The best phone for you may be the worst for someone else. That's why no one phone can be declared "the best." That new iPhone the pundits are declaring the "ultimate" device? While it may be perfect for the 40-something Apple enthusiast, it's wrong for the 20-something looking for a cheap option. Read on to figure out which phone is the best for you, and be sure to check out our handy cell phone finder.
Smart Phones vs. Feature (Dumb) Phones
It's a sign of the times when an actor's switch from a smartphone to a dumb phone makes international news, but that's what happened when British actor Eddie Redmayne went from an iPhone to a flip phone in 2016. This prompted news outlets to explore the topic, with several tech-weary interviewees describing a similar jump. Whether you're thinking about moving from a smartphone to a dumb (otherwise known as feature) phone, or vice versa, this section lays out the basics between the two types of devices.
Smartphones are like miniature computers. They contain operating systems capable of running applications (apps), provide internet access, and feature touch screens.
"Dumb" or feature phones don't have operating systems, and do not provide a way to download apps. They also generally have fewer programming functions than smartphones. However, some of today's feature phones do have touch screens, cameras and, in some cases, pre-installed apps, closing the functionality gap with smartphones.
Considerations When Deciding Between Smartphones and Feature Phones
Feature phones tend to be dramatically less expensive than smartphones. In fact, you can pick one up for free just for signing up for certain plans. Smartphones, of course, tend to be comparatively pricy, though there are some very affordable Android models. Also adding to the cost of smartphones, comparatively speaking, are the phone plans for them; you'll want a plan that includes enough data for your streaming, browsing and application using needs. Data is less of a concern when it comes to feature phones.
Smartphones have touchscreen displays that by nature are fairly delicate, regardless of how strong the glass is touted to be. Feature phones are more durable simply by virtue of the fact that there tends to be less glass to break. Also, if something happens to your feature phone, it's a lot less expensive to replace it.
- Web Browsing
Web browsing on feature phones--if it's even available--tends to be a chore. Anybody who can recall trying to surf the web on their phones circa 2005 will have a pretty good idea what it's like. Smartphone makers, by contrast, treat web browsing as a core function of their devices, and work to optimize it for their users.
Camera quality improves with each new generation of smartphone.The difference between smartphone cameras and professional ones is growing narrower by the year.
Feature phone cameras have also seen steady improvement, though their quality is still markedly shy of the ones in smartphones. If high-quality photographs are a chief concern, you'll probably want to spring for a smartphone. You can sort through devices by camera via our cell phone finder.
The ability to download and use mapping apps is a crucial feature of smartphones. Thanks to Google Maps, Waze and Apple Maps, it's become a whole lot easier to find places without a bunch of MapQuest printouts.
If you've never relied on the Google Maps app, you probably can't relate to what you're missing; however, if you're thinking about moving from a smartphone to a feature phone, there's a chance you'll miss mapping dearly.
Remember punching numbers on a keyboard several times to get the desired letter you needed for a text message? Thanks to the touchscreen keyboards that come standard on smartphones, that experience is a thing of the past. . . unless you buy a feature phone. Many still have these analog-style keyboards, which may prove frustrating if you're used to the smartphone experience.
Since feature phones have less sophisticated built-in radio technology, they may not be equipped to access the latest network spectrums put out by carriers. As a result, coverage on feature phones can be inferior to that of smartphones.
If you define freedom as being untethered to screens, feature phones will indeed help you become more "free." Just think of the built-in excuses a feature phone provides: "I'm sorry I didn't get to your email, I had to wait until I was in front of a computer screen again," or "I didn't respond to your Facebook post right away because I don't have that app on my phone," or "I appreciate the long text; my response was short because typing on my phone is a chore." If you're seeking a life free of constant tech entanglement, feature phones can be the answer.
Before taking the plunge, however, it's worth asking yourself whether, in the absence of a smartphone, you'll simply ramp up your time in front of other screens, like your laptop or tablet.
iPhones vs. Android Phones
The iPhone likely needs no introduction. These devices have revolutionized--or perhaps better stated, partly created--the smartphone market. Apple passed the 1 billion iPhones sold threshold in July 2016, and indeed the device has helped the company shoot into the stratosphere. If you're a lifelong Apple user, or even if you're simply enchanted with these magnificent devices, you probably already know a lot about them, or own one.
As for whether the iPhone is for you, the first thing you'll need to ask yourself is whether you are willing to fork over the money for one, as they're among the most expensive devices on the market. However, the latest editions are consistently rated the top smartphones out there, with a staggering universe of apps, a great camera and intuitive interface features (check out our 2016 iPhone guide). You really get a lot for the money.
Android phones capture the majority of the smartphone market--around 87% in 2016. There are hundreds to choose from, at a variety of price points. This alone makes Android an attractive option for many--there are a diversity of phones, with a diversity of strengths, at a diversity of prices.
Check out which smartphones we're looking forward to in 2017.
Considerations When Deciding Between iPhones and Android Phones
Many millions of dollars and hours of manpower went into making the latest Android and iOS versions (Nougat and 10, respectively) user-friendly and both are, in general, exceedingly easy to use . If you're thinking of switching from an iPhone to an Android phone or vice versa, know that learning the new operating system won't be overly difficult, and you'll be able to perform the same core functions. It's hard to go wrong in either case.
Having said this, where the Android OS runs into trouble sometimes is in its compatibility with certain phones. Whereas iOS was specifically designed for iPhones and works seamlessly on them, Android pops up on a vast array of devices, and is occasionally buggy on particular ones. Make sure you research the handset you're interested in before buying it, to ensure that Android works well on it.
As mentioned, iPhones are among the most expensive devices on the market, and you'll be in it for a good chunk of money if you buy a new/current model. Via AT&T, an iPhone 7 Plus (large screen version) with 32GB of memory runs $794 on a $50 plan, while the iPhone 6S Plus with 32GB costs $674.99. You can, however, pick up an iPhone 5--still a fantastic phone--for a comparatively cheap $194.99.
Android, by contrast, is available on a wide spectrum of handsets, at a great many price points. Current generation flagship devices like the Samsung Galaxy 7 or Google Pixel can cost nearly $700; on the other side of the spectrum, something like the LG K4 LTE costs a mere $120 via Verizon. Buyer beware, though: while some of the sub-$200 Android phones look great at first glance, they often work poorly (more on that below).
Siri gets a lot of publicity, and with good reason: she's an excellent voice assistant, and one of the pioneering examples of this technology. However, Google and others have taken this tech and run with it, and these virtual assistants easily equal, if not outdo, Siri.
Take Google Assistant. It responds quickly to the voice prompts and seems to intuitively grasp what you're asking for, whether it's directions or a text message to your spouse. Siri has trouble with certain phrasing and often presents unneeded results. Regardless, they're both very useful.
Not all Android Phones are the Same
The Android operating system finds its home on phones large and small, expensive and cheap. Unlike iPhones, the quality and functionality of these devices can vary dramatically.
As mentioned, many of the less expensive Android handsets look very appealing at first glance; several sub-$200 ones that look strikingly similar to popular flagship devices. However, the quality of these phones--or lack thereof--becomes immediately apparent once you power them up. That's why it's important to thoroughly research a phone before you spend money on it. Check out our guide to the best cell phones under $200.
Anything Within the Last 2 Years (and $400+) is Good
What with the constant stream of ads touting the latest smartphones, you'd think owning something a little less current relegated you to the stone age. In fact, most versions of phones released within the last 2 years are serviceable to great, and compatible with the latest operating system updates and technology. Take for example the Samsung Galaxy S6--still a great phone, and $449 via Samsung compared to nearly $700 for a S7. When it comes to Apple, you can venture slightly outside of this 2-year window to find great devices. It's wise, if you can, to keep your search to phones that cost $400 and up, as there is a sharp drop off in quality below that threshold.
In sum, if you can get over your fear of missing out of the very latest phones, you'll find some fantastic deals on slightly less current devices.
Switching Between Android and iOS
Don't let your fear about switching over to Android or iOS dissuade you from choosing a particular device. It's not a whole lot more difficult than transferring from another Android phone or iPhone. Google Drive is your friend in this process, allowing you to transfer photos and contacts. Check out our guide to transferring contacts from Android to iPhone, and vice versa. Apps, unfortunately, do not travel between systems, so you'll need to repurchase them on your new phone.
There are plenty of resources out there to show you how to do all of this, so rest assured that you'll be able to keep everything, apps notwithstanding, when you move from system to system.
Other Considerations When Choosing a Smartphone
When it comes to smartphones, bigger isn't always better. Samsung helped popularize the "phablet" (combination phone and tablet), and Apple followed suit with their iPhone Plus versions. Having a screen of this size can be nice for performing all manner of streaming and browsing tasks, reducing eye strain in the process. However, large phones are not always pocket-friendly, and are a bit more awkward to bring along on your runs, bike rides, and other exercise-related activities. You can sort through devices by size on WhistleOut's cell phone finder.
While several lesser-known cell phone manufacturers are doing great things, sometimes it's best to go with a company that has a proven track record. You check out all your options via our phone comparison tool.
Generally speaking, the flagship phones from device makers like Apple, Google and Samsung feature the best cameras on the market, with up to 12-megapixels. However, some of the slightly less expensive phones like the Huawei Honor 8 and the Moto G4 also feature excellent cameras, and let's not forget older generation phones like the iPhone 5S. If taking high-quality photos is important to you, there are a range of excellent options out there today.
Installments, Early Upgrades, Leasing and Purchasing Outright
Smartphones--the flagship ones anyway--are expensive. Take the iPhone 7: the large "Plus" version, with 256GB storage, runs a whopping $969. Or how about the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge: $779 (via T-Mobile). This makes leasing or installment plans an immediately appealing option for many. But are they the way to go?
Most installment plans offer 0% financing for a 24-month payoff of your phone. If you have good credit, there's no upfront cost to get into the plan; with bad credit, the upfront cost is typically $150-200. If you want to own your phone before the 24 months is up, you simply pay the remaining balance off. These plans are a fantastic option if you're not prepared to buy a particular device--say, the iPhone 7--upfront.
Early Upgrade Installments
All four of the major carriers offer early upgrade installment plans. These plans are set up like regular installment plans in that you're required to pay equal monthly payments over a 24-month period for your device; however, for an extra monthly fee--say $10 more a month--you have the right to switch phones after 12 months, or after 50% of the phone is paid off. At this point you start paying the same monthly fee for the new device, with an important caveat: the past 12 months of payments are forgotten, and you're starting at zero again.
Sprint is the only carrier to offer leasing. Phones can be leased over a 17 or 18-month period, with customers paying less than they would in an installment program. You're required to pay off the rest of the lease installments if you choose to upgrade early. And, of course, at the end of the lease period, you don't own your phone--unless, that is, you pay the extra Purchase Option price. You can learn more in our guide to Sprint's leasing program.
Purchasing your phone outright can be a great option, if only for the freedom ownership provides to go with any carrier that runs on a network (CDMA or GSM) that is compatible with your device. Also, you can sell your phone at any time and pick up a new one. Of course, this is dependent on your ability (and desire) to buy the particular phone that you're interested in all at once; as mentioned, the flagship smartphones can run $700 to close to $1,000.