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How to Choose Your Next Android Smartphone: The Crucial Specs and Features to Look at

There have been so many Android smartphones introduced into the especially over the last year with newer handsets coming with newer features and improved specs as manufacturers compete to cash in on the ever expanding smartphone market.  More and more people are switching to Android but the biggest challenge they face is choosing the phone to go with.  If you are in this dilemma, you need not be because the criteria for choosing an Android phone is not as complicated as it may sound at first.

The large number of Android smartphones landing in the market is both a blessing and a curse.  For users who know what to look for and know what they want, this is a blessing.  For those who may not know the specifics and the details of the phone they want, it can be overwhelming shopping for a phone because there are so many to choose from.  The hype that Android smartphone have caused in the market has worked for device manufacturers and it can work for you too.  Read on to discover just how to get your next Android smartphone that best suits your needs and lifestyle and meets your budget.

 

Are you ready to upgrade?

This is an open question, but it may determine whether you really need to make the switch or upgrade or not.  Before you make the switch, here are a few things you should consider.

Could it be just gadget envy? – Android is currently available on all carriers and almost all manufacturers are relapsing gadgets on the Android platform.  For gadget geeks and ordinary users, it is pretty hard sitting back, watching new cooler devices being released while they stick to their old gadgets.  If you have a phone that runs on the manufacturer’s operating system and its capabilities are very limited, then you need to upgrade.  If you already have an Android Ice Cream Sandwich phone and only want another because it comes with NFC, you may need to reconsider whether you actually need NFC or not before you upgrade.  If you have a phone running on older Android such as Gingerbread, maybe you should consider speeding your phone up rather than dashing to the store to buy a new one.

 

Know what devices are coming in the near future before you invest in the latest cool phone that just came out, it would be wise to first consider staying up to date for a month in the developments in the smartphone market and be briefed on what new gadgets will be released in the near future.  Sometimes we may see a new gadget that was released a month or a week ago and go get it then after a month a newer, faster and cheaper device is released by your favorite manufacturer.  This is particularly important at this time because most manufacturers eye the high purchase power of the people around the December holidays and may cash in by releasing cooler devices at holiday special prices and you do not want to miss out.

 

Wait.  Patience is a virtue – Sometimes it pays to just be patient and wait for a manufacturer to release a line of phones before considering them.  After all, there are many condiserations to factor in when choosing a phone and not merely it’s ‘coolness’ factor and manufacturers know this.  This is why they release a line of phones suitable for different individuals.  For example, although Samsung Galaxy S3 is currently the best smartphone in the market, it is not necessarily the best for you.  If you want something simpler, with smaller scree yet with all the core features of the S3, then you may consider going for Galaxy Stellar or the newly released Galaxy Victory 4G.  You should wait for expert reviews to come out and you will get better informed whether a phone is best for you opr there is another that best meets your needs.

 

Choosing your next Android smartphone: The specs to look at

Every phone that comes out seems to come out with more and more sophisticated features than its predecessor.  However, it does not mean that just because it has new features it is better.  The most important thing to look at when considering getting a phone is the features it is laden with – but to ensure that it has the features you need more than anything else.  Here are the crucial features you need to look at when looking for your next Android smartphone.

 

1.      Operating System version

Android OS has been updating faster than any other operating system.  The latest version of Android is 4.1 dubbed Jelly Bean but most devices do not run on it yet.  The best thing about Android is that unlike most other mobile operating systems, the operating system is upgradable on a mobile phone.  The upgrade though is device specific and official versions come from device manufacturers.  These updates come with a whole lot of goodies, features and compatibility with newer devices, you are therefore better off with a newer operating system.

At this time, it would be plainly sad for you to go for an Android phone running for example Froyo or Gingerbread (though it is the most used today) unless the manufacturer will upgrade to at least Ice Cream Sandwich soon.  You are never guaranteed that there will be an upgrade for your phone though, so you might want to check with your developer whether there is already one or one is coming.  Even so, it is good to make sure that there will be future Jelly Bean or newer Android versions for the phone as you stand to get more from newer operating system versions.

 

2.      Manufacturer updates

As I mentioned earlier, Android operating system upgrades are device dependent.  It is not like windows computers operating systems where you knew that once Microsoft releases a new operating system, you could just buy one and install on your computer.  Not all device manufacturers are keen to upgrade the operating systems and even when specific devices are upgraded, yours might not.

 

When choosing an Android smartphone, going for the newest version of OS is crucial and if you cannot find one with Jelly Bean, settle for Ice Cream Sandwich but check to see if the manufacturer has promised, has released or is working on releasing a Jelly bean update.  The most trustworthy manufacturers when it comes to device upgrades are HTC, Motorola, Samsung and Google.  HTC has the most impressive Android upgrades of its devices but Motorola (run by Android) has a reputation of fast upgrades.  Note that manufacturer updates often come with newer widgets, tools and fixes that are aimed at improving the overall use of the device.

 

3.      Third party ROMs (for advanced users and rooters)

Custom ROMs are basically customized operating systems developed by independent users, not the device manufacturers.  A ROM is basically a version of Android but developers such as the popular CyanogenMod release customized ROMS that are stripped down to get rid of bloatware, improve its performance in the device and sometimes enable you to even install unsupported apps and tools.

If you are an advanced user and hope to sometime get a custom ROM for your Android phone, it may be a good idea to wait and see if there are any custom ROMs developed for a particular device before buying one.  The most popular devices (from popular manufacturers) such as Google, Samsung, HTC and Motorola are often among the first to get customized ROMs.  If you will make better use of your device with a custom ROM, know that there is a price to pay.  The modification may void your warranty and there is always a chance you may do something wrong and brick your device.

 

4.      Device User Interface

Different Android devices often come with different user interfaces.  This is because device manufacturers add their own interfaces and in the end a device from one manufacturer may look or even work differently from another from a different manufacturer despite being the same version of Android.  HTC smartphones come with Sense user interface, Motorola devices come with MotoBlur while Samsung phones come with TouchWiz and they are all different.

However, you do not need to use these standard user interfaces the phones come with if you don’t want to.  You can choose to download a third party interface such as Go, Launcher Pro, Zeam or ADW.  Most users often stick to the interface that the phone comes with and if you are going to be one of these people then it is best to check the various user interfaces before buying an Android phone.

 

5.      Cameras

It is already a standard for all Android smartphones to come with two cameras – one at the rear with high resolution and better quality capture for taking photos and videos and the front camera for making video calls.  The camera qualities vary though, the best android smartphone camera at the moment is 13MP rear camera on a Sony Xperia T smartphone.

The question you need to ask yourself first though is, how important is the camera for your phone?  Are you one of those photographers who snap almost anything they come across?  An 8MP camera is considered the ‘Average’ resolution camera on Android smartphones and going by what quality pictures you will be taking, you will probably be comfortable with it.  Mid-range Android smartphones come with 5MP rear camera or less but they still take decent pictures.  You do not need to go for an 8MP camera on the phone just because it is on the specs list, first know whether you actually need such high resolution camera.

Still on camera, check whether the cameras take high definition videos (1080p for the rear camera or 720p for the front camera) if you feel you will need to record high definition videos.  If you are going to video call your friends and family back home, you will probably want to have at least a VGA camera on the front of the device.

 

6.      Processor

As you may already know, the processor is one of the most crucial elements in a phone.  Gone are the days when you would not need to check the processing power of a phone before you get one – heck, we did not even know phones had processors 5 years ago.  Now all you read is 1 GHz Dual core, quad core, Snapdragon, Tegra 3, OMAP and other complicated names in reference to the processor.  All said and done, it boils down to how fast the processor can process commands.  You probably already know that a 1 GHz processor is better than a 675 MHz processor and a quad core processor performs better than a single core or a dual core processor.  But with more power comes higher price, that is why high end smartphones such as the Galaxy S3 are more costly than those with single core processors.

The processing power you need depends on what you will be using the phone for.  If you are a hardcore gamer who plays high definition games in 3D on the phone or want a smartphone that you can connect to a dock, a screen and a keyboard to transform it into some sort of a PC, then you need a higher processing power CPU on a smartphone.  If you are an average user who makes calls, browses the internet and watches HD videos once in a while, you probably do not need a quad core processor – a dual core or a single core with 1 GHz or more will do.

I should also mention that with more processing power comes faster battery drain.  Better processing technology is great but do not fall for all the hype in the market; know your needs based on your current phone and your skills level and choose a phone with a processor you need, not one that can barely be of beneficial to you or the one that has so much power you will never utilize a quarter of it.

7.      Memory

You cannot afford to overlook the amount of storage a phone has – for some people this is even more important than the processing power.  Budget Android smartphones today come with 4GB or 8GB storage memory while high end devices come with 16GB, 32GB or even 64GB onboard memory.  For a phone, 8GB is a lot of memory for an average user.  The use of the phone certainly dictates the suitable amount of internal memory – if you will be taking HD videos and pictures and saving downloaded music and movies on your phone, then you are a heavy user and should go for a 16GB or a 32GB phone.  If you take pictures only once in a while, then 4GB or 8GB is enough.

Again, memory is quite costly and can increase the price of a phone by as much as $100 for 8GB.  If you are on a budget and need more memory, then consider checking whether the phone has a memory card slot to expand memory by up to 32GB for as little as $30.  Some phones have little memory storage on the device but offers you a cloud storage where you can upload your documents, pictures, videos and other stuff you need to save online.  This is convenient too because you can access them online on a computer or will still get them in case you lose the phone or change it.  The question therefore is, do you need so much storage?  Could you do with 8GB on the device and 50GB in the cloud or do you prefer to have 16GB on your device and pay a little more?  The choice is yours.

The other memory issue to look at is the working memory or RAM of the phone.  This goes hand in hand with the processing speed – if you are a high end user who will be playing highly graphical 3D games on the device then you probably should find a device with 2GB RAM.  I see that most phones come with 1GB RAM, this should be sufficient for an average user who plays HD videos or wants to multitask without experiencing jitters on the device performance.

 

8.      Battery

The issue of battery life is very crucial because a mobile phone is a gadget specially developed to make communication possible even while on the move.  All other specifications may be easy to compromise but the battery issue is important.  Before you settle on an Android phone, find out how well its battery performs.  Although there are many factors that affect battery performance including operating temperature, tasks running in the background, screen size, processing power and how a user uses the phone, it is good to check the battery capacity first before bringing these other factors into consideration.

I have realized that battery power often depends on the device manufacturer.  Motorola, for instance, has upped the ante in the smartphone battery power in their Motorola Droid RAZR HD MAXX which has a battery that promises up to 21 hours of talk time.  I do not recommend you compromise on the issue of battery life, always go for the highest capacity battery in mAh because I am sure everyone wants a battery that lasts the longest.

 

9.      Screen size and type

Manufacturers have been experimenting with all types of displays.  When comparing screen types, you will come across technologies such as AMOLED, qHD and Super LCD.  These new screen types work differently and offer different quality displays.  There is no use agonizing over what technology to go with though, but it pays to find out how each performs in different conditions including out in the sunlight, its glare, and display density.  Based on my research though (I did not carry out any tests) there is minimal differences between AMOLED and Super LCD technologies.  AMOLED however is a better battery saver but this should not be the sole factor to base a decision on.

 

The size of the screen you need is another factor that you should already know even before you go out shopping for an Android smartphone.  Most people make up their minds on the screen size they need even before they decide which phone to go with.  For advanced users, the screen size is not all about how many inches but the display density and the screen resolution which determines how crisp fonts and images are on the screen.  Evaluate your needs based on what applications you will be running when choosing the screen size and bear in mind that today, the screen size is what actually determines how big or small an Android device is.

 

10. Build and other features

As a final point, the build and other added features should also come into consideration when you are looking or an Android smartphone.  Some of the features you can evaluate how important it is to have on your phone include a physical QWERTY keyboard (preferably a slide-out, GPS, NFC (Near Field Communication), high speed 4G LTE data capability, Bluetooth, WiFi, USB connectivity, rootability and the network the phone is available on.

Before you start shopping for an Android smartphone, make a list of features that your preferred phone MUST have first, then make a list of the features that though you can do without, the phone would be better with.  This list will guide you to find a phone that will not only meet your budget but also your phone needs.