The Definitive Answer Guide to Which Smartphone You Should Buy

on May 12, 2013
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Forget all the rumors of an Apple iWatch. Ignore the surprisingly good reviews of Google Glass. Neither of these will come close to replacing your smartphone. Not for many, many years; probably never. The question is not whether  you will buy a smartphone – you will. The question is: which smartphone should you buy?

I am here to help. Don’t worry, I promise this will be painless.

I’ve traversed two decades in the telecommunications industry and have spent ridiculous amounts of time over the years testing and sampling various smartphones across just about every single platform, price point and form factor. If it means anything to you, I even own a MeeGo. Looks great, but unfortunately it works about as well as your four-year-old netbook.

Let’s begin.

Dear Brian…

Which smartphone should I buy?

The iPhone 4S.

Perfectly designed, flawless to operate, affordable. Apple offers the best, most robust, most pleasing ecosystem of apps, games, content, payments, customer support, product integration and accessories. I cannot say exactly how many billions Microsoft, Google and others have spent over the years attempting to equal the iPhone’s operating system – iOS – but I can say that none have yet met the challenge.

Apple’s iPhone repeatedly tops the competition in customer satisfaction ratings. iPhone users are much more likely to stick with iPhone compared to Android users. That should tell you all you need to know.

Done! That was easy.

What? You have more questions? My singular advice simply not enough? Fine. What else?

Why not iPhone 5?

There is a reason why the iPhone 4S continues to sell so well around the globe: on form and function, ecosystem and compatibility, the 4S offers the best bang for the buck of any smartphone on the market, bar none.

Yes, the iPhone 5 is a great device. It has superior hardware specs to the 4S. In my opinion, however, it feels too delicate. It’s design is not perfect. iPhone 5 is too long and narrow. For many people, particularly women, they can’t control the entire screen with a single swipe of the thumb.

iPhone 5

I hate Apple!

No, you do not. Besides, Apple, just like Nokia, Google, Samsung et al is a giant, for-profit corporation unaware of your existence. This is not about them, this is about you – and the best smartphone for you. Get the iPhone 4S.

Don’t care. I refuse to buy an iPhone!

Fine. Buy an HTC One, it’s a good phone.

You’re saying the HTC One is better than the Samsung Galaxy S4?

No. I think the S4 is slightly better. But if you buy the S4 all your friends will think you did so only because of all those Samsung commercials.

Not a Droid or LG?

No.

Shouldn’t I just wait for the latest model?

I cannot recommend that which does not exist.

I read that Android has surpassed iPhone. True?

After years of slavishly copying iPhone, the Android UI inexplicably remains almost willfully confusing. This is compounded by the greed and short-sightedness of carriers and handset makers. However, Google nearly makes up for this with great search, maps, Google Now notifications and other services optimized for Android. Plus, many handset makers like Samsung put amazing hardware into their devices. If you simply cannot bring yourself to get iPhone, an Android is a suitable alternative.

What about all the “phablets” I keep hearing about? Should I get one of those?

No.

But…

Do not be swayed by that big screen – even if you can hold the device in one hand comfortably.  Smartphones are not televisions. You take your smartphone with you everywhere. You use it constantly. A phablet is almost certainly not right for you. Form is a primal factor in choosing the right smartphone and the phablet form is an evolutionary dead-end. The one thing it does well – offer a very large display – simply cannot overcome all that it does bad. Phablets are too big, too wide, too heavy and not optimized for the role they attempt to fill: a multi-purpose, always-on, fully mobile personal computer.

I’m going to buy a phablet anyway. I like the big screen.

If you insist, then I recommend you get the new Samsung Galaxy Note II. You will regret this.

You obviously hate Windows Phone.

How Nokia could have blown through two plus years of development and delivered only the Lumia 920 and the 928 (soon), is beyond my comprehension. Windows Phone deserves a far better flagship device.

But I do not hate Windows Phone – the operating system. It’s a beautiful, reasonably intuitive, highly customizable UI that delivers real-time updates probably better than any other platform. The problem, though, is that Microsoft simply made the wrong UI choice. I suspect they will never recover from it. Singular, static apps really do work better for smartphones – as iPhone has proven repeatedly – than the “live tiles” format that Windows Phone adopted.

My daughter loves Facebook. Should I get her one of those HTC Facebook Phones?

No.

But she really loves Facebook.

Get her any other (non-Windows Phone) phone listed here. I promise you, she will be fine.

I think you’re wrong about the iPhone 5.

The iPhone 5 was a very clever attempt by Apple to build a device with a larger display – as the market demanded – while maintaining all the benefits of their app ecosystem. Apple can and will do better.

I cannot afford any of these devices.

Whatever smartphone you choose, assume you will have it for between 1-3 years. The cost of the device itself will almost certainly be less than the cost for voice, data and texting services. Plus, you will buy apps, music and other content, and accessories – such as a car charger, stereo speaker and case – for your smartphone. Factor all of these costs into your decision.

If you still decide to go with a low-priced device, get last year’s top-of-the-line Samsung: the Galaxy S III. If you can get a refurbished model, this is a truly great buy. If you cannot afford this, I would encourage you to not buy a smartphone at all. Get a quality feature phone with a physical QWERTY keyboard. There are many options available.

My company doesn’t allow me to use iPhone or Android.

Delta doesn’t allow me to have my smartphone running during take-off. That’s never stopped me.

I can’t possibly type on that touchscreen. I need a real keyboard.

You will learn.

I refuse.

Then, wait. Very soon you can have a BlackBerry Q10. I think you will be impressed. (Note: do not get the BlackBerry Z10)

Blackberry_Q10

Which carrier should I go with?

That I cannot help you with. They all have their own unique set of faults.