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 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.

 

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!