Mobile Phone Buying Guide: October 2014

Mobile Phone Buying Guide: October 2014

Since we all the know that the big news over the last month was the iPhone 6 release, this month’s buying guide will have plenty of information about choosing a new iPhone. As I did in July’s buying guide, I have split the guide into an iPhone and Android section. If you’d like to skip directly to the Android recommendations, click here.


iPhone buying recommendations

In the July edition, I suggested that it was not the time to upgrade your iPhone. Well, now is the best time to upgrade your iPhone. The new models have just come out, and you can rest assured that a new iPhone will not be coming out for another year.

Apple made good on just about all the rumors surrounding the new iPhone 6 devices. They released a 4.7-inch version, the iPhone 6, and a 5.5-inch version, the iPhone 6 Plus. The phones are thinner with rounded edges, much like the old iPod models. I’ve been test driving an iPhone 6 for the last two weeks, and the thin design makes the increase in size much easier to handle. It also performs faster than last year’s iPhone 5s. You can get a more complete rundown on all the improvements in this summary I wrote about the iPhone 6 launch event.

In any case, there are now three viable options when selecting an iPhone. You read correctly – three. Here’s my recommendations for making a choice:

iPhone 6

iPhone6-6Plus-HomeThis is the flagship model, and the one most people should choose. It is the right balance of size and portability, meaning it’s not too big to fit into a pocket, and you don’t look ridiculous handling phone calls with it.

iPhone 6 Plus

The iPhone 6 Plus does not mean that it offers extra functionality. It’s just bigger. Unless you need the extra real estate, I’d be careful before rushing off to order one. It is noticeably larger than the iPhone 6, and significantly larger than an iPhone 5s. If you’re coming from an iPhone 5s to the iPhone 6 Plus, prepare to be shocked by the size difference. In fact, I’d highly recommended trotting down to your local carrier or Apple store to get a feel for the size before buying. In lieu of physically trying it out, you can print out this graphic to get a side-by-side size comparison of the iPhone 5s, iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

iPhone 5s

I don’t normally recommend year old iPhones, but this year is an exception. If the size of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus is too much too handle, then the iPhone 5s is still an excellent phone choice. Just be aware that you will miss out on Apple Pay and Wi-fi calling if you choose the 5s. On the other hand, you’ll also save a few dollars on the phone, but I wouldn’t make the price the deciding factor. Spending a little extra money on something you use everyday, and multiple times a day at that, is worth it.

A note on the iPhone 5c

The on-contract price of free makes the iPhone 5c sound very appealing. Don’t fall into the price trap. The iPhone 5c is the iPhone 5 wrapped in colored plastic, which means you are getting a two year-old device. Plus, it uses an older processor that has a 32-bit architecture vs the latest 64-bit architecture. The translation of this technical babble is that the 5c may not survive the next iOS upgrade cycle. In other words, the phone may only last you a year.

The only exception I would make is getting one as a backup device, a replacement device to hold you over until your eligible for your on-contract discount, or buying one for a teenage child. Since kids are pretty hard on phones, you won’t feel as bad if they lose or break it. I find it happens often with kids, and my kids say it’s never their fault. It just “happens”.

More helpful articles

Here are some additional articles that you may find helpful regarding the iPhone 6 and iOS 8:


Android buying recommendations

When it comes to Android phones, big is in. It’s hard to find a strong, flagship device, that doesn’t have a screen under 5-inches. For whatever reason, we’ve entered the SUV-era of smartphones where everyone wants to drive around with the biggest screen they can find. Hopefully, some balance will come back to the market, but until that happens, here’s my recommendation for on-contract and off-contract devices.

The phones in each section are listed in the order I would recommend them. However, in most cases, there isn’t much difference between the devices. It’s really a matter of personal preference, so check out the devices in person before making a choice.

On-contract devices

Samsung Galaxy S5Moto X – 2nd generation

The second generation Moto X is Motorola’s follow-up to their vastly underrated Moto X, which is one of my favorite Android phones. They took a good thing and made it better, although I wish they would have kept it the same size. Instead, it has grown to 5.2-inches in size. The thing I like most about the Moto X is that it runs a nearly pure version of Android which Motorola updates quickly when new Android versions come out.

Samsung Galaxy S5

Samsung is also in the game of taking a good thing and making it better. The S5 is just an enhanced version of their popular S4 model, which was an enhanced version of their popular S3, and so on. If you’ve been using the Galaxy S series and like it, then you don’t waste too much time looking around. You’re going to end up getting the S5.

HTC One M8

Another vastly underrated Android device is the HTC One M8. If you like some of the extra gingerbread the OEMs through into Android, then the M8 is a strong alternative to the Galaxy S5. It has a great, elegant aluminum uni-body design that gives it a solid feel and unique look. If you want something a little different than the norm that performs just as good, if not better than the others, then the M8 may be your phone.

Nexus 5LG G3

In general, I’m not the biggest fan of LG devices, but I’ve heard good feedback regarding this phone, although it has been second hand. If the first three phones don’t meet your needs, then you should consider the G3.

Off-contract devices

Nexus 5

Yes, it’s been out for a year now. Yes, its specs aren’t quite a good as the flagships listed above. And yes, it is still the best off-contract device you can buy. For an off-contract price of $350 from Google for the 16 GB version (currently showing out of stock, so you may need to spend an extra $50 for the 32GB version), it is the best value in the market. In addition, it runs a stock version of Android, which is the best way to experience Android. Once you experience Android this way, you’ll have a hard time using any other type of “skinned” Android experience.

Moto G - no contractMoto G with LTE

For the budget conscious, I would recommend the Moto G with LTE, which you can buy direct from Motorola for $220. You get a powerful device that is not only lighter on the wallet but also smaller in the hand at 4.5-inches. There are some performance trade-offs you have to make, and the camera isn’t as good as the top-end models, but it’s hard to pass up at this price point. By the way, I would recommend the 1st gen model with LTE until they add LTE functionality to the 2nd gen model. The difference in network performance is huge.

If you want to save even more money, you might want to check out the Moto E. It’s a great entry level device, particularly for a child. I recently picked up one as a first phone for my youngest child. It’s been working out great. It gives her all the basic smartphone functionality she needs. Plus, unlike an $800 iPhone, I don’t worry about her dropping it or losing it. The replacement cost is under $150.


Windows Phone

Unfortunately, I still cannot endorse Windows Phone. While the hardware options and operating system is getting better, there are too many gaps in available apps that will hurt your productivity and diminish your smartphone experience. In addition, the market share is too small to be a priority for developers. New apps are geared toward toward iPhone and Android devices due to shear volume, and because of that, some apps never make it to Windows Phone. As I mentioned in the last buying guide, until there is a compelling reason to buy or switch to Windows Phone, I wouldn’t.

(I’m planning to revisit Windows Phone towards the middle of 2015 to see if things have improved.)

One more thing – this is the last month that I mention anything BlackBerry. If you’re in the market for a new BlackBerry, my advice is to buy an iPhone or Android. Don’t ask why, just do it.


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.

 

iPhone 6: First impressions

iPhone 6 (box)

It may not have been the best decision I’ve ever made, but I chose to pre-order an iPhone 6 on September 12th. It was my first time participating in the iPhone purchase process. As those who know me well, I’m not a big fan of the Apple ecosystem and have been using an Android device since the release of the original Nexus device in 2010. I figured it was time to truly understand how the other half lived.

The device arrived last Friday, and I’ve been using it extensively over the weekend. Here are my thoughts and first impressions, which are going to decidedly biased since they are coming from an Android user’s point of view.

Hardware

It’s a very nice phone. The build quality is better than most Android devices I’ve had, although it’s not as far ahead as it used to be. I must admit that the screen is vivid and crisp. It’s definitely among the best screens, if not the best screen, I’ve ever used on a phone. It’s also very thin and light, but it still feels solid. Ergonomically, Apple has done a phenomenal job with the design.

Software

Coming from Android, there isn’t anything that I’ve found that is truly earth shattering or ground breaking. All of the features I’m familiar with are there, just in different places. In other words, it’s like I’m still living in the same house except all of the furniture’s been re-arranged. On the other hand, I haven’t used Apple Pay yet, or Wi-fi calling, so it’s possible my impressions could change once I have more time with the device.

iPhone 6 size

iPhone 6 vs iPhone 5The device is much larger than the current iPhone 5/5s model. Even though it’s about the same size as most modern Android phones, such as the Nexus 5, something about it makes it feel a lot bigger. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is, but it could be that iPhone icons are arranged from top to bottom, while Android phones are more flexible in their icon placements. Therefore, with an iPhone, you are always reaching toward the top of the screen, which isn’t nearly as common on an Android device. I’ve just discovered Reachability on the iPhone 6, which cuts the screen in half by lightly tapping the home button twice (not pressing it, but tapping), so I may get more comfortable with the size over time. Supposedly, according to others on the internet, Reachability makes the phone’s size much easier to tolerate.

Apps

So far, the app transition has been very smooth. Since I only use mainstream apps on Android, everything I need is in the App Store. Thanks to the cloud, my application data transitioned seamlessly as well, so things like Evernote, Dropbox and Runkeeper have been a breeze to migrate from one device to the other. I still have a couple more to go, but I’m not expecting any major problems at this point. My only concern over time is the Google app integration. So far, apps like Gmail are working fine, so I’m hoping that the rest of the Google services work just as well.

Notifications

I know Apple has made a lot of improvements with regards to notifications, but there still not as good as the Android model. I’m just not a fan of badges. Maybe it’s a case of resisting change, but getting used to notifications could be my biggest stumbling block with the iPhone.

Overall

After a weekend’s usage, I haven’t found any compelling reasons that would make me want to switch ecosystems. In fact, I’m surprised at just how similar the two ecosystems have become. Outside of the rearrangement of settings and user interface conventions, everything I can do on an Android device is capable on an iPhone and vice-versa.


To form a more complete opinion of the iPhone 6, I am going to do a 30-day challenge where I attempt to stop using my current Android phone, a Developer’s Edition Moto X. I’m going to transition my apps and services over the next week and plan to use the iPhone 6 exclusively during the month of October. It will be the best way to really get to understand its strengths and weaknesses. I’ll report back with my findings at the end of my challenge. Who knows, I may even get converted to the other side. Anything’s possible, right?

 

A collection of iOS 8 tips and reviews

A collection of iOS 8 tips and reviews

iPhone 6 & iPhone 6 PlusWhile last year’s iOS 7 update was the biggest visual design overhaul in the operating system’s history, iOS 8 is its biggest functional design update. iOS 8 adds features such as third party keyboards, continuity between Apple devices, extensions, widgets, manual camera controls, family sharing, enhanced notifications, and more. It catches iOS up to Android in some areas, and in others, it pulls it ahead. Quite frankly, the number of new feature can be overwhelming.

So, instead of trying to cover all of the features here, I’ve created a collection of useful articles that you can reference to get more out of your iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, or upgraded iPhone 5/5c/5s that is running iOS 8. By the way, one word of caution, even though the iPhone 4S is technically eligible for the iOS 8 upgrade, many people are reporting that the iPhone 4S does not have the horsepower to run it efficiently. Ars Technica did a complete review of the performance difference, and while they say it is still worth upgrading an iPhone 4S, I would recommend waiting an update cycle or two before attempting it, if at all, on this device.

Recommend iOS 8 articles

If there are any articles or tips that you’ve found particularly interesting, please leave them in the comments!

 

How to choose: iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, or iPhone 5s?

iPhone 6

With the release of the iPhone 6, iPhone users finally have a choice to make when purchasing their next device. Should you choose the 4.7-inch iPhone 6, the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus, or the 4-inch iPhone 5s. Here’s a guide to help you make the choice.

Choose the iPhone 6 if…

iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plusyou want a mainstream device with all of the latest and greatest features that will have a lifetime of at least two years. At 4.7-inches, the device will be bigger than the existing iPhone 5, but not so much that you won’t be able to easily fit it into a pants or jacket pocket.

For the overwhelming majority, I would recommend the iPhone 6. The latest components and larger battery will give you longer battery life. The addition of NFC (Near Field Communication) technology will allow you to use Apple Pay and additional in development features. The updated M8 motion detector will let you enjoy new app features, particularly if you’re into fitness. Wi-fi calling will let you make and receive calls if your home, office or vacation location has poor carrier coverage. These alone are enough reasons to spend the extra money to get the latest model.

Choose the iPhone 6 Plus if…

you need the additional real estate that a 5.5-inch screen offers. Otherwise, there aren’t any significant benefits from choosing the iPhone 6 Plus over the iPhone 6. In fact, before rushing out to buy or pre-ordering an iPhone 6 Plus, I would highly recommend checking it out in person first to make sure you are OK with the increased heft of the device.

If you are considering a pre-order, I would recommend you check out a Galaxy Note in person first before making the leap. You can also use this handy chart provided by the folks at Apple Insider to get a hands-on comparison of the different phone sizes (here’s a direct link to the printable PDF if you want to skip the pics in the article)

Choose the iPhone 5s if…

iPhone 5syou want a more compact iPhone, you don’t need the latest and great features (especially Apple Pay and Wi-fi calling), and you want to save $100 on your purchase. The iPhone 5s is still a viable and great device that will last you a two-year contract cycle. However, I would only recommend choosing it if you want the compact form factor. Even though the latest and greatest features may not be important now, they could be in the near future. Plus, I’d recommend spending the extra money on something you use everyday, and multiple times throughout the day at that.

Don’t choose the iPhone 5c

While it may be tempting to get a free iPhone 5c on contract, I would advise against it, highly. The iPhone 5c is the 2012 iPhone 5 repackaged in colored plastic. It’s way past its prime and may only make it through one more iOS upgrade cycle, meaning iOS 9. The only exception I’d make is for someone’s first smartphone, particularly for a teenage child. Most of the important new features, such as Apple Pay, won’t apply to them. Plus, given how hard they are on their phones, you won’t feel nearly as bad when they crack the screen, drop it in a toilet, or lose it, which, speaking from experience, seems to happen all too often with kids.

In summary

If you’re unsure about what to do, get the iPhone 6. You’ll enjoy the increased screen real estate and have access to all the latest features.

If having as much screen real estate as possible is important, get the iPhone 6 Plus.

If a compact form factor is important, get the iPhone 5s.

Don’t get the iPhone 5c.

Happy shopping!

(For a complete breakdown of the new features in the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, see this article for our summary of the iPhone 6 launch)

 

A summary of the iPhone 6 launch

iPhone 6, iPhone 6 PlusApple made good on all the rumors and released two versions of the new iPhone this week – the 4.7-inch iPhone 6, and the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus. As those who know me well, I’m not the biggest fan of Apple, primarily because of their all or nothing business practices, but I have to admit that they have done a good job with the lastest iPhone. I know that some will argue that it’s catch-up, or a welcome to 2012 as Ron Amadeo at Ars Technica pointed out, but it’s been done in the Apple way. In other words, the new iPhone 6 is well thought out, it’s polished, and, I suspect, it works.

Here are the big feature announcements in the new hardware that you should care about.

(By the way, if you’re looking for some advice on which iPhone to purchase, see this article on choosing between the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus and iPhone 5s)

Phone sizes

I know quite a few people who quit iOS over the last couple of years looking for a bigger phone. Apple could have stemmed a lot of market share loss if they would’ve bit the bullet and released a 4.7-inch device two years ago. The iPhone 6 Plus is on the large side, similar to a Galaxy Note, so I expect the iPhone 6 to be the more popular of the two devices – by a wide margin.

Apple Pay and NFC

Put simply, this is a game changer and the cornerstone of the announcement. A lot of people have tried mobile payments, but Apple may have finally cracked the code. Given their complete control of the hardware and software stack, they are in a unique position to change the dynamic in mobile payments, and they just might have done it with their Apple Pay implementation.

Apple PayIn addition, there are all kinds of other features they opened up by including NFC (Near Field Communication) technology in the iPhone 6. A couple were shown off during the demo, including the ability to open up hotel rooms with your iPhone instead of a room key.

Wi-fi calling

Apple has finally added the ability to make and receive calls using Wi-fi. It’s a big deal if your home or work location doesn’t get good carrier coverage. It’s been available in Android phones for quite a while, but carriers have been hesitant to enable the feature. I suspect their tone will change with the availability of the feature in the iPhone.

Improved M8 processor

The M8 is a processing chip in the iPhone that detects movement. It’s been improved from the iPhone 5s version to track movement in multiple dimensions, including elevation. Expect to see interesting new features added to apps, particularly fitness tracking apps.

Better battery life

The larger phone body has allowed Apple to put a bigger battery in the phone. Combined with component improvements, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus will have better battery life than their predecessors.

And one more thing…

Apple WatchWhile not a complete surprise, Apple announced their version of the smartwatch to conclude the proceedings. True to form, Apple showed off a product that has the appearance of being more polished and better thought out than the Android Wear smartwatches that are available. Unfortunately, I’m just not sold on the concept yet.

I’m having a hard time understanding why I would want to do things on a 1.5-inch watch screen when all of the same functionality is available using the phone in my pocket. For example, do you really want to view photos on your smartwatch. I mean, seriously? There may be a place for notifications, but I’m having difficulty with a lot of the other functionality.

Outside of that, the biggest challenge facing smartwatches is best summed up in this article by Seth Godin titled “Functional jewelry”. Watches are more about form and status than function, so it seems to me that trying to cram all of the functionality of my smartphone into a watch is not the right answer. Of course, in ten years time I could be completely wrong. For example, if you would’ve have told me ten years ago that leaving my phone at home would be a bigger problem than leaving my wallet there, I would have called you insane, to put it politely. And look where we are now….

(For a more in-depth discussions of smartwatches and wearables, you can read this piece I recently wrote about the technology and its future direction by clicking here)


Anyway, while I may hate to admit it, Apple has done a great job with the iPhone 6, at least on paper. I’m interested in getting my hands on one and seeing if it is as good as advertised. I may even consider switching sides. It’s a long shot that I wouldn’t bet on, but who knows?

Either way, it’s definitely going to make for an interesting end of the year with regards to mobile phone market share. Apple is going to sell a ton of iPhone 6 devices between now and Christmas. It will certainly slow down, if not reverse the trend, of Android’s growing market share.