As projected in the last installment of the Buying Guide, we’ve entered one of the prime buying/upgrade seasons for Android devices. Both Samsung and HTC have released their latest flagship device which are making their way into stores this month. There’s more on both devices below.
On the other hand, now is not the best time to buy an iPhone. Apple is preparing production for the next generation iPhone, which is expected to hit the market between June and September. As always, rumors are starting to build. Here’s what I think we can expect in the next generation iPhone:
- Larger screen size
Yes, I believe Apple will relent and produce a larger screen version. It’s unclear what size it will be, but I expect it to be around 5 inches, with most analysts predicting a size between 4.7 and 5.7 inches. Some have even suggested Apple will release two larger sized devices. To put things in perspective, the iPhone 5 has a 4 inch display, and the iPhone 4 has a 3.5 inch display, so the increase will be significant.
Apple has been making significant investments in sapphire crystal glass technology, which has led to rumors that the iPhone 6 display will be made of it. It is supposedly more durable than today’s leading glass technology, termed Gorilla Glass. Anything that makes the phone more durable is a welcome addition.
- Faster processor
As happens with every generation, it is expected that the iPhone 6 will have even more processing power than its predecessor.
The look of the phone is Apple’s most closely guarded secret, so it’s hard to trust any rumors until Apple makes its formal announcement. However, that won’t stop me from speculating. The prevailing rumors are that the bezel around the screen will be thinner and that the overall device will be thinner and lighter. I’m a bit skeptical about the latter, since making the device thinner will come at the expense of battery life, which I don’t think any of us want Apple to compromise on.
There are all kinds of other rumors around camera improvement, bio-metric features, atmospheric sensors, and wi-fi radio support. If you’re interested in all of the details, I would suggest you take a look at MacRumors comprehensive review of all of the iPhone 6 rumors. In any case, if you must purchase a new iPhone now, because you’ve lost it, broken it, or dropped it in the toilet, just be aware that it could be out of date within the next three months.
And now, for this edition’s recommendations.
On Contract Devices
If you’re looking to buy a subsidized device on a two-year contract or to enter into a payment plan, here’s the recommended devices. These devices are available at all four major carriers.
Best all around Android device(s): Samsung Galaxy S5 and HTC One (M8)
If you’re looking for the device with the best camera and most extra features, then you’ll want to go with the Samsung Galaxy S5. If you want a device that is more unique in terms of styling and made with higher build quality, then you’ll lean more toward the HTC One (M8). In terms of performance, app availability and display, both devices are nearly identical, so those shouldn’t make a difference in your selection.
If I had to choose one, I’d go with the HTC device. I’ve always liked their build quality, and I’m not particularly into all the extra gingerbread and don’t use the camera enough for it to matter to me.
Runner-up Android device: Moto X
If size matters to you, meaning you don’t like carrying around or holding up to your ear a 1970’s size cell phone, then take a look at the Moto X. I’ve been using one for the last six months and like it, a lot. It has a nice blend of features and styling, and it’s easy to carry around thanks to its smaller size. It also has the added feature of customization so you can order it in whatever colors you like, including wood grain backs and college colors with logos.
I would highly recommend buying the device outright directly from Motorola, which you can do here. It’s possible to buy it for as little as $350, which is a great price for a fully featured device without a contract. It will allow you to pair it with a more aggressively priced data plan on your favorite carrier.
The Moto X is one of the best kept secrets in the Android device landscape. I’m surprised it isn’t more popular.
Best iPhone device: iPhone 5s
As mentioned above, I wouldn’t recommend buying the iPhone at this time, but if you must, get the iPhone 5s. Don’t fall for the allure of the iPhone 5c. It’s a repackage of the original iPhone 5, so most of it’s specs are approaching two years old. It’s very likely that certain apps and features of iOS may not get ported to the iPhone 5c beyond the middle of 2015. In other words, the iPhone 5s will last much longer and should survive at least two more iOS upgrade cycles.
There’s more detail about the difference between the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c in January’s buying guide.
Best “phablet”: Samsung Galaxy Note 3
For those looking for even more screen real estate on their phone, the 5.7 inch Galaxy Note 3 is the best choice. Samsung has put a lot of interesting features into their Note product line, including a stylus, called the S pen, for better input control and even handwriting recognition.
Pre-paid, Bring-your-own, Off-contract Devices
If you prefer the flexibility of owning your own device so you can choose between the best service or pricing among carriers, including prepaid options, here’s the devices you should consider.
Best phone: Nexus 5
Although it’s starting to show its age, the Nexus 5 is still a great deal at $349 outright. You read that right – you can purchase it directly from Google for $349. There’s isn’t a 2-year contract commitment and no early termination fees, meaning you can shop around to multiple carriers, including prepaid options, to find the best deal on a service plan.
The only reservation is that Google typically announces new Nexus devices during the summer, so keep that in mind if you device to pick up a Nexus 5.
Best budget phone: Moto G
In addition to the Moto X, Motorola’s other best kept phone secret is the Moto G. For as little as $179 direct from Motorola, you can buy a fully featured Android phone that runs the latest Android OS. Given the low price, it’s a great phone to purchase as someone’s first device, particularly if you have kids. It makes it easy to add on to an existing plan, or to use with a prepaid service, without having to shell out a ton of cash for a top of the line device. I purchased one as a Christmas gift for a member of my household and haven’t received any complaints. By the way, if you do decide to purchase one, I would suggest spending the extra $20 for the 16GB option and purchasing a bumper case, as it can be a bit fragile when dropped.
Two additional points if you decide to buy one of these devices:
- Do not purchase one of these devices if you’re under contract. You’ll want to pair one of these with an off contract plan at T-mobile, AT&T, Verizon, a prepaid service provider, or add it to an existing family/shared plan.
- Get aggressive when looking for plans. There are a number of prepaid plans that offer unlimited voice, text and data for as little as $45/month. There are also plans available from T-mobile for as little as $30/month if you’re OK living with limits on number of minutes, number of texts, or amount of data you consume.
Windows Phone and BlackBerry
My recommendation from the last buying guide have not changed. I would stay away from both of these devices, for now.
BlackBerry has lost all momentum among consumers, businesses, carriers, and more importantly – developers. Outside of email, you’ll miss out on a lot by using BlackBerry, which means if you have one, switch to an iPhone or Android device, please!
Microsoft is trying hard with Windows Phone. They just released a new update – Windows Phone 8.1. Windows Phone is different, but in a good way. The problem is that developers have not fully embraced it yet, so there are a lot of holes when it comes to applications, or what I call the “app-gap”. Unless you like tinkering with your phone to figure out how to synchronize emails, contacts and calendar along with finding workarounds for missing apps, I’d stay away. I’m going to do another experiment with Windows Phone at some point over the next three months and will have an update for the July buying guide.
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.