Since Android is a flexible mobile platform, it is not limited to a small set of phones. It’s a blessing and a curse: with such a large array of devices available today, there’s sure to be one that suits you, but how do you find it? If you are considering buying an Android phone, there are many factors to take into consideration.
In this article, I’ve split Android phones into four categories; within each category, I have popped in a little description, along with a few pro’s and con’s of each, and a phone of choice.
First, you need to work out what you want from an Android phone…
Things to Consider
How long will you be away from the charger? Do you work 9 to 5, take lots of calls, send dozens of texts, and surf the web? A small battery capacity wouldn’t be useful to you then, and neither would a phone with battery-intensive hardware. Some people don’t mind carrying a USB charging lead around with them, others do. It is important to know how long you want the battery to last, as that can be a big element in choosing a phone.
Do you want a huge high-definition screen, or something a little smaller and more practical? Are you the sort of person who gets annoyed by lower resolutions and pixelation? If you got a big screen, would you mind the poorer battery life that came with it? Do you have small jeans pockets? Yes, that is an important question — I am annoyed my phone won’t easily fit in mine!
Will you be wanting to play 3D games and watch movies? If you do, then it is likely that you will want a phone with high graphical capabilities.
To run the latest games and big applications, you need to couple a fast graphical processor with an equally powerful central processor. It is down to the GPU to render the graphics and send them to the display, but it remains the central processor’s job to perform calculations which the games rely upon.
If you are considering buying a slightly dated phone, do you mind that it may not be upgradable past older Android versions? Some older devices are stuck on Android 2.0 and 2.1, unable to upgrade into 2.3, or 3.0. Do you like the idea of buying a good phone which is a few months old, or would you prefer getting a cutting-edge release which was announced a week ago?
A good amount of RAM enables you to keep multiple applications running in memory at the same time. A low amount of RAM means that Android will try to kill off older tasks when newer ones request memory resources. Do you think you will be using a lot of different applications simultaneously? Or will you be happy to stick with just calls, texts, and a little web usage?
I think of the HTC Desire, Samsung Galaxy, and Sony Ericsson Xperia series when I use the term ‘Slate’. The defining characteristics are a large touch-screen which covers most of the phone’s front face, and a relatively thin body.
The main perks of a phone like this is that it is fun to use, and usually pretty powerful. The large screens and powerful GPUs are great for gaming and high definition video, as well as smooth and easy web browsing. Most Slate phones are also able to fit a pretty good sound system into the large casing.
However not everything about a slate phone is great. When designers try to make jaw-dropping phones, they focus more on screen size and powerful hardware, and less on battery capacity. Due to this, a lot of the larger slate phones have trouble lasting through a day on a single charge. The screen is such a battery killer, even on the lowest brightness setting.
Many Android users blame the pre-installed software some phones have for the battery drain, choosing to root and use community-built distributions of Android. This can improve battery life sometimes, but not dramatically.
Altogether, Slate phones are impressive and nice to own, but sometimes lack practicality. They are also the most expensive ones on the market.
The Desire HD and Desire respectively.
There are many devices out there which still hold being compact as their first priority. Such devices include the Xperia Mini and the LG Cookie. These have longer battery lives thanks to their small and less power-consuming screens. The lower powered processor also helps.
Don’t think that compact phones are inferior to the big boys though. On the contrary, they are superior in practicality and can still run the same applications. The video playback may not be so great, and the gaming ability may be next to nothing, but if that isn’t what you are looking for then why should it matter? A compact phone may be just right for you.
The Xperia Mini - definitely compact.
The budget phones are the ones which designers try to keep easily affordable to the consumer, so that everyone can enjoy a slice of the smartphone pie. They may not be heavy-gaming machines, or have fantastic screen resolutions, but they can do everything else their bigger brothers can; they have the same flashy user interfaces, all of the Android Market, social media applications, and so on. A lot of them can last several days on one charge too.
A further bonus is that these phones are usually a lot lighter and smaller than Slates. As I mentioned earlier, my Desire HD is a right pain to get in the pockets of my jeans, and so I put in my jacket instead. My Wildfire and even older Samsung slipped in without issue.
One budget handset is the HTC Wildfire, a cross between a slate and a compact phone. While the screen resolution isn’t anything to shout about, it runs all the same applications as the Desire HD. If you are curious to take on Android with your next phone, a budget phone would be great to ‘test the waters’ without splashing out too much cash.
My old Wildfire - A good compromise between size, features, and cost.
Winners of the Past
Some Android-seekers may not want or need a brand new phone. Many of the older models running 1.6 were (and remain) fantastic. Since most people perceive them as ‘outdated’, they are cheap and easy to get hold of, and Android 1.6 can still do everything most people need. Many applications being released on the Android Market today are still backwards compatible to 1.6 too. Even better, the lower resolution screens and less CPU-intensive Android versions mean the batteries last for ages.
You may be one of those people who don’t really like all the fancy features of the new phones. Perhaps simplicity and no fuss are what you are after. If that is the case, browse the older models and see if there is anything you like.
An older Android 1.6 LG Model. They are still great!
Hopefully if you were thinking about getting a new Android phone, this has given you a few ideas about what to go for, and where to try and get it from. I’m sure you’ll still follow the traditional technology buying ritual of reading every review of every phone in depth, but at least now you know where to start!