It’s 2020, and if one of your new year resolution was to do off with the old and usher in the new, then you’re probably putting an eye out there for a new phone. Out with the oldies and in with the 2020 flagships amiright.
The problem, however, is that shopping for a new phone in Nigeria is not your everyday trip to the mall to buy groceries. With phone manufacturers churning out droves of new phones every day (some of which have become hard to tell apart from each other), buying the dream phone is an art only a few have mastered.
To help you avoid the unsavory path of purchasing a new phone and then falling out of love with it in less than a week (trust me, I’ve been there), here’s all you need to know before making that purchase.
What has the phone got to offer?
Features make up a phone. And by features, we are talking about the specific components of a phone’s architecture that set it apart from the competition.
If you are a car guy, you probably know that a car with 500bhp, carbon fiber chassis, and hybrid synergy drive, trumps one with lesser power output, aluminum build, and a petrol engine. And if you’re the typical Nigerian mom, you know De Rica tomatoes taste better with your cooking than Gino. It’s the same thing with mobile phones; the better the features, the better the mobile phone and, sadly, the loftier the price.
What features should you be on the lookout for in your dream phone? Well, quite a lot going by today’s standard.
A camera that unleashes your creative tendencies
Everyone is a photographer of the sorts these days, and in our social media propelled world, very few things beat the feeling of taking the perfect selfie shot. Thankfully phone camera technology has improved massively in the last few years with some phones even rivaling DSLRs in terms of picture quality. How do you spot these phones? Through the number of megapixels their cameras have? By sampling online pictures taken with these phones? Or perhaps through the sheer number of cameras they have (six camera phones are now a thing)?
If your answer to any of these questions is yes. Congratulations, you have fallen for what we like to call the ‘camera gimmick.’ While the number of individual cameras and their megapixel count play a role in overall picture quality, higher numbers don’t always translate to better quality.
As a matter of fact, the most outstanding smartphones in the camera department all have at best’ medium specs’ when it comes to camera and megapixels count. That is because the end picture quality of a camera is down to a complex interplay of a whole lot of factors, including its aperture, ISO range, image stabilization tech, etc.
So, rather than focus on camera and megapixel counts, what should you be on the lookout for? For us, hands-on reviews from trusted and unbiased sources have been the go-to filter screen. Emphasis on trusted and unbiased sources, manufacturers realize that consumers are beginning to see through their camera spec gimmicks. As a means of influencing the crowd, they now resort to incentivizing tech reviewers who then promote their products even though it is not the ‘it.’
To steer clear of this marketing leeway borrow a page from the online shopping book – pay little attention to the positive reviews and focus more on the negatives. Counterintuitive? Yes. But chances are the guys with the negative reviews are saying what no one else wants to hear.
Screens that make you want to stare at your phone for eternity.
Like phone cameras, over the years, display technology has evolved in leaps and bounds. That said, unlike camera tech, with display tech spec numbers matter. A lot.
With mobile phones, the most essential spec numbers you should be on the lookout for are those related to display resolution. What does phone screen resolution mean? In very plain terms, the resolution of a display screen is the number of pixels crammed into it. Pixels, on the other hand, are the fundamental unit of a digital screen. Each pixel on a screen is responsible for displaying a particular segment of an image, and together, these sub-images combine to form a composite whole – the picture you see on the screen.
The higher the resolution, the more the number of pixels, and the better the image quality. Imagine having to cultivate a farm. A team of 12 farmers would do a better and faster job than 6 men assuming all farmers have the same capability.
In the display tech world, resolution is quantified as the number of pixels in the horizontal axes of a screen by that on its vertical axes.
A screen with a 4096 by 2160 (4K) categorization has at least 4096 pixels on its horizontal axes and 2160 on its vertical axes. 4K screens are the gold standard of display technologies.
If you scale the pixel count a little down to 3840 by 2160, you get 4K Ultra HD. Still pretty sharp by all display standards.
Take it down a notch again to 2560 by 1440, and you get 2K. Not the same thing as 4K, but you won’t be squinting your eyes to catch the fine details at this point.
These are the common screen resolution available on mobile phones today.
Where you begin to notice a distinctive drop in image quality is when you drop down to 1920 by 1080 pixels. This is officially classified as full HD, and at this point, if you look hard enough, you can distinguish between individual pixels in the screen, especially if the PPI is correspondingly low(more on this later). Still, it’s not an eyesore to look at, and many stellar phones utilize a full HD screen.
The current footstool of display tech as it concerns resolution are 1280 by 720p screens. Except you are working on a budget, HD screens as they are known, are so last year (or better put last decade). Image quality is categorically poor (compared to others), and for sure, you will be able to tell individual pixels apart, except the screen has a relatively high PPI.
Wait? What is PPI? PPI or Pixels Per Inch is another yardstick used to measure display quality. It is the number of pixels packed into an inch on a display screen. While resolution connotes the number of pixels in the vertical and horizontal axes of a screen regardless of its size, PPI is dimension specific indicating how many pixels are stuffed into a unit area of a screen. So even though a phone’s display carries the tag of full HD, it might not be particularly excellent if the size of the screen is too large. Conversely, an HD screen can turn out OK if it is small enough.
What this means is that PPI is the definitive metric you should look out for when screening phones based on their screen quality. Anything above 300 PPI is fantastic, at least according to Apple. Anything less than 250 PPI is not so desirable. That’s not to say resolution is not a good measure of screen quality. It is (given that phone displays can only get so big), but if you want to be extremely sure of what you’re getting, check out the PPI specs too.
AMOLED vs. IPS
One last thing we need to consider before we move on to the next segment – panel type. To achieve the desired resolution or PPI spec sheet, manufacturers typically use two types of display tech for mobile phones, AMOLED or IPS. Each has its own advantage, but so far, AMOLED displays seem to be winning the race against IPS displays. It’s not particularly hard to see why.
Head to head, AMOLED screens provide better contrast, better energy savings (if used smartly), and more vibrant colors than IPS screens. IPS screens try to rebuff the competition by providing wider viewing angles and ‘truer’ colors. So far, it’s not really working with high-end phone manufacturers slowly transitioning to AMOLED screens after Samsung first pioneered the market a few years back.
A phone you can brag about
Not gonna lie, I’m a sucker for design aesthetics, and I’m sure you share the same sentiments, at least to an extent. However, because you most times get to see and have a feel of the phone you intend to buy beforehand, we are not going to dwell too much on this.
Major things to note;
Bezeless smartphones are the new kid on the block. Unlike your old school smartphones, these mobile devices come with a screen that practically covers the full width and length of the phones’ front panel. As such, they have minimal bezels – hence the name bezeless.
Truly bezeless smartphones are magnificent to behold (check out the Samsung Galaxy Note 10, for example), and their flush, futuristic unibody design gives you a hint of the very premium price you will pay if you eventually decide to get one.
Your next favorite phone will most likely come with a notch display. If you’ve seen an iPhone X, you probably know what a notch is – that jaw like protrusion from the upper margin of the screen. Since Apple debuted the iPhone X and it’s somewhat iconic notch virtually, every other phone manufacturer has since jumped onto the notch display bandwagon.
Enough power under the hood to guarantee seamless operations
Like display tech, smartphone hardware has come a long way since the tech boom in the 1990s. Back then, the best computing devices had a ram of about 4MB despite costing a handsome $4,076. Today, your iPhone has a better computing power (100,000x better) than the onboard computer of the Apollo 11 lunar mission.
Several hardware components combine to make your phone tick like a supercomputer – ditto its processor, RAM, and ROM (internal storage). Processors handle the raw process of computing, so a better processor invariably translates to faster app open and load times, swifter rendering, and a general buff to everything that makes for a seamless UI experience.
The leading mobile phone processor chip based on raw performance is Snapdragon’s recently released 865 processor. Apple’s in-house A13 Bionic comes in at second with the Exynos 990 from Samsung snatching the third spot.
Expectedly these only ship with higher-end smartphones. If you’re gunning for a mid-tier or budget smartphone, one way to know if a phone’s processing power stands up to the competition is to assess its processing speed and number of cores. Generally, higher numbers are better numbers. A processor speed above 2000Mhz is good enough to handle basic computing flawlessly. And anything above 4 cores should do just fine.
RAM or random access memory is the part of a phone’s hardware component that determines how much data it can host for instantaneous computing at any point in time. RAM allows your phone to readily store as much information as it needs to keep apps running. Invariably the bigger the RAM, the more apps your phone can run simultaneously since it has a bigger cache to store the data these apps need to operate.
If you plan on using your phone for any bit of multitasking, I’m talking running and switching in real time between say WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, and your browser then a RAM of 2GB is the lowest you should go. Up the Ante to about 6GB, and you can pretty much run 16 apps together without batting an eyelid/breaking a sweat.
The internal storage capacity of a smartphone determines how much data it can store. A 64GB smartphone can store up to 2132 24MP pictures on its own. This should give you an idea of how storage capacities work. If you’re the social media person who shoots a whole lot of pictures and videos, then a 32GB smartphone should be your benchmark.
If you are a power user, then 64GB would be the better option. Some phones go the extra mile to offer storage expansion by way of a microSD card. These will, however, cost you an additional sum. And sometimes, microSD card storage might not be compatible with some storage functions on certain smartphones.
No smartphone buying discussion in Nigeria can claim to be complete without a mention of battery life. What with the epileptic power supply here, some smartphones even toot battery life as their primary selling point. And they’re selling alright.
You’re probably thinking with battery life the logic should be pretty straightforward – the bigger, the better, right? Well, yes and no. Bigger battery capacities will no doubt outperform batteries with smaller capacities, all things being equal. But, most times, all things are not equal, and some smartphones feature a better energy-saving architecture than others. It’s the reason why Apple, with its now infamous ‘smaller’ batteries, present better battery endurance than some android phones even though the latter might house a bigger battery.
So again, here, our recommendation would be to seek advice from hands-on reviews. If these are unavailable, then you can fall back to raw battery capacity.
Additional perks and features
When Samsung debuted its flagship Galaxy S2 smartphone back in May 2011, one thing that attracted mobile phone buyers aside from its flawless implementation of the Android OS what its line up of extra features. Call them gimmicks if you like, but they made sure the phone caught headlines. Better still, some of these features persisted to become essential ingredients in the perfect smartphone cocktail.
Today virtually every manufacturer has taken a leaf from the Samsung marketing strategy, and every other day we see ‘new’ and ‘innovative’ features shipped with the next flagship iteration.
Here’s to the gimmicks that have proved to be useful, and some might say hard to do without.
Fast charging technology allows you to juice up your smartphone in the shortest time possible. If you’ve seen the official ad for the Google Pixel 2, then you might have come across something in the lines of 15 minutes of charging for 7 hours of battery life. That’s fast charging doing its magic, and for me, it’s a feature every smartphone should have.
Sadly, most times, only pricey high-end devices and sometimes hard to find bargain smartphones come with this feature. Definitely, a feature to consider when you’re making your next mobile phone decision.
Remember when you had to type a password or draw a pattern to unlock your smartphone? Yeah, that’s so last year. Nowadays, virtually every phone that’s worth giving considering ships with biometric security in the form of fingerprint sensors or facial recognition software. The question now is, which is the better option.
From experience, fingerprint security outclasses facial recognition in terms of reliability and consistency. And unsurprisingly so, since the latter just recently started making its way into the smartphone market. That being said, some phones, case in point Apple’s iPhone X feature seemingly flawless facial recognition technology. And if you look the android way with recent models of the Galaxy and Note series, you can get both.
All things said and done the most critical determinant of what phone you eventually end up with is your budget. With the right budget, shopping for a phone that meets all your expectation is a walk in the park. This task only becomes arduous when you are limited by money – arduous but not impossible.
You have one card up your sleeve and it’s that of research. For every budget spectrum, there’s a bang for buck mobile phone hanging out there waiting to be discovered. But given the cluttered-up tech review space, and mis-directional advertising, it’s up to you to filter that phone from the chaff around it.
How to do this? Aside from using this guide as a fall back point to understand what the ideal smartphone should possess, stick very much to unbiased hands-on reviews. They tell the story the manufacturers might be hiding from you.
When you’ve found the right phone remember to come back here and tell us how this article helped you do that (and maybe share it with your friends who need a helping hand). We’ll be glad to engage you in a discussion. Cheers!