Ask LH: Which Smartphone Should I Buy?

Dear Lifehacker, I’m still using a dumbphone — I love it because if it’s dropped/lost/cracked/whatever then ‘meh’. I love not having to react like my heart’s been cut out of my chest, as my friends do when their ‘precious’ is harmed or lost. But am I going to eventually be left behind if I don’t keep up? More bluntly: Will I become my parents?

Do I need to get on-board to prevent loss of on-going tech skills? I don’t want a big phone. The maximum likely size is about a Nokia Lumia 800. Is there anything coming out with the latest/greatest OS but which is still compact and can fit in my front jeans pocket? Thanks, Reluctant Upgrader

Old phones picture from Shutterstock

Dear RU,

You’re actually in a pretty enviable position right now: unlike the vast majority of phone users, you’ve yet to commit to a particular OS which means you’re free to go with any model that takes your fancy. In some ways, this will be the most important phone purchase you will ever make, as once you’ve amassed a bunch of apps it’s going to be a lot harder to migrate to another operating system.

Your first decision should therefore centre on what OS to invest in: there are really only three major players in today’s market: Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows Phone (the company formerly known as RIM is still kicking along with its Blackberry devices but its glory days are long behind it).

Each of the above operating systems has its own specific strengths and weaknesses — Android provides lots of freedom to tinker around with how things work, iOS has great quality-control when it comes to apps and Windows Phone will be comfortably familiar if your a Windows PC user (particular if you’ve happened to upgrade to Windows 8).

But we’re just scratching the surface here. It really comes down to personal preference as to which OS is “best”. Our advice would be to head to your local phone or telco store and have a play around with a few models to see which feels the most intuitive and easy to get to grips with.

Setting aside OS choice, it sounds like you want a compact smartphone that isn’t horrendously expensive but is still capable of performing most major smartphone tasks. These days, smaller smartphones are becoming a rare commodity, even in the budget category. There are still a few options out there though — here’s our pick for each OS.

Windows Phone

A good, affordable model in the Windows Phone category is Nokia’s Lumia 520. It comes with a four-inch touchscreen display with a native resolution of 800×480 pixels, a 1GHz dual-core processor, 512MB RAM, and a decent five-megapixel camera. It also boasts the HERE suite of navigation apps.

You can snap one up for around $200. [clear]


The Galaxy S III Mini is a budget Android that comes with a four-inch Super AMOLED touchscreen (800×480 pixels), a 1GHz dual-core CPU, 1GB of RAM and a 5-megapixel camera. The OS is also upgradable to one of the latest versions of Android (v4.1 Jelly Bean).

It currently sells for around $250.



The iPhone 4 is a few generations old now, but it remains a highly capable smartphone that supports the latest version of iOS 6. It comes with a 3.5-inch retina display, a 1GHz processor, 512MB of RAM and a 5-megapixel camera.

With an RRP of $400, it’s a bit on the pricey side though.



The popularity of Blackberry is unquestionably on the wane but that doesn’t mean you should dismiss it out of hand: indeed, the addition of a QWERTY keyboard will probably suit you if you’re upgrading from a phone with physical buttons. One option worth a look is the BlackBerry Curve 9320: it features a 2.4-inch display, a single-core CPU, 512MB RAM, a 3MP camera and the aforementioned QWERTY keyboard.

It sells for around $200.
[clear] [clear]

Whatever phone you plump for, it’s usually a good idea to invest in some third-party casing that will protect against accidental drops (although this can be harder to find for budget offerings). If any readers have any phone suggestions of their own, please let RU know in the comments section below.



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