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Attention Potential Android Users: choosing the right smartphone for you

Discussion in 'Android Lounge' started by Tslide91, May 26, 2011.

  1. Tslide91

    Tslide91 Android Enthusiast
    Thread Starter

    Im always seeing threads about choosing the best phone, so I figured I would make a thread to try to clear this issue.

    I can't guarentee anything with this info. Nothing is perfect, including this thread. Take this all with a grain of salt, but hopefully this guide will help those of you new to android choosing a phone.

    Feel free to add any info, but absolutely NO FLAMING and NO TROLLS. This is supposed to be helpful, not a place for people to call names and flame other people for their opinions. Also try to provide as much info as possible. Enjoy :)

    First, there is no such thing as "best," only different.

    In real world use, specs dont have that big of an effect.

    Software: Many manufacturers like to use software overlays. Popular ones include - but aren't limited to - HTC's Sense, Motorola's Blur, Samsung's TouchWiz, ect. They add a layer of functionality and elegance, usually a lot more widgets and stock apps. Also, more bloatware. This could be good or bad.

    Then there is what we call "vanilla" Android, which is stock Android with nothing done to it.

    Vanilla Android is much more basic. It'll still function the same, but sometimes you just want more. Now, for the advanced users, most of us want Vanilla. It runs lighter (less resource intensive), software updates happen MUCH quicker, and it's more of a "pure" experience. Typically, phones with vanilla Android will say "with Google" somewhere on it. Most often in adds, the phones with UI overlays will just say "with Android market". Fear not, these phones are still running Android. Just a tweaked version. Sometimes for the best.

    Most often a UI overlay will add more widgets, more home screens, different/better software keyboards, and a custom look. My favorite is HTC Sense. I find it to be very classy. Though, most phones featuring a UI overlay come with a lot of - what we call - bloatware. Bloatware is software that cannot be removed without having superuser permissions (a.k.a. Root). However, Android is designed to run with nearly everything open. The way in which it manages it's memory is different than most. It lets everything run until it needs more space, in which case it will close the apps that haven't been touched in quite a while. You may be thinking "that doesn't sound very efficient". It is efficient. It means that the very second you click that app, it's exactly where it was before. Open and running instantly, where you left off. Bloatware doesn't have that big of an effect, though it does to a degree. You probably don't need to worry about that yet, though.

    Physically: If you're a bigger person, say 5'10"+, you may want to check out phones with a physical keyboard, or at least a 3.7" display if you're considering a slab phone. If you're a bigger person, I would recommend a phone with at least a 4" display. Keep in mind everyone is different. I have big hands. If you're rough on phones, I'd stay away from phones with a physical keyboard. Slab phones are much more sturdy and much more forgiving when you drop them. Also, no moving parts, which means it'll withstand a lot more drops. That being said, NEVER leave your phone on your lap. Never leave your phone near water, and ABSOLUTELY DO NOT put your phone in a pocket with other items. It WILL get scratched.

    A screen protector and a case should be enough protection for the average user. However, I run my phones naked, not even a screen protector. That being said, I'm insanely cautious with my phones. I don't have insurance on them either. I would advice getting insurance if you can afford it. It's cheaper to pay $5-10 a month than to have to shell out $500 when you break your phone.

    Weight: You need to find a good balance between weight and rigidity. Usually they go hand-in-hand with each other. But, you don't want a device that is going to get tiring in your hand. 4 or 5 ounces doesn't seem like much, but let's say you're laying down playing with your phone before you go to bed. Even the lightest phone will start to weigh a lot when you're getting tired. Though personally, I like heavy phones. They feel like they're more worth the money, and you're less likely to fall asleep when they're in your hand.

    Carriers/Network: There's two types. GSM, and CDMA. T-Mobile and AT&T are GSM, while Verizon and Sprint are CDMA. Basically, GSM relies on one tower at a time to give you a connection, while CDMA links to multiple towers. CDMA takes more battery power to connect to, though. In most cases, GSM will work just fine and let you use it a little longer, since it's easier on battery.

    I should probably note, whenever you can, connect to Wifi. It will be faster (in most cases) than your mobile network, and won't take nearly the battery. Also it will help if you don't have an unlimited date plan. Even if your data plan is unlimited, some carriers with limit your bandwidth after you've used so much. Turn your wifi off when you aren't using it. Just be careful what type of info you send through there, you never know who could be trying to steal info.

    Hope this helps!

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  2. El Presidente

    El Presidente Beware The Milky Pirate!
    VIP Member

    Excellent post, thanks.

    I agree with most of what you've said, but I know for a fact that HTC do have a tendency to release buggy OTA updates. Certainly every OTA update they've done for the Desire HD has had it's fair share of issues. Other than that, I'd have to say they're pretty much spot on.
  3. layarue

    layarue Lurker

    Thanks a ton!
    I guess this thread was what's been missing here, for me there are some things clear now! :) Still, would be interesting to hear other people's opinions on it!
  4. Tslide91

    Tslide91 Android Enthusiast
    Thread Starter

    Thanks! Yeah, i've got bugs on my htc phones too, they just arent NEARLY as bad as some of the competitors ive seen. I'll update the thread and make it more organized once we have more info/opinions.

    Do I hear sticky?
  5. novox77

    novox77 Leeeroy Jennnkinnns!

    Good write-up, with lots of details and justification for the OP's subjective opinions. I would still encourage people to research these manufacturers and come to your own conclusions. I can find several points here that I don't agree with; doesn't mean I'm right and OP is wrong; it's just that one size doesn't fit all.

    A quickie example: I'm on the small side, 5'8" small frame. I love 4.3" screens. Can't type worth a damn on wife's iPhone's 3.5" screen.

    Go Red Sox.
  6. B2L

    B2L Android Expert

    I agree with you, there are a few things i do agree with and don't.

    Such as the OP said Samsung typically has plastic build quality. Build quality is only what the user makes of it. Also you say that Samsung has been slow when it comes to updating, but really that's not the case at all. The SGS was updated quite soon after it's release in Europe it was only the US carriers fault for having phones like the Epic, Vibrant, Captivate, and Fascinate having untimely updates. Although there is only one Samsung device i can think of that Samsung has had problems updating. (Behold II)

    Other than those couple of things i completely agree with you, thanks for the post.
  7. Stuntman

    Stuntman Android Expert

    FYI, my HTC Desire Z has HTC Sense running on it, but on the back, it has "with Google" written on it.

    Also, you did not mention anything about Sony Ericsson phones. Do you have any experience with their phones?

    In any case, this is a very informative post.
  8. Steven58


    Good thread. However, you probably should include a part about GingerBlur, which is totally revamped and fantastic.
  9. AndroidSPCS

    AndroidSPCS Android Expert

    Damn it, I was in the process of typing up a long reply on locked / encrypted bootloaders, Android OS versions... then I hit the back key to correct a typo and it went back to the previous page and wiped away my reply...

    Basically, Samsung / LG are the most developer friendly, HTC and Motorola are using locked / encrypted bootloaders to prevent custome software (ROMs) from being installed. (UPDATE: Apparently HTC now has decided to have unlocked bootloaders, which means Motorola is the sole phone company with encrypted bootloader, so stay away from Motorola).

    The average consumer should care because if a carrier / manufacturer abandons a phone, the consumer can still update the phone with the latest Android software if the bootloader is not encrypted.

    My Samsung Moment is less than 2 years old, and it's pretty much dead in the water in terms of development. It went from Android 1.6 to 2.1, and the future looks grim for updates. Thanks the the after-market community, I was able to install Android 2.2 on it to make some fixes to the laggy stock software, and improve user experience. So this may not be a big deal initially, but it will be a huge deal once you own the phone for a while.

    Removing carrier bloat is also another good reason. In Sprint's latest ROMs there's something called CarrierIQ, that basically tracks everything you do with your phone. By using after-market ROMs, the CarrierIQ is stripped away so your privacy is protected. Another good reason for using after-market ROMs.

    So I currently lean towards Samsung / LG / HTC at the moment, and shy away from Motorola.

    Also the different flavors of Android can be confusing. Here's my take on it:
    Android 1.6 (Donut) - ancient version of Android. Stay away from it if you can.
    Android 2.1 (Eclair) - bare bones minimum version of Android. Move up to a later version if you can.
    Android 2.2 (Froyo) - decent / modern Android OS, can do many things, such as App to SD card.
    Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) - very polished Android experience, latest version. Use this if you possibly can.
    Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) - for tablets only, not relevant for phones.
    You always want the latest Android OS on your phone if possible, as it can enable some great features. For example you can run Netflix only on Android 2.3, and Google talk with video only works on 2.3.
    SeniorAlex and jbs like this.
  10. dylando808

    dylando808 Well-Known Member

    Well written. my mom's thinking about getting a smartphone and i let her read this to educate herself a bit on Android. thanks :D
  11. Tslide91

    Tslide91 Android Enthusiast
    Thread Starter

    Ive never owned samsung, ericson, or lg. Aside from moto and htc, I was going off what ive read, but things change I guess.

    MODS: feel free to edit with better/more accurate info!
  12. takeshi

    takeshi Android Expert

    The real issue tends to be that people assume that needs/wants are universal. They're not. That's why "best" is so subjective. Any words like that are subjective. If you find yourself using any of these words:

    • best
    • worth
    • cheap
    • expensive
    • good
    • nice
    • useless
    • useful
    • pointless
    • ...and so on. There are too many for me to list them all but hopefully you get the idea.

    ...then keep in mind that they're highly subjective words. Spend some time qualifying exactly why you have that opinion. What makes you think that one option might be better than the other may not be perceived the same to another or may not carry the same weight. If we all had the same needs/wants then we'd all be using the same device.

    In the end, it all boils down to determining your particular needs/wants, prioritizing them and seeing how the options suit you. It's really no different from buying anything else. I think people just get overwhelmed by specs and don't understand how to translate specs into what does or doesn't work for them. If you can't narrow down the choices based on your requirement sthen of course you'll be overwhelmed by all the options out there.

    And don't overlook assessing devices in person. Many people have strong preferences for various physical characteristics, whether it's the feel of the particular physical keyboard, the size of the device, the image quality if the screen, the form factor of the device, the weight of the device, etc.

    If you're trying to write a guide for everyone to refer to you really should try to strip your subjective preferences from the guide and write it in a general way for people to make their own decisions.

    These are all your preference. Another person could rank these OEM's differently. You really don't need to tell people about who has better specs or not. That can change and shoppers can compare specs for themselves. It's very straightforward to compare two numbers and determine the larger one.

    Build quality is also a highly subjective point. I've lost count of the times that I have not agreed with another person on perceived build quality. For a general guide, you should just leave build quality as one of those items for the shopper to assess in person rather than dictate your preferences.

    Again, your preference. UI preference is something that each person needs to assess on his/her own. Pointing out exactly why you prefer a particular UI can help but if you're trying to write a general guide you should instruct the individual to try out all the options.

    I haven't liked any of the UI's out there so HTC isn't a leader IMO. The next person may strongly prefer Sense. Yet another person may strongly prefer another OEM's UI. Don't project your preferences if you're trying to write a general guide.

    Yet another matter of personal preference. Full retail isn't the only option for replacement. There are used devices, refurb/CLNR, etc. There are those that don't consider insurance on such items worthwhile at all. Some just stash aside some cash in case of loss.

    I'd suggest mentioning that the carrier isn't the only source of insurance either. Many people seem to assume that's the only option when there are 3rd party providers including insurance companies that the shopper may already use for homeowner's and other insurance.

    Not exactly. You might want to read up more on the different network techs before trying to author a guide. There is a difference in how the 2 split up the available bandwidth but it has nothing to do with multiple towers and everything to do with time division versus code division.

    Also, keep in mind that not all Android users are in the US. US carriers aren't the only ones out there. In the end, most consumers don't care about GSM versus CDMA. It's real world coverage that matters most and people need to assess this on their own. Coverage maps are a starting point but they're not totally accurate. Every carrier gives you a time to cancel without ETF. Spend that time assessing coverage where you need it.

    International travelers will probably want a device that supports international GSM bands. Most GSM devices already do this. There are options for CDMA but the shopper needs to look at CDMA/GSM hybrid devices which are generally labeled as "world phones".

    Shoppers might also have a preference for GSM versus CDMA based on sound quality. I've seen people that prefer GSM and people that prefer CDMA. This is another thing that each shopper needs to evaluate on an individual basis.

    In general, it doesn't hurt to test drive anything that you're considering.
    KaiserM715 and Blizzerand like this.
  13. Tslide91

    Tslide91 Android Enthusiast
    Thread Starter

    ^im not perfect! Haha

    The subjective parts are purely what ive heard in multiple reviews. I cant have an actual opinion on anhthing but htc because ive owned way more of them than anything else.

    Like I said, mods can feel free to edit and make this post better. I was just trying to get SOME info out, instead of seeing 20+ "help a noob" threads a week lol
  14. Tslide91

    Tslide91 Android Enthusiast
    Thread Starter

    Bump. This thread is no good if it's not near the top
  15. cds0699

    cds0699 Android Expert

    Very good thread.

    My opinion, you may want to stress that it is probably most important to figure out which carrier is best for the individual before even looking at the other stuff.... because the carrier, and service that the customer gets signal/data wise is going to have a long term impact on their experience, more so that the phone will. What good is having a bad ass phone if the service in the persons area isn't good? :)
  16. pfs2978

    pfs2978 Newbie

    Ohhhh Yeeeeea!
  17. Tslide91

    Tslide91 Android Enthusiast
    Thread Starter

    Funny thing, I've had T-Mobile since before 3G existed, and we still don't have it. I live in a decent sized town too. Kinda pisses me off. Pretty much anywhere I got has wifi though, and in cars coverage is spotty, since you're moving. Maybe not all the time, but in my experience.

    Reguarding the carrier info, I didn't want to trail off too far. I'm trying to keep this more toward the phone since most people getting an Android phone already have a carrier, as far as I've seen. I mean, I don't know where the person lives or their budget/needs, so I don't really want to go there haha.
  18. Tslide91

    Tslide91 Android Enthusiast
    Thread Starter

    Bump. Make it a sticky? I think this could be helpful toward people new to Android. But I don't have the time to keep bumping this all the time.

    EarlyMon likes this.
  19. EarlyMon

    EarlyMon The PearlyMon
    VIP Member

    Let me chat that idea to the team - I agree, this is good stuff.
    Tslide91 likes this.
  20. UnplugMe

    UnplugMe Well-Known Member

    There is a need for a site that lets the consumer select desired features and filter all results, from all available phones, sort them by price or release date, etc. No one site does all this. You can sort of partially do it through various sellers, but only from their limited stock. And you can't filter by operating system.

    At least if such a site exists I'm not aware of it.

    When I was recently phone shopping, I wanted:

    GSM Quad-Band
    Unlocked (for use in U.S. or overseas)
    Not Motorola (dislike Motoblur)
    Android 2.2 or above (required for purchased app)
    'Slide-out or at least tactile' Qwerty keyboard (phone for mother who can't do virtual kbd)

    It would have been nice to go to a site, plug all that in and filter, from all phones made in the last 3 years, for example, including pending releases.

    Just posting this to nudge someone who might want to start such a website. If I had the knowledge I'd do it myself.
  21. MarvicGold

    MarvicGold Lurker

    Good post, I want to add a point about hardware.
    There are many phones around with different Hardware and different Prices. I saw many people with expensive phones with massive hardware that they really don't use and they don't need. We should understand that sometimes there is no advantage to get a phone just for is appearance (anyway you know the size of your wallet xD).
    If you are a basic user (sms, calls) - up to 150$ maybe ok, or you can try other "no Android" phones.
    If you are a normal user(sms, calls, wifi, some photos and games, usefull apps) - up to 350 its good. Most of users are in this section.
    If you are extreme user you probably know the correct phone for you ;).
    The whole point is that some reading about needs/hardware before buying can save you some money.
    EarlyMon likes this.
  22. kristalsoldier

    kristalsoldier Android Enthusiast


    Like many others here, I think this is a very good and useful thread. I particularly liked the way the OP kept some of the more subjective elements in the forefront while discussing how to choose a phone (or for that matter any kind of device).

    What I want to do here is to post about (1) how I came to choose my phone (2) how I use it now, and (3) what my experience has taught me about the next phone I am going to choose.

    I find many parallels between what the OP has posted and my own experience. Long post though! So, you are forewarned.:D

    How I chose my phone?

    I came to Android from a Nokia/ Symbian combine. I loved my Nokia E series phone, especially the physical KB. But the phone was getting a bit awkward because it was locking up repeatedly for some reason or the other.

    I had been reading about Android and so I took the opportunity to buy a low-end Android unit - Samsung G5560 (Fit) to try it out. I now wish I would have bought the Ace, but whatever. When I bought it, Froyo was on as the OS. My reasons for buying the phone were (1) I did not want to spend too much money on what I considered to be an experiment since I had never used Android (I have previously used Palm and WinMob 6.5) and (2) I wanted a phone for only a year before I upgraded. This was to be stop-gap arrangement for the time being. (3) It was well within my budget.

    Originally when I bought the phone (around June 2011), I did not have a 3G connection. Though I did have GPRS. But having got the phone, I signed up for the 3G services and have not looked back since.

    My impressions of the phone were and remains positive. I found it to be light, easy to handle and sleek. Android was a revelation. To begin with since my stuff revolves around Gmail, setting up was hassle free. Though the extent of my intimacy with Google was and remains a bit worrying.

    The phone did hang sometimes, but I attributed that to the low-end specs. Recently, however, Gingerbread was pushed out to the phone and it has worked very well since. Battery life has improved, among other things.

    How I use my phone?

    Obviously for calls and messages. But I have found that my earlier interest in surfing the web on the phone has died. The screen on my particular phone is too small. I also use my phone as a music player (I use the doubleTwist app from the Market).

    Having once tasted Android, I looked around for a tablet and since Android tabs and the iPad were the only choice, I went with an Android Tab (Acer A500). I have never used Apple stuff. And, anyways, they are too expensive for me, though I do appreciate the designs of their hardware.

    I use my tab for everything except for making and receiving calls. To do that, I tether the phone to the tab using the MobileAP feature and it works brilliantly (though, at the cost of battery life). This is one feature that I really like and use a lot. Any future phone MUST have this feature and it should be dead-easy to set up.

    So, essentially, my "smart phone" (low-end though it may be) is basically a phone, media player and access point to tether my laptop (Win7) and the tablet. In a pinch I can activate the other features, but I keep it off to conserve battery.

    What about my next phone?

    If the above is what I am going to use a phone for, then what I need - and this specific only to me - are the following:

    Good battery life (quite essential)
    Wif + BT capable (non-negotiable)
    Sync-ability with tab and laptop via Google/ Gmail (or it could be MS Live Services too)
    Seamless tethering (non-negotiable)
    Efficient messaging system (I am willing to try out any new but reasonable solutions)
    Something that complements and augments the tab (quite essential)

    Now, the question remains: Will the next phone-tab combo be an Android affair or a Win8 affair?

    Nokia hardware (phone + (possibly) tab) + Win integration (hopefully with tab-centric Office apps) sounds good since I also use Office extensively. Very tempting! Would involve migrating to the MS eco-system, but that's not too much of a hassle. Also, though I am assuming the update schemes would be more stable than Android, the Nokia-MS combine may get a bit claustrophobic (and expensive).

    OTOH, I still feel that Android is and will remain more exciting - both in terms of OS and apps and hardware though Nokia's quality will remain hard to beat. Potentially, more VFM to be found on the Android road.

    In the Android scheme of things, one thing that I will do when I buy my next phone (end of 2012) is that I am going to root the Samsung Galaxy Fit (before it is too late - it may already be too late) in a way that optimizes it as a media player with consequent battery advantages. I may want to use it as a dedicated media player thus freeing up a function for my next phone. Trade-off? I am adding another device when the objective is to be mobile and to benefit from the convergence of not only information but also hardware.

    The main point is that I can do any of the above in either eco-system. So, I need to only look for the appropriate hardware that can support these activities.

    This is probably how I am going to go about choosing my next phone.

    Again, sorry for the long post!:D
    Tslide91 likes this.
  23. thedosbox

    thedosbox Guest

    Phone Finder and Compare

    The "full filter" will allow you to filter on everything except whether it's unlocked.
  24. djeaux

    djeaux Newbie

    This is a super-important point. In my case, Verizon & AT&T offer newer, cooler phones, but they also have the worst coverage where I live (rural, small town area). So it really boils down to C-Spire or C-Spire (aka CellularSouth), and in their case, they have a great network but tend to lag technologically. For example, I have a choice of a Samsung Galaxy S or an iPhone 4S. They say "4G coming soon," but based on their roll-out of 3G a few years ago, the process is likely to be delayed, implemented on a bizarre schedule. Their "unlimited" plan is throttled data, too. But the option is crappy phone service once I wander more than 5 miles off the main highway...
  25. mistermojorizi

    mistermojorizi Android Enthusiast

    i like that the OP says that specs don't matter. this is very true. i don't like how the next line says there is no best, just different. perhaps there is not best, but there is definitely better, not just different.

    example - 2 phones might have the same specs but, one phone is able to run a game that you want to play smoothly but the other one doesn't. so you see exactly how specs don't matter in this example, but you also see how the real world outcomes DO matter, and make one phone better than another phone, not just different.

    if one phone gets longer battery than another phone, it is better, regardless of specs. if one phone gets better signal than another phone, it is better, regardless of specs. and so on and so forth. this is why whenever i make decisions, i look to reviews from experts and informed consumers, not specs. it's all about performance. and some perform better than others. and you can't tell from specs.
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