows OS as it is not common anymore.
All the other operating systems have miserably failed to survive in this highly competitive arena. Blackberry OS, Firefox, Symbian, Asha, Tizen, etc are a few operating systems rejected by the masses.
2. Brand: Selecting a good brand should also be an important part of your decision. If you are planning to use an Android phone, you have an option among the top companies like Samsung, Sony, HTC, LG, etc. Or you can also choose from Chinese phone manufacturers like Huawei, Xiaomi, Lenovo, Oppo, One Plus, Gionee, Symphony, etc.
Here you should always bear in mind that big brands will provide you very good quality and value for money on their product. Chinese brands are also giving the top companies a tough competition. But albeit a few top Chinese companies, the rest compromise on quality and value just for the sake of making phones cheaper and affordable.
3. CPU: CPU is the backbone of a smartphone’s performance. It should be fast enough to provide your phone fast performance.
There are dual core, quad core and even octa core processors. Dual means 2, quad means 4 while octa means 8 processors in one processor! But what matters more is the company and model of the processor. For e.g. a dual core processor of a good company like Qualcomm will be much faster and better in performance than a Quad core or octa core processor of a company like Mediatek. As of January 2016, Apple’s A9 and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 are considered as the fastest processors.
4. GPU: GPU stands for Graphics Processing Unit. It processes all images and videos thereby reducing the load on the CPU. It should be fast to ensure quick processing thereby giving a good performance while playing games, videos or doing any other graphics related work.
5. RAM: RAM stands for Random Access Memory. It is needed to store temporary data of apps, games and the operating system. If RAM’s capacity is less than what is normally required, it will greatly slow down the handset’s processing. Up to 2 years back 1 GB of RAM used to suffice, but now due to apps and games becoming heavy in terms of virtual memory they consume, you need at least 2 GB of RAM. The more the RAM, the better.
OnePlus 3 has 6GB of RAM! The highest I have heard of.
Note: If you are into using just Whatsapp and nothing else, 1 GB RAM should be sufficient for you.
6. Phone Memory: The phone should provide at least 32GB of internal memory. And agin the more memory the better. If the phone has expandable memory option, you can increase your storage capacity further, but if the handset does not provide this option, you cannot increase the storage capacity later and hence you should be on a safer side and opt for more memory. Also keep in mind that the operating system consumes many Gigabits of this internal storage. Also there are some apps that consume only internal memory.
7. Camera: Please note that megapixels (MP) is not the only thing you have to check about the camera. It is only one of the aspects for a camera to be a good one. More megapixels will increase the size of your images and videos. An image from a 13 MP camera will be of around 2 to 3 Megabytes. It is the size and quality of lens that much matters.
The best method to judge a camera is to take pictures and start zooming (enlarging) them. If the image loses clarity very soon after a little zooming, then the camera is of low quality. While if the picture fades only after zooming the image to a large extent, then the camera is good and worthy.
You should also check the video resolution of the camera which in most smartphones should be 1080p or above. Also check the fps (frames per second) of the videos taken from the camera. 60 fps is the best for a smartphone while 30 fps is average.
You should also check for availability of additional features of camera like optical image stabilization, autofocus, face detection, etc. These are a must to ensure quality videos and images.
The above features should also be checked in the front camera which is also called secondary camera.
The other features are availability of LED flash light which is a standard feature now. Without LED flash light you will not get good quality pictures in low light.
Photography enthusiasts prefer DSLRs as a basic DSLR will give you 10x better quality than the best smartphone camera.
8. Display: The first thing to check a good display is the LCD resolution. The LCD should have a high resolution to provide you good graphics. The higher the resolution, the better will be the picture quality.
LCD resolution can be segregated into:
- 720 x 1280 [It is called HD (High Definition)]. It is also called 720p.
- 1080 x 1920 [It is called FHD (Full High Definition)]. It is also called 1080p.
- 1440 x 2560 [It is called QHD (Quad High Definition)]. It is also called 1440p.
See the list of various display resolutions at Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graphics_display_resolution
From 2018, the LCD resolutions have been upgraded from 16:9 to 18:9 and 18.5:9. So the second reading of the above mentioned resolutions have changed. So the HD resolution has changed from 720 x 1280 to 720 x 1440 now.
You also have to check the pixel density which should be more than 300. Again the more the better. You should also know the clarity of graphics in sunlight. A large viewing angle is also an important factor.
You should also see the technology which is used for the LCD. OLED and IPS are the most famous technologies for smartphone displays. OLED is superior quality, but if it cracks, it will be expensive while IPS is comparatively much cheaper. TFT is an inferior type of technology which is used in basic feature phones.
9. Battery: A battery should have a high mAh rating. Here mAh stands for milli Ampere hour. It is used to measure a battery’s energy storage capacity. You will not need a smartphone whose battery does not last even a day. The least you should expect is that it should not drain until you return back home from work or school. To check a battery, you need to see its mAh value. The higher the mAh value the better and the longer its charging will last. In current times, the battery should have a minimum value of 2000 mAh. You can also get phones with batteries having up to 4000 mAh value. The charging that lasts much longer gives a lot of relief to people who get frustrated due to quick drainage of battery. The stand-by time and talk-time of the phones largely depend on the battery.
Recently cell phone manufacturers have started concentrating more on less consumption of power rather than concentrating on increasing the battery capacity. They are trying to fine tune the processing so that it reduces power consumption. There has been a lot of achievement on this front.
There are two types of batteries according to their inner chemical composition:
- Lithium Ion
- Lithium Polymer
Lithium polymer is the best as well as the latest technology which you will find in high end flagship and expensive phones only. Lithium Ion is also a good battery but not as good compared to the polymer one.
Note: More mAh value means bigger size batteries which leads to phone becoming heavier. This is why bigger brands limit the mAh value to around 3000 to 3500.
You should also have a powerbank to assist you while travelling or in an emergency. Please read our guide on how to buy the best powerbank for your mobile phone.
10. Size: If we see the latest trends, the screen sizes of mobile phones are in the range of 5 to 5.5 inches. So which screen size is best for you?
We can broadly classify size into the following ones:
- Smartphone: 4 inches to 5.5 inches
- Phablet: 5.6 inches to 6.9 inches
- Tablet: 7 inches and above
The size between 5.5 inches to 7 inches is between a phone and a tablet. Hence these phones are commonly called phablets.
You should go for a size between 5 inches to 6 inches. Bigger phones are preferable only for gaming enthusiasts or people who frequently watch videos and movies. And you should avoid phones below 4.7 inches as they are too small to operate. While phones above 6 inches are too big to use comfortably for people who travel a lot. Read whats the perfect smartphone screen size for you.
11. Launch date: It is important to know when the particular model you have shortlisted was launched. If the model is old, it is most probable it may be having a older specifications which will soon be outdated. So you have to always select a model which is a more recent one and not more than 6-8 months old.
12. Updates: All big brands provide regular updates for their models. While Chinese brands and local smaller companies fail to provide updates which is a very big disadvantage.
If you are buying an Android phone, you should check which version you are being provided by that brand – Marshmellow or Naugat or Oreo?
The additional features that you should also check are dimensions, touch sensitivity, single SIM/dual SIM, etc. You should also check the weight of the phone which should ideally be less than 200 grams. It is easy to carry a light cell phone.
While some other features like WiFi, Bluetooth, NFC, 4G LTE support, GPS, hotspot, etc have become a standard feature in all smartphones and hence you need not check these at all. The glass protection is also important. Most companies use glasses that are toughened and scratch resistant. They are scratchproof and break only on severe falls.
Where can you find the specs, features and reviews?
The phone manufacturer’s website may not provide you all the specifications clearly. Usually they try to highlight the best features and try to conceal the minus points.
The best sites to see the reviews and specs of a smartphone:
And the other option is to Google “Your model + specs”. For instance search like “Samsung Galaxy S7 specs”
Here you have to keep in mind that if you need the best specs in your mobile phone, you have to be willing to shell out bucks! You will not get all the top features in cheaper phones. The best features are available in flagship models only which are the most expensive ones.
Many people get fooled in to buying cheaper handsets by just reading the specs. You should also read the reviews of users.
Tip: Avoid buying phones from companies which do not have a presence in your country. The guarantee/warranty provided by them is worthless as there won’t be any service center in your country. You will also not be able to repair them due to unavailability of spare parts.
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How do you select your phones?
I would be really interested to know how you select your phones. Do you think any tip is left out? Please let me know in the comments section below.