Quick look: smartphones

Choosing your next smartphone
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The smartphone is a constant companion for many of us, with its ability to organise our appointments, collect our emails, and deliver a podcast or streaming music all at the swipe of a finger. A smartphone can also locate the nearest place to enjoy the best breakfast or coffee in the area - according to whatever social networking site is popular at the moment.

Some people may be surprised to know that they are also handy for making telephone calls.

An increasing number of smartphone owners find they can use their smartphone for the entire day and not actually talk to anyone. This change in usage has led CHOICE to adjust the way we test smartphones; there's been a reduction in the comparative weightings applied to call sound quality, and more focus on aspects such as email setup, social networking ease of use, camera/video quality, and screen quality. 

With so many aspects to consider, it's more important than ever to make use of the comparison table sorting feature to help rank the top-performing models, based not only on our weightings but your preferences as well. Follow the instructions on the smartphone review compare results page (available to CHOICE Online members) to tailor the table to suit your feature preferences.

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.

Things to consider

Web browser performance 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.

Battery life 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.


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