If you are searching for a buying guide or tips on how to buy a smartphone, this guide is for you. Black Friday, Christmas, or your birthday is here — or do you want/need it — and the mission is to choose a new phone? In the midst of this sea of options, it seems impossible to make the right choice. The price always ends up speaking out loud. But, before comparing values, it is worth defining what type of device you need and concentrating your efforts. See tips on how to buy an ideal smartphone for your type of use.
For this guide to work, I have separated five types of use (consumer profiles) and what we can suggest for each of them according to our experience with the reviews.
- Cheap — if the issue is budget, entry options might work;
- Photos — the camera quality is a fundamental ingredient, if not the main one;
- Gamer — hardware is everything, a top of the line so no one can fault it;
- Common use — social networks, messengers, simple photos, without many demands;
- Addicts — who are connected 100% of the time and need a lot of battery;
A very cheap smartphone can be expensive, mainly because you may be dissatisfied with the device and have to replace it in the coming months.
However, in an emergency, price is often the decisive factor in making the purchase of a new smartphone viable. The important thing is to see if the cheap one in your sights is the same or better than your current smartphone — which broke, failed and you had to change it.
Choosing a smartphone that falls short of its usage or downgrading it will leave you frustrated. What makes some smartphones much cheaper than others are the parts used in their construction: processor, RAM memory, camera, etc. To keep costs down, these items tend to be the most basic, resulting in performance well below the high-end.
To avoid choking, crashes, and other problems you may have, a good tip is to get a smartphone with Android GO. The system is a version optimized by Google to run precisely on more modest devices, with 1 GB of RAM.
Google’s own apps are optimized and reduced to work better, as is the case with YouTube Go, which allows you to download videos over Wi-Fi to watch them offline. On smartphones with Android Go, the Google Play Store has a category called “Optimized for your device” that shows which non-Google apps are aimed at simpler smartphones, such as Facebook Lite, Messenger Lite, and Spotify Lite. These apps, in addition to taking up less space (the Lite version of Facebook is only 1.3 MB), consume less processing and data.
If there’s one thing the iPhone isn’t, it’s cheap. If you found a model for less than R$1,000, run to the mountains. You may be looking at a fake, a user device, or a very, very old model. The iPhone 5C, for example, was launched in 2013 (it’s 2019, it’s a six-year lag), and the iPhone 5 in 2012.
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Such an old device will not support the most up-to-date version of iOS. iOS 15, for example, is available on the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max, released in 2021. Even these are already out of date, compared to the latest iOS 16 rolling out on iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max.
Another common issue is finding mid-range smartphones and entry-level smartphones in the so-called “gray market” which is popularly known as “Belgium Phones” or “Used phones” in Nigeria. This usually happens with Chinese brands, refurbished phones (refurbished, repackaged, or repaired), and/or imported under the hood. This means that these devices, because they are not approved or sold by companies with national representation, may not have coverage in the warranty or any repair location by the manufacturer in US or Africa.
In more serious cases, pirated smartphones — which do not have an IMEI number registered in the GSMA database, a global association of operators — can be blocked by network providers. Not to be confused with any imported smartphone, though. Devices that have been approved in another country and are registered in a global database (IMEI DB) will not be blocked, but it’s always good to check.
Therefore, always look for reliable stores, ask for your invoice and focus on well-known brands. This avoids major headaches as your goal is to spend little.
The average user who is planning to buy a new smartphone can now afford to look for something better than the entry-level cheap ones. If your goal is just to use social networks, take a few photos and you’re not too picky — not needing heavy games on Android — you can opt for what we call basic intermediates.
They are superior devices to the entry-level ones (from 32 GB to 64 GB of internal storage, compared to the 16 GB of the cheap ones, with more than 1 GB of RAM), but they do not compete in quality with premium intermediaries or even the top of the line. In any case, it is an upgrade to the very cheap models, and they are sold for up to $280.
If you don’t stay away from your smartphone and the device’s screen doesn’t turn off for even a minute, you might be a smartphone addict. And to sustain your addiction, you need a phone that can keep up with you. In addition to good performance — we’re talking premium-midrange and top-of-the-line here — you need a battery that can last all day (or at least the time you’re out and about) without crying for the charger.
In addition to a powerful combination of processor and RAM (to be able to operate everything you need without making you wait), it is good to think of a battery from 4000 mAh and/or optimized performance to reduce energy consumption, such as is the case of the iPhone 14 Pro Max that has 3,687 mAh and offers great duration.
There are Android models with more than 5,000 mAh of battery like the latest Tecno Camon 19 and Spark 9T and others offer cases with a built-in power bank. Samsung just launched Samsung announced Galaxy XCover6 Pro with military resistance and Android 12.
You love gaming and your smartphone is your console — you can’t live with lag, especially if you play on 4G. There are a lot of gaming devices out there, and all they offer is powerful hardware, which you’ll also find in non-gaming smartphones from high-end manufacturers. What do both have in common? The price soars.
From the gamer line, in the US, you will find imported the Asus ROG Phone 6 Pro, from Asus, Black Shark 5 Pro, from Xiaomi, OnePlus 10 Pro, from OnePlus, and even the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra. However, as few of the smartphone gamers showed up here, it is worth investing in the top of the line from already established manufacturers, with great processors, lots of RAM, and batteries.
Another tip to note when you want to buy a new smartphone is the camera quality. If you love photography or even do it professionally, staying on top of your new smartphone’s camera sensors is imperative. We’ve already explained why new phones have so many cameras and that’s why you need to watch out for the dual, triple, quad-camera kit (or whatever the limit, Nokia 9 PureView has 5 cameras, just on the back). What kind of lens do I like to use? Love taking selfies? Prefer to focus on the rear camera? I don’t dispense with portrait mode (lens or software).
It seems impossible to reach a consensus, but with patience and reading the reviews you will make the best choice, for sure. A tip is to follow DxOMark Mobile’s rankings of the best mobile cameras. The devices are ranked by the score for front (selfie) cameras and also for the rear lens kit. You might be surprised by the results, usually, Huawei is above Apple in this regard.
In addition to the quality of the cameras, it is important to focus on other related features such as the presence of night mode, 4K footage (front and/or rear), wide, ultra-wide, telephoto, macro, monochrome, and what process the smartphone uses to process portrait mode — bokeh effect (whether by optical lenses, by software or a combination of both)
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Last but not least, having an amazing camera doesn’t exactly mean buying the most expensive smartphone. Manufacturers usually divide their tops of the line into levels whose improvement is in the amount of RAM memory, storage space, and processor. The camera is often the same across the Galaxy S line and the iPhone.
Look at the specifications and make sure the camera of the most expensive model (Pro, Max and etc.) is the same or similar to the cheapest model of the premium line. If so, you don’t have to go straight to the most expensive device and opt for a more affordable one, keeping the camera.
3.5mm Audio Jack or not, that is the question
Dismissing a smartphone just because it doesn’t have a P2 port (3.5mm audio jack) can be silly. Mainly because most of them come with the P2/USB-C adapter inside the box. The removal of P2 is already a reality at the top of the line, but the intermediaries still have it.
Plus, there are reasonably priced wireless headphones that can be your new best friend, dispensing with the need for a plug once and for all.
How do you measure the performance of a smartphone you want to buy? This question can be answered by looking at the numbering in the processor name. You will find devices with Snapdragon (Qualcomm), Exynos (Samsung), Kirin (Huawei), and Helio (MediaTek).
Qualcomm’s latest release is the Snapdragon® 8+ Gen 1, which has better performance than the 820 and 660. So are the other manufacturers.
But what about when comparing processors from different brands — and/or including Apple’s iPhone, which currently uses the A15 Bionic? Then we need to look at the performance tests carried out by specialized sites. Phonefic is constantly updating the reader about the rankings, but you can check who beats who in Geekbench Browser. All processors are ranked by a score.
Some devices are excluded from the benchmark chart for cheating in testing or using what Geekbench calls an “artificial benchmark mode”, which leads to benchmark results that don’t match real-world performance.
How much are you willing to spend?
If you were in doubt about some models, the price may be the difference. Some stores and manufacturers do periodic promotions and this can be decisive for you to find between one and the other. If the smartphone you really want is over your budget, try to keep up with the price fluctuation with Phonefic’s Shopping Assistant. Another tip on how you can buy a smartphone cheap is to get discount coupons and stay tuned for last minute sales, themed dates: Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas, and, of course, Black Friday.
If the value is still far from what you can afford, consider listing your priorities and seeing which of the most expensive smartphone features you could do without — resulting in the specs of a cheaper model. Or, still, try to save a little more money until you reach the ideal budget to buy that desire of yours.
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Keep an eye on the smartphone launch price — as well as the date when they hit the US or Nigerian market. Hardly, newly launched smartphones will have a rapid price drop in the first two months. After that, there are gradual discounts and the Shopping Assistant can reveal if this is the best time to buy.
What year is the smartphone?
In closing our guide on how to buy a smartphone, it is good to be careful not to take a poke in a poke. A top-of-the-line one to two-year-old is still a good phone, but it’s far from still a top-of-the-line this year. Famous lines like Galaxy S series, iPhone, Moto G, and others renew their devices annually.
The low price of a once-top-of-the-line device is just a fair price for a once-best in-class, no more. Research the phone’s release date and evaluate if, for the same price, you can get something more current and also durable.