Buying a Smart Phone is an Important Choice. How do you do it?

Written on September 21, 2012 at 6:26 pm , by

The iPhone 5 launched into Apple stores today and the usual media and buying frenzy associated with every iPhone update has started. I look at a lot of cell phones so this always surprises me a little. There are so many great phones on the market. What made so many people decide this is the one to stand in line for?

So when the folks at Qualcomm – did you see my post at GeekGirlfriends.com about the “Butter Test” where Qualcomm engineers use butter to demonstrate how hot cell phones get? — asked if I’d like to talk about the results of their survey on what makes people buy which cell phone and how they use a smart phone once they get it home, I was in.

I was not too surprised to learn that we parents use smart phones for everything. Or as Liat Ben-Zur Senior Director of Software Strategy and Business Development for Qualcomm CDMA Technologies put it, “A smart phone isn’t just an accessory, it’s an appendage.” Fifty-eight percent use a smart phone to keep in shape, everyone (94 percent) uses it to take pictures, 69 percent play games on it, 46 percent of tablet users watch movies at least on a monthly basis, 56 read digital magazines (more on tablets than on phones.) And then of course, there is email, texting, paying bills, watching finances, keeping track of schedules, shopping, taking notes, keeping lists, Twitter, and Facebook. Yep. That pretty much describes my day. My smart phone is the key to my life.

So choosing which smart phone to buy is an important decision, right? Like I said, I look at a lot of phones. But, even with that advance notice on what’s coming, I have made the wrong choice more than once. And I’m not alone. This sort of frustration surfaced in the Qualcomm survey, too. Twenty-two percent responded that their biggest frustration with their mobile device was that they couldn’t hear the caller. Other irritants? Poor battery life (17 percent), difficulty getting a signal/dropped signal (17 percent) and slow data download (14 percent).

So it’s a big decision. And when you make the wrong choice, you have to either live with it for a long time (that two-year contract) or spend a lot of money to change. So how do you decide?

Not surprisingly, to me anyway, the in-store salesperson was not very influential in this choice, according to the Qualcomm survey. But price, operating system (Apple, Android, Windows, or Blackberry), screen size, battery life, and a fast connection were all big factors. But how do you determine those things when you are in the store trying to buy a new phone?

My advice? Choose something you like. Not something the biggest geek you know likes. Not something everyone else likes. Something that calls to you. Look at the screen, tap the apps, make a call, and send a text – right from the store. In fact, play with it in the store for as long as you want. And then play put it down and play with something else so you have something to compare it to. When you are pretty sure, ask how long you have to return it. And, when you get it home, watch things like battery life, how much you like using it, and how hot it gets. If anything bothers you in the first 30 days, it will bother you a lot more in a year. So return it if you don’t love it.

A lot of people rely on reviews. And those can give you a good idea of battery life and speed. But they won’t tell you what you like. The people at Qualcomm (not surprisingly because they have been making mobile processors for a long time) suggest that you also think about the processor. The processor controls all of the factors you probably care about in a phone: battery, call quality, speed, graphics, camera and how hot the phone gets when you use it. And, to make identifying its current processor easier — Who can remember all those crazy processor acronyms and numbers? – Qualcomm has given it the cute name “Snapdragon.” And the company is  working on getting stores to label phones with this information.

I am currently using a Nokia Lumia 900 and I love it. It is fast, keeps me entertained and in touch, has a great camera and pretty screen, stays cool, always connects, and lasts all day on a charge. It’s also cute and has adorable matching accessories. (Hey, accessorizing is important to me!) And I can’t wait to try the recently announced Nokia Lumia 920, which promises even better colors, accessories, and camera. My phone has a Snapdragon processor. Is that why I like it, I asked Ben-Zur. She put it like this: “Each manufacturer implements our technology a little bit differently. That one is running the Windows OS. Nokia chose how to implement the camera and graphics.” (And someone with a sense of style I like chose the colors and designed the accessories for it.) “But, yes,” says Ben-Zur. “That processor is the beating heart of the phone.”

Christina Tynan-Wood writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle, and is the author of “How to Be a Geek Goddess.” You can find her at GeekGirlfriends.com, as well as here on Momster.com.

 

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