Telecoms > Guides

How to make sure you get the best mobile phone for you

Richard Bayston

Richard Bayston
Jan 10, 2017


Which phone is right for you? Choosing can be difficult when there are so many options.

But options are good - as long as you know what they mean.

* What’s the difference between a 16MP camera and an 8MP camera?
* Is a 5.5 inch display actually better than a 4 inch one?
* And do you really need an iPhone?

Find out in our mobile handset buyers’ guide.

If you're ready to crack on already, start comparing bargain mobile phone deals on A Spokesman Said.

Buying a phone can differ for elderly customers, but we've tried to set out the key questions anyone would have when buying a new phone. 

  

Buyer’s Guide

Cameras

Mobile phone cameras used to be OK for taking fuzzy selfies that were best displayed on fuzzy, low-res mobile screens. Well, the screens are sharper than ever and the cameras have more than kept pace.

Just 3 years ago, 8 megapixels was a world-beating figure. Now, the best smartphone cameras have between 12 and 23 megapixels and often feature dual cameras.

What do the stats mean?

The three figures you’ll normally see associated with phone cameras look like this:

‘16MP f/2.2 4k’

It’s simpler than it looks.

MP stands for megapixels. It’s a measure of how sensitive the digital sensors that take the picture are: the more megapixels, the more individual pieces of information go to make up the image, the more accurate it can be.

f/2.2 is a measure of aperture size. A larger aperture comes with a smaller number so f/1.8 is larger than f/2.0, and larger apertures are associated with better performance in low light conditions.

Finally, 4k refers to the level of video the camera can shoot. Most smartphones shoot in 4k now, and 4k got its name from offering four times as many megapixels as the previous standard, 1080HD.

For instance, iPhones have great image clarity and fidelity, but they tend to make images look slightly less bright and saturated (strongly-coloured) than other phones.

Samsung’s Galaxy range tends to present images as more saturated and brightly lit. That doesn’t make one better than the other- it just means that one is better for low-light conditions and the other for higher light conditions.

 

What is front and rear facing?

Front facing cameras face away from the user: they’re in the traditional place for a phone camera, on the back of the handset.

Rear facing cameras face the user when you’re holding the phone. Rear facing cameras are more for taking selfies and as such they tend to have less impressive specs.
If you really do like to take a lot of pictures with your smartphone though, look for Sony’s QX1 system of external lenses and attachments that turn your smartphone into a digital camera.

Other add-ons for smartphones that enhance already-impressive photography chops include the Kogeto Dot for iPhones, allowing panoramic filming.

Finally, consider how often you actually print your photos.

If you virtually never print them and they’re all for your Instagram feed, or they’ll live on your phone, then your camera criteria should be more about how digital images look.

If you print your photos, you might be better off looking at your printer and paper to improve the result.

 

Ecosystems

Smartphones, just like PCs and laptops, have to have an operating system.

And unless you’re hacking your own Linux build (don’t let me stop you), you’ll be choosing from one of the three big smartphone OSs: Microsoft’s Windows, Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS.

Each has advantages:

 

Windows is the same on phones as on PCs and your files and apps should carry over seamlessly. But it’s less common and not as intuitive as the other two.

 

iOS is probably the most intuitive and integrates seamlessly with Mac OSX desktop operating systems. iPhones are built for iOS so they’re more efficient. If you’re buying your first smartphone and you can bear the higher price tag, the ease of use of an iPhone might swing it.

 

Android is the most common and flexible OS for phones, with a huge app store and good integration with Google’s Chrome laptop OS.

 

But there’s more to an OS than how it works on your phone.

Increasingly, the companies than make operating systems aim to lock their users into their ‘ecosystem’ - the family of interlocking digital services they provide. Apple are probably the best at locking customers in, because Apple products work great with each other, and not really at all with other OSs without third-party workarounds. But their competition are getting better at it, and it’s getting more important.

 

What is an ecosystem?

An ecosystem is all the features and devices a company offers, all designed to work together - and encourage you to buy more products from the same company!

For instance, operating systems, devices, and functions like music players, cloud storage and word processing all usually belong to the same ecosystem.

For instance, two of the three big OSs offers a digital wallet system - Google Wallet and Apple Pay, though Samsung Pay is device specific, not OS specific.

And all three offer a cloud storage system for files and a cloud-based productivity suite.

So if any of that matters to you - if your photos are already on iCloud, you’re a Google Drive power user or your workplace hooked you up with Office 365 - it’s worth considering your handset purchase in the light of how it will fit in with the ecosystem you’re already using.

 

Screens

The biggest news in smartphone screen technology has been the introduction of wrap-around screens that give more control surface and make the whole front of the phone usable as a screen.

How much utility they really add for the average user is open to question, though, especially considering that there’s usually a price tag attached.

The difference in price between Samsung’s Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge - essentially the same phone but with edge technology  - is £70 for the most inexpensive version from Samsung’s website (though for the 128GB version the price difference disappears).

If screen quality and size are really important to you, you might want to consider opting for a phablet - a phone/tablet hybrid - rather than a phone per se.

Typically, phablets are any smartphone whose display is 5.5 inches or above without actually being a full size tablet, and they tend to have better processing power and graphics capabilities.

So, if you’re shopping for a gaming smartphone this might be your best bet. (Often you’ll find premium features come bundled with phablet sizing anyway).

But smaller smartphones can deliver impressive screen sharpness and visibility too.

HD screens are now standard, either in the LCD or AMOLED versions.

The difference is technical - AMOLED stands for Active Matrix Organic Light-Emitting Diode - and to do with how the screen is made, and LCD is still the main screen type in large screens like phablets and tablets.

AMOLED screens are better in bright light because the light comes from the display’s individual pixels rather than from backlighting, so they’re less susceptible to glare.

However, they can appear overbright or oversaturated for the same reason.

The best way to find out which one you like the most, aesthetically at least, is to compare products on A Spokesman Said

 

What do the stats mean?

Screens are measured three ways, normally. The first tells you the size of the screen diagonally, so a 5.5 inch screen is 5 ½ inches from corner to corner.

The second, usually shown like this: 1440x2560, tells you the width and height of the screen in pixels.

Finally, the ppi number tells you how many pixels per inch are being displayed.

Samsung has a hold on a technology it calls Super AMOLED which is crisper and thinner, available on the S6 series and other products. The more generally used Super LCD is more glare resistant than older LCD displays.

 

Ruggedness

Back in the late 90s Nokia made a simple, green-screen call-and-text phone, possibly out of unobtanium.

When dropped, it dented the floor.

In comparison, the first generation of smartphones were prone to exploding if they encountered particularly heavy motes of dust. But we’ve come a long way since then.

You can find a smartphone that’s impact-resistant, pressure-resistant, waterproof, and scratch resistant.

But to an extent, this is a question of ‘you get what you pay for.’

If you want a super-powerful phone, it’s going to be a little bigger. If you want a super-rugged phone, one you can take rock climbing or to work on a building site, it’s going to be bigger and heavier.

And outside of specifically ruggedized phones with chunky shock resistant exteriors, there are still some ‘civilian’ options that are surprisingly resilient!

 

Connectivity

There are two big connectivity questions to answer: what kind can you get, and can you get any at all?

If you live in a big city in the UK, you can probably get 3G or 4G to your heart’s  - and your wallet’s - content.

In rural areas you might struggle to get any signal at all.

undefined

Mobile phone users in the countryside often struggle to get signal

There’s a guide to connectivity around the British Isles here and a free connectivity checker here, courtesy of Mobiles.co.uk.

If you want 4G you’ll need to choose a handset that support it. The majority of top-flight handsets do support 4G as standard and 3G-only handsets are vanishing from the marketplace. But if you’re looking at a budget smartphone and you want 4G on it, make sure the handset supports it.

Other types of connectivity include Bluetooth, which lets you wirelessly connect to nearby devices including earphones or computers, and plug-in connections like USB and SD cards. USB allows you to connect with a range of devices - it’s the universal tech connection - and SD cards are a lightweight way to add memory, so if you think you’ll need more memory on your device, check if it comes with SD ports.

Finally, what about Wi-Fi calling?

Wi-Fi calling is what it says - your phone call goes out over Wi-Fi instead of the mobile network, saving you money. While internet phone services have been available for some time now, they have always been on proprietary apps like Skype, WhatsApp and Viber.

Three and O2 have Wi-Fi calling apps, though they require users to keep track of two sets of call and message data - one for their standard phone and text system and one for the separate Wi-Fi calling and texting service as with Three and O2.

EE and Vodafone both offer Wi-Fi calling that behaves just like normal mobile calling and integrates with your call and message records - the only difference is an icon letting you know you’re on Wi-Fi and not mobile.

If you start a call on Wi-Fi and go out of range, you won’t seamlessly transfer, though - you’ll get cut off, though EE says it’s working on seamless integration.

Right now, if you want to use Wi-Fi calling - if you make a lot of calls from home or the office, for instance, where this could really save you money - you’ll need to select a handset that works with EE or Vodafone.

 

Storage

Smartphone storage comes in three flavours: cloud, in the phone and SD card.

SD cards can carry a surprising amount of data - 64GB is standard and costs about £25 and up, and 128GB and higher isn’t unusual.

They slot into the side of your phone, but not all handsets carry SD card ports. If you plan on taking a lot of hi-res images or film, storage is going to become an issue quickly, so consider it when you make your purchase.

A minute of 4K video eats up about 300MB, so a small on-board drive can be overwhelmed quickly. 

Cloud storage will normally be supplied by your OS provider, so if you’re an iOS customer you’ll use iCloud and if you’re a Windows customer you’ll use Microsoft OneDrive.

You should be able to use remote storage too, transferring your data from your phone to your PC.

This is far easier if your PC is from the same ecosystem as your phone - trying to move files from an Android phone to a Mac requires third party software and is a clumsy process.

On-board storage is usually one of the first specs you’ll learn about a phone. You can expect to find storage going up to 128GB on a phone and higher on a phablet or tablet, with most phones offering 32GB as standard in flagship models.

Smaller versions like the Galaxy S6 mini can come with substantially less storage of just a few GB so check your likely storage requirements before you choose.

How much GB a phone has, and what the right amount for you would be, is worth bearing in mind when comparing mobile deals

 

Our Selection

Best mobile phone to play games

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ 64GB

Samsung’s Galaxy S6 series is among the best smartphones out there as an all-rounder.

But it’s a standout phone for gamers, thanks to its excellent graphics handling, and for gamers the S6 Edge+ offers a 5.7 inch display at 518PPI.

Graphics you can’t crunch are no more use than graphics you can’t display, and it’s the Edge+’s 4GB of RAM that really earn it its place as the best handset for gamers.

Great battery endurance and rapid charging makes up for a non-removable battery.

Honourable mention goes to the Acer Predator 6, which was announced at an industry show in Berlin towards the end of last year as a handset built specifically for gaming. It includes a deca-core processor and 4GB of RAM, along with haptic vibration feedback and quad speakers.

But since it’s not available yet - in fact, the full spec’s not available yet - pride of place had to go to the S6.

 

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ 64GB Specs:

Case colours: Black Sapphire, Gold Platinum, Silver Titan, White Pearl, Pink

Display: 5.7 inch 1440x2560 518ppi Super AMOLED multi-touch

Processor: 1.5Ghz quad core & 2.1Ghz quad core

OS: Android 5.1.1 Lollipop

Memory: 4GB RAM, 64GB storage (no SD)

Camera(s): 16MP f/1.9 front facing, 5MP f/1.9 rear facing

Connectivity: 4G, 3G, GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, micro USB 2.0

Battery Life: About 24 hours (3,000 mAh) non-removable

Feature: Fastest and most adaptable - plus range of picture and film viewing options

 

Best mobile phone to take photographs

iPhone 6S plus 128GB

The iPhone appears like an odd choice at first - its 12MP camera is at the low end of flagship smartphones and it seems too unspecialised to really win as a photographer’s phone.

In reality, the iPhone handles a wider range of light conditions better than any other smartphone handset camera, and gets extra points for rendering a range of skin tones accurately.

The Live Photos feature lets you catch a glimpse of movement in the moment before each shot so taking action shots is easier.

And photographers should definitely opt for the larger, more pricy iPhone 6 Plus over the regular iPhone 6 - the difference in screen definition alone justifies the extra spend when you’re choosing between 1334x75 pixels and 1920x1080 for the Plus.

 

iPhone 6S plus 128GB Spec:

Case colours: Silver, gold, space grey, rose gold

Display: 5.5 inch 1080x1920 401ppi LED backlit LCD

Processor: 1.84Ghz dual core

OS: iOS 9

Memory: 2GB RAM, 128GB storage (no SD)

Camera(s): 12MP f/2.2 front facing, 5MP f/2.2 rear facing

Connectivity: 4G, 3G, GPS, wifi, Bluetooth, USB 2.0

Battery Life: About 24 hours (2,750mAh) non-removable

Feature: shoot video and take stills at the same time!

 

Best mobile phone for the show

Motorola Moto X Force

If you want memories of live events, the Motorola Moto X Force is your best choice.

The camera is among the best you’ll find for filming live events, with good detail, natural colours, and, crucially, excellent stabilization, so you’ll get footage where you can actually tell who was playing.

And the audio recording is well above par too. Finally, the phone body is shock resistant and shatterproof so even if you drop it in a moment of enthusiasm everything should still be fine!

 

Motorola Moto X Force Specs:

Case colours: White, silver, red, black

Display: 5.4 inch 1440x2560 540ppi AMOLED multitouch

Processor: 2Ghz quad core

OS: Android 4.1 Jellybean

Memory: 2GB RAM, 32GB storage (50GB free on Google Drive)

Camera(s): 21MP f/2.0 front facing, 5MP f/2.0 rear facing

Connectivity: 4G, 3G, GPS, wifi, Bluetooth, micro USB 2.0

Battery Life: About 25 hours (3,760mAh) removable

Feature: Shatterproof and water-resistant!

 

Best mobile phone for the outdoors

Sony Xperia Z5

The Xperia Z5 is your best choice for a true smartphone that can also handle outdoors use.

It’s not a ruggedized piece; rather, it’s an ordinary smartphone that’s a little tougher than average.

So if you’re in the outdoors for the weekend, you should be fine; if you’re Lara Croft you should keep getting your kit from specialists.

Great video quality thanks to a 23MP camera means you’ll be able to record your triumphs, and if you drop it in a stream - or, you know, go outdoors in Britain holding it - don’t worry; it’s waterproof to 1.5 meters for 30 minutes.

 

Sony Xperia Z5 Specs:

Case colours: White, silver, red, black

Display: 4.3 inch 720x1280 342ppi multitouch LED-backlit LCD

Processor: 1.5Ghz dual core

OS: Android 4.1 Jellybean

Memory: 1GB RAM, 32GB storage (no SD)

Camera(s): 12MP front facing, 1.3MP rear facing

Connectivity: 4G, 3G, GPS, wifi, Bluetooth, FM radio, micro USB 2.0

Battery Life: About 30 (1,750mAh) removable

Feature: Waterproof to 1.5m

 

Best mobile phone for getting things done

LG G4

The LG G4 comes in leather finish, a unique style touch - but there’s a lot more going on here than furniture.

The LG G4 is our choice for a productivity handset because you get a killer spec at a lower price than the equivalent iPhone, and because it’s an Android device there’s seamless compatibility with Google’s Drive cloud storage and productivity suite, Analytics and other work-friendly web tools.

It’s not the fastest, with 3GB of RAM and a 1.8Ghz hexacore processor, but it’s easily capable of supporting business applications and its large, clear  5.5 inch display means you can use it for presentations in a pinch; there’s 32GB of internal storage that’s expandable to a mighty 2 terabytes via microSD card.

 

LG G4 Specs:

Case colours: Grey, white, gold; brown, black and red leather

Display: 5.5 inch 1440x2560 538ppi LCD multitouch

Processor: 1.44Ghzquad core, 1.2Ghz dual core

OS: Android 5.1 Lollipop

Memory: 3GB RAM, 32GB storage (128GB with Micro SD)

Camera(s): 16MP f/1.8 front facing, 8MP f/2.0 rear facing

Connectivity: 4G, 3G, GPS, wifi, Bluetooth, FM radio, micro USB 2.0 slimport

Battery Life: About 20 hours (3,000mAh) removable

Feature: Rapid battery charging (60% in 30 mins) and wireless charging

 

Best mobile phone on a budget

Huawei Y3

Huawei is a Chinese manufacturer, and the build quality of their own-brand phones isn’t up there with iPhones or Galaxy’s flagship phones.

But they’re impressive for the price - you can get a Huawei handset on contract for £5 a month, and if you want a seal of quality, Huawei are Google’s manufacturing partner.

The specs don’t stand comparison with the best new smartphones either, with a 5MP camera, no 4G connectivity and 4 inch display, but most common smartphone features are here, 3G connectivity is good and internal memory of 4GB can be supplemented by SD card.

 

Huawei Y3 Specs:

Case colours: Black/white/red/blue

Display: 4.0 inch 480x800 233ppi LCD

Processor: 1.3Ghz quad core

OS: Android 4.4 with EMUI on top

Memory: 512Mb RAM/4GB storage (32GB with SD)

Camera(s): 5MP front facing, 2MP rear facing

Connectivity: 3G, wifi, Bluetooth

Battery Life: About 12 hours with moderate use, user changeable (1,730mAh)

Feature: Dual-mic active noise cancellation improves call experience