Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Smart thinking about your next smartphone

These days (2017) there are so many smartphones and contracts to choose from that deciding on your next mobile can be a confusing and even a stressful experience. I am sure this is why so many just buy the latest Samsung or Apple flagship phone and extend their existing contracts. It`s easier, you get a great phone and you don't have to think. But is it the right choice? Probably not if you`d like to save some money! In this article I am going to explore some alternatives.

My experience
In the past I always signed a 24 month mobile phone contract and paid a small (or not!) fee up front for a new mobile. I started doing that with my first Nokia back in the 90s and I just continued like that up until 2016. I often used my phone on the existing contract for longer than the contract duration, I effectively gave away money to my service provider! I wasn't too smart, was I!?!

Last year I found a monthly contract that didn't require me to buy a new mobile and was half the cost of the contract I had been tied to for the past two years. I bought a new smarphone (mid-range) too but full price and not on contract. I saved and I feel free now I am no longer tied to a contract as if it were a ball and chain.

Start off by doing some calculations. If you are on a 12 or 24 month contract including a phone, divide the cost of a new phone by 12 or 24. Minus that figure from the monthly fee you pay and that's what the service is costing you. This is approximate but it is a good way to compare.

For example, say a new top of the range smartphone will cost CHF 700 (about USD 730), over 24 months that is about 29 every month. If you pay 89 a month as your contract for phone and service, the service is costing 60 a month. 

Check what other contracts can offer. Do those contracts include the same service you are getting now? If not, do you need everything in the package?

The best is if you find a contract just for the service and it provides a similar package of features to what you are used to. Most importantly the cost should be lower than what you are paying for just the service part of your existing contract. Look for contracts that do not tie you down. For example, I changed to a monthly contract, it means that if I wanted I could switch again later. If coverage is an issue then this is the best idea because at least there's a option to move to a better service provider if that cheap price turns out to be a cheap service!

Smartphone choice
You should make a saving on the service contract but where there is a real possibility of saving a lot, is on the new smartphone you buy. If you buy off-contract you pay upfront for your new smartphone. If you can afford to do this, you save in the long run. Which phone? Here are some options:

The latest and greatest smartphones such as the Samsung S8 or iPhone 7 will cost you maybe 700 (or more!), that's a lot. If you are an avid gamer who needs lots of performance or you buy a phone as others buy jewelry, maybe a flagship is a good idea, for the rest of us, there are cheaper alternatives.

Last year's flagship?
Something to consider, often last year's model can be a bargain. The downside might be having older software, something to consider. When the latest S8 came out all the shops immediately discounted the Samsung Galaxy S7, a very capable phone.

Mid-range smartphones?
What about a brand new phone, latest software and hardware but at almost half the price of a flagship? Yes it is possible! You will have to pay around the 250-450 mark. Mid-range phones don't have the fastest processor but these days very few of us will notice unless you are a serious gamer perhaps. For the average user a mid-range phone will be more than fast enough. In addition, often mid-range phones can surprise you with their features.

Many mid-range phones have features you don't find on higher end models. Most have a microSD card slot for more storage. Some models allow two SIM cards, great for those who travel abroad a lot. Even a headphone port! There are often also the features you would expect these days such as a fingerprint reader, large battery, sometimes dual cameras and look carefully for models with quick charging technology, that's a real boon.

The build quality of most phones in this category can be just as good as any flagship, often metal or glass designs. For example, Samsung's mid-range Galaxy A models have a similar build quality to their flagship S models.

The other good thing about mid-range phones is that there are so many manufacturers making great models. Samsung of course, their Galaxy A range. The Huawei Honor range, the Moto G range, Sony's XA models, Blackberry DTEK, OnePlus, Wileyfox or even the new Nokia Android phones - yes Nokia lives! All are worth considering as the phones they make are just as good as any other manufacturer. 

I've heard some people implying Chinese made phones are somehow inferior, this is nonsense, after all, all Apple iPhones are made in China! I'd also like to add that I feel the newer Chinese companies like Huawei try extra hard as they know they are up against the giants like Apple and Samsung. There are some great benefits to competition for us consumers.

To give you a real-world idea, I have the Honor 7, a model that dates from 2015. I bought it in 2016 for about CHF 300. It has 32GB storage, an octa-core processor, 3GB RAM, fingerprint scanner, quick charge, full metal body, 5.2 inch screen, etc, etc. After one year of use it is still going strong, I am happy with it. My previous smartphone cost more than twice the price and had a much lower specification.

Entry level?
Models that are priced below 200 are typically known as entry-level. The Moto E  and Samsung Galaxy J3 are good examples. Don't get one of the really cheap models with just 8GB of storage because you will soon fill that. Even if it has a microSD card slot, you will still need at least 16GB of main storage otherwise it is likely you will face frustration. The processors used in these phones will be of the slower variety so don't expect too much. If you only use your phone for messaging then perhaps an entry-level phone might be a good idea. Otherwise, I feel the mid-range phones are a better balance of features and price.

To choose your new phone, look at the reviews and information online. There is so much! Youtube videos are the best, I recommend Mr Mobile and Android Authority

A good site to compare specifications is GSM Arena 

If you'd like to visually compare different phone sizes, there's a great site here:

For anyone living in Switzerland, the shops here often do not provide all the latest makes and models. Amazon isn't based in Switzerland for example, so the shipping and import duties can be a barrier. I recommend Digitec as they are based in Switzerland and they have a wide range of makes and models you don't typically see in, say Interdiscount or Fnac.

Imagine you have your new contract that is separate from the phone. You have purchased a new phone outright. You can spend the next one or two years with that phone and whenever you feel like it, change the phone! You can always sell the phone second-hand even. You are free!

Please do not blindly buy your next smartphone. Check what is available, be smart about your next smartphone. You could save a lot and end up with something that stands out from the crowd.

I hope this article can help you but at the end of the day it's your choice, I cannot be held responsible for any trouble you get yourself into. My article is just my opinion, maybe I am wrong! Please just take this as a guide only. All links on this page were valid at the time of writing. My article is purely my own work, I don't work in the smartphone industry, I have no affiliation to any smartphone company.

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