When cell phones were first introduced more than 20 years ago, they were luxury items for privileged people. But once the technology became cheaper it spread wider, and soon enough cell phone became integral parts of our lives. Smartphones have followed the same path. At the beginning it was busy businesspeople on their BlackBerry smartphones. Now it seems everyone has one.
Not only are more and more people getting smartphones, but people are buying smartphones relatively frequently. Since the most common means of owning a smartphone is to sign a two-year contract with a carrier, we tend to get a new one every two years. That gives us plenty of opportunities to live and learn. Here are a few lessons from someone who has purchased quite a few smartphones in the last three years.
1. Determine your needs, not wants
There is no perfect smartphone. Each one is different in its own way. Even Android devices, which all run the same Android operating system, are different from each other in many ways. The biggest key in choosing a smartphone is to determine what it is you need from the device.
What you want can wait. Sure, you want streaming video, you want a huge app selection, and you want tons of games. That’s fine, and thankfully you’ll be able to find those on most smartphones. But you have to put your needs first. And chances are you don’t need streaming video, apps, or games. You need a solid communications device.
Do you need a device primarily for emailing and messaging? Then perhaps the BlackBerry, with its comfortable physical keyboard, is right for you. Do you need a simplistic interface? The iPhone provides that. Do you need a powerful machine that can perform many advanced tasks? Android might be the winner there. The apps and all that can wait. Think about your core need for the device. That will point you in the right direction.
2. Assess your technical competence
Just as every smartphone is different, so is every smartphone user. The biggest difference among all of us is our levels of technical competence. Some of us can pick up a new smartphone and use it as though we’ve owned it for years. Others will struggle with anything but a simple navigation system. Be honest with yourself about this. Picking a more technical phone, no matter how powerful, might be the wrong choice if you can’t operate it.
Android is most notorious for its technical prowess. Big time tech geeks love Android because they can hack it and customize it how they see fit. But that’s their bread and butter — it’s what they’re truly passionate about. The iPhone, on the other hand, has a very simple user interface that even the less technically adept can use with relative ease. Windows Phone, too, has put a strong emphasis on simple user interface. BlackBerry has a somewhat simple interface, and the new BlackBerry 10 phones take that to a new level.
The more honest you are with yourself about your level of technical prowess, the more informed a decision you will make when buying a smartphone. Maybe that Android phone looks all fancy, and maybe you’ve heard positive things. But if you’re hearing those things from tech savvy folks, chances are the phone will do a bit less for you.
3. Look at what your friends choose
If your friends jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you do it too? While that’s the old adage, it doesn’t exactly apply to smartphones. In fact, the more people who use a smartphone the more powerful the platform becomes. More users means developers become more interested in creating apps. More people use those apps and connect to each other. And the cycle continues.
There’s another added benefit to using the same smartphone, or smartphone platform, as your friends and family. The more people who use the device, the more shared experience among you. That is, if one person you know runs into a problem, he or she can share that information with everyone else. If you run into the same issue later, you’ll have that person’s experience as a guide. Many platforms also have proprietary messaging systems, so you can more easily communicate with the people closest to you.
No, I wouldn’t jump off the Brooklyn Bridge even if all my friends did. But I would buy a BlackBerry if they all had one.
4. Find the best carrier for your situation
When you purchase a new smartphone, you’re not just buying a new phone. You’re also making a commitment to the carrier. That is, if you buy one of the new HTC phones from T-Mobile, you’ll be committing to T-Mobile’s service for two years. If that seems like a pretty significant consideration when buying a smartphone, that’s because it is. When you’re buying a new smartphone you have to consider not only the phone itself, but the carrier that will provide service.
There are ups and downs to each carrier. While Verizon blankets most of the US, there are areas where it does not provide high quality service. At the same time, it also features plans much more expensive than T-Mobile and Sprint. Verizon also has a limited selection of phones, since it uses CDMA technology to provide service, while T-Mobile and AT&T use GSM technology. These differences between carriers can add up.
If you pick the wrong carrier, it won’t matter if you chose the right smartphone. You won’t get the best possible level of service with it, which changes the equation.
Joe Pawlikowski writes about work-at-home issues on his personal blog, A New Level.