'What phone should I get?'
If I had a pound for every time a friend or even passing acquaintance asked me that, I'd be able to afford an iPhone 4. Aside from just telling them what they want to hear ("You should get an iPhone, it matches your suave hipster lifestyle and will go with your beautiful eyes"), it often flummoxes me. Choosing a handset is a pretty personal thing - especially if you're considering a very expensive high-end one.
With this in mind, here are some handy pointers to help you come to your own conclusions and end up with the right phone for you.
What's your budget?
Now that phones are super clever, you don't have to spend hundreds of pounds a month to get a handset with bells and whistles galore. Even 'budget' phones are pretty advanced, with the likes of the INQ Chat 3G offering fast internet and social networking apps on a budget.
Decide whether you want something that won’t cost you much at the start or during the life of your contract (a budget handset from the Samsung Genio would fit this bill), or whether you’d prefer to shell out for a good handset up-front (buying a SIM-free iPhone, for example), or whether you’re prepared to pay a high monthly cost throughout the contract in order to avoid plonking down a wodge of cash to begin with (there are plenty of deals on smartphones including the iPhone, HTC Desire and Google Nexus One).
Remember: whatever monthly cost you opt for, you're making a significant investment of both time and money. Have a look at your monthly outgoings and establish whether you can definitely afford your desired level of handset for the full length of the contract before signing on the dotted line.
What's important to you?
Right, now you know approximately how much you're willing/able to pay, you can start thinking about specifics. The right handset for you is going to depend on what you're most keen on doing with it.
If you spend half your life texting or emailing, then you might want a physical keyboard as opposed to a touchscreen. Or perhaps you’re keen on a bit of both – the Palm Pre or Motorola Milestone could be right for you. However, if you prefer calling then you'll want to go for something with noise-cancelling built-in or with a really good antenna (good luck with that).
If you’re a Facebook or Twitter addict then you might want a handset that allows push notifications – this means you’ll get an alert whenever there’s a new message on your wall or a reply on Twitter. Most smartphones offer this, but don’t forget you’ll need a good data plan to take advantage without breaking the bank.
How important are apps to you? If you're into games, social networking, photography, location-based services or augmented reality then apps could be the real dealbreaker - both Android and iPhone have a brilliant range of apps; but don't forget the likes of Nokia's Ovi store and the BlackBerry app markets. Manufacturers are putting a lot of time and money into app stores at the moment in a bid to catch up with Apple, so don't write them off yet.
That said, we can't see certain app platforms (*cough*bada*cough*) lasting forever, so you may want to opt for an OS whose future is a little more secure.
Unfortunately, you're going to have to do some research for this section. We don’t want to blow our own trumpet or anything, but you might find Recombu’s mobile phone comparison tool quite handy for this. We think it’s pretty good.
What can you put up with for two years?
Now you’ve decided on the must-have features of your handset are for right now, you need to consider what the must-have features you’ll be wanting in a year’s time are; if you’re getting a contract handset then it’s likely that you'll be locked-in for at least 18-months. So that’s a year-and-a-half with nary an upgrade in sight – you’ll want to choose a handset that will last.
And we mean that in terms of build quality too. Some of the really low-cost handsets we see for review don’t seem as though they’d last eight months let alone eighteen. Go to a mobile phone shop and try out all the handsets that make your shortlist; check for little bits that are likely to fall off and get lost, fragile buttons that are likely to fall off, plastic casings that could be easily cracked. If you’re prone to breaking phones, you might want to consider whether or not you can afford a sturdy case for a more fragile handset.
Now, put them all together…
You should have drawn up a kind of shortlist of handsets, based on each of the above sections. Theoretically, all you need to do now is cross reference each handset you’re considering against each of the sections. Hopefully there’ll be one or two which meet all your criteria. Then it’s just a case of deciding which you actually like the most.
If none of the handsets you’re considering match all three sections, you might have to relax some of your criteria. Features are the easiest to compromise on; do you really need to be able to video call? Is it essential that you shoot HD-quality video with your handset?
The most important thing is to take your time: there’s no rush. Don’t let pushy salesmen or friends force you into making a snap decision. Choose wisely, young grasshopper. That handset is going to be with you for a long time.