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.

Mobile Trends and Predictions: 2014 mid-year update

One of the things I like doing at the beginning of each year is forecasting what events are likely to happen in the upcoming year. For 2014, I forecasted 10 events that I thought would shape the mobile market. Here’s the mid-year update of how I’m doing with my prognostications for the year.


  1. Apple releases a bigger phone
    As far as predictions go, this one was a layup. We’re on the verge of seeing a 4.7″ iPhone, which was I figured was coming. The 5.5″ size surprised me, but recent production issues could delay that model until later this year or 2015.

  2. Android and iOS continue their OS dominance
    Once again, this one wasn’t a stretch. It wasn’t so much as a bet on Android and iOS as much as it was a bet against Microsoft. Based on recent reorganizations within Microsoft, I don’t think you’ll see significant traction from Windows Phone in the market until 2016 at the earliest, if at all.

  3. Apple and Samsung continue their smartphone dominance
    I certainly made lots of safe predictions for 2014, and this was another one. Although Samsung is starting to falter a bit due to market saturation, they’re still the dominant smartphone manufacturer along with Apple. In fact, I expect Apple to have a really strong end of the year with the release of the iPhone 6 that could really pad their market share numbers.

  4. Chrome OS appears on mobile phones
    I took a bit more risk on this one, and it looks like it’s not going to happen. Talk of Android apps running on Chromebooks came out of the Google developer’s conference, so I still believe that Android and Chrome OS will merge. In other words, it’s not a matter of if it will happen, just when.

  5. Amazon enters the mobile phone market
    This was another one of my “gimmees” as Amazon had been foreshadowing its phone development since late 2012. While I predicted the phone, it didn’t come with everything I thought it would. I figured they’d offer multiple models and some sort of phone service linked to Amazon Prime. That didn’t happen at launch, but it’s certainly possible they could be features on the Amazon roadmap.

  6. Nokia explores Android
    As I suspected, the rumors were correct and Nokia released their X-series, a low-end line of phones running a Nokia version of Android. Likewise, as expected, Microsoft killed the initiative as part of their recent reorganization and will force follow-on devices to Windows Phone. Personally, I think this is a mistake, but what do I know. I’m not the one getting paid to make these decisions.

  7. No contract and prepaid plans go mainstream
    Prepaid plans are gaining momentum, but they’re not mainstream yet. While T-mobile has gone all-in, AT&T, Verizon and Sprint are still clinging to the contract model. I suspect it is only a matter of time before all the major players have a strong prepaid, no-contract offering, especially as the smartphone market saturates and the upgrade cycle lengthens.

  8. The phone connects to the car
    As expected, both Apple and Google have strong car initiatives in the works. Apple is calling their version CarPlay, and Google is bringing Android Auto to market. It’s looking like next year’s cars will have at least one of these available as a feature, if not both.

  9. Mobile payments gain traction
    Mobile payment initiatives seem to have stalled. I still think people are taking the wrong approach by trying to force all payments through the phone. I just don’t understand why the major credit card companies aren’t developing applications that will allow us to use our phones as a secure authentication device with our existing cards. I can only figure that I’m either missing something or oversimplifying the problem.

  10. The new design buzzword – mobile-optimized
    The design community is a stubborn bunch and is still clinging to responsive design as the solution to all that ails mobile. While it is does have its place, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. I’ve seen too many poorly implemented responsive sites that compromise the mobile user experience to satisfy using a buzzword, and those that are implemented properly are often bloated and more expensive than hybrid solutions. It’s like hiring a carpenter who only knows how to use a hammer. Of course they’re going to suggest that everything should be held together with nails. I’m still confident that things will swing back once more “mobile-optimized” sites come online and designers realize that by expanding their toolbox they can build and deliver a much richer and more effective mobile experience to their clients.


I’ll do my usual mobile year in review at the end of the year which will take a look at how these predictions fared and other key events in 2014, which will be followed by my trends for 2015. Even though there are only six months left in the year, I expect a lot is going to happen. It’s going to be fun to watch!

 

Mobile Phone Buying Guide: April 2014

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.
  • Glass
    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.
  • Design
    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)

Samsung Galaxy S5I know, I should just step out and pick one, but these two devices are so closely matched in terms of specs, that it really comes down to a preference of which one you like better.

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.

HTC One (M8)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

Moto G by MotorolaIn 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.


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.