The Only Smartphone and Cell Phone Buyers Guide You'll Ever Need

1. Introduction

Wirefly's Buyer's Guide Helps You Choose the Right Phone from Among Hundreds

Are you just beginning the shopping process to buy a new smartphone or cell phone or perhaps upgrading to a new phone with your current carrier? If you're shopping for a new phone available from a leading wireless carrier like Verizon Wireless, Sprint, or T-Mobile here at Wirefly online, you'll have an incredible selection from which to choose. With so many phones to choose from your biggest challenge may be narrowing the choice down to just one phone! On the other hand the process of shopping and selecting a new phone typically boils down to one thing: is this the phone and phone plan that is uniquely right for you? Here's where our Buyers Guide can help as we take you through various steps that include the selection of the right carrier, the cell phone or smartphone that is uniquely right for you, and of course the right phone plan and data plan that is right for you and your wireless budget.

Featuring Smartphones and Cell Phones from Leading Carriers

Wirefly features phones from Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and T-Mobile. Each carrier has an impressive lineup of both cell phones and smartphones. Further, each carrier delivers on every wireless consumer's need for speed with powerful and ever-expanding 4G Networks.

Some of the key criteria when shopping for your new wireless carrier might include such factors as the range of plan options they offer that match up with your needs and your budget, coverage areas with a special focus on 4G coverage – which can be up to 10 times faster than 3G – as well as the overall quality commitment the carrier brings to the customer service experience in your estimation. On this last point conversations with friends, family, and co-workers about the carrier they use can carry some weight as can consumer review publications and - since you're taking advantage of the ease and 24/7 convenience of Wirefly online right now - you might also consider taking advantage of various social media venues where we have a presence to see what others are saying about the wireless carrier(s) you're considering.

2. Cell Phone or Smartphone

Choosing a Cell Phone or a Smartphone: How Do You Plan to Use Your New Phone?

Once you have chosen the carrier, you'll move forward with the selection of either a cell phone or a smartphone from our deep inventory of phones. Here you'll probably do well to first determine how your new phone will best serve your own unique wireless needs. What do we mean by that? Well let's start with a self-assessment with questions that help you determine your preferences for that new phone and might go something like this:

When you think about it, the above questions might really only scratch the surface relative to your unique needs in a cell phone or smartphone. Other considerations might include the size of your new phone’s memory: music fans that download and play a lot of music or other multimedia such as videos and movies might want to make memory size their highest priority. You may even choose a new phone based on the number and quality of the apps you can access and use with your new smartphone. Lots of choices and your accurate self-assessment about how you use a mobile phone will impact both your criteria for the new phone you select and the subsequent enjoyment and satisfaction you derive from your selection.

So - first things first – will it be a cell phone or a smartphone? If you use your phone for talk and text messages, don’t have an interest in Web browsing from your phone, and just basically see your phone as a wireless communications device, then the added expense of paying for the necessity of a data plan that goes hand-in-hand with a smartphone purchase doesn’t really make much sense. While we typically break mobile phones into two separate and distinct categories - cell phones and smartphones – another term you should be aware of is feature phone. Think of a feature phone as smartphone ‘light’. It is a phone that has certain features like a stylish touch screen, perhaps a slider design that accommodates the needs of a text messaging fan, a camera and may feature music capabilities that let you put that old iPod in the drawer forever. The feature phone has that extra special something and doesn’t require the additional cost of a monthly data plan and can be your happy medium between the costs associated with pricier smartphone data plans and a practical but style and feature-deprived cell phone segment.

3. Android, Windows or BlackBerry?

Choosing a Smartphone Operating System: Android, Windows or BlackBerry?

Well here we are: you've gone down the list of our self-assessment questions and it turns out you are in need of a new…smartphone!
Let’s start with what may be the most obvious component of your new smartphone: the operating system or 'OS'. It's actually so ubiquitous that consumers and those within the industry often use slang terms to describe phones in a carrier's lineup: Android phone or Windows phone. It should also be noted that the Wirefly lineup of carrier phones includes a formidable lineup of BlackBerry models which are powered by BlackBerry's own proprietary OS.

By far the leading operating system of its kind, Android has had a number of versions or updates over the course of its history. The folks behind the Android phenomenon have a bit of fun with the names they assign versions so you'll see names like 'Ice Cream Sandwich' or 'Jelly Bean' amongst other names to describe a particular OS version. Phone manufacturers lay a skin or interface over the version of Android they have chosen for the phone they are manufacturing and marketing. These skins vary by manufacturer depending on the preferences of the manufacturer. All Android smartphones are customizable and are enhanced with widgets and apps from Google Play, the Android app market featuring hundreds of thousands of free and paid apps.

The team over at Windows Phone has gone the more traditional route with naming conventions and thus you might see Windows Phone 7 and Windows Phone 8 as their operating system moniker. The Windows Phone operating system offers a more consistent look and feel across manufacturing partners in part because Microsoft believes its ‘tiles’ approach offers a simpler, more intuitive user experience and thus fulfills the needs of a specific segment of the smartphone user marketplace. Like Android phones, Windows smartphones can be personalized with apps, games and more.

Folks who buy BlackBerry love their world-famous email capability. Recently, BlackBerry has been adding greater web browsing support and expanding its own app market.

4. Specs: Network Speeds and Battery Life

Network Speeds and Battery Life Impact Satisfaction

In terms of prominence, a phone's network speed is likely second only to its operating system. In fact it's not at all unusual to see a phone incorporate the term 4G in its name. Smartphones coming to market today are all about 4G Network speed in that your new smartphone will likely feature the ability to utilize an advanced wireless network that may be called 4G LTE, 4G HSPA+ or WiMaxx depending on the carrier. With speeds that can outpace 3G by as much as 10 times, you’ll want to prepare for the future of wireless by going the 4G route! Before purchasing your new phone, be sure to confirm the network coverage in the area you plan to use your new phone most.

Is there a close third item on our shopping list of smartphone priorities? There sure is and some might argue that it ranks right up there with a phone’s network speed capability: your phone’s battery life. A phone’s standby time and talk time are two measurements you may want to take into account based on how you use a wireless device and your past positive or negative experiences with charges held by your previous phone’s battery. Standby time and talk time are two specific terms for a phone that is turned on and in use: standby time is defined by the maximum amount of time a phone is fully charged, turned on, and ready to receive voice, text, or email messages. This period is measured in days. Talk time refers to your phone in active use, be it you chatting on the phone or surfing the Web. Talk time is measured in hours.

5. Form: Slide-out QWERTY, Candybar, or Flip Phone

Choosing a Phone Form Factor: Slide-out QWERTY, Candybar, or Flip Phone

Let’s consider your new phone’s form factor. What’s a form factor? Well it’s industry-speak for the basic design of a phone – with a design that is based on achieving either/both aesthetic or functionality objective(s). The form factor may be a simple slab with a touch screen on its front and perhaps a rubberized or textured backing to facilitate a better, more comfortable grip. It can also be a slide, swivel, or fip design that, when open, can offer up a physical QWERTY keyboard or keypad.

We return once again to the theme of accurate self-assessment about how you’ll be using your new smartphone. It’s really not so different than shopping for a new car: have a family of six? That sporty two-seater is probably not the right choice. Like your vehicles to be rugged and capable of navigating in foul weather? Here again that two-seater with the low-profile tires? A two-seater sports car is great for a drive about town on a beautiful spring day but… probably not the right choice for you in the long run in these situations. We can apply these same lessons to our search for that one right phone: texting fans might feel that a physical QWERTY keyboard is a non-negotiable item. Photography fans may have their eye on a recent smartphone release that has both a certain minimal megapixel count and offers minimal shutter lag-time to facilitate better action shots. With a two-year commitment in the offing, your self-awareness about how you want to use your new phone will go a long way towards helping to ensure your satisfaction with the choice you make.

6. Screen: Style and Size

Choosing A Touch Screen and Screen Display Size

Recently, touch screens are becoming common place on smartphones and basic phones alike. So let’s take a closer look at this popular feature and consider how it effects your purchase decision.

With the exception of a power button, a volume control feature and perhaps a button to capture an image with your phone’s camera, you’ll control the vast majority of your phone’s capabilities from the comfort of your touch screen. You’ll also have the option of typing out a text message or controlling a particular feature on your phone, watching a video or playing a game on your phone with the phone held in either a vertical or horizontal position: change positions with the turn of a wrist and watch as your screen’s rotation matches that of your hand.

As you might imagine there is no one standard size touch screen with variances such as different sizes, different display specifications – here’s where you’ll reference your self-assessment: see yourself watching downloaded shows on a cross-country flight? Perhaps you’re a gamer and the size and vibrancy of the screen makes a significant impact on your gaming experience? On the flip side, you might own a tablet PC where you enjoy your multimedia experiences, so you want your smartphone to offer compact, easy-to-fit in your front pocket styling.

7. Camera: Simple or Advanced

Choosing the Right Camera Phone

Staying with the physical features of your new smartphone choice, let’s talk camera features! Without question one of the major impacts today’s smartphones have had on the consumer electronics marketplace is rapid development in the quality of the images and video captured by phones and the two-in-one convenience of today’s camera phones. Remember when you might have carried a small digital camera in a bag or purse right beside your phone? Today’s smartphone with their high megapixel count and array of other advanced features related to still images and video have redefined how we can use our phones to capture special moments and instantly share those moments with friends and family via email or posts to popular social media and image sharing sites.

Whether you are a committed amateur photographer, a professional prepping a complicated location shoot for a remote client, or a parent capturing a special moment shared with your child, today’s smartphones have a dazzling range of features that can deliver high quality images and video all with the touch of a button. Add to this the easy and convenient ability to adjust, improve or stylize a picture with the aid of a convenient phone app such as those found at Google Play and your new smartphone gives you the ready ability to capture beautiful memories to last a lifetime. A smartphone camera feature to be mindful of while shopping: a phone featuring both a rear facing and front facing camera. A front facing camera does exactly that: it faces you and facilitates the ability to engage in video chats. Video options to be mindful of include image stabilization and higher pixel counts that provide for crisper, higher definition videos to better accommodate online posting and transfer to DVD for long term storage and use.

8. Music: Simple or Premium

Choosing a Music Phone

Are you a music fan? Want to keep your music close at hand at all times? Today’s phones are as highly-lauded by music fans as the aforementioned camera phones are by photography fans. Music fans – and fans of other multimedia that requires device storage – might gravitate first towards a phone’s memory capabilities. Here’s where a phone’s built-in memory capability and the ability to expand that memory capability with a microSD card will factor in. It’s worth noting that the availability of cloud storage and streaming services are other important options to both accommodate the safekeeping and ready access to the entertainment you want on your smartphone and to easily access the entertainment you want when you want it. To mention the obvious: sound is a critical component of how we enjoy our entertainment. To that end, today’s smartphone shopper will want to verify that the phone they have their eye on will readily accept non-proprietary headphones or require an adapter? Perhaps a wireless Bluetooth stereo headphone or the now deservedly popular Beats Audio feature are other great options you’ll seek out in finding the best way to enjoy rich, authentic sound across the full spectrum of how you use your new smartphone device.

9. Additional Smartphone Features: Mobile Hotspot, WiFi, and More

Choosing Additional Smartphone Features - Mobile Hotspot, WiFi Support, and More

Well we’ve covered some of the more popular features found on smartphones today: camera phones, music, and multimedia entertainment portals for those-on-the-go are a few of the bigger attractions when it comes to how phones are marketed and shopped for in today’s wireless world. There are - however – an array of other features which may impact your use and enjoyment of the phone you ultimately select so let’s spend some time reviewing just some of the many other specifications and capabilities found on popular smartphones today:

In a highly competitive market segment like this one each carrier is looking for their own unique edge in delivering a great user experience. To that end, you’ll want to explore a smartphone’s highlight reel of features at Wirefly online to gauge the value of a phone’s other features as they relate to how you use a smartphone. A carrier’s unique music, entertainment, and various messaging options may be the tiebreaker for any number of wireless shoppers.

10. Prepaid: No-Contract and Pay-As-You-Go Phones

Choosing A No-Contract Phone and Plan For Commitment-Free Savings

Well we’ve covered a lot of ground: we’ve talked about both smartphone and cell phone shopping – with a dash of feature phone too! But wait, there’s still another option: the Prepaid Phone. Long the model for how folks in Europe and other parts of the world acquire their mobile phone, a prepaid phone as offered by one of Wirefly’s prepaid carriers is purchased outright by the consumer. Purchasing your new phone outright might mean laying out $100, $200 or more for a new smartphone model. Conversely, now that you own that new smartphone you do not have to abide by the terms of a two year contract which is typical in the postpaid phone world of leading carriers such as Verizon Wireless, Sprint, T-Mobile and others. Think of it this way: in the prepaid phone world you pay the going rate for a phone but avoid a contract. In the postpaid world, you are asked to sign up for a contracted period of time but the carrier will provide a subsidy for the cost of that new smartphone which might have otherwise cost you a lot more money.

Prepaid phones offer you ease and convenience with no contract approval process and the inevitable credit check. It gets better: today’s prepaid phone marketplace features smartphones that are both stylish and powerful. Prepaid phones mean Android power combined with the same stylishly designed smartphones seen advertised on the postpaid scene. And there’s still more: today’s prepaid phone marketplace features phones from leading prepaid carriers who are taking innovative approaches to billing options. Carrier billing options that range from reduced monthly billing for a record of on-time payments and unlimited talk, text, and data at an attractively low fixed monthly rate are two examples of the exciting savings you’ll find when you go prepaid phone shopping!