How to buy a phone
Few tools of modern technology have become as prevalent as the cell phone, which allows you to be in touch from almost anywhere, almost all the time. And you can do more than just talk: Today's phones let you send and receive email and text messages, surf the Web, and play music and videos. Sifting through the sea of service plans and handsets can be difficult, but we'll walk you through what you need to know to get the phone and the service plan that are right for you.
If you don't have to own the latest and greatest smartphone, there’s no time like the present to buy a new one, whether it be the newest iPhone, an Android superphone, or a business-friendly Windows Phone. Before you hit the stores, however, do a bit of research and read this guide so that you'll know exactly what to look for.
Features to Consider
When you're shopping for a phone, you can do some simple hands-on tests in the store to ensure that the handset has everything you need.
Call quality: What good is a phone if it can't make calls? Some of the simplest, most bare-bones feature phones offer the best call quality, and some fancy smartphones offer dismal calling. When evaluating phones, be sure to make a few test calls. In our hands-on tests, we generally place some calls from a quiet room and several others in a noisy environment. You might not be able to replicate such tests indoors, but try your best. Listen for static, tinny voices, and interference. Ask the people you call if they can hear a disruptive amount of background noise.
Design: Your choices range from phones with large touchscreens to slider-style handsets with full-QWERTY keyboards. Whichever type of phone you select, check to see if it's comfortable to hold against your ear, if you can hear callers without constant adjustment, if you can use the phone with one hand (or by scrunching your neck and shoulder), if it fits comfortably in your pocket or bag, and if it's durable enough to handle some rough treatment. A solidly built phone should be able to withstand getting banged around in a handbag or pocket, as well as a bit of moisture and a short-range drop. You should consider investing in a case or display protector as well—especially if you’re somewhat accident-prone.
Operating system: If you're looking to do more than make calls and send text messages with your phone, consider the platform that it runs on. The mobile operating system you choose will greatly affect your phone's capabilities. The most popular platforms are Google's Android (found on multiple devices), iOS (found only on iPhone models), BlackBerry OS (found on BlackBerrys of various designs), and Microsoft’s Windows Phone. Each operating system has its own advantages and disadvantages, so familiarize yourself with all of them before settling on one.
Display: If you intend do a lot of Web browsing or movie streaming, make sure that the screen is big enough for you to take full advantage of the phone's features. For surfing the Web or editing Office documents on your phone, a screen that measures less than 3 inches diagonally will feel cramped.
Screen resolution: The higher the resolution, the better the screen will look—an important factor if you plan to watch videos or view photos on your phone. A high-resolution display is desirable if you plan to do a lot of reading on your phone, since text will look much sharper on it and be easier to read.
If your phone lets you adjust contrast and brightness (including backlighting), you can make text and graphics easier to view in well-lit places, and you can also save battery life in a pinch.