Monday, April 20, 2015

Discover the best smartphone for your pocket

Discover the best smartphone for your pocket, your budget and your apps with our buying guide and in-depth reviews

If you're looking for the best smartphone on the planet then you've come to the right place. Scroll down to see our pick of the ultimate smartphones available at the moment, or read on to find out about the questions you should be asking before buying any new mobile phone.

Best phones of 2015: Android, iOS or Windows Phone

The number one question to tackle is which platform to buy into. Now that BlackBerry has all but left the phone game, you have Apple’s iOS, Android and Windows Phone from which to choose.

iOS means iPhones, and you probably already know whether or not you’d like to own an iPhone. They’re great devices, with a wealth of apps and games on offer, but they don’t come cheap. That said, for anyone looking to buy a high-end phone, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus deserve a place on the shortlist.

If you definitely don’t want an iPhone then Windows Phone and Android handsets are available in a number of shapes, sizes and prices. The downside of Windows Phone is that its selection of apps and games isn’t anywhere near as healthy as that of Android or iOS. If you want to play a new game every week, and want the best entertainment and travel apps out there, it probably isn't for you.

However, Windows guarantees you a certain level of gloss right down to the super-budget models, and Nokia’s top-end Windows Phone handsets are pretty impressive. Performance is spritely, even on the lower-end models, thanks to the minimal demands of Microsoft's Windows Phone OS - these phones just don't need high-end processors and gigabytes of RAM to perform.

For many, though, Android is the right choice. Most phones use it, and nowadays it offers a good balance of apps, games and general performance. All the most high-profile phones aside from the iPhone use Android, including the Sony Xperia Z2, the HTC One M8 and the Samsung Galaxy S5, and with Google's Android L on its way, the Android smartphones and phablets out there are only going to become more attractive.

Best phones of 2015: what size of phone?

Once you’ve made your choice of platform, you need to pick a size. This is partly determined by how much you want to spend, but as long as you’re willing to fork out £150 or more, there's quite a choice available to you.

Most of the higher-end phones are quite large these days; if you’re not used to a bigger phone we recommend trying one out in a high-street shop before buying. Most people can generally get accustomed to phones up to 5in in screen size, but anything larger than that becomes a bit of a struggle for people with smaller hands.

Have huge hands? Want a big screen? In the past couple of years, the phone-tablet hybrid market has exploded, and there are several phones that offer 5.7-6.1in screens – truly massive displays for a phone.

For any phones of 5in or larger, we recommend a 1080p screen, which will get you sharp images. Even around the £100 mark it's possible to get hold of handsets with super-sharp screens, such as the Motorola Moto G. We recommend opting for screen quality over whether it has wireless technology extras such as NFC or an IR sensor.

Best phones of 2015: 4G or not 4G?

One wireless technology that does matter, though, is 4G. Once reserved for expensive phones, this super-fast mobile internet standard is now available in fairly low-cost models too.

Although performance can vary depending on where you live and the network you subscribe to, 4G can get you around ten times the speed of a normal 3G network. While a 3G network might provide 2Mbits/sec downloads, you’ll often get 16-20Mbits/sec from a 4G network in a big city. That may well be faster than your home broadband.

Most contracts are subject to quite limited data allowances, however, so make sure you do your research before getting too excited about 4G hardware.

Best phones of 2015: how important is a camera to you?

The one other bit of hardware that’s important to consider is the camera. If you’re looking at a phone costing £200 or more, you’re almost guaranteed a reasonably good camera, but if you’re a budget buyer then you'll find most models make compromises.

Low-end phones often leave out the front camera and the flash. Some don’t even have autofocus. If a phone leaves out any such features, it cuts hugely into the photographic flexibility of a smartphone.

At the higher end of the scale, look out for optical image stabilisation. This moves the lens and/or sensor to compensate for the effect of shaky hands. It allows the phone to use longer exposures, allowing more light onto the sensor, which leads to cleaner, less noisy photos when shooting in low light.

Best phones of 2015: how much do you want to spend?

How much do you need to spend to get a good phone? Great mobiles start at around £80, with models such as the Motorola Moto E. It’s currently about as cheap a phone as you can get without having to give up too much in the way of looks or build quality.

High-end phones start at around £270, with slightly older mobiles such as the LG G2 and Google Nexus 5 providing most of what you get from a more expensive phone at a less scary price.

If nothing but the best will do, the very latest flagship phones from companies such as Samsung, LG and Sony cost between £400-500. On a contract, that normally equates to at least £30 a month, unless you’re a better haggler than we are.

Hopefully, you now have a good idea about the kind of phone you’re after. But which model should you buy? Here are the mobile phones we recommend.

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