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?
Both 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
If 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
If 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.
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:
Starting 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.