Before you treat yourself to a new iPhone or Android, here are some things to consider

Before you treat yourself to a new iPhone or Android, here are some things to consider

The best phones you can buy right now like the iPhone 14 Pro, Google Pixel 7 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra have all the features you could ever want. With their outstanding performance, amazing camera systems and a host of additional features, these top-of-the-line phones represent the pinnacle of mobile technology. So it’s not surprising that these premium phones also come with sky-high prices. The massive cost of these devices means they’re unaffordable for many of us, or simply unnecessary when all you need is a solid device for your everyday needs.

The wide range of different phone manufacturers should make shopping easier, but sometimes makes it more confusing, whether you’re looking for the highest quality Elite phone or a more affordable phone like the Google Pixel 6A. The best devices on the market not only have different prices, but also different camera specifications, screen sizes and storage capacities.

In this article

To help you avoid the jargon and spend your money wisely, I’ve compiled my tips for buying a phone in 2022.

How to buy a new phone: top phone buying tips

Do you know what matters most to you: is it the screen size? camera quality? Battery Life? This will help you narrow down your choices. Phones like the iPhone 14 Pro or Pixel 7 Pro, for example, have incredible cameras that almost rival the quality of a DSLR. If you are a photographer then spending money here is a good idea. If not, you can probably save yourself a bundle. Don’t neglect the mid-range: features from last year’s flagships always trickle down to this year’s mid-range phones. You can get a great phone that does almost everything a premium phone can for a fraction of the price. Google’s Pixel 7 Pro offers a great zoom camera, but the base Pixel 7 shares most of the same key specs and comes in at a lower price point over Black Friday. And find out what your grace period is if you need a quick return or exchange. Last year’s phones: They can often be very cheap too. Wait for this year’s launch to get last year’s phone cheaper when stores and carriers may be looking to sell their existing stock. Keep the phone in a store first: you may love it or hate the way it looks and feels in person. Check if you are already invested: Have you already bought many iPhone apps and iTunes movies? Stick with an iPhone if you still want access to it. Likewise, if you’ve invested in tons of Android apps, you should stay on that side of the fence. Otherwise, it’s easy enough to switch platforms. Buy a case and screen protector: they protect your phone from costly damage and increase the phone’s resale or trade-in value when you’re ready to move on.Oneplus 9 phone connected to a charging cable
Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Smartphone performance vs. budget

In general, the performance matches the cost. The very latest and greatest technology is usually expensive. Flagship phones have the best cameras, the most powerful processors, and can even come with cutting-edge tech like flexible displays. Due to the high prices, these phones are only worth considering for those who want to have the absolute latest technology in their pocket.

Not everyone needs such cutting-edge technology, however, or may just not be willing to shell out the $1,000 or more that is typically required to get it. Luckily, the mid-range sector of the phone world has been one of the fiercest battlegrounds for companies to compete in, resulting in some amazing phones that won’t break the bank. Features like wireless charging and multi-lens cameras that were once the domain of flagships are now commonplace on mid-range phones.

Even budget phones still offer decent camera quality and enough power to enjoy all your daily web browsing, WhatsApp and Instagram.

4G or 5G?

5G is the latest standard that promises blazing-fast mobile data speeds on the go. Like any new technology, it’s common to see it on high-end devices, but it’s also becoming more common on much cheaper phones.

5G coverage isn’t universal yet, so it’s important to ask yourself whether you need 5G speeds at all, and more importantly, whether they’re available where you live. If you plan on keeping your phone for at least a couple of years, you can expect 5G to become more and more the norm during that time. If you’re undecided now, nine months from now you may feel different and regret not taking the plunge sooner.

Hand holding a smartphone with street and glass buildings in the background.
Andrew Hoyle/CNET

screen size

All phones have steadily gotten larger in recent years, with the iPhone 14 Pro Max measuring a whopping 6.68 inches and the Galaxy S22 Ultra measuring 6.8 inches. Small phones aren’t that common anymore, but there are a few options to consider if you don’t want a huge screen stretching your pockets.

Apple has decided not to update the iPhone 13 Mini this year, but it’s still officially available on the Apple Store and at 5.4 inches, it’s much smaller than the 6.1-inch iPhone 14. On the Android The Google Pixel 6A’s 6.1-inch display makes it one of the better smaller phones, but even then it’s hardly what you’d call tiny.

Two smart phones.
Andrew Hoyle/CNET

camera performance

Camera features have been a major point to brag about with rights in recent phones, with manufacturers always wanting a bigger, more exciting number, be it the number of megapixels or the number of actual camera lenses. Three rear cameras are common today – a regular lens, an ultra-wide lens, and a telephoto lens – with even budget phones containing multiple cameras.

That’s great, because more lenses mean more shooting options when you’re on the go. But that doesn’t mean that one multi-lens camera is as good as the other. As with processing power, the more you spend the better the results you’ll typically get, with the absolute best cameras typically being found on the most expensive flagships.

Galaxy S20 phone
Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Look out for features like optical (rather than digital) zooms, night mode for better low-light images, and optical image stabilization. Sometimes these features may not be clear, and it is not possible to judge a camera’s performance based on specifications alone. If you really care about your phone’s photographic capabilities, take some time to check out the reviews and see how the camera performs before you spend your money.

Battery life

Most phones, from the budget end to elite flagships, can last most of the day on a single charge. Bigger phones might have bigger batteries, but they also have bigger screens and often more powerful processors, so they drain that extra juice quickly. Few phones give you more than a day of usage. Here are some things to consider:

Always plan to fully charge your phone overnight. Look out for features like fast charging that allow your phone to drain a lot of power in a short amount of time. However, do check if your phone comes with a compatible faster charger as an old USB plug may not support it. Your battery will last longer if you avoid more demanding tasks like gaming or video streaming. It also helps keep screen brightness down. iphone 12 pro max
Andrew Hoyle/CNET

processor power

Top-end phones have powerful processors and typically up to 12GB of RAM. It’s enough to get these phones to perform any task without breaking a sweat, but you don’t have to spend flagship-level cash to get excellent performance.

Most decent mid-range phones offer enough power to handle all your day-to-day needs. You can still play almost any game from the Google Play Store and edit your high-resolution photos in apps like Snapseed. There’s little you could throw at most mid-range phones that they couldn’t handle.

As you move towards the budget end of the spectrum, you’ll start to notice a slowdown in things like gaming. More demanding 3D games may appear more stuttering and may even quit unexpectedly. However, basic tasks like emailing, listening to Spotify, and browsing Instagram shouldn’t be a problem.

How much phone storage do you need?

Most phones, even the budget ones, come with at least 32GB of storage, 10 of which can be occupied by preinstalled apps and the phone’s operating system. If you never plan on recording video and gaming isn’t your thing, 32GB might be enough, but otherwise consider 64GB or even 128GB as the minimum.

Oneplus 9 Pro smartphone
Andrew Hoyle/CNET

High-end phones — especially those that can record high-quality 4K video — offer capacities of 256GB or more. With so much storage space, you hardly need to think about deleting old files.

If the phone supports microSD cards, that’s another matter, as these days you can buy 32GB microSD cards (or larger) for very little money, and plugging one into your phone will limit the amount of storage space you have access to have increased dramatically.

bonus material

Many of these features are common on phones in different price ranges today and should be considered when shopping.

Fingerprint scanner or face unlock: A scanner can be integrated on the back or even invisibly in the display. Biometric security, as it’s called, is more secure than having to remember a PIN. Waterproof: Do you often answer calls in the rain? Look for a phone with at least an IP67 rating to protect it from water and spilled drinks. Wireless charging: This is available on many phones, with some now offering faster wireless charging speeds as long as you use a compatible charging pad.

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