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Mobile Phones Buying Guide

No longer are cellphones used just for calling, or even texting for that matter. Gone are the days of brick-sized phones with briefcase-sized batteries - this is the age of phones that will do almost everything except make coffee. And who knows; give them a year or two, and they might be doing that too. But all this extra tech doesn't explain itself, and it's easy to get lost in a flood of firmware updates and hardware gimmicks. Read on for our guide to choosing the right smartphone.


Touch, click, or both?

Touch screens are all the rage, infesting everything from computers to dishwashers, and cellphones have probably been hit the hardest by this tech. Not to say it's a bad thing, of course. Arguably the best cells in the world have touchscreens, but they're definitely not everybody's cup of tea.  Buttons, on the other hand, have been around longer than most everything else, and there are definite advantages to sticking with the clickers. So why touchscreen?

Well, for a start, a touchscreen usually involves a larger screen than you'd get on an equivalently priced button phone, the reason being that it needs to be large enough for your fingers to be able to hit the virtual keys. Smartphones are also much more accommodating to "Apps" (see below) and, because of that, are often a lot more useful and expandable than their button counterparts. All touchscreen phones do have some buttons, but they're usually minimal - a volume control, a sleep/power button, and oftentimes a home screen button of some kind.

But there are also a myriad of problems that come with smartphones, particularly the smaller, cheaper breed. Because of everything being on the phone's screen, your fingers can get in the way if the screen is on the small side. Which brings us to the next problem - fingerprints can be the bane of your cellphones existence if you're not careful. Screen protectors can help with this, particularly the matte variety, but they're not perfect and often hard to find in the exact size.

On the other side of the coin, we've got the old school button phones, which have served their purpose but are sadly on the decline. That said, there are still plenty of fantastic buttoned alternatives out there, and while they often don't have the bells and whistles that the touchscreen ones do, there are a number of advantages to buying a phone with buttons.

The major positive that'll be noted, particularly among teenagers, is the ease when texting. Blind texting is an easily achievable feat with button phones, provided you've got a bit of time to practice, and it's just not possible on most touchscreens. On top of that, the phones are generally simpler to use, and an awful lot cheaper - sometimes by three or four hundred dollars. So if all you're really after is a phone to call and text, then a button phone is your best bet - cheap, reliable, and simple. If you're after something a bit fancier, then you'll want to go touch. There are a few options out there that combine the two - a phone with both buttons and a touchscreen, but the screens tend to be too small to be much good.


iOS, Android, and other firmwares

There's always something at the top of any ladder, and "smartphones" are definitely at the top of the cellphone market. Smartphones do a lot more than just texting and calling - you can send emails, take videos, and even use some of them as a GPS. Skype, Facebook, and many other previously PC-only applications are now available in the form of "apps" - software for phones. Smartphones aren't as scary as they look though, and are well worth the investment, particularly if you need your work to be with you on the road, or just fancy tearing yourself away from the desk. There are two main options to consider when looking for a smartphone - iOS or Android. Basically, they're "firmwares" which is the operating system. The firmware dictates not only what the interface looks like, but also what apps will run. There are Android-only apps, as well as apps that only iOS gets. At the moment, iOS has a somewhat larger selection of applications, although Android is getting more and more quality apps added each day, and may someday overtake iOS.

Android and iOS is often looked on as a Holden vs Ford kind of relationship, and while that's true to a certain extent, there are definitely some aspects in favour of Android - and some for iOS. Android is far more "open-source", meaning that applications are available that modify the phone in ways that Apple (iOS) wouldn't allow. Because of Androids open-source nature, it's much more customizable in the way of themes and ringtones, but is also susceptible to viruses. Internet security is available from Norton, so it's a curable problem, but a problem nonetheless. The other advantage to buying Android is the vast range of phones - more on that below.

iOS, on the other hand, sacrifices customisability and for a better user experience. Apple has placed many restrictions on what you're able to do, which results in a much cleaner, much more refined user experience. The obvious downside to that is the lack of options - you have a selection of ringtones and text tones, but you can't add any of your own. There are no options to add themes, and there's no ability to transfer files from one phone to another via Bluetooth - all options that are available to Android users. In saying that, iOS is so cleverly put together that you won't miss too many of those, since the selection of ring and text tones is enough for more people, and the default theme is fantastic. The iOS App Store is full of quality apps, and the stringent standards that Apple imposes keep a lot of trash out, although some does manage to slip through the cracks.

So what phone?

If you're after a smartphone, you've got a few good options to look for. On the Android side of the field, there's Oppo and OnePlus, who've just landed in NZ. They make a huge range of fantastic smartphones to suit everyone. If you're not into new Chinese brands, the Samsung Galaxy series is a fantastic alternative, and also runs on Android. On the other side we've got iOS, and you're options are far more limited over here.

If you're not in need of a smartphone and just want something simple, Nokia would be a great place to turn. They're a long-standing company that provides good quality, low-cost phones. Huawei is another option, providing some great phones for around the $150 mark. That said, there are some other great brands out there, although it always pays to check out some reviews beforehand, or have a hands-on with the phone before you actually buy it, particularly if you're making a sizable investment.


Everything else you need to know

There are a few other things that are good to know before you get a new phone. The first one is that numbers are transferrable - you've just got to get in touch with your new provider and request the swap, so don't be afraid of switching networks to get a better deal. The other thing to note is that not all phones will work on all networks - if you buy a phone designed for the Vodafone or 2Degrees networks, it probably won't work on Spark, and vice versa. There are a few exceptions to the rule, but they're usually in the higher price bracket. Don't be afraid to ask before you buy - any salesperson or online store will be happy to answer any questions you've got. It's also possible to switch between Spark, Vodafone and 2Degrees, since they use the same cell towers everywhere except for a few main cities.