Smartphone Buying Guide

Here’s what you need to know before buying your next smartphone.

Getting a new phone is the perfect time to figure out which service provider works best where you live and which one offers the best deal for you. The four major providers offer different pricing plans based on voice, text, and data use, but you may want to consider some smaller upstarts that could offer better deals.

One key thing you’ll need to know when picking a new phone plan is how much data you actually use. You’ll find it by checking in your phone settings, your account on your carrier’s website, or your monthly bill. Average a few months to get a good monthly estimate so you don’t get hit with charges for additional data use.

The two most popular operating systems are Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. Android offers more phones across different brands, like Samsung, LG, and HTC, and you can customize the screen on Android using widgets to quickly access settings, like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, and see the latest news and info from your apps without opening them. Apple’s operating system is consistent across phones on different carriers, so if you know how to use one, you know how to use them all. And now, Apple offers phones in different sizes.

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Trying to decide between a phone and a phablet? Many phones are getting bigger and bigger so now you have a lot more options when it comes to size. Most models we tested have displays in the 4.5 to 6 inch range. Models with really big screens are great for viewing webpages, maps, and videos, but may be hard to handle. Consider picking one you can use comfortably with one hand.

The latest trend in smartphone screen displays is ultra-high definition, which should mean sharper pictures and more detail, but in our tests we found most users won’t notice the benefits of UHD on their smartphone, partly because even the largest phones have relatively small screens. You’ll likely notice a difference, however, if you buy a phone whose display is not at least HD. Stick with resolutions of the 720p and higher or more than 300 pixels per inch.

Cameras and smartphones are getting better and better. With their built-in network and wireless connections, there are plenty of quick and easy ways to share photos and video via Facebook, YouTube, email, text, and cloud-based services. And if your photos aren’t up to par after you initially take them, there are plenty of apps out there that’ll help you improve the quality.

People care about battery life a lot because who wants to be stuck with a dead phone? You want one that will at least last you the day. Anything rated very good or excellent in our ratings should be able to deliver that.

When it comes to insurance and extended warranties, just say no. A recent survey found that only one in five people had to replace a lost, broken, or stolen phone. Here’s a cheaper solution. Hold on to your old phone and use it if your new phone breaks.

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