It seems as though everyone has a smartphone these days. And why not? They’ve gone from luxury items to potentially integral parts of our personal and business lives. The cell phone in general evolved that way, starting as a luxury item for privileged people and eventually becoming necessities for communication. A few years ago it was just businesspeople using their BlackBerry smartphones. Now a much wider population uses smartphones.
One unique aspect of smartphones is that they’re essentially disposable. It’s not that we throw them in the trash every two years, but because of two-year cell phone contracts we do get upgrades at regular intervals. That means we get repeat buying experiences, from which we can learn plenty. Here are five lessons I’ve learned in buying multiple smartphones in the past five years.
1. There is no one perfect smartphone
If one of your friends love her Apple iPhone, and another friend loves his Samsung Galaxy Nexus Android phone, which is better? The answer is surprisingly simple: neither. The most important lesson in buying a smartphone is to realize that it’s a personal decision. What works for you might not work for some one else.
With dozens of smartphones on the market, consumers have plenty of choice. Someone who wants a simple, easy interface might want the iPhone. Someone with a bit more of a computer background might prefer the customization aspects of Android. Those who want a smartphone primarily for email might turn to the BlackBerry’s superior physical keyboard. Choices abound, and there is no one best phone.
2. Fancy specs aren’t everything
We’re entering an age where pocket sized smartphones contain more powerful hardware than full-sized computers of a few years ago. The computer I used throughout college in the early 00s, for example, contained an 800MHz processor. Today an 800MHz processor powers low-end smartphones. We’re seeing devices with faster processors, more RAM, and increasingly vibrant displays. There is a temptation, then, to go find the best in terms of specs.
Yet specs are only one pieces of the equation. Yes, a device with more powerful specs can potentially do more than a less powerful phone. But it’s not about potential. It’s about what the device can actually do. For many people, a 1GHz iPhone might do more in reality than a 1.5GHz Android. Yes, the Android can potentially do more, but unless it is in reality doing more, it’s of little concern to the end user. Practical functionality should always come before specs.
3. The carrier limits you
When you buy a smartphone, you’re not just picking the phone itself. You’re picking a carrier as well. At least, that’s the way it works in America and many other countries. In order to receive a steep discount on a smartphone — typically reducing the price from $500 to $200 — customers agree to a two-year contract term. They must stay with the carrier for that term, or else pay a hefty early termination fee. This subsidy model can greatly impact a smartphone buying decision.
If you want service from T-Mobile, because it provides the best rates, you’re stuck with T-Mobile’s best smartphone. That might not be the best overall phone for you, though. There might be a better model that Verizon or AT&T or Sprint offers. But if you prioritize monthly plan pricing, you’re limiting your phone selection. Such is the conundrum many smartphone buyers face. They can’t get the best phone, because they’d have to make other sacrifices to do so.
4. Bigger isn’t always better
Once Android caught on, we started to see a trend towards larger phones. The Motorola Droid X kind of kicked off the big phone escapades, and it has grown from there. Now we have smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy Note, which is really a cross between a smartphone and a tablet. Yet these big phones, while popular, are not necessarily better than their smaller counterparts.
Remember, smartphones are supposed to be portable communications devices. The larger the model, the more difficult it is to tote around. That is, it fits less easily into pockets and takes up more room in purses and bags. While there are many advantages to larger screens, particularly for those watching lots of streaming video, it’s not the end-all feature. In fact, for the average consumer screen size should be down on the priority list. It just doesn’t bestow that many advantages. But, because it’s a front-and-center feature, it gets undue attention.
5. Monkey see, monkey do
Surely your mother taught you the ever-important lesson that you shouldn’t do something just because everyone else is. Yet when it comes to buying a smartphone, that just might be the best path to take. There are so many advantages to having the same smartphone as other people. There are opportunities to share tips and tricks, app recommendations, and more. Since many smartphone platforms have proprietary messaging platforms, communication becomes even easier as well.
This is perhaps why the iPhone remains king of the smartphone market. Its users have shared experiences. They communicate via iMessage. They have social games wherein they can connect with one another. No one person can navigate the entire app store, but a group of friends can share what they’ve each discovered. There are just so many opportunities when you share experiences with others. That applies to smartphones as much as it does anything else.
About the Author
Joe Pawlikowski writes and edits several blogs across the web. He recently started a personal blog, A New Level, which focuses on web work and telecommuting.