Smartphones guide: everything you need to know and selection of the current offer
Smartphones are the star devices of the technology industry. With versatility as a flag, from the initial communication capacity, they have been improving features until they become miniature computers that we use for many other tasks such as digital calendar, productivity, photography, or all kinds of multimedia entertainment.
Hence the difficulty of choosing the model that best suits each consumer together with a vast offer that can overwhelm anyone. Despite the slowdown in sales (due to market saturation, lack of innovation, economic situation, and price increase), there is no doubt that smartphones continue to be devices of maximum interest and it is expected that the new formats with the new folding and in connectivity with the final takeoff of 5G will boost their sales again in 2021 as we have already seen in the last quarter of the year.
How to choose the best smartphones
In this guide, we will review all the characteristics that a user who seeks to make the right purchase should assess, but there are a couple of previous sections that should be clear before starting:
What are you going to use it for preferably? The reality is that (almost) the least we do with a smartphone is classic voice phone calls and we use it massively to surf the Internet; use social networks; instant messaging; video conferencing; photos and videos; watch movies or series; listen to music; read e-books; play in mobility; use it as the engine of a virtual reality device and even on the desktop transformed as a mini-PC. Even so, there will always be a preferred section of use, in addition to others such as autonomy or robustness.
How much are you willing to spend? Another important previous key. The average price for mobile phones has increased in recent years and some top of the range exceeds the $ 1,000 barrier. Don't get hot with marketing. Assess your needs and set a maximum budget to invest. The mid-range in smartphones is the most interesting on the market in terms of features/price and has plenty of models for most users. Also, evaluate versions of previous generations. There haven't been too many innovations (except in folding) and they tend to drop in price when new models arrive.
With the above clear, there are a few aspects that differentiate smartphones and whose assessment can help choose the most appropriate for each user. We remind you of the most important ones.
Screens - Resolutions - Technologies
The screen size is one of the first parameters that the consumer must assess. A larger diagonal will increase viewing comfort but will increase weight and make it difficult to use with one hand. Here the industry does not leave too many options. The average size has not stopped increasing in a trend that seems unstoppable and we can easily place it in the 6-inch environment. Underneath there are few, while the largest can even exceed 7 inches.
Regarding the native resolution, the average is around an acceptable 1080p, although there is a variety from the simple HD that is used in the input range. In the high-end we can find 2K and even 4K of a particular model, a real outrage considering its size. Special "stretched" resolutions like FHD + or 2K + are in full swing as designs with 18: 9, 19: 9, and even 21: 9 aspect ratios have become fully established.
In screen technologies, IPS are still the most used, while LCDs are used in the entry range. OLED-derived panels are reserved for the high-end. All are multi-touch and most support the use of stylus pens although the experience is not the best except for specific models with active digitizers. Support for technologies such as HDR10 or Dolby is another of the additions, although perhaps the biggest novelty in recent months has been the increase in the refresh rate above the typical 60 Hz, especially suitable for mobile gaming.
Formats - Designs - Finishes
The new flexible screen or dual-screen form factors have been the biggest novelty of the past year and innovation that the industry hopes will boost sales. Samsung is the most prominent manufacturer with two series Fold and Flip, but there are others such as Motorola, Huawei, or Microsoft that have already marketed these types of models. And others are expected from the hand of Xiaomi and LG, in addition to the entry of Apple with the folding iPhone. As in the first generations, these formats need development, improvement of components such as hinges, and a greater number of applications that take advantage of them. Prices so far are extremely high, outside of mass consumption.
In chassis and finishes, there is still a difference in the different market segments. If the mid-range and entry-level tend to go for polycarbonate plastics, in the high-end we see premium materials such as aluminum, magnesium, and glass. The use of protective layers such as the one offered by the specialized firm Gorilla Glass are common and some smartphones add a greater degree of protection with resistance to water or splashes, bumps, and falls, although they do not prevent the use of screen protectors and covers. The industry offers rugged specialty terminals for professionals who work in environments that need them.
A trend that has been almost completely consolidated is the "all-screen" designs, where the bezels and frames are almost completely eliminated, opting to occupy the entire front of the terminal. It is an interesting design that allows you to expand the viewing area without having to increase the total size of the device, increasingly larger as we saw above.
The photographic and video capabilities of smartphones continue to improve. The versatility of these devices has sunk the sale of dedicated compact cameras and the truth is that (although they are still incomparable) their use is the majority and their benefits are highly valued by users.
The commitment to the multisensor to divide the tasks according to the shot to be made or as a complement to the main one; increasing their resolution; the addition of Artificial Intelligence functions and software improvement are the main trends. Here we must remember that a high number of sensors and megapixels does not ensure the best photographs and good optics and applications to take advantage of it are above the above.
Check out independent reviews because they may surprise you. The best smartphone camera in 2018 was mounted by Google on the Pixel 3. And with a single sensor. Other options to consider are the optical image stabilizer, autofocus, lens aperture, double LED flash, or video capacity with resolutions up to 4K.
In terms of design, the main camera tends to be mounted in specific frames increasingly larger to house the multiple sensors and integrated with the chassis at the rear. As for the headlamps for autofocuses, it seems that the industry is betting on getting rid of the holes in the screens once and for all. Some manufacturers employ flip-up camera designs on the chassis, although the general trend here is to include it below the screen.
There are no alternatives here. The ARM architecture completely monopolizes the main hardware engines for smartphones. Qualcomm is the world's leading supplier of third-party mobile chipsets and you will be able to see their designs in all market segments, while in the mid-range and entry-level Chinese manufacturer MediaTek also has a strong presence. The rest is distributed with manufacturers' own designs, Apple's SoCs for iPhones, Samsung's Exynos, or HiSilicon (Huawei) Kirin.
The trend here is for increased performance and the ability to integrate components. In addition to CPU and GPU performance to power tasks such as mobile gaming, chipsets are increasingly integrated, with expanded support for AI, augmented reality, DSP signal processing, and ISPs to support ever-increasing photographic sensors. Also important is the expansion of 5G chips beyond the high-end, both native and additional modem.
The RAM memory capacity of current smartphones even exceeds the average in PCs and models with 12 and 16 Gbytes that have already been marketed. The installed average is below and you can find everything from the minimum admissible 1 GB in specific systems such as Android Go, going through 2, 4, 6, or 8 Gbytes. RAM is always preferable faster than capacity and manufacturers have to improve on optimization, but the trend is to include more and more. LPDDR 5s are on the way, but we don't know if we will see them at the end of the year in the most advanced smartphones.
In terms of storage capacity, we would place the minimum at 16-32 Gbytes, up to 256-512 Gbytes in the high-end range. The Tbyte brand is on the way and it will surely be Samsung who will debut it this year, while the new UFS 3.0 standard for storage solutions based on NAND Flash memory is an important advance that will allow achieving great performance.
The user's selection here is important considering that the RAM will not be able to be expanded in the future and the same in internal storage, since a large part of mobile phones no longer support microSD cards.
Expanding support for new 5G mobile networks from the high-end to the rest of the market by 'democratizing' their reach is a priority in the industry today and we have already seen solutions from Qualcomm and MediaTek for the mid-range. Although these networks have not yet spread to all regions nor have they deployed their full potential, there is no doubt that it is a bet for the future that the user must value.
Support for the Wi-Fi 6 wireless standard is another important element to consider due to its advantages over previous versions of the standard. It is already being deployed on new equipment. The same with Bluetooth 5.2, important because in mobile phones it is used to connect smartwatches and quantifying bracelets or the increasingly used wireless headphones once the classic audio jack has almost disappeared.
USB Type-C is the connector of the present and of the future in smartphones and is fully deployed in the mid-range and high-end terminals, while the short-range communication technology, NFC, has become optional, as well as the double -SIM, useful for some use cases. In the biometric authentication section, the most innovative thing is the fingerprint sensor under the screen, something that will end up spreading throughout the mid-range segment upwards.
A section perhaps less valued than the previous ones, but which is also worth knowing. The DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter) converter chip is the key in the audio section and there can be a lot of difference in quality. Of course, having stereo speakers is a must to get started. Some of the best smartphones in this section include larger and more powerful speakers and design the inside of the terminals as a resonance chamber to reinforce the sound.
The use of dedicated external speakers, generally connected by Bluetooth, is another option when we are not on the move, in the office, or at home. There are many offers of all prices and qualities, without forgetting that we can also reproduce the audio from our smartphone in the new digital assistants or send it to high definition systems.
As for the headphone output, you know how things are. The typical audio jack is disappearing and the big manufacturers are eliminating the delivery of headphones so the final solution will be to have the best wireless headphones that your budget allows.
It is a pending account since smartphones have become increasingly powerful computers, with more functions and with all kinds of sensors that spend much, much more than the 'dumb' phones of the past. The issue is aggravated by the tendency to the extreme thinness of modern mobiles that prevents mounting batteries of greater capacity. Also by design (and for commercial reasons), manufacturers are betting on non-replaceable batteries complicating this section.
If autonomy is an important aspect for you, assess the capacity of the battery and that it can be replaced because, as we said, not all allow it. There are specialized models that include batteries with a higher capacity than the industry average that we could place between 3,500 and 4,000 mAh. Also, look for smartphones with fast recharging systems and additionally, those that allow wireless recharging that improves the comfort of the process without the need for wiring. Having a good own charger has gone from option to obligation since all manufacturers will follow in Apple's footsteps and will not include chargers in new mobile phones.
There is little to think about here because after the retirement of Windows Mobile and the failure of the Linux Mobile alternatives today there are no real alternatives beyond Android or iOS. Android sweeps the mobile market with estimated shares of over 87% and therefore almost all the offer is concentrated around the Google system.
Apple's iOS is second in market share (and last). As Apple does not license the operating system to other companies, you can only access this platform with the purchase of an iPhone. And a little more. Outside of the two major platforms, the offer is almost nil except for some Linux Mobile as a niche.
After Trump's blockade, Huawei is working on a Linux-based operating system called Harmony OS, but it needs more development, services, and applications that we do not know if they will have external support. It really is very difficult and not even a giant like Microsoft has been able to use Windows in its return to the mobile hardware market and its Surface Duo uses a tuned Android. Windows 10X could be an alternative for the future, but it remains to be seen.
Since our last buying guide, all manufacturers have updated their catalog of smartphones and many of them are already on sale. The arrival of new models has caused large price cuts in previous generations. Don't forget them, because - generally - there hasn't been so much innovation and they may be worth it. Some are already announced for the next release, but not all are yet available.
To help you in the selection and as an example, because the offer is endless, we have divided the purchase by price levels in free sale starting with the high range and reaching terminals below the barrier of 100 euros, with a selection of some of those that seem most relevant to us from each range and trying to include models from all manufacturers. It is only a selection because the offer is very wide.
-Samsung Galaxy Fold 2. It is the most advanced flexible screen mobile on the market. Reinforced compared to the original model, its design is unique and innovative, highlighting its two AMOLED screens. It uses the Snapdragon 865+ SoC, it has 12 GB of RAM and up to 512 GB for storage. Its price is just as spectacular, 2467dollars, which makes it the most expensive on the market. The original Galaxy Fold model has dropped in price and can be found for 1151dollars.
- Apple iPhone 12. The latest series from Cupertino is the best-selling individual models on the market. They maintain the baseline of the iPhone 11 in aluminum and glass by adding the metal frame of the iPhone 5. They have a new Apple A 14 SoC, 5G and have improved cameras and Super Retina displays. The line is available in four versions, mini, standard, Pro, and Max. The mini can be found from 964doller while the standard model costs around 1114dollarThe iPhone 11 has dropped in price, below 849dollars.
- Samsung Galaxy S21. The new top of the range of Samsung's regular series has been the first big launch of 2021. They bet on the spectacular AMOLED screens with the highest refresh rate, the latest Qualcomm SoC and the most powerful Exynos from the manufacturer, improved cameras, 5G in the entire range, and the addition of the stylus on the top model. It is sold in three variants, Galaxy S21 5G, Galaxy S21 + 5G, and Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G,and can be found for 1042doller The Galaxy S20 and FE have also dropped in price.
- Huawei Mate 40 and P40. Still pressured by the US blockade, Huawei continues to produce good mobiles such as its latest Mate 40 series flagship that launches the new Kirin 9000 chip with 5G, OLED screens, improvements in cameras with Leica optics, and slight changes in design with all front screen and chassis in metal and glass. The Mate 40 Pro is Huawei's best terminal and sells for 1,199 Dolars, while the P40 Pro 5G has an interesting price of 699 Dollars.
- OnePlus 8. The Chinese manufacturer has made a place among the greats in the sector. The latest series is sold in three standard models T, Pro, and the cheaper Nord series. The Pro model is the most interesting with a 6.8-inch 120Hz AMOLED screen with 8GB of RAM + 128GB of storage, quad-camera sensor, wireless fast charging, Dual Sim, and 5G. It has price 869. The 8 Nord lowers the price below the barrier of 485. Series 9 is expected soon.
- ASUS ROG Phone 3. A good sample of smartphones mainly dedicated to mobile gaming. It has a 6.59-inch AMOLED screen with 144 Hz refresh rates, a Snapdragon 865 Plus 5G SoC, and a huge amount of RAM, up to 16 Gbytes. It does not lack anything like mobile, but games are its main field, including a series of accessories perfectly designed for the terminal. It can be purchased for 988 dollars.
- Motorola Razr 5G. Another of the smartphones that we like the most of the second generation of folding, now with an improvement of the chipset and the addition of 5G. It has a stainless steel and glass chassis, the main 6.2-inch high-resolution flexible OLED screen, and a second secondary screen on the front that is activated when the terminal is folded. It is currently reduced in price to 1,446 dollars.
- Samsung Galaxy Note 20. The best phablet on the market has dropped in price after the launch of the Galaxy S21 and they are a great bet based on the extraordinary AMOLED panel with WQHD + resolution and 120 Hz refresh rate that they mount and the support for optical pencils. It is available for 902 dollars.
- Xiaomi Mi 10T. The top of the range of a firm that does not stop improving in sales and that bet like few others to offer the best value for money with powerful SoCs, large screens, and improved cameras. The Pro version with 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB for storage costs 750 do while the standard version is priced at605 and the 10T-Lite with 5G only costs 299 euros.
- Oppo Reno 4. The high-end of another of the Chinese manufacturers that are hitting hard in the mobile market. It is marketed in three versions with 5G, AMOLED screens in the upper ones, and the 765G SoC from Qualcomm. The Pro version is priced at 698 euros, while below you can find the 4Z for 394 dollars.
- Apple iPhone SE 2020. Apple's commitment to the mid-range with the smallest and cheapest terminal in its catalog, with the Retina screen with IPS panel and a size of 4.7 inches and the Apple A13 Bionic SoC. It costs 544 dollars.
- Motorola One. The most complete Motorola series for the mid-range with various versions such as Action, Zoom, Vision, or Macro and all kinds of screen sizes and features. We like the One Zoom for $ 399 although you have models like the One for $ 299 and the macro for 213 dollars.
- Realme 7 5G. 6.5-inch screen, 6GB RAM + 128GB ROM, 120Hz Ultra Smooth Display, 48MP Quad Camera, 5000mAh battery,and 30W fast charge for 338 dollars. The series offers other versions such as the Realme 7 Pro that has dropped in price to 311 dollars.
- Samsung Galaxy A42 5G. Samsung has long been promoting its mid-range with the A-series and has a dozen different versions. We selected this one with an AMOLED screen, good features, and the addition of 5G for 338 dollars.
- Xiaomi Redmi Note 9T. The latest from Xiaomi for the mid-range was presented a couple of weeks ago and seeks the "democratization" of 5G in terms of devices. Its screen follows the trend of large size with a 6.53-inch LCD panel and its hardware engine is the MediaTek Dimensity 800U. With 5G and in relation to price/characteristics few better you will find since it is for sale for 241 dollars.
- Little X3. Another of the most interesting of the Xiaomi sub-brand, with a 6.67 ″ FHD + AMOLED screen, Snapdragon 732G, 6GB + 64GB, 64MP quad-camera, 5160mAh with 33W load, for only 228 dollars.
- Motorola Moto G. Motorola's best-selling range and one of the most complete for the mid-range. We like the G9 Play to start currently for 180.76 dollars or the Plus model for 222 dollars. The manufacturer has brought 5G to this series with the Moto G 5G Plus for 338 dollars.
- TCL 10. Pending the availability of the new 20 series, the manufacturer offers models like this 10L, with a 6.53 ″ FHD + screen with NXTVISION, a Qualcomm 665 4G, 6GB / 64GB Expandable MicroSD, 48MP + 8MP + cameras 2MP + 2MP, 4000mAh battery and upgradeable Android 10. It has dropped in price and is available for only 162.56 Dollars.
- Nokia 2.2. A good sample of an entry-level smartphone, with a 5.71 ″ screen, a Quad-Core 2.0 GHz chipset, 2 GB of RAM, 16 GB of internal memory, and a 13 + 5 MP dual-sensor camera for only 121.32 Dollars.
- Alcatel 1B. A sample of a super cheap terminal below the barrier of 121.32 Dollars. It has a 5.5 ”HD + screen, Quad-Core SoC, 2 GB of RAM, 32 GB for expandable storage with MicroSD, 8MP Camera, 5MP Front, and 3000 mAh battery. It has a price of only 83 Dollars.
We leave it here because the list would be endless and we are sure that they are interesting terminals. And it is that the offer of smartphones is colossal, with all kinds of variants, sizes and screen technologies, chipsets, camera systems, 5G that extends to the mid-range and prices for any budget. In addition to the previous ones, there is already announced news for this same quarter that you can check in our general tag of smartphones.