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:
This 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.
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:
- How to choose: iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, or iPhone 5s?
More details and insight on choosing between the three iPhone sizes
- A collection of iOS 8 tips and reviews
Links to articles from across the web that explain how to get the most out of iOS 8
- iPhone 6: First impressions
After using an Android device for the past four years, these were my first impressions on how the “other half” lives
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.