Sunday 22 October 2017

Make the right call. . . finding the best smartphone for you

Before forking out for a device that may not suit your lifestyle, take a few tips from our technology editor Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

WE all want the snazziest smartphone. It's not just the cameras or the gold colours: powerful handsets can make a genuine difference to the working day. Apps, email, battery life and web browsing are all now integral to basic business processes for many Irish people.

And yet top-end smartphones are very expensive. Even Apple's 'affordable' iPhone 5C costs a whopping €600 without an operator contract. This leaves most of us hunting for decent smartphones in the mid-range category. Here are four such handsets worth looking at.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini

With most manufacturers, it's simple: there's a top-end phone, a mid-range handset and one or two entry-level models. Not Samsung.

Like the Nokia of old, it has a strategy of flooding the market with as many in-between models as it can physically make. But it also knows that people want to get as close to the trendy top-end handset as possible.

Hence the introduction of the 'mini' concept: take a top-of-the range handset with its designer styling and trim back the specs a little to make it more affordable for ordinary people. The result is the Galaxy S4 Mini.

The Android phone's shrink-wrapped features result in a 4.3-inch screen rather than a 5-inch display, a dual-core 1.7Ghz chip rather than a quad-core model and an 8-megapixel camera instead of a 12-megapixel lens. These are still beefy specs, as is its 4G-compliance and wireless NFC. This is probably the top mid-range business handset out there.

Price: from free on operator contract

Rating: ****

HTC One mini

While this is by far the best-looking mid-range smartphone on the market, it has a couple of usability quirks that might annoy some people. Mainly, its touchscreen controls are too close together, resulting in more initial tapping and typing errors than rival devices.

Nevertheless, the Android device still has some impressive features, borrowing from its big brother (HTC One) device. These include a superb unibody, metallic design, bright 4.3-inch screen and relatively strong audio prowess. It's also 4G-ready, which shouldn't be underestimated as a feature for any business smartphone.

Under the hood, it is competently powered, with a dual-core 1.4Ghz chip and 1GB of Ram. It has a regular 5-megapixel camera instead of the 'bigger pixel' camera of the larger model. This isn't as good, but still has a nice wide-angle lens.

The 1,800mAh battery is modest and gives less than a day's use for a regular user, but this is no worse than most mid-level phones.

Price: from free on operator contract

Rating: ***

Nokia Lumia 820

Are Windows phones a flop or just getting going? About one-in-20 people have one and that number, populated mainly by Nokia devices, is climbing very slowly.

The appeal stems mainly from two things: Microsoft Office compatibility and what remains of Nokia's loyal user base. Windows Phone systems are good with Microsoft synchronisation, meaning that it feels a lot more natural using Microsoft cloud services such as Skydrive.

For those who've bought into the system at work, this is a natural fit. The Achilles Heel is apps: for all their denials, Microsoft's app store still significantly lags Apple and Android, so you'll struggle to find the kind of business apps that Independent.ie recommends on a daily basis.

Nevertheless, the Lumia 820 is well-built machine with enough features to make it a decent smartphone. These include 4G compatibility, an 8-megapixel camera, a separate memory card slot and a 4.3-inch screen.

For advertising and PR types, it also offers multi-coloured covers.

Price: from free on contract

Rating: ***

iPhone 4S

While most attention has moved to recently launched iPhone 5 devices, Apple has cut the price of its 4S model, putting it in competition with mid-range phones.

Despite being over two years old, the device remains very popular for a number of reasons and despite some weaknesses. First off, iPhones remain first among equals for business (and all) apps. If a useful service is released on an app, the chances are that it's iPhone (and iPad) first, with Android next. So you'll never miss an app here.

The iPhone's interface, now updated through iOS7, also remains the most user-friendly system for beginners and novices. With middle-aged business people still migrating to smartphones in Ireland, this is a strength.

The phone has its weaknesses though. Its small screen makes it inappropriate for some functions and less efficient for web browsing and email. It also has relatively poor battery life. Finally, there's no 4G compatibility here.

Price: from €400 sim-free, from free on contract

Rating: ***

 

MID-RANGE SMARTPHONES: WHAT TO LOOK FOR

14G Last week, Meteor and eMobile launched their 4G networks in Dublin, Carlow and Athlone. Vodafone is set to follow next month. This means much, much faster internet access speeds on your handset – up to 30Mb and comfortably over 10Mb much of the time. This could be a big business benefit.

2Power While top-end phones now usually boast quad-core chips, a mid-range device should at least have a dual-core processor (of at least 1.2Ghz) and a minimum 1GB of Ram.

3Screen Look for a phone with a screen between 4 and 4.5 inches. The reason? More efficient for email, apps, streaming and browsing.

Sunday Independent

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