A quick guide to buying your next Android phone

A quick guide to buying your next Android phone. What to look for.

The Mobile phone industry is arguably the most rapid growing technology sector over the past decade. With the invent of the first Apple iPhone back in 2007 and the first Android phone (the Dream) by Google in early 2008, today smartphones are the epitome of mobile communication all over the world. So accustomed are the users that it would almost seem outlandish nowadays to think of carrying on with daily work routines without the help of a smart gadget.

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A quick guide to buying your next Android phone

Over the past two years, new Android phone manufacturers have been hitting the market at a breakneck pace, closing the spectrum of consumer demand and broadening consumer choice for Android handsets. Nowadays the average user would find themselves literally spoilt for choice when purchasing an Android phone.
In the year 2015, buying an android phone is more of a challenge and far from being a simple pick and drop task like it used to be a few years ago and now more than ever, the term “best smartphone” is highly subjective.
The fierce and cut throat competition between Android manufacturers to win the consumer’s heart is sometimes flooded with bloody gimmicks, exaggerated product campaigns and over pricing; this has not made the buying task any easier for the consumer.
With small and almost alien start up companies like the OnePlus offering better value for money, they have proved hard to be ignored in a sea of established and innovative giant brands like Samsung, HTC, Sony and LG that have been on the scene for a while. It’s no longer about a mere brand name like before, meeting consumer needs while maintaining top innovation has won Chinese mobile handset makers like Xiaomi, OnePlus and Huawei a bigger piece of the profit pie from global sales and with equally high end phones like Xiaomi Mi Note, OnePlus One and Huawei Mate 7 also contending for the top spot.
So as an Android user where do you stand when the waves of innovation blow your way, all skimming for your attention? What design features, built quality and personal preferences will make all the vital difference and help you settle on a particular Android pick away from the rest?
We understand it’s an uphill task and even much so a gamble to make these choices especially when you are not sure of what you are looking for in Android handset. Getting best value for your money and the right device that fits your mobile needs is all that important and it should be, owing to the fact that we are increasingly handling more work related tasks on our smartphones instead of our computers and these choices should not be dictated by some ad campaigns running in the media in praise of a particular handset whatsoever.
We believe you are the type of person who adore their hard earned cash, you came to the right place and here we have tried to dissect this in the most simple to understand way, hoping your next purchase task will be a bit easier afterward and free of regrets later on.
Like in buying other mobile gadgets, the ‘device specification’ is the de-facto term that many users will keep in mind while making that purchase. This however would not be a controversial topic for most IPhone users who only have to worry about the next Apple IPhone but for us, it is the only weapon to separate a crowd of Android phones into their respective place in the battle for the who is who of Android.

What to look for when buying your next Android phone.

What you need to know:

  • Get the best value for your Money.
  • Get the right device that best suits your needs and does what you want.
  • There is no single “best” Android phone so don’t worry about another better phone being out there. Get one that will hold you up until your next upgrade.

We have seen affordable devices that punch above the weight, sleek devices with premium built quality and power houses that impress with features. Android phones’ specifications and features will always change variably with time but determining what you need most out of the specs sheet and what they will cost you will help keep you abreast at top of your game avoiding unnecessary pit falls.
With this guide, we hope you will become a some-what super buyer making informed device comparisons between different Android phones from different or same market segment wisely.

  • Display Size, Type and Resolution

A quick guide to buying your next Android phone. What to look for.This probably a no brainier, the most obvious difference two phones is the size. But it could as well be the single most important feature that most users will rely on when choosing an Android phone. While we have evolved from a time where a 4′ inch smartphone was the largest display size and the accepted standard for flagship phones, today 6 inch plus phones are now contending to still be referred as phones and not anything else!
Settling on comfortable display size that is appropriate for the nature of your work and daily travel routine is probably where you need to begin. I always feel that your needs should come first. I for instant have been using the gigantic 6.4 inch Sony Xperia Z Ultra for a while now but I have grown used to the massive size as it suits my web experience needs most than any other device right now. Reading and watching HD video, 1280 x 720 (720p) is also ideal on large displays.
Different handset vendors use different display types on their mobile devices. Samsung has been on the fore-front to embrace the benefits of super amoled touch screens which render deeper blacks, high contrasts and are battery efficient but super amoled screens are not always great for outdoor viewing.  Other manufacturers like Sony, LG and HTC have adopted IPS LCD capacitive touch screens and TFT displays which offer great outdoor viewing and present more realistic and natual colors with the brightest screens possible. The display resolution is the color intensity measured in pixel per inch (PPI). You will mark the difference when working outside under bright sunlight and wide and narrow viewing angles. 190 PPI is considered the standard for smartphone screen displays and you will appreciate the advantage higher PPI resolution brings to the overall user interface experience. The 2014 LG G3 saw the highest resolution on any smartphone with a whopping 538 pixel density(1440 x 2560 pixels) Mark you, such huge pixel density difference is not always noticeable to the naked eye and you will probably do fine with displays of over 300PPI. Generally, the higher the resolution, the crisper and clearer the display will look. Having a chance prior to buying, try out the device display in different lighting conditions like in bright sunlight to get a sense of how much it will suit you. Avoid lower than 320 x 480 resolution.

  • Processing power (CPU)

A quick guide to buying your next Android phone. What to look for.The processing capability of modern smartphones can be put in focus with the processing power of a normal computer. This is very essential. The CPU type and clock rate is the answer to how many single instructions can be processed in a given time. This is the brain that handles your phone boot up, app launch, game play, web browsing speed, file transfer speed and all actions on your phone. These days smartphones have become powerful pocket computers able to handle heavy work related tasks effortlessly. In 2015, anything less than a dual core processor on an Android handset will probably be referred to as old hardware. We are now getting accustomed to quad core (4 CPUs) and octacore (8 CPUs) powering a single Android device, not that you will ever need to utilize all that processing power at the same time but knowing you have an extra core will put you at ease if at all you ever need it. Higher clock speeds (GHz) with multiple processor cores will result in a snappy fast performing device.
A topic of contention with mobile CPUs is the type of chipsets or SoC (System-on-a chip) used. SoC houses and integrates almost all of the components (CPU, Memory, GPU, USB controller, power management circuits and wireless radios (WiFi, 3G, 4G LTE) into a single silicon chip to make a complete powerful computer in smartphones and tablets and still have plenty of space left for batteries. Exynos ,Qualcomm and low power Intel Atom chipsets have seen huge preference adoption with top mobile handset makers while Mediatek (MTK) chipsets (mostly on Chinese brands) have been tarnished as less powerful and inferior to such chipsets as the recent Qualcomm snapdragon 800+ processors. Generally, unless you will only be using the phone for the bare essentials, avoid any processor less than 1GHz (1000 MHz) Single Core as it will greatly lack in performance.

  • RAM

How much of a multi-tasker are you? You will probably need more Random Access Memory (RAM) to handle intense multitasking jobs on your Android device. Android smartphones are natively made to do just that, handle several processing jobs simultaneously and effortlessly. Thus the higher the amount of RAM the snappier the performance allowing for very heavy processing jobs to be executed without freezing the device or causing overheating problems for that matter. The recently launched Asus Zen fone 2 was the first device to sport a whooping 4 GB RAM on any phone globally. With a good amount of RAM, you will probably never notice any lags enhancing the overall user experience as apps open faster and multitasking becomes a breeze.

  • Battery Life

For long time Android users, we probably all agree here that despite how much Android has out-grown itself, battery efficiency has not always been a strong hold to reckon with on most of our Android phones. Big screens, super fast processors and powerful applications would mean that battery life has never been more important. This is probably where IPhone users have had an upper hand with recent IPhone models being able to squeeze up more battery hours over most Android phones. I personally think it is the high time that Android manufacturers held off the obsession of sleeker and thinner devices and focused more on better battery life. We have seen efforts by a few companies releasing Android phones with as much 4000 mAh and massive 5000 mAh batteries but this is yet to be replicated across the board with other manufactures. If you are an average user, you will probably hold up just fine with less than 3000 mAh battery but for heavy users on constant gaming, web browsing and video consumption, if your brand doesn’t serve you with more than this you probably need to look elsewhere.

A List of Android phones with excellent battery life endurance rate:

Huawei Ascend Mate 2, ZTE ZMax, Galaxy S6 Active, Motorola Droid Turbo, ZTE Grand X Max, Sony Xperia T2 Ultra, HTC One Max, Sony Xperia Z3 Compact, Alcatel One touch Idol 3 5.5″, LG G Vista, Motorola Moto G, Sony Xperia Z3, Oppo R7 Plus, Meizu M2 Note, Galaxy Note 5, Huawei Ascend Mate 7, Google Nexus 7, LG G2 Mini, Xiaomi Mi4, OnePlus One and Huawei Honor 7.

My shift from being a long time loyal Samsung user was indeed mostly born out of bad battery life experience on my Samsung Galaxy S4 and Note 3. Am excited with the Sony Xperia Z5 Ultra rumors which have indicated Sony’s effort to embed a 4000 mAh battery on the device which will be much more than 3430 mAh on the Xperia Z5 premium. Fast charging is also becoming more common and you may be able to fill up your battery in a few minutes if your device supports this feature.

  • Camera Quality

A quick guide to buying your next Android phone. What to look for.We are constantly grabbing out our smartphone cameras to capture an important image, record a video on the go and tell a story where bare words cannot articulate. While most Android phones will record video in addition to capturing still photos, not all will do so in High definition. The camera Mega pixel or Ultra pixel size, camera speed and camera features like auto focus, optical image stabilization (OIS) which drastically reduces blur in still photos and shaky video footage, video frame rates per second (fps), High dynamic range (HDR), Dual tone LED flash, sweep panorama, face detection, geo-tagging and touch focus are some of the key features for the photo lovers. The higher the camera megapixel and fps the better the photo/video experience. For instance, a 13 Mp primary camera with 1080p@60fps and optical image stabilization will allow for full HD recording as compared to one with 8 Mp camera with 720@30fps without OIS or DIS. Secondary front facing cameras have also become a hit for video calls and for selfie photo lovers alike. HTC has been noted to vouch for use of ultra-pixels in their HTC One product line. Ultra pixels cameras produce fewer but larger pixels to create better image in low light vs. many but smaller pixels that create better image in sufficient light on Mega pixel cameras. The HTC One M9 however came with a 20 MP camera, raising questions whether HTC is on the road to abandoning Ultra pixels for Megapixels as a preferred technology.
So if photo experience on your mobile phone is important to you, do experiment that camera with a few snaps to make sure your future photo memories are likable!

  • Storage capacity

Do you always run short of internal storage space for all your apps, music files, video and documents on your Android device? Getting enough storage space is important to house all your apps and store personal files without running low on space. Large HD gaming applications like Real racing 3, Ravensword Shadowlands, GTA, NBA 2k15, Modern combat 5 and the like will take up the most storage space just like movie files would. Be cautious of devices that split internal storage space into two, treating them differently. I have found this to be a bad idea as you will soon run out of app storage space if only half of the total space available is allocated for apps installation. You may see this on some Chinese branded phones and tablets. Most mobile phones nowadays come with sufficient inbuilt internal storage of at least 8 GB and a maximum of up to 128 GB. Sometimes, manufacturers have a second variant of the same phone model offering a higher storage capacity and a higher amount of RAM.

  • GPU

Gaming enthusiasts will probably be quick to check what Graphic processor type is running on their device before anything else. Mobile graphical processors are specialized co-processor that takes on graphical calculations and designed to accelerate the image output to a display so that the main CPU is not overloaded. With mobile gaming pushing its boundaries, mobile GPUs are becoming small ultra processing houses designed to deliver highly processed 3D images and video output in real time. GPU processors like Mali 400MP, Adreno 330 and SGX544MP3  will score high in graphic intensive rendering games than older Adreno 220 and Mali 400. If you care about being a super gamer, your mobile device GPU capabilities should be top on the check list. Android Benchmarking applications like Antutu Benchmark  will measure the GPU capabilities of your device and show you results on how it compares with other Android phones.

  • OS updates

A quick guide to buying your next Android phoneThe operating system is the Android play ground. The open nature of the Android OS allows for different Android experiences across devices from different manufacturers. Not all devices will be running the latest OS out of the box. This is where you do some background checks to know whether your particular device will possibly receive upgrades in the near future.
Newer and improved versions of Android will have better support for Apps, lucid performance, better stability and compatibility. For instance the release of Android 4.4 Kit Kat and Android 5.0 Lollipop has broadened support for devices with as little as 512MB RAM allowing for low end devices with meager specs to get a tangible performance boost and improved battery life.
If you wish to get the latest and best of Android version, check for possible planned future upgrade plans for that particular device. Sticking to the most recent flagships or the Nexus series from Google might do the trick here.  Older devices generally have less possibility of being upgraded to recent Android OS versions due to hardware limits.

  • Build Quality

A quick guide to buying your next Android phonePlastic design, glass and metal designed phones, what do you prefer? Android OEMs ship all kind of phones, some with cheaper material and others with premium finish which contribute to the overall built quality and market price for the handset. Budget phones will probably lack the premium built quality found on high end phones. You will appreciate the advantage scratch resistance with Corning Gorilla glass protection on the screen display if your next Android phone has one. Water resistant phones have also generated interest with enthusiastic users in that perspective as well. With all the myriad of design features being thrown at us, the players’ card is really left to the consumer as not every design feature will be useful to everyone of us. You may find the glass finish on Sony’s Xperia Z device series, Galaxy S6 and Note 5 attractive but glass is highly fragile and tend to attract finger prints on some phones which would be uncomfortable for users with sweaty hands. While plastic material might feel cheap on the hand, this plastic is what makes some devices very lightweight as compared to hard metallic. Marks and blemishes also tend to hide quite well on plastic. Metallic designed phones while they may add up extra weight, they look and feel good in the hand. Metal is also the best suited to aid in dissipating heat from the processor than other materials.

  • Manufacturer skins

If you really fancy the additional spin of android on top of stock Android by a certain manufacturer, then be sure to experiment with others before hand as this can have a drastic impact on the overall Android user experience. HTC Sense, Samsung Touch whiz and Emotion UI on Huawei devices offer a totally different Android experience. You may get fond of HTC blink feed launcher which cleverly aggregates different news feed on to your home screen while Samsung’s Nature UX is full with loads of smart features like Smart Stay, Air view and Smart scroll. However, you can always minimize the odds and straighten the uncomfortable bends with the plethora of available customization apps and themes from the Play Store.

  • NFC

It’s true that the ability to make our lives easier should be built into the very soul of our smartphonesThe ability to transfer files between two devices with near field communication (NFC) support by simply touch them together is a luxury that some users cannot afford to miss. For some users, lack of NFC support could be the deal breaker on their next Android purchase. We have seen companies release the similar off springs of the same phone model to specifically support NFC and LTE. This is mostly the case with Samsung Galaxy xxx05 LTE devices.

  • 4G / LTE Support

Does your Android device offer support the newer, high-speed 4G networks? More carriers are now offering 4G networks. Here in Kenya, Safaricom has already rolled out the 4G infrastructure in major towns in Kenya while Airtel has undertaken significant upgrades of its 3.75G network. If the super-fast speeds of 4G network are that important to you, make sure you get a device that supports this spectrum. Mobile phones with LTE hardware will support download speeds of above 42 MBps which is not bad on a mobile phone compared to their 3G counterparts that can only manage download speeds of up to 21 MBps . Note that the actual speeds are also highly dependent on your cellular network provider as well.

  • Support for Micro-SD (Expandable Storage)

The flexibility that expandable Storage brings with a Micro SD slot cannot be overlooked. One big criticism that Samsung galaxy S6 and S6 edge received is the lack expandable storage. While we may get a good amount of internal storage on these devices, am the type of person swapping my Micro SD card between phones and computers to share files and having used several phones without a Micro SD slot, it just felt somehow awkward. Only iPhone users would withstand the frustration. Is this something you are willing to sacrifice on your next Android purchase?

  • Support for FM radio

Most of Samsung’s Galaxy 4G / LTE phones and some other vendors as well have been known to omit the support for FM Radio. This has not always sat well with some users on the go. Support for FM radio is built into the device baseband radio receivers and a device cannot simply add FM support by downloading an FM radio app. Be on the look out to know before-hand if the device you are buying has support for FM radio if this concerns you.

  • Removable vs. Non-Removable Battery

Interestingly enough, more and more devices are shipping with non-removable batteries which has not always been a popular thing with most of us. I have found the availability for removable battery to be of great help especially when troubleshooting phones. Being able to pull out that battery abruptly when you experience a sudden device lock up or freezes comes in handy, just like it is when replacing a removable battery that has gone bad.

  • Carrier Locked devices

If you are buying an Android device from a specific career either on contract or without, you may want to enquire first whether the device comes locked to that network or not. Many users find themselves restricted to a single network when it’s too late. If it is network locked, it is most unlikely that your carrier will do the unlocking for you after purchase. Online websites would charge you anywhere from $20 to $70 to have the phone unlocked to work with any carrier SIM globally.

  • Price!  How much are you willing to pay for your next Android phone?

Price! Price! Price, I know, should have been top on the list but being last here serves this list well and helps put the above considerations into perspective. After thinking through what the device offers in terms of specifications and now that you are 99% clear on what to look for on your next Android purchase, the overall market price will be subject to all that the device brings to the table.
Every phone is different which is why there are the cream-of-the-crop flagship phones costing well above $700, Mid-range phones at about $400 and budget phones at less than $200. While not every high end device is worth it’s cost, the popularity of these gadgets also makes it very possible for you to find fairly used earlier flagship phones at almost half the price as well.

As I mentioned before, the term “Best Android phone” is highly subjective today and Android companies from the East and China have turned the tides of the global smartphone market with their ability to offer similarly high end, premium Android phones at relatively lower price! Huawei, Xiaomi, OnePlus, Oppo, Lenovo, Micromax, Alcatel and others are on the fore front in offering value for money aside maintaining top innovation. These firms are speaking in one strong unanimous voice; striving to let consumers know that they have an alternative! Consumers are no longer too accustomed to brand identity neither too afraid to look for better deals elsewhere if it results in similar luxury and leaves a few extra bucks on their accounts as well.

Well specced devices do exist at a relatively fair price if you do your homework. Motorola’s Moto G series is one that has seen a lot of approval owing to it being an all-inclusive fairly priced phone. Top tier OnePlus One and now OnePlus 2 are probably the best example of best alternative to plus $700 priced phones retailing at around $300. I will guess the infamous invite system and the long wait is worth-while for all it’s enthusiasts. Xiaomi’s new Mi 4C is one that has garnered particular interest owing to it’s impeccable specs and a hard to beat price of around $235. The 5 inch device sports a metal design, powered by latest Snapdragon 808 processor with 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, a 1080p display, an IR blaster, a 13-megapixel backed up by a 3080mAh battery and USB-C which is the future of USB connectors.

It seems that the days where users had to commit to 2 year contracts to own a powerful smartphone are fading, for even the spectacular 5.5′ inch Asus Zenfone 2, the first Android device to sport 4GB RAM is surprisingly retailing at an otherwise budget phone market price of around $299. You get a 1080p display, 13MP rear camera and 5MP front cam, a powerful 64-bit quad core Intel Atom Z3580 processor and a 3000mAh battery.

A quick guide to buying your next Android phone

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The market for affordable devices will continue to grow, new brands and a universe of new Android phones will always be on release every now and then but while you look forward to buying your next Android phone, be sure to read and watch consumer reviews for the device you are interested in, determine what features you need most and what they will cost you.

By wisely comparing devices from a particular market segment, you will be owning the player’s card making sure you avoid being hoaxed and falling for mere brand names and advertiser gimmicks. We hope that you will now be better suited to do informed device comparisons and make better choices on your next Android purchase.

Deciding on what your needs are and purchasing what you can afford is probably the way to go here! Make sure the Android phone you buy today is the one you are going to want an year from now.

In dilemma of finding the right android phone for you? I would recommend one place for you: Google’s tool Find your next Android phone  is a good place to start finding some possible ideas for your next Android phone. The tool recommends a list of Android phones upon a few user based questions to determine what kind of device would fit your interests.

Liked our article? kindly tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

Happy Geeking!

 

Charles Kamara
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Charles Kamara

Charles is a PC technician, tech blogger, infopreneur and an avid reader. Writes about tech that interests him most and more importantly to his audience, he offers solid technical experience in easy DIY tech repair guides. A sociable geek who loves to experiment with gadgets.
Charles Kamara
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