The basics of buying a smartphone

If you’re considering buying your first smartphone, the sheer range of devices on offer and all the tech jargon can be quite intimidating. Here’s a guide to what you really need to consider.

The modern phone is like having a computer, digital camcorder, games console, music player and personal organiser all in one handy package.

What can you do on a smartphone?

  • Send email to your friends, family and work colleagues.
  • Visit all your favourite websites on a web browser.
  • Listen to music and stream video from services like Spotify and Netflix.
  • Make video calls to friends and family around the world.
  • Get satnav-like directions using navigation apps.
  • Download apps that let you shop, manage your bank accounts, check sports scores, access documents, social media and much, much more.

How do I choose an operating system?

While all smartphones let you do the things above, they go about it in different ways. There are two major operating systems. Apple’s iOS software powers the Apple iPhone and Google’s Android runs almost every other smartphone.

Choosing Android offers smartphone options and price points from a much broader selection of phone makers. The most popular apps are available on both platforms.

Other options include Windows Phone and BlackBerry.

Smartphone in hand with apps

What is the best screen size?

Just like TV sets, there’s a huge array of choice when it comes to display size. The current sweet spot seems to be between 4.7- and 5.5-inches diagonally. A larger display can be better for reading text and viewing media, but a bigger phone can be more awkward to use and will put a bigger dent in your wallet.

Most smartphones now offer a 1080p Full HD resolution, while QuadHD (1440p) is also becoming common on the top-end phones. The higher the resolution, the sharper text and images will be.

How much storage do you need?

Just like a computer, your smartphone will come with built-in storage for all of your apps, photos, videos, music, movies and TV shows.

It can range from a measly 4GB (gigabytes) up to the top iPhone 7 model at 256GB.

Some smartphones advertise a certain amount of storage space, but some of it will be taken up by the operating system, so you have less usable space than advertised.

SD memory card

With many Android phones you can boost the built-in storage by inserting a microSD card. Check whether the phone has a card slot available before you buy.

If you’re planning on shooting lots of video, you’ll need more storage.

Cloud storage platforms (see below) can eliminate the need to have so much built-in storage space.

What about camera pixels?

Smartphone cameras are replacing the need to carry a dedicated camera. You’ll hear a lot about megapixels, which means how many million pixels the sensor is capable of capturing. This number is overrated in terms of overall camera quality, but it can be a good guide.

Look for features like Optical Image Stabilisation, which helps reduce camera shake, and 4K video too.

How much should you spend?

Pay Monthly contracts cost from £17 to £52 a month, depending on the type of phone and data allowance. Some have upfront charges.

Samsung Galaxy S7

Smartphone jargon buster

When browsing a smartphone’s spec sheet, you’ll see a lot of jargon. Here’s a guide to what some of it means:


This phone will support the fastest 4th generation mobile internet speeds, which means faster downloads and smoother streaming.  Most new phones are 4G-ready.


The technology you’ll use to connect wirelessly to external gadgets like wireless headsets, headphones, speakers, fitness trackers, your connected car and much more.

The cloud

This is a virtual place to store photos, files and phone back-ups. And you can  access them at any time from other devices. BT customers get free storage with BT Cloud. Find out more about the cloud.


With Near Field Communications technology you can hold your phone close to another to pay for your shopping, connect to a speaker or exchange information. Find out more about NFC.


This explains the technology used for the phone’s display. AMOLED (active matrix organic light emitting diode) screens have high contrast ratio which means deeper blacks, bright whites and a wider colour range.  LCD stands for liquid crystal display, LCD screens have more natural colours, but blacks and white aren’t as vivid.


Global Positioning System technology allows the phone to pinpoint your location and guide you to a chosen destination.

Dual SIM

A dual SIM phone lets you use two SIM-cards and access them at the same time. Ideal if you travel abroad a lot.


You may see numbers like ‘IP67’ listed in phone specs. The numbers represent how resistant the phone is to dust and water respectively. For example, an IP67-rated phone means it’s dustproof and can withstand being underwater for up to 30 minutes.


This indicates the method of charging the phone and transferring data. Many new phones have the new reversible Type-C USB ports cables as opposed to the standard Micro USB ports. Apple phones have a proprietary Lightning charging port and cable.

Read more: Top tips for shooting video on your smartphone

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