How to Choose the Next Android Phone: 2015 Edition

Fun fact: There are roughly seven different Android phone models on the planet per person. While this statement is actually not true, it seems close. Since you’ve got things to do, here’s what matters when shopping for a new Android phone.

We’ve talked about this before and will say it again: there is no “best” Android phone. At this point, you can think of buying a phone as buying a laptop. Choose the one that best suits your needs and does what you want. If the software doesn’t do what you like, you can change most of it , but you can’t change the terrible battery life or how it feels to keep it going every day. Everyone has different needs, so don’t worry about having a “best” phone. Get the one you like before the next update.

When (and how often) should I update?

Not everyone updates their phones on the same schedule. And for good reason. These suckers are expensive. However, carrier subsidies and payment plans have made it possible to maintain a refresh cycle every two years or so, which means phones aren’t necessarily built to last the life of computers or even tablets.

There are several ways to get a new phone, and it all depends on how often you want (or can afford) to update:

  • Two-year upgrades with your carrier: Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint continue to use two-year contracts and offer upgrade pricing after your contract expires. This gives you a discount on the price of your phone in exchange for using your carrier for another two years. If you’re happy with your carrier this is a smart option, but if you might want to switch, consider other options.
  • Carrier Pay Plans: By default, T-Mobile buys phones with pay plans, although most major US carriers have adopted this model in one form or another. However, the details of these plans vary greatly from carrier to carrier , and some of them may end up costing you more money in the end. If you need to update more than every two years, check with your carrier for options. But don’t forget to do the math yourself to make sure you’re not overpaying.
  • Buy phones outright: High-end phones can usually cost $ 500-600 or more, depending on the model. Most people don’t want to throw so much money right away. However, the market for cheaper phones is steadily improving. You can often find solid contenders for $ 400 or less , and even get great mid-range phones for a very low price . You might not be at the forefront, but you can at least avoid the hang of a 3-year-old version of Android that is running like garbage.
  • Buying used phones. One of the perks of having such a huge collection of phones to choose from is that they sell used quite cheaply. You can often find used Android flagship phones for half the price of a new one. We’ve got a guide on how to buy used smartphones without getting confused here , and you can check out our Android 2013 buying guide to get an idea of ​​what was good at the time .

If you need a new phone, you have a variety of options. While it’s still easiest to wait for your carrier to offer you big discounts, you can still shell out $ 200 or more on new devices, so no option is clearly better than any other. You need to determine if your current phone will continue to work, and if the phone you are replacing it with will be a significant improvement.

Of course, no one wants to buy a new phone just to find out that the company has released a new version a month later. While manufacturers and carriers alike have frustratingly unpredictable release schedules, there is a lot of news at certain times of the year:

  • Spring (Samsung, HTC, Google): Over the past couple of years, HTC, Samsung and Google have announced major products between February and May. The first two have just announced their newest flagships – the Galaxy S6 and HTC One (M9) . They usually coincide with the Mobile World Congress, which is held annually in February or March. May is followed by the Google I / O Developers Conference, which usually includes important announcements for Android. Whether I / O brings new phones or not is kind of crap, but it’s still worth the wait.
  • Fall (Motorola, LG, Google again): Motorola and LG have set their flags for new releases in the fall. Google also released new Nexus devices around October or November. It was a new Nexus phone in 2014, but it’s still unclear if this will be a consistent pattern. In any case, if you are a fan of any of these companies, wait until the snow starts to fall before making your purchase.

Of course, if you expect all businesses to hear everyone’s announcements, that rules out pretty much everything from January to December. The best solution is to find a manufacturer you like, wait to see what’s new this year, and then buy soon after.

What features are really important in a new phone?

Unless you’re using your phone for hardcore gaming, chances are most speculative wars aren’t your business. Mobile processors are fast enough to do just about anything you’ll ever need, and 2-3 GB of RAM is becoming the standard. Even displays are so complex that we have begun to argue about whether the human eye can see that many pixels . It’s safe to say that some things are more important in the phone than others.

Here are some things that can be very different from one phone to the next:

Battery

This problem rises higher than it was in the past, because it is one of the biggest problems that still has not been resolved. While some phones improve battery life by adding a massive one, others aim to make better use of what they have. Unfortunately, even the battery life reviews may be inappropriate as they have a limited amount of time to use the device. However, benchmarks can help you figure out which phone outperforms the competition . It’s also worth mentioning that fast chargers are becoming more common. Simply put, these are chargers that can fill your phone’s battery in a much shorter time. If you are interested, make sure that your phone supports this feature and what chargers you need before purchasing.

Camera

When manufacturers advertise their phone, they will most likely tell you how many megapixels it contains. It sucks because it ’s irrelevant . Camera performance is affected by how the device performs in low light, how it is calibrated, additional software image processing, and many other factors. The best way to tell if a phone camera is good is with an old-fashioned comparison review . Of course, don’t forget that how you take your photos matters too. If you are going to do it, then you can do it right .

Display

When we last left our heroes, we discussed whether a 1080p display really matters to a smartphone . And while you probably won’t if your phone is under 5 inches, many big flagships just went ahead and made their phones larger than 5 inches anyway. However, as with cameras, many other factors affect the appearance of the display. AMOLED versus LCD, viewing angles, sunlight performance, color calibration. Making a beautiful display is just as difficult and subjective as a good camera. Instead of worrying about specifications, check with your local carrier and take a look at the phones in person. This is the only way to know if you really like what you see.

Skin maker

Every manufacturer wants to contribute to Android, and for good reason. After all, they don’t really compete in battery life. Manufacturer skins can drastically change your Android experience, however, so it’s important to know what you’re getting with a different interface.

Each manufacturer has several distinctive features. While we cannot make a comprehensive comparison of each one, here are some that are noteworthy on each device:

  • HTC Sense: Blinkfeed and split apps. HTC’s custom launcher aims to do on the home screen what you’re probably already doing with your phone: mindlessly scrolling through channels. Not everyone likes it, but some people like it. In addition, HTC has followed Google’s lead by dividing up many applications so that they can be updated separately from the OS. This means that if you like the camera app or HTC launcher, you don’t have to wait months (or buy a new phone) to get new features.
  • Samsung Nature UX: Samsung Pay and Curved Edge displays. Samsung is actively experimenting with its phones, and many of the coolest (or less awesome) features are hardware-bound. Samsung has announced a mobile payment processor that promises to use regular old magnetic card readers – as opposed to NFC payments – which means you can actually use your S6 to pay in most places you’re already in. And the Edge version has a curved display that wraps around the side. Which the company is using to add a few extra swipe gestures that are more accessible to the thumb .
  • Motorola: Voice Activation and Smart Control. Motorola’s skin is perhaps the least invasive, but the company is still making some changes. For example, it allows you to control your phone with your voice without touching it. You can set up voice triggers in the new version, and it can intelligently change the way it handles notifications when you are driving, sleeping or in a meeting. Of all the manufacturers, this is the thinnest, but perhaps the most useful.

These are just a few examples, and each manufacturer has dozens of features that they incorporate into Android. However, the main takeaway is that if you have a particular feature that you really like about your phone right now, try checking and seeing if it comes from Google or your manufacturer before switching to another company. You may find that Android is a completely different beast when you switch.

Android OS updates

We’ve said before that Android OS updates are n’t necessarily as important as Play Services . By removing most of the compatibility framework and updating it separately, Google has made it possible to get pretty much the same, even if you have an older version. However, Google also recently released Android Lollipop, which is a pretty big improvement.

Unfortunately, the situation has not changed much over the years. If you want a device that gets fast updates and keeps up with the competition, Nexus phones are for you . Motorola is the only manufacturer on the heels of Google, but it does so with minimal interface changes. The company was also sold to Lenovo, and it is unclear how this will affect the long-term plans. Even more regrettably, Google seems to have quietly turned off its Google Play Edition devices (it no longer sells older phones in the Play Store, and no new versions have been announced for current flagships), so your options are limited. If you want any hope of getting updates without switching to the Nexus, stick with the most popular flagships. Historically, they are likely to be updated at some point solely due to market pressure.

What if I care about rooting?

Rooting Android phones is not as necessary as it used to be, but there are still arguments to do so. However, this is not easy on all phones. If you want to jailbreak your device and handle it individually, here are some guidelines to consider:

  • Nexus devices: Google reference devices also serve as a platform for developers. For this reason, unlocking the device is silly easy. While most unofficial root methods use some kind of exploit to gain access, Google provides it to you as it should. This is the only guaranteed way to get out of trouble and get your device developer support from the rooted community.
  • Popular Phones: The more people try to use a device, the more likely you will be able to root access if there is no easy way already. Of course, nothing is a guarantee and you will still have to deal with operator shenanigans, but if you are one of three people looking to buy Samsung Obscure A42, do not count on someone else to make a tool to give you one click. get root access.

There are also certain things that should be actively avoided if you want to root your phone:

  • Incomprehensible low-spec devices: It might be possible to root your Kyocera, no matter what the New One is called, but you shouldn’t count on supporting a lot of ROMs in time.
  • Devices with Locked Bootloaders: Locking the bootloader does not guarantee that you cannot be rooted. However, with so many options available for phones that make root available, or at least don’t block bootloaders, developer attention won’t be as focused on these devices as it has been in the past.
  • CDMA devices (if possible): The only rule that can override all others is CDMA. Nexus owners on Verizon and Sprint, in particular, felt the prick of slow updates and minimal support because their devices are CDMA variants of very open phones. It’s not a guaranteed bane of lack of support, but if you want to boost your chances of getting into a fun party of developers stick with GSM phones like T-Mobile and AT&T phones.

If you’ve read all of this and are still stressed, don’t worry. Most of the Android phones on the market right now are really good ones. Samsung, HTC, Motorola, and even LG have managed to create devices that will delight any moderately savvy smartphone user. And even if they don’t, you can still download most of the apps you need to replace skins . Leave the controversy over which phone whose daddy can beat up for fiery wars.

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