Mobile phones buying guide
Choosing the right handset
Before you pick your phone, consider what you plan to use it for. There’s no point choosing the latest smartphone if you’re only going to call and text. If you are on the hunt for a high-end phone, remember to read the specifications to see how well it’s suited to your needs for things like photography, music, media, or gaming.
The operating system (OS) is the software that runs a smartphone. It defines how it works, the app store you have access to, and how it communicates with other devices. Each operating system allows you to customise your phone and personalise the layout so it appears how you want it to. Most phones use similar touch gestures and controls, so you’ll feel at ease whichever one you decide to choose.
If you already have a laptop or tablet, its OS can impact how easily the devices can be synced and work seamlessly together. Whether you’re a Windows or Mac user, each OS will have its own way of and limitations on interacting and synching with your phone.
When choosing an OS, you have two main options to consider, each with their own characteristics and advantages: Android is run by Google and is the most widespread operating system and iOS is exclusive to Apple iPhone.
Android is available across a variety of phones and brands, so you have more options when choosing the handset you want. Android phones are powerful, bright and clear. There are over a million apps available from Google Play, so you’re bound to find what you are looking for. If you own another Android device such as a tablet, you can instantly share your calendars, settings and apps, allowing them to work together seamlessly.
iOS is a stylish operating system that’s quick and easy to use. It works perfectly with other Apple devices, allowing you to easily share apps, music, photos and contacts between your iPhone, iPad, iMac or MacBook.
iOS can only be used on Apple products, so you’ll need to choose an iPhone. There are millions of apps available in the App Store, so you won’t run out of app options to choose from.
A mobile phone’s screen size determines its overall size and dimensions, and the quality of the image it displays. Phones come in an increasingly diverse range of screen sizes, so when choosing the right one, consider how and what you’ll use it for. If you want to stay entertained or need to do work whilst on the go, a big screen for watching movies, gaming, or viewing documents will suit you best. However, larger touchscreens mean bigger phones - these can be more difficult to use single-handedly or carry in your pocket.
The latest smartphones are usually equipped to handle a 5G connection, but some handsets may only connect to 4G. Find out whether a phone supports 4G and/or 5G in the specification section of the product page. Remember, 5G doesn’t cover the whole country - you’ll be more likely to pick up a stronger 5G signal in larger towns and cities, although 5G coverage continues to expand.
If you’re on a 5G connection, you can expect faster downloads, less buffering time when streaming, and faster webpage loading times.
Mobile phones come with a range of storage sizes. This refers to how much space there is to save content such as apps, games, photos and music. A smartphone’s operating system can consume around 4 GB of space, so if you order a 16 GB capacity phone, you may actually get around 12 GB of usable storage. However, there are many ways to keep your handset content to minimum, including using music streaming services, cloud storage or microSD cards (be sure to check the product specifications to verify if the phone has one).
The processor is the ‘brain’ that runs your smartphone: a larger processor means a smoother user experience and less lag. If you’re only planning to use Facebook and Twitter you probably won’t need a large processor, but if you like to download blockbuster games or multitask between apps, consider higher processing speeds. Processor size can be easily determined by number of cores (how many computer parts it has) - demanding users may prefer an octa-core processor or larger, while a dual or quad-core processor may suit casual users.
It’s a common myth that more megapixels means a better camera. Megapixels relate to the resolution of the picture, which means the level of detail and how large it can be reproduced without losing quality. For everyday use, such as holiday pictures and social media uploads, 5-8 megapixels is usually enough. More megapixels can capture extra detail and suit making large copies, but it’s better to read about individual camera features rather than relying on megapixels alone.
Smartphones come in a range of sizes, and larger ones are better for watching YouTube or Netflix. A lot of manufacturers now make phones with 6-inch or larger displays. It’s also worth looking at the screen quality, as HD or 4K displays offer a much sharper picture.
SIM free phones
A SIM free phone is a simple option which provides you with a handset and nothing else.
SIM free mobile phone means you’re buying nothing but the handset. There’s no contract, no SIM card and the phone is not locked to any particular network.
SIM free phones give you flexibility. You can buy the handset you want, when you want it. With no contract to sign, you’re not tied into a long commitment when you purchase the phone. You can upgrade it whenever you like, so you can always have the latest tech. SIM-free phones come completely unlocked, allowing you to choose the network and SIM card you prefer.