Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Drowning in phones: A buyer’s guide for the technologically confused

   For the past few years, spring has been the traditional time period of the release of Android flagship phones. If you’re a fan of Apple’s iPhone, you’ll have to wait until early fall for the next release. However, if this year’s output from Android OEM’s is any indication, the wait may not be worth it. With the likes of Samsung, HTC, Sony releasing phones this spring, it might be time for you to ditch your old device. With so many options, the choice can be overwhelming and making the wrong decision can result in you being locked to a device for two years if you follow a carrier’s contract model. Here are the devices you should be considering.

Samsung Galaxy S5

   Three years ago when Samsung released the Galaxy SII, they were only a blip on the Android radar of underwhelming smartphones. What no one expected was their eventual rise to the top-selling smartphone manufacturer in the entire world. Yes, Apple’s iPhone tends to sell more than any specific Samsung phone, but with the plethora of Samsung devices out there, they’ve begun a takeover of the smartphone world. The Galaxy S5 is just another notch on their belt of great smartphones but, in 2014, is it as great as it should be?
   The answer to that question is a resounding “No.” The Galaxy S5, while a great smartphone, is only “pretty good” for the current year. Samsung’s smartphones run a skinned version of Android known as TouchWiz, which makes the phone look different than other manufacturer’s skins. But there are more negatives to Samsung’s TouchWiz than there are positives. If you’re looking for an aesthetically pleasing, smooth experience, you never want to buy a Galaxy phone. TouchWiz can be described as “bloated,” with too many Samsung apps that people simply don’t use, such as S-Voice, S-Health, S-Planner, My Magazine, and Samsung Apps (which just shouldn’t exist due to Google’s much more mature and universally used Play Store). The disuse of these apps isn’t just a claim, though. Recent studies from Strategy Analytics indicate only 1.2% of Galaxy owners actually use Samsung’s apps.
   At the same time, the Galaxy S5 isn’t all that bad. It has a beautiful screen due to its accurate, vivid, colors and increased brightness in direct sunlight. The S5 is also IP54 water resistant (note: not completely waterproof), making it comfortable to use around water if for some reason you need to do that. The added Finger Scanner (not “Fingerprint Scanner” for legal reasons) is nice even if most who have used the phone find it only works about half of the time.
   Is the S5 ready for the commitment of a two-year contract or a $650 outright purchase? Probably not, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable to weigh your options and eventually come out with the S5 on top.

HTC One (M8)

   The HTC One (M8) might have the most confusing name of any phone and HTC isn’t a very popular manufacturer in the smartphone department. However, none of that matters because HTC is making the best Android devices out there today. For the current year, HTC improved upon a few aspects of the original One by adding on screen buttons, an even sleeker design, and a five inch screen while keeping the impressive BoomSound audio and aluminum design introduced in the previous device. The result is a larger, yet more ergonomic device that is easier to use.
   There are downsides to the new One (M8), however. The camera is basically the same as last year’s which wasn’t a high-performing smartphone shooters on the market. This year HTC added a second camera sensor to improve depth and create blurred effects for the background of images. However, if you rely on your smartphone to take great photos, the One isn’t going to be the best performer in that area.
   The One (M8), though, improves upon its prior model with some fantastic software tricks. For instance, double tapping a sleeping screen results in unlocking the phone. They also make wielding a five-inch device easier since you reaching for the power button on the top of the device isn’t easy for those without large hands.
   Is the HTC One (M8) a phone that you should attach your time or money to? It depends. If you rely on the photography of your phone, you will be better off with a Galaxy S5 which includes a 16 MP shooter or the Xperia Z2 which sports a 21 MP camera. But if you’re more focused on audio quality, experience, looks, and feel of your phone, the One (M8) is the perfect device for you.

Sony Xperia Z2

   The Xperia Z2 hasn’t received much press because Sony is notorious for never actually releasing their phones in the United States or most of Europe. The Z2 looks to have a similar release model and the odds of it ever being available to purchase on contract at a carrier isn’t looking promising. However, if you have the money, you can always buy one directly from Sony. But since most people won’t do that, a brief overview of the phone is just in order.
   The Sony Xperia Z2 is a beautifully-designed device with an all glass front and back surrounded by an aluminum edge that really puts you in the mind of a better looking iPhone 4. Included on the front is an improved IPS display, upgraded from the lackluster Z and Z1 devices. Another upgrade are the front-facing stereo speakers. Although they aren’t as impressive as the front facing speakers on HTC’s One phones, they’re certainly better than most of the competition. Topping everything off is a 21 MP shooter which produces quality shots if you’re shooting in the right environment.
   If the Z2 does come to a carrier or becomes readily available for a reasonable price off contract, you might find yourself considering. As of right now no information has been released.

The Underdogs

   Although the three phones mentioned above are the top-contenders in the spring flagship race, phones released in the fall of 2013 are worth taking a look at. The Nexus 5, running Google’s stock version of Android on LG’s great hardware, is a steal at $349 (16gb) and $399 (32gb) off-contract. The hardware is nearly on par with this year’s flagships and, unlike other manufacturers’ devices, you’ll receive Android updates directly from Google as soon as they’re released.
   The Moto X is also a wonderful choice for an off-contract, affordable phone starting at $399 (16gb) and $449 (32gb) with an infinite amount of customizable options that no other phone offers. The Moto X has received accolades for its innovative Always Listening feature that allows you to make voice commands without ever touching your phone, along with Active Display which ensures you’re always update on your latest notifications.
   On contract, the best deal is going to be the LG G2, a criminally unnoticed device that excels in camera, display, and functionality. The G2 can be grabbed for under $100 on a contract, making it the best deal if you’re willing to commit to a carrier for a couple of years.
   Last, but certainly not least, is the Galaxy Note 3. The Note 3, while too large for most general consumers, is a niche “phablet” that performs unlike any others with its S-Pen features and Waccom digitizer that allow you to take notes and multitask in ways you would be unable to do with any other Android device. The Note 3 can be bought for around $200 on-contract depending on which carrier you send your check to each month.

   In a flooded market of phones, phones, and more phones, the choice can often be overwhelming. Breaking it down reveals that there isn’t one perfect phone for everyone, but there certainly is one out there for you. It is recommended to assess your needs in a phone, research excessively online, and play with a display model in-store before making commitment. There’s nothing worse than buyer’s remorse, especially when you’re stuck looking at your mistake for two years.

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