Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Your Next Phone

Your Next Smartphone

What to get for your next mobile device? With so many choices, it can be tough to make up your mind! When you consider all the possible options, you might get a facial expression like this guy:

Water balloon toss guy...the original image is hilarious! See it here: 

And, of course, the hype about the new devices being revealed at this year's Mobile World Congress (and the slew of commercials that are sure to follow) will muddy the waters for anyone looking to get a good deal on their next phone.

Here's a pro tip: If you haven't already done so, let your cell carrier's contract run out, get an unlocked phone and an off-contract plan, and enjoy paying under $50 per month--probably less than half of what you're currently paying!

There are a ton of devices out there for any budget...but not all of them are worthwhile! How can you tell which phones are a good deal and which are junk?

Never fear, the Froogal Stoodent is here to point you toward some of the best options for any budget!

Previous posts have detailed why you should avoid Samsung, and the best way to save on your monthly phone bill.

If you haven't read about how to save on your phone bill, go read it. Seriously. I'll wait here.

Read it? Good.

So, now that you're convinced to go off-contract, does that mean that you'll have to settle for a slow piece of junk for a phone?

Hardly. As is always the case with consumer electronics (and technology in general), the quality improves over time, and the price simultaneously decreases on the already-existing technology. Ramit Sethi, author of the New York Times bestseller I Will Teach You to Be Rich, notes this effect in a blog post here. A 2010 post by Mark Perry at the Encyclopedia Britannica blog describes it a little more directly. It applies to phones, computers, TVs, and so on.

It's due to a phenomenon economists call "economies of scale." Because it has to do not only with the scale of manufacturing, but the headlong pace of technological development, I'll call it the late-adopter effect.

 As seen on another Froogal Stoodent post here
depreciation may be even worse for phones than for automobiles!
(Chart originally from bgr.com)

If you're an early adopter of new tech (meaning that you always get the very latest stuff), you may not see how much the price drops on older goods, because you're still getting the newest stuff (bugs and all!). This new stuff is much more expensive to develop and implement, and manufacturers pass the cost of their innovation on to the consumer.

But if you're like many people who don't care about having the shiniest new toys, you're probably just looking for a nice phone that will do what you want. If this describes you, then you can benefit from this late-adopter effect. Manufacturers are constantly coming out with upgrades to their newest phones, in an attempt to outdo the competition and sell the latest, greatest must-have device.

I think that constant, unwinnable rat race is silly, but hey, what do I know? At least I can buy a phone with yesterday's (still pretty good) tech for a lot less than the heavily advertised flagship phones!

There's a certain point at which it's no longer beneficial to have more speed/functionality, and I think we've reached that point in phones--a Gizmodo writer agrees. Smartphones with a minimum of 3G network data speed, 1 GB of RAM and a dual-core processor at 1.2 GHz or higher should yield pretty good performance (though, as always, specs never tell the whole story!).

"At a certain point, it's no longer beneficial to have more...and we've reached that point in phones."

To buttress my point about the late-adopter effect: in 2011, these specs would have been available only in the most expensive, high-end phones. In fact, the iPhone 4S, announced in 2011, only had half as much RAM as I recommend, a slower dual-core, 1 GHz processor, and 3G--even though 4G phones were available as early as 2010!

Bottom line: today, in 2015, even sub-$100 smartphones can match or exceed the performance of the older iPhone 4S! So, if you don't care about having the latest gadget (and you shouldn't!), you can get quite a deal! So, let's look at some of the best phones available for each price range:

Tier 1

These are the ones I'd go for, as they represent some of the best values on the smartphone market! Performance is good enough for most users, but they won't break the bank for high-end design or features (though these "features" really amount to toys for tech people--not that there's anything wrong with that, if you can truly afford it).

-Motorola Moto E: under $120 on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1vGMtwq

-HTC Desire 510: under $100 at Amazon here: http://amzn.to/1BRXwGl Info at http://www.engadget.com/2014/08/26/htc-desire-510/

-Motorola Moto G: around $160 on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1sSSFn5

-LG Volt: (for Virgin Mobile, also available for Boost Mobile as the LG LS740): anywhere from $75 [on Sprint] to $150 [on Virgin Mobile] on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1vodFPb

-HTC Desire 816: under $200 on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1sSRCng The only reason I wouldn't get this is that the 5.5-inch screen makes the phone too big for me to use one-handed. If you have bigger hands than I do, $200 is a great deal for this phone! CNet likes it too: http://www.cnet.com/products/htc-desire-816/

-HTC Desire 610: $140 on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1rJGpS6

-Nokia Lumia 630: Laugh all you want about the Windows phone and the 'sparseness' of Microsoft's mobile app store. You'll find all the major apps there, and Microsoft is committed to making inroads in the mobile market, especially at the lower end. This model goes for around $110 on Amazon, and performs reasonably well for the price: http://amzn.to/1BTpapI
     The similar Lumia 635 is available for $50 at T-Mobile (http://amzn.to/1BTpvsw) or AT&T (http://amzn.to/1wIYF4s)

-ASUS Zenfone 4: New from $140 on Amazon; very popular in markets like India, but generally not sold in North America--check if it works in your area before buying: http://amzn.to/1vGMXCF

-ASUS Zenfone 5: $150 on Amazon, also popular in non-American markets, especially Taiwan, India, Indonesia, and Thailand. Again, check to see if it works on any carriers in your area before you get this: http://amzn.to/Z47zt0

Which one represents the best value? Well, I'm waffling between the excellent, well-reviewed Moto E and the HTC Desire 510. Both are solid products and great values, with good reported build quality and plenty of speed, and are generally well-liked by Amazon users.

Motorola Moto E (Amazon product page)
  HTC Desire 510 (Amazon product page)

Tier 2
If you want a flagship-caliber phone and you don't mind spending over $200, these are among the best options. They have premium features, design, speed and screen resolution that's generally on par with high-end on-contract devices.

-ASUS Zenfone 2: (available in March), $200 for the version with 2 GB of RAM, and $300 for the version with a computer-like 4 GB of RAM, http://thefusejoplin.com/2015/02/asus-zenfone-2-release-date-march-2015/

-HTC One (M7), $200 on several different carriers, in a variety of colors, at Best Buy http://htcsource.com/2015/01/best-buy-cuts-htc-one-m7-off-contract-price-to-200/
(confirmed on Best Buy website: http://www.bestbuy.com/site/searchpage.jsp?st=htc+one+m7&_dyncharset=UTF-8&id=pcat17071&type=page&sc=Global&cp=1&nrp=15&sp=&qp=&list=n&iht=y&usc=All+Categories&ks=960&keys=keys)--and, apparently, only $150 on AT&T.
     BUT...if you want the unlocked version, you'll have to dig deep for the $450 it'll take. Worthwhile? Only if you're a huge fan...

-HTC One (E8): The unlocked version runs $350 and up, http://amzn.to/17OgWl6. It's a nice phone, but without the premium metal frame, this may not be worth the price. http://www.gsmarena.com/htc_one_e8-review-1109p10.php

-ASUS Zenfone 6: from $285 on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1rV3Euf (this is the version with 2 GB of RAM and only 8 GB of internal storage--but that's okay, because there's a microSD slot). Again, be sure this works in your area/on your carrier before buying it!

-HTC One mini (M4): $340 on Amazon here: http://amzn.to/1ulqwDF Be warned: it comes with 16 GB of internal storage (minus whatever Android/stock programs come on it) and there is no microSD slot. If you think you'll need more than that, try another phone.

-LG G3: the factory-unlocked version costs almost $400 on Amazon, and that version is not compatible with Verizon, Sprint, or MetroPCS. It's a very nice phone! http://amzn.to/1vZ1TA6

-Nokia Lumia 830: The higher-end Windows phone alternative...the specs are inferior to the others in this class, and the higher-spec Lumia Icon is no longer available. The Lumia 830 runs about $300 (http://amzn.to/1Ko4Bpr)

-Apple iPhone 5: Thanks to the bigger iPhone 6's popularity, the still-decent iPhone 5 costs much less! You can find unlocked version for a little under $400, as on Amazon here: http://amzn.to/1BDKbTK I haven't kept it a secret that I'm not fond of Apple, as I think they charge too much for their products. That said, there's certainly a case to be made for using their products. If you really want to buy an Apple, go with a previous-gen model like this one--it'll be just as good for you as for the millions of other people still using it!

Which one represents the best value? Well, I suppose we'll have to wait and see when the Zenfone 2 is offered. The $200 for the version with 2 GB of RAM looks like the best deal (at least on paper), and $300 for a phone with 4 GB of RAM is pretty impressive!
I'd be apt to go with the Zenfone 2, if I were inclined to spend that much on a phone [I'm not]. Others, however, may justifiably prefer the HTC One, or the smaller HTC One mini, or the iPhone 5, or the LG G3, or another option.

 ASUS Zenfone 2
HTC One mini

Apple iPhone 5
LG G3  


News: A new style-and-budget-conscious phone, called the Obi Worldphone, has been announced (but not yet released).

The lower-end SJ1 is supposed to cost $129 US, whereas higher-end models are supposed to retail for $199 to $249. As a 5-inch phone, this is meant to look like a premium high-end phone, without costing nearly as much.

A great prepaid carrier option is Republic Wireless, which sells subsidized Motorola smartphones that are well-reviewed by the tech press (the Moto X, the Moto G, and the lower-end Moto E). https://republicwireless.com/info/phones/ Thanks to Mr. Money Mustache for this article bringing this option to my attention!