Choosing an operating system
The operating system (OS) delivers the framework for mobiles to perform tasks beyond simply making a call, allowing the phone to run productivity and media playing applications. The choices include Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android OS, among the more popular options, or the recently revamped Windows Phone 8 or BlackBerry OS 10, if you want something different.
The iPhone OS used in the Apple iPhone has gained a significant share of the smartphone market since being introduced in 2007. The latest update, iOS7, is a major shift from the previous versions, and may take some getting used to. However, Apple's significant advantage - that is, the number and quality of available apps for the platform - will continue to help the tech giant remain a significant player in smartphones for the foreseeable future.
Although Samsung continue to dominate the Android space as far as sales are concerned, new mobiles from HTC, LG, and Sony deliver a wide choice of screen size, price points and features. The app support in Google Play has improved over the last couple of years, with most of the more significant developers delivering both iOS and Android versions of popular and new apps.
Until recently, Microsoft and Nokia have been unable to offer a compelling alternative to Apple’s iPhone or Android smartphones. Their latest handsets, however, deliver features and functionality that compete with the best that Apple, Samsung, HTC, Sony etc have to offer. Microsoft and Nokia seem determined to ensure Windows Phone 8 is a relevant player over the next few years.
While the two latest BlackBerry smartphones (Z10 and Q10) are solid performers and score well in our smartphone test; the future of the BlackBerry OS remains uncertain as there seems to be no compelling reason to choose it over the likes of Apple's iOS, Android or even Windows Phone 8 OS.
Want more? See our latest smartphone review here.
Web browser performance
Things to consider
is an important aspect to consider in a smartphone, particularly if you find yourself reaching for the phone instead of your laptop to check something out online. If you do a lot of browsing, you may want to consider a phone with a larger screen.
Reception remains a crucial aspect in smartphones, although more and more of us are taking advantage of hotspots and WiFi areas to communicate via social networking. But if you still use your smartphone for making phone calls, you need good reception. Our test measures the phones’ receiving sensitivity and sending power (particularly important in areas with poor network coverage) in both the 900MHz and 1800MHz bands for GSM networks and on 2100MHz for the 3G network.
A yearly Next G test measures the performance of the smartphone in real world conditions when operating on Telstra’s NextG (850MHz) band, which is still the only option for large areas of Australia.
Tethering turns your mobile phone into a WiFi or Bluetooth modem - or if you have WLAN tethering, you can enjoy the same benefits as a personal hotspot, where you can share your internet connection with other devices such as other mobiles or laptop computers. It’s a handy feature when you have a large data allocation and are away from your normal home network connection.
Camera performance is not just how much resolution your smartphone has, but also the ability to deliver a good image in different lighting situations.
is an increasingly important issue - and one users who are new to smartphones find frustrating after using older mobile phones that operate for several days on one charge. However, it's important to remember that the increased functionality of a smartphone with a large screen demands more power than a simple talk-and-text phone.