Mobile phone buying guide
Each year, lots of new mobile phones are released and it’s not always that easy to know how to choose the right one. Below we’ll guide you to the most important things you should consider in order to make the right decision.
Smartphones can be separated into three price groups: the high-end, the mid-range and the budget range.
The higher-end models are, as the name implies, the most expensive ones, where all new flagship models end up. Here you’ll find the latest technology, the fastest hardware and in most cases, the best phones on the market. The prices reach up to around 1000 pounds for the most expensive ones.
The mid-range is the largest segment with a wide range of variations from all manufacturers. Here you’ll find both the previous year’s flagship phones, and this year’s models. In this price range you’ll find many good phones worth the money. If you don’t want to pay more than is necessary, you can rest assured that a phone that costs around 300-500 pounds is usually a good phone.
The lower end covers the least expensive models on the market. Don’t expect the mobile phone you are buying to be of highest quality, but sometimes you’ll be surprised to find some real gems here. Prices range up to approximately 200 pounds.
Polycarbonate (plastic), aluminium and glass are the most common materials used in mobile phone exteriors.
Polycarbonate is a very durable plastic that is used in aircraft, visor and display windows. The material is used in phones in all price ranges. Polycarbonate is constantly being developed by the industry to become stronger and more resistant.
Aluminium is stiffer than polycarbonate and is used in conjunction with other materials, typically with magnesium, which makes it stronger. It’s more expensive to use, but it’s also better than plastic in many ways. It’s more easily scratched than plastic, but gives a higher quality feel.
Glass is scratch resistant, and has a stiffness that polycarbonate and aluminium lack. It’s used primarily in phones that support wireless charging, as glass lets through the magnetic field used to charge the battery.
The screen is the most visible part on the phone and also the most sensitive. A common screen size is between 3.5 inches and seven inches. The larger models are called phablets, since they are almost as big as tablets.
Screens are available in many different types, with TN-LCD, IPS-LCD and Super amoled among the most common. They wary in price and also have characteristics that distinguish them from each other.
The screen resolution indicates how many pixels the screen is made up of. The higher the resolution, the more image information can be displayed, which means higher resolution and more detail. The resolution negatively affects the battery of the phone. The higher the resolution, the more energy is used, and thus the battery life decreases.
Here are some of the screen resolutions and screen types that are common today:
4K is the same as 3 840 x 2 160 pixels, and is only used on a few mobile phones on the market today. It gives the sharpest picture, but the difference between 4K, WQHD, and FHD is marginal when viewed on the phone's small screen.
WQHD is 2,560 x 1,440 pixels, and is becoming more common in high-end models. This resolution size has been common in computer monitors, but is getting more and more common in phone screens as well. Another screen resolution used today is 2,560 x 1,600 pixels.
FHD is 1 920 x 1,080 pixels and is usually called full-HD. FHD has been used in high-end models for several years, and is now becoming more common in the mid-range group.
WXGA is 1 280 x 720 pixels and just below normal HD resolution. It’s also available in variants like 1 280 x 768 and 1 280 x 800.
TN-LCD is the most common and cheapest screen technology available today. It’s a further development of the first-generation LCD technology. Unfortunately, it’s proved to have poor viewing angles, poor visibility in sharp sunlight, and high battery usage compared to newer screen types.
The IPS LCD is more expensive and has better picture features. It has lower power consumption, better viewing angles, and is brighter than its competitors. It’s used mostly in more expensive mobile phones.
Super amoled is one of the market's best screen types with excellent colour reproduction, good sharpness, and quick response when touched. It is, as the name suggests, a further development of the amoled screen with, among other things, lighter and thinner designs.
The processor is the heart of the phone and the part that coordinates all components along with the software.
A fast processor delivers fewer and shorter delays when using the phone. The speed is specified in gigahertz and is usually between 1 and 2.95 gigahertz.
Processors use one or more cores to perform calculations. More cores mean that the processor can do several things simultaneously. The most common are two, four or eight cores where the processor itself chooses how many to use based on the load.
Here are the most common processors and their manufacturers:
Samsung Exynos is manufactured by Samsung and is used almost exclusively in the company’s own phones and tablets. The first variant was released with the Galaxy S in 2010 and has largely developed since then. In the fourth quarter of 2014, the Seventh Generation Exynos Circuits came with the Galaxy Note 4 and Galaxy Note edge, which became the market's most powerful phone.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon is one of the most used processor types in mobile phones today. The Snapdragon series came in 2008 and is used in phones from all price ranges. The series used today is Snapdragon 200, 400, 600 and 800. Higher numbers mean more powerful circuits and there are several levels within the same series.
Apple A is specially developed for Apple's own products, and used in the iPhone, iPad, iPad Touch and Apple TV. The later variants have a co-processor that manages information from motion sensors in the phone.
The graphics processor runs the graphical display on the screen. Make sure to not confuse it with the processor that has a wider range of applications.
The graphics processor is optimized for parallel work and relieves the regular processor when you play, watch high definition films, take pictures and show animations.
A mobile device processor has up to 12 cores while a graphics processor can have as many as 256 or more.
Without the graphics processor, today's phones and tablets would be significantly slower, have a higher power consumption, and get warmer.
All data that should be sent quickly to the processor or graphics processor is stored in the RAM. For example, all applications that are running are stored in the RAM, even those hidden in the background.
The more RAM available, the faster your phone feels. More memory means that more applications can be running at the same time, your browser tabs do not need to refresh as often, and you can play larger games without them loading as much.
The most common amount of RAM is three to four gigabytes. Some more expensive models have as much as six to eight gigabytes or more.
The memory type used is called DDR3 or DDR4. The latter is faster and more power-efficient, which increases battery life and overall performance.
The storage space contains all software used in the phone.
Storage space in mobile phones usually ranges between 8 and 128 gigabytes. Sometimes all the way to 512 gigabytes on more expensive models. Many mobile phones have a memory card slot that gives you extra storage space, for example, for photos and recorded video clips.
You always have less actual space to use than specified on the phone. If the device has 16 gigabyte of storage space, the operating system and pre-installed applications use some of this amount. In practice, you can get as little as half of this when you get a new phone.
Phones usually have two or three cameras - one at the front and one or two at the back. Newer, more expensive mobile phones can have as many as four or five cameras.
They usually have a resolution between 3 and 24 megapixels. Several factors play the part in making the image results good.
The camera sensor is a plate of microscopic bowls that catch light. Each bowl is a pixel in the finished image. The more bowls in the sensor, the more pixels and higher resolution with more details. Fewer bowls mean fewer pixels and lower resolution, but because they are larger, they collect more light for each pixel, and create better photographs in poor lighting conditions.
The optic is the part furthest away from the centre, often called the lens, and consists of a sequence of glass that the light goes through before it reaches the camera sensor. The bigger the sensor is, the larger the optic must be to emit enough light to cover the entire surface. When you say resolution, it's usually the camera sensor you're talking about, but the optics must also have a good resolution.
The aperture controls the amount of light to be permitted through the camera sensor lens. In standard cameras, the user can control the aperture, but in mobile phones it’s automatically done using software. A large aperture gives more light to the sensor and ultimately better images. It also gives a shorter depth of field, which indicates how blurred the background of what the photograph will look.
The image processor converts the light that hits the camera sensor to digital information that the phone's software then processes. This is a component that is rarely mentioned and that works completely in silence. It doesn’t make it a less important component, since a good image processor can mean the difference between a good and poor image result.
Image stabilization counteracts shaking when shooting or recording video. Stabilization compensates for small shakes that make the images blurred. There are two variants – electronic and optical – where optical stabilization is the most effective.
Flash is used to illuminate the subject when the light is not optimal. Some phones use dual flashes called dual-tone. They provide better colour reproduction and counteract stiff images and cool colours.
One of the most important things with a mobile phone is good battery life. The battery has to cope with all the more thin phones, more features and more powerful hardware.
The size of the batteries is given in milliamper hours (mAH). A larger battery lasts longer between each charge, but also makes the phone thicker.
Usually, the battery capacity is between 3,000 and 4,000 milliampere hours.
Many new mobile phones have batteries that can’t be replaced by the user. In these cases, you must hand it to a shop or to the manufacturer to be replaced. iPhone phones must be submitted to Apple if the battery needs to be replaced.
Some models have built-in support for wireless charging.
Wireless charging means you don’t need to use a charging lead. Instead, you place your mobile phone on a charging plate that, with a magnetic field, charges the battery. The most common standard used today is Qi.
One of the advantages of wireless charging is that you don’t need to use the charging port, which reduces the risk of corrosion and wear. The disadvantage is that the charging isn’t as powerful.
Mobile network, wifi & bluetooth
Today 4G is the fastest type of mobile connection at speeds up to 100 megabits per second. In practice, speeds are often significantly lower than that, often down to between 10 and 30 megabits per second. The next generation mobile network is 5G, with up to around one gigabit per second in transfer rate.
Wifi means wireless connection to a router, usually connected to a modem to access the internet without a mobile connection. It uses the 802.11 standard, where today's most common are 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n and 802.11ac. The latter is the fastest variant and all versions are compatible with each other.
Bluetooth is used to connect accessories such as headsets, smart watches and the like. These can also be used to send files between devices. There are three classes of which Class 2 is most common. Theoretically, with bluetooth 5.0, the maximum distance between two bluetooth devices is 240 metres.
Miracast is a technology for wireless transfers of video material from phone or tablet to a playback device. It uses wifi technology to connect, but requires no router to work. The units create their own private network for their connection.
Widi allows you to connect your phone to an external display without cables. Mainly based on Miracast and suppors up to 4K resolutions from Widi 5.1. Widi has today been replaced by Miracast.