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What to look for when choosing a smartphone

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Okay, you’ve decided to consider an upgrade to your present cellular phone.  If you are in the same antiquated boat I find myself in, you are amazed by the features you see on the latest advertisements and/or intrigued by how our children and grandchildren use their own cellular devices.

So how do we go about choosing the right smart phone?

How do we know what questions to ask the person waiting on us at the nearest big box store or carrier store?  Do we even need a smart phone or is a regular phone all we need?

First the basic assumptions…

A good smartphone could make our lives easier.  At the basic level, we want to send and receive emails, keep track of my to do list: have a way of making appointments and being reminded of them in time to make them; take, send and receive pictures; get directions, and not have all this cost me the equivalent of a new car payment monthly.  Feel free to customize this list for yourself.

We want a device that is compatible with other devices used by ourselves and our family and friends.

We want a device that is convenient to carry and durable enough to survive the occasional drop or the normal wear and tear over the next two years or so.

To start with, know that the latest smartphones and the plans accompanying them will not come cheap.  So it is imperative that you are sure that the phone and carrier plan you select will meet all your needs and that you are not paying for features you will never use.

Lots of people feel stupid when picking a smartphone. Which is the best platform, Android, Windows or iPhone? How can you find the best deal on the phone you want when not every cell phone carrier sells or works with all models? How can you avoid paying for minutes or data plans you never use? How can you avoid overage charges? Which phones have features worth skipping and which features are ‘must haves’? Do you even need a smartphone or will a regular mobile phone do?

To answer that most essential question, ask yourself “Do I really need a smartphone?”

Take a look at how you use your present phone and what its features are.

If you need a GPS and don’t think you have one, check to make sure first.  Many of the more basic models of cellular phones have GPS available.

Do you need to text?  Can you text now?

Do you want to play music with an MP3 player or its equivalent?  Again, many more basic models can be rigged to allow this.

Are you sure that you need to be able to review your email every leisurely second of the day?

Are you sure you want to be constantly available to everyone with your phone number?

Do you need social media and web access away from home, or can you wait until you go home to your computer (and its more readable screen) to check up on everything?

It may well be that you can make do with your present phone or a much less costly upgrade than a smartphone.  On the other hand maybe you do need to be able to check scores from your favorite team, have immediate access to your email, to be connected all the time because of work or family situation.  In that case you may well need a smartphone to make your life more hassle and worry free.

Now let’s move on to the actual selecting of your smartphone.

First know that the person waiting on you may not have your own best interests in mind or may not have the patience to find out exactly what your needs are (surprise, surprise).  You may want to take a technologically sophisticated friend with you when you venture out to make your choice.

When I look at a phone or device, I start with the screen.  Can I see it clearly, is it big enough for my eyesight and readable in the conditions I will be using it?  Only you can make this determination.  Look at it in the store, in the dark, and outside to make sure the screen works for you.

Does your current carrier support the system you are buying?  4G LTE is very nice to have for a number of reasons and AT&T as well as Verizon both support it, others are starting to, so ask before you buy.

Is the operating system current?  You will want an Android 5.0, a Windows 8.1, or an iPhone 6 or newer. (By the time you read this, there will probably be advancements on these).

How good is the camera in the smartphone? Take a couple of shots in all conditions and see what they look like.  Smartphones are closing in on the quality of cameras, but not all have good results.  If this is critical for you, try Apple, Samsung, Nokia, or HTC first.

Especially with Android phones, make sure that the features you need are there and have not been altered to what the manufacturer will want to sell you.  For instance, Google features may have been replaced with Bing.  Just take the time to look and ensure all you are receiving is what you want.

Do you know what the battery life is? I found that my present smartphone must be recharged at least daily, while my old flip phone could last three days or a little more.  Battery life deteriorates over time and a short life at purchase will be a real nuisance in six months to two years.

What size to buy?  Can you hold it?  Will it fit into your pocket or purse?  Trendy is not always the most suitable for you.

What other features to consider?  Do you want an SD slot to listen to your music? What service plan should I use?

What frequency of texting and data transmission will you use?  Do you need to pay for those?

If you do select a smartphone and you have found one you like, carefully evaluate the coverage plans available to you.

It is easy to use more data that you plan has allowed, or to pay for a data plan you will never use.  Just be careful and find out if you can change your plan as your needs evolve. Click here for a nice review and detail discussion of this.

I hope this brief overview will be some help as a starting point.  I certainly do not mean this to be comprehensive, but being equipped with the knowledge of what your needs are and the questions to ask, could save you a lot of both time and money.


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About the Author: Dennis F.

Dennis has lived or traveled in Australia, the United States and Asia. He is an Army veteran with a PhD in Child and Developmental Psychology. He currently lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina, USA, with his wife Nancy and two dogs. Dennis is keenly interested in antiques, particularly militaria and coins. He occupies his time researching and writing for The Silver Life and caretaking houses for the summer residents of the mountains. Dennis is a founding member of The Silver Life.

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