Apple’s smash iHit took the world by storm again this September, bringing with it a whirlwind of controversy, competition and comparisons, from the technical failings of the Apple Live Event to Bendgate and crippling weaknesses in the iOS 8 system. Of course, heated discussion between Android and Apple fans soon followed, and if nothing else, it’s clear that smartphones are more than just millimeters-thin blocks of processors and circuits. But with so many options on the market, and more exciting advances—such as the e-ink double display Yotaphone, or the customizable modular phone Google-Motorola brainchild Project Ara—buying a smartphone nowadays takes some considerable thought.
Screen Size and Display
With the phablet craze underway, screen size has become an important part of buying decisions. So called phablets can be 5 inches or greater, but the larger the screen gets, the more unmanageable it can be. If nothing else, a device that massive is not going to fit into your pocket.
That’s okay, because there are more portable options. Mid-size phones ranging from 4.5 to 4.9 inches can be used comfortably with one hand, and God’s gift to human biology—the opposable thumb. Smaller size phones clock in at 4.5 inches or less, and make up an increasingly smaller portion of the market, but if you really want to talk portability, these are your best option.
But the smartphone touchscreen hasn’t just become a matter of size. More than anything else, it’s a question of resolution. Current smartphone screens are commonly rendered using LCD or AMOLED technologies, with the exception of the Yotaphone, which actively utilizes energy efficient e-ink technologies more commonly seen on reader viewing tablets like the nook or Kindle.
A LCD screen, or a liquid crystal display, is lit by an external backlight, creating shallower viewing angles and lower contrast when compared to AMOLED screens, though colors often appear more natural. LCD screens can have up to 2560×1440 pixel screens, and Apple’s retina display is an LCD screen with a minimum resolution of 326 pixels per inch.
AMOLED, active matrix light-emitting diodes, swap out the LCD backlight for light-emitting organic chemical compounds, and have therefore become a popular pick to succeed LCD screens in oncoming phones of the next years. Because there’s no backlight, AMOLED screens have higher contrast and more vibrant colors. Samsung currently leads the pack on AMOLEDs.
BatteryAs smartphones are becoming pocket-sized one-stop-shops for connectivity, communication, and entertainment, battery capacity has also become an important buying consideration for the consumer who likes to work, watch videos, surf the Internet and shop all at the same time, in the same place. Batteries can go anywhere from 1700mAh to 3500mAH, and you can give your battery an extension with external powerpacks or swapping out the battery inside your device for a higher mAh version.
CameraIn the era of Instagram, selfies and a growing generation of student debt-beleaguered adults just too darn broke to get the Canon or Nikon they really want, smartphone cameras have become the next best thing, enabling you to take good quality photos anytime, anywhere.
Optical image stabilization is becoming a major player in the smartphone camera market, eliminating the shaking-hands effect for cleaner, steadier photos, and make a good match for the steps manufacturers have been taking with their work on front-facing cameras, even more so as selfies have taken off in popularity.
Megapixel stats might sound good on paper, but they are just one of many components that make up a camera. Lens quality plays a sizeable role, helping camera sensors by exposing them to light. And if the sensor is more sensitive to light, even if it is of a smaller pixel count, your camera will work better in low-lit spaces.
ProcessorLast, and certainly not least, is the processor or CPU, the backbone of the smartphone, providing computing power. A fast, powerful processor effects how smoothly your phone behaves, reacts, and runs apps. Older processors are less efficient and more of a drain on the batteries than more recent counterparts.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon is the most commonly used processor at the moment, and can be found in many Android and Windows phones. The Snapdragon is accompanied by manufacturer-specific processors like the Apple A8, Samsung Exynos, and Motorola X8. Snapdragons are still currently used in Samsung and Motorla phones, but Motorola’s 2015 line will be powered by its X8 hybrids, and Samsung has announced that its Exynos 7 Octa processor will have 64-bit, like the Apple A8.