Mobile Buy Guide: October 2015

Mobile Buy Guide: October 2015

We’re on the cusp of the holiday season and as per usual, huge phone launches have occurred. We have complied a list of some of the latest and greatest phones from our two big powerhouses: Apple and Android. Below we go over some specs of each of the phones and how much bang for your buck you’ll  be getting this season when you’re on the market for a new device.

Apple

In true Apple fashion, they had an entire circus of media around the unveiling of the latest iPhone.  As a recommendation, if you’re in the market for a new iPhone it’s best to now buy either the 6s or 6s Plus in order to stay ahead of Apple’s obsolescent curve that they are notorious for.  Buying the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus isn’t the best decision, especially when it seems that the latest iOS 9 software launch runs a lot better on the newest iPhone and not so great on older models (Surprising? I think not.) Oh and you can also get the phone in pink, er, we mean “Rose Gold”.

iPhone 6s

The biggest feature release that sets the iPhone 6s apart from the iPhone6, is the 3D Touch feature. To those who have an AUntitled-2pple Watch, which comes with ForceTouch, 3D Touch is the same idea just on a phone scale. It stands to note that not a lot of apps have created a compliance with this feature, so you’ll really only see the benefit right now of this feature on Apple designed apps (like Mail, Calendar, etc.). You are also able to “peek” at different apps which changes the whole feel of Apple’s stagnant home page. Additionally, they put a lot of time into the cameras, giving the rear and front facing camera a huge face lift with the ability to take “selfie panoramas”, shoot 4K video recordings, and Live Photos (which mean the photo will actually capture all those in between snapping the photo moments, creating the future of picture taking). The features are cool updates from the iPhone 6, but the price tag remains on the high end.

iPhone 6s Plus

Identical in features, besides the obviously larger screen, the iPhone 6s Plus is for those who love to have phablets. If you’re into the larger screen for everything from reading emails to streaming videos, and a longer battery life, you may want to consider checking out the bigger brother to the iPhone 6s. This phone, as the iPhone 6 Plus did, is competing with other competitive phablets like the Galaxy Note 5. Just be prepared to also drop a pretty penny on this device- the price increasing as your memory needs increase.

Depending on your personal preferences, you have four financial options to consider when upgrading:

  • You can buy upfront
  • You can buy on a contract with a carrier
  • Carriers are now offering payment plans
  • Apple is also offering payment plans (with interest and Apple Care+)

Android

This time around, we split Android into different categories: phablets, smaller phones, budget, and inexpensive. The great thing about Android is that there is a phone out there for everyone’s different needs and preferences for what they want in a phone. The Google event on the 29th of September garned a lot of buzz, due to Google announcing not one, but two, new Nexus phones.

PhabletsGalaxy-Note5_left-with-spen_Black-Sapphire

Galaxy Note 5

We talked about the Galaxy Note Edge in our last buy guide, but the Samsung’s Galaxy Note in general remains a pioneer in the field of phablets. In the Galaxy Note 5 though, Samsung has removed the Micro SD slot, instead replacing their textured back with a glass backing, more aligned with their Galaxy S6 phones. This updated version of the phone is also not as wide, so that makes it a lot easier for those of us with smaller hands to access more features on the screen with one hand. Still coming with a stylus, this phablet will be the best all-around on the go business phone, as you can do just about everything on the device.

Nexus 6P

Powerful camera to capture all moments in life regardless of the lighting, HD screen resolution, aluminum frame to ease the weight of the device, and a fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone for increased security- this latest phone from Google is available for pre-order. The battery is said to last longer than its predecessors, thanks in part to the slightly smaller screen and being launched with Android Marshmallow. The price is a bit on the high side, starting at $499 for the 32GB model. However, if you do pre-order, you’ll receive a $50 gift card to the Google Play store, which isn’t a bad deal.

Smaller Phones:

Galaxy S6 Edge

The Galaxy S6 Edge has maintained it’s popularity and stood it’s ground in the fight to compete with Apple. As we mentioned in our last buy guide, the Edge has a fantastic rear and front facing camera that were better than the iPhone 6, but fall just short of the iPhone 6s.nexus 5x

Nexus 5X

Here’s the alternative to paying the extra dollars for the Nexus 6P and a smaller size. The Nexus 5X boosts top of the line performance and speed, for a reasonable price tag. They also didn’t skimp on the camera, which performs well in low light conditions and the launch time of the camera is faster, in order to allow you to capture every little moment. And guess what- the Nexus 5X shoots 4K video, just like our pals over at Apple. Fingerprint scanner, Android Marshmallow, also offering a pre-order deal of a $50 Google Play giftcard- the Nexus 5X gets it all. Plus, the phone starts at a mere $379.

Moto X Pure Edition

Moto_X_Style_Black_Front_Back

Camera, camera, camera. Users of Motorola’s previous generations complained about poor camera quality in low light and Motorola responded by greatly improving the camera on their latest release- the Moto X Pure Edition. Running a more pure Android interface, the latest phone is also still just as customizable as the Moto X (2014) edition. The screen has a sharp pixel density which means you’re getting incredibly clear and vibrant images which makes it great for streaming videos and viewing photos. Great news for those who love Micro SD cards- this latest edition comes with a port to expand that memory with a Micro SD card, which is fantastic considering the highest storage you can buy with the phone, is only up to 64 GB. If you’ve used Motorola phones in the past and liked them, you’re sure to love their latest update.

Budget:

Moto G

If you’re saving for a big purchase but need to have a reliable phone, this budget phone is for you. We detailed this crazy deal of a phone on our last buy guide, but here are the highlights you need to know about this steal of a phone: runs Lollipop, has a bright focused screen, and great speakers; the latest 2015 model is now available and includes updates on the speed, camera, and added battery capacity. The phone also includes a Micro SD card slot (memory lovers rejoice!) so that you never have to fear running out of memory on your phone. Remember, all of this, for under $200.

Inexpensive:

Moto-E-(2nd-GenMoto E

For only $119.00 starting, you get an LTE capable, all day battery lasting, and Micro SD storage phone. This inexpensive steal from Motorola is perfect for those who travel overseas a lot, for those who want to get their pre-teen or teen their first smart phone, or to introduce anyone for their first time to the joys of having a smartphone. The benefit with such an inexpensive price tag but the ability to do with this phone what many others can do with theirs, is that losing the phone isn’t the end of the world. Or if you have a habit of letting your phone swim unsupervised- because you can always replace it for the price of a grocery shopping trip at Whole Foods would cost you.

 

 

Carriers

As always, check out our post on carriers to learn more about which one is best for you and your lifestyle.

Mobile Phone Buying Guide: August 2015

Technology seems to be changing at the speed of light. Unfortunately here at Aumnia, we work at a human speed. In our brief hiatus from keeping you informed on all things mobile, we’ve been working hard (or hardly working?). With a little more manpower at the helm, we’re back and we’ve got an awesome phone buying guide for you this month- just in time to wrap up summer.

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Mobile Phone Buying Guide: February 2015

Mobile Phone Buying Guide: February 2015

This edition of the mobile phone buying guide is a bit of a tough one. We’re entering a period that I like to call “upgrade limbo”. What is upgrade limbo? It’s when we’re in between major phone releases making it difficult to suggest or recommend different handsets. However, this is a phone buying guide, so here are my suggestions if you are in the market for a new device.

As in previous editions, I’ve split the guide into three sections – iOS, Android, and off-contract. I’ll start with iOS (meaning iPhone). You can skip directly to Android by clicking here, or directly to the off-contract section by clicking here.


iPhone Buying Recommendations

Given that it’s been almost 5 months since the iPhone 6 came out, we’re at a point where upgrading is questionable. It’s always best to upgrade your iPhone shortly after the latest model is released so you can maximize the benefit of the new device and stay in sequence with the Apple upgrade schedule. While this isn’t the worst time to upgrade to the iPhone 6, just be aware that new models will be coming out in about 6 months.

The big question: iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus?

iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 PlusBoth the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are excellent devices. The 6 Plus does have a couple of advantages. First, since the battery is larger, you will get more time between charges. Second, the camera is supposedly a touch better, but I’m not certain it’s enough to influence your choice.

The downside of the 6 Plus, or upside depending on how you look at it, is the size. If you’re upgrading from an iPhone 4 or iPhone 4s, the 6 Plus will feel massive in comparison. It may be shocking at first, but most people I know have gotten used to the size quickly and love it. However, if you like to carry your phone around in the front pocket of your jeans, you may find the size of the iPhone 6 more appealing.

Bottom line, it’s a personal choice. I’d recommend that you go to an Apple store or carrier store to see the devices first hand. If you’re unsure after looking at them, inquire about the return policy and take advantage of it if the device you choose isn’t to your liking.

iPhone 5s recommendation: wait

iPhone 5sIf you like the size of the iPhone 5, my past recommendations have been to go ahead and get the iPhone 5s. At this point though, my suggestion if to wait and not upgrade. Rumors are that Apple is going to upgrade their 4-inch models to the latest hardware so there will be three new phone models released this year – a 4-inch, 4.7-inch, and 5.5-inch iPhone model.

Since the iPhone 5s will be two years old this fall, buying it means that it will likely only last 1 more operating system upgrade, 2 at the most. If you can wait for the newer model, you’ll have a phone that will be guaranteed to last through your contract and beyond.

iPhone 5c recommendation: don’t

As with previous recommendations, don’t get the 5c. It’s just an iPhone 5 repackaged in colored plastic. The hardware is going on 3 years old, and I suspect that Apple will be phasing out support for this model over the next 12-18 months, especially since the 5c never really caught on.


Android Buying Recommendations

If you’re in the market for an Android device, now is definitely a good time to wait. A major show in the wireless industry, Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, is taking place at the beginning of March. New Android devices will be announced during the show. I suspect HTC will announce a follow-on to their HTC One M8, and Samsung should announce the Samsung Galaxy S6.

In the meantime, if you need to purchase a phone, here are the recommendations:

Moto X – 2nd Generation

If the Samsung Galaxy series isn’t your thing, or you’re looking to try something new, the Moto X 2nd Generation is a great device. It runs a vanilla version of Android which means it gets the latest operating system updates quickly. For example, it’s already running Android 5.0 – Lollipop. Plus, since the refresh cycle for the Moto X is in the fall, you’re fairly safe upgrading to the Moto X.

Galaxy Note 4

Samsung Galaxy S5If you like the larger “phablet” size such as the iPhone 6 Plus, then the Note 4 is your best option. There are quite a few phablet size Android devices, but Samsung has done the best job building devices in this size range.

Samsung Galaxy S5

If you’re a fan of the Galaxy S series phones, then the S5 is the current upgrade path. However, I’d recommend waiting a month until the S6 comes out. I don’t suspect there will be a lot of changes, but you will get slightly better hardware for the same price as the S5.

Droid Turbo

If you’re on Verizon, I’d suggest taking a look at the Droid Turbo. It’s a slightly enhanced version of the Moto X – 2nd Generation that is exclusive to Verizon.


Off-contract Buying Recommendations

The off-contract market has gotten a little bit tougher. In the past, the Nexus 5 was my go-to off-contract device, but it has gotten very hard to buy from the Play Store. There are also rumors that Google will be phasing it out, which is a shame. It was a great deal at under $350.

In lieu of the Nexus 5, here are some other devices to consider if you want to get some good hardware and save some money by going off-contract:

OnePlus One

OnePlus OneStarting at $299 with flagship equivalent specs, the OnePlus One is a steal. The problem is that it can be very hard to get your hands on one. You can only purchase it directly from their site (click here), but it requires an invite. They occasionally open up non-invite periods, so you’ll have to follow the tech blogs to see when one of the non-invite purchasing windows opens up.

Moto G (2nd generation)

For $179, the Moto G is a great value device. It doesn’t have all the latest and greatest hardware, but if you’re looking for a 5-inch device that will let you text, email, take pictures, and access the latest Android apps, the Moto G is your device. Plus, at $179, you can always upgrade if something better comes along without feeling like you lost a lot of money. The Moto G is also a great device if your current device goes for a swim or MIA. It’s a great way to bridge the time until your contract rolls over so you can get your next flagship device.

Moto E

One of the best kept Android secrets is the Moto E. It’s a full fledged Android device that you can purchase off-contract starting at $120. As you would expect, there are some feature compromises, and you don’t get the best features for $120, but it’s a phone that works and has access to all of the latest Android apps. It’s a great first phone for a teenager or pre-teen. I got one for my pre-teen, and it certainly alleviates a lot of the anxiety of her breaking it or losing it, which seems to be a common occurrence for this age group.

Off-contract iPhones

There are two options for off-contract iPhones. The first is to buy directly from Apple, which means you’ll be paying full price for an iPhone. The iPhone 6 starts at $649, and the iPhone 6 Plus starts at $749. The other option is to try and pick-up a second hand, refurbished device from an online carrier store, eBay, or Gazelle. Either way, expect to pay a lot more than you will for an unlocked Android phone.


Windows Phone

I would strongly suggest staying away from Windows Phone for now. Microsoft is in transition to Windows 10, which will unify the Microsoft operating system across desktops, tablets and phones. It remains to be seen how compatible Windows 10 will be with existing phones, so buying a Windows Phone now could result in owning an obsolete device by the end of the year. To be honest, I wouldn’t recommend considering a Windows Phone device until 2016 at the earliest.


Carrier Recommendations

Since carrier quality varies significantly by region, I generally stay away from specific carrier recommendations. That being said, if you are looking for a carrier or want to make a change, check out my article, Choosing a mobile carrier, for tips and guidelines.


If you have questions about any devices, feel as though I left one out, or have personal experience with any of devices, please share in the comments.

 

What to expect in mobile during 2015

What to expect in mobile during 2015

As usual, 2014 was a busy year for mobile. Apple released not one, but two bigger iPhones, Amazon jumped into the market with the Fire Phone, Android and iOS continued their dominance, mobile payments got a huge boost with Apple Pay, and mobile phone car integrations got a huge boost with Apple’s CarPlay and Android Auto.

I don’t expect that 2015 will be any different. There is still a lot of opportunity in mobile. It’s a dynamic market with rapid technology advancements making it hard for anyone to keep up. That being said, here are some trends that I’m watching the rest of this year.


  1. Android gradually pulls away from Apple in market share
    Android and Apple have been neck-and-neck over the last few years, but I feel this is the year Android slowly pulls away. Don’t get me wrong, the iPhone is a great product, but the shear volume of Android competition is creating innovations that makes it hard for one company to keep up with.
  2. Smaller phones make a comeback
    For some reason, it’s near impossible to buy a flagship phone these days that isn’t at least 4.7″ in screen size. We’ve entered the “SUV” stage of the phone market where bigger is perceived as better. While the bigger screens are great, there’s still a market for smaller 4″ handsets. It’s an end of the market that’s been abandoned, for now. I suspect we’ll see new flagship phones come out this year that will give people the option of carrying a pocket-sized phone again.
  3. Phone hardware advances stall
    There’s only so many ways you can build and style a rectangular slab of metal and plastic with a screen. In fact, all of the latest hardware features are gimmicks rather than technological breakthroughs. In 2015, the biggest advancement will be made in software – both in the apps and the operating system itself.
  4. Modular phones open up new business models
    Google’s Project Ara, a modular smartphone project, is slowly coming to life. When it does get here later this year, I expect it will open up a bunch of new business models and spawn a cottage industry of hardware manufacturers that will allow you to customize your phone. For example, are pictures you’re thing? You’ll be able to plug-in a great camera. Need extra battery life? You can trade-off features for a bigger battery. The options will be endless.

  5. Windows Phone (Microsoft) ends up third by default
    Microsoft continues to spend their way to grabbing market share. The problem is, it isn’t working. Even though their share of the market declined in 2014, it fell a lot slower than their competitors. Microsoft is going to end up as the third mobile option. It’s not because they won, it’s because they had enough money to survive longer than their competitors at the bottom of the mobile food chain. While this may change with the launch of Windows 10, the effects won’t be felt until mid-2016 at the earliest.
  6. Amazon takes another run at phones
    The Fire Phone was a flop for a myriad of reason, the primary ones being carrier lock-in and price. I don’t know much about Jeff Bezos, but I do know that he is a fierce competitor who wants to win. The phone is an important part of Amazon’s strategy, and they will take another run at it this year. They need to dramatically lower the price and bundle with a free/discounted phone service made available through Amazon Prime. I figured they could offer the phone service as an MVNO through one of the existing carriers, but Google may beat them to it.
  7. No-contract options continue growth
    If you haven’t tried going no-contract, you should. T-mobile has been very successful acquiring customer with their no-contract options, so I expect that we will see more no-contract options from all the major US wireless carriers in 2015.
  8. BlackBerry gets acquired
    As a hardware provider, BlackBerry is done. Their software, though, is still very valuable. I expect that 2015 will be the year that someone looking to enter or augment their mobile offerings steps up and buys BlackBerry.
  9. Wearables look for a niche
    Smartwatches, Google Glass, and fitness trackers were all the rage this past Christmas, but in my opinion, they are a fancy solution looking to solve a problem none of us have. Do we really need to carry around more devices that scream for our attention? I don’t expect big things from wearables in 2015. In fact, I don’t see the market for wearables growing until they find their killer app.
  10. Tablets struggle to maintain their growth rate
    Two years ago, it was predicted that tablets would clobber PC sales. Turns out people realized they still need PCs for true creative work. Tablets are great consumption devices, but they don’t need replaced nearly as often as phones. I suspect the tablet market will still be healthy in 2015, but don’t expect it to grow as rapidly as in the past, and don’t expect it to be a true replacement for the desktop/laptop PC – at least not in 2015.
  11. Apps adapt to car integration
    Apple’s CarPlay and Android Auto are making their rounds at the car shows this winter and spring, which means we should see them in cars this summer. The car is a new context area for apps, so developers will have to adapt their apps to these new use cases. I suspect that developers will spend more time adjusting their apps for car integration than they will updating them for wearables.
  12. Mobile payment options advance, but don’t go mainstream
    Apple Pay is gaining momentum in mobile payments, but mobile payments are still not ready for mainstream. The existing merchant credit card players are dragging their feet with mobile implementation, and businesses have too much invested in existing hardware to make wholesale changes. Mobile payments will continue to be an area of focus for lots of companies in 2015, but I still don’t see it as a mainstream payment option. Maybe in 2016, but I suspect it could be 2017 before the mobile payment market really takes off.

Out of all the above, the only constant I can guarantee for 2015 is change, and lots of it.

Be prepared.

31 days with the iPhone 6

The iPhone 6I’ve been an Android user for the last five years. While my first attempt with the My Touch 3G in the fall of 2009 only lasted two weeks, I haven’t looked back since getting a Nexus One at the beginning of 2010. I’ve had numerous Android devices since then and have been happier with each new device I’ve owned.

However, for testing purposes, we needed to purchase an iPhone 6 for the office. I decided this would be a good time to try out the iPhone and see what all the fuss was about. For years now, loyal Apple users told me I was missing out no matter how much I protested. I was told the iPhone experience was amazing and that it just worked better than an Android phone. If I used one, I’d never go back to Android, or so I was told. It was time to find out for myself.

After spending a frustrating, albeit entertaining, evening trying to buy one, I was excited to receive the device on launch day, September 19. After playing with it for a few days, I figured the best way to try the device would be to go cold turkey and use it as my primary mobile phone for the month of October. Here’s how my month with the iPhone went.

First impressions and setup

I documented my first impressions after receiving the phone here. Below are a few of the highlights from that article:

  • Packaging is well done. It’s clear that Apple spends a lot of effort making sure the first impression is positive.
  • The hardware is top notch. The fit and finish screams luxury. It’s one of the best phones I’ve used from an aesthetic perspective. I can why people are drawn to the device based upon looks.
  • Setup is easy, and transitioning from my Android was dead simple. I was able to install all of my go-to apps like Evernote, Dropbox, Runkeeper, Starbucks, Gmail, Play Music and Youtube. After entering my username and password, all of my data was instantly available. Let me just say that the cloud rocks!
  • From a functionality perspective, the two platforms are virtually identical. Everything that I could do on the iPhone could be done on my Android device. I liken it to having someone come in and rearrange your house. You can still live in it, it just takes some time to find everything you’re looking for, but once you do, it all works the same.

iPhone Likes

I want to reiterate again that the hardware is awesome. The iPhone 6 is the biggest phone I’ve used on a regular basis, but its design makes it feel smaller. The rounded edges, thickness (or lack thereof), and weight make it feel just right. It also helps that Apple has added some nice touches to deal with the increased size. A feature called “reachability” lets you lightly double-tap (not depress) the home button and the top half of the screen slides down. It allows you to reach the top of the screen without having to adjust your hold on the device. Those Apple engineers think of everything!

The screen is also amazing. It’s vibrant and extremely crisp. It’s the best screen I’ve experienced on a mobile device.

Apps, while generally the same as Android, feel a little more polished on the iPhone. I don’t know if it’s real or psychological, but they just seem better thought out. It also helps that Apple stringently curates apps to insure adherence to their design recommendations and guidelines. Therefore, the user experience is very similar when moving between various apps. On Android, the user experience between apps can feel more disjointed.

From a look and feel perspective, I now understand why people are passionate about their iDevices. Apple has done a great job connecting with people emotionally through design.

iPhone Dislikes

There were a few things that I wasn’t able to get comfortable with over my month with the phone.

  1. Notifications
    I know that Apple has made a lot of improvements here over the years, but even after using iOS 8, I like the Android way better. iOS notifications try too hard to get your attention. Android notifications are simpler, less intrusive, and easier for me to digest. Throughout the month of October, I longed for the notification center of my Android device.
  2. Google service integration
    The Google apps are good on iOS, but not the same as Android. They just work better on Android and have a few extra features that I’m used to and like better. Again, it’s not that they don’t work on an iPhone, but you can tell that Google is able to do a little more with the apps on Android given their control over the OS.
  3. The hardware button
    The Nexus One was the last phone I owned with a hardware button. I thought I would miss it when I upgraded to a Galaxy Nexus, but I got used to it fast. In fact, I don’t like hardware buttons, particularly on the face of the screen. It takes up room and feels odd. It’s the only part of the iPhone that has a cheap feel in my opinion. I worry about pressing it too many times for fear it will break. Again, it’s probably a psychological thing.

The jury’s out

Unfortunately, there were a couple of features that I didn’t get to spend much time with. One was the camera. I’ve heard many good things about it, but I didn’t spend enough time with it to tell if it was better than the Android alternatives. If I were to believe what I’ve heard, I would have been impressed.

Another feature I would have liked to try was Apple Pay. I believe that we should be spending more effort using our mobile phones as a way to combat credit card fraud. Unfortunately, Apple Pay wasn’t available until the tail end of my trial, so I wasn’t able to formulate an opinion one way or the other.

The force was strong, but not strong enough

Since finishing my trial, I’ve returned to the comfort and familiarity of my Moto X. It’s not that I didn’t like the iPhone, but there wasn’t enough compelling reasons to switch. It’s possible I didn’t give completely in, as I didn’t use the Apple Mail app, iMessage, FaceTime, or the other Apple services. Had I decided to buy all the way in, I may have come away with a different opinion. On the other hand, that’s my biggest beef with Apple. In order to get the most from the experience, you have to completely give in to the Apple way of doing things.

The more things change…

This experience just reinforced what I already thought about choosing between iPhone and Android. Both are great platforms, and the choice between them is a personal one based upon your own preferences. Here’s what I suggest if you’re torn:

  • If you are already using one and are comfortable with it, don’t change. You should anticipate 2-4 weeks of decreased productivity switching platforms spent setting the phone up the way you want, resinstalling and repurchasing apps, and getting used to the new settings. So unless you’re just entirely fed up with the platform you are using, it’s not worth changing for the sake of change. There are better ways to spend your time, trust me.
  • If you’re life revolves around Apple products and services, you use a Mac and/or an iPad, and you have a heavy investment in iTunes content, then an iPhone is the best choice. The integration with all of your other iDevices is much smoother, more straight forward, and will give you access to some nice features integrated between the iOS and desktop operating systems.
  • If you’re life revolves around Google services (like Gmail, Calendar, Hangouts, Contacts, Docs, etc.) and you primarily use a PC, then an Android device is the best choice. It’s not that these things don’t work on an iPhone, they just work better on an Android device.

My final words of wisdom are to be careful listening to extremists on either side of the iPhone-Android debate. They will lead you to believe that everyone in the world should use an iPhone or vice-versa. As I mentioned above, both are great platforms no matter what anyone tells you.

While my 31-day iPhone trial was great, it just wasn’t right for me. I use a PC and lots of Google services, so an Android device suits me better. However, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not the right answer for everyone.