Wednesday 20 November 2019

Ask Adrian: Our tech editor tackles your trickiest technology problems


Vodafone Smart Ultra 7
Vodafone Smart Ultra 7
New Samsung S3 tablet
Apple MacBook Pro 13 Retina Touch Bar
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Q. I'm one of the last people I know to get a smartphone. I think I'm ready to make the leap but I've looked at the prices and some of them are really expensive. Are there any reasonable ones that don't cost the earth?

A Yes. You don't need a top-of-the-range iPhone or Samsung to get the main benefits of a smartphone. So while the top models cost over €500, you can get some really good ones at a fraction of that price.

I'm going to take it that your up-front budget is around €150. For that, you can either get a relatively basic phone outright or a higher-featured one (such as an iPhone) on a subsidised monthly contract with one of the mobile operators.

For a basic phone, I'd recommend Sony's Xperia E5 (€110 prepay from Three) or Vodafone's Smart Ultra 7 (€159 prepay from Vodafone). These will both connect you quite easily to the features most people want in a smartphone, such as Google, Facebook, WhatsApp and Gmail.

Sony's phone has a good 13-megapixel camera which you'll find pretty good in most situations (including if you want to record videos). It also has a good-sized five-inch screen and reasonable battery life.

Vodafone' Smart Ultra 7 has similar features but also the advantage of a bigger (5.5-inch) screen, which really helps for those whose eyesight isn't what it once was. Both models have a very basic amount of storage memory, so if you think you're likely to take lots of pictures or videos, you're better off with a higher storage model.

Still within touching distance of budget models, Vodafone sells last-generation iPhones for €199 and €269 but these may see discontinued support for new iPhone features in the next year or two. They'll still work absolutely fine for the basics, but you won't be getting many newly-announced Apple features.

The cheapest current-generation iPhone is the €499 SE model. (You can get it cheaper for around €100, but only if you sign up to a monthly contract with an operator.)

As for which to get between an iPhone or an Android phone, both do roughly the same thing. However, iPhones are slightly easier to use for beginners and novices. They're also less likely to catch viruses and they're the phones that sometimes get new apps first.

On the other hand, Android models give a bit more variety, including bigger screens and longer battery life. They also start at a much more budget-friendly price.

However, if you're offered a 'Windows' phone (such as a Microsoft Lumia, currently around €109) turn it down. Originally pitched as a cost-effective alternative to iPhones and Androids, Windows phones have lost support and lots of apps don't work properly on them anymore.

If you're willing to go on a monthly contract and have a budget that extends to around €40 per month, your choices expand upwards.

For example, you can get a good iPhone SE (with a decent 32GB of storage memory) for €79 up front if you commit to a two-year contract at €30 per month. (That gives you almost unlimited data but a low amount of calls per month, by the way.)

Alternatively, you can get Samsung's decent 5.2-inch Galaxy A5 for free with €40 per month including lots more calls, unlimited texts and a few other extras thrown in.

These higher-featured phones are slightly nicer in design, have more powerful cameras and better screens. They also have more storage memory for things like photos. And they tend to be better for security, with fingerprint readers to prevent a thief from gaining access to it.

RECOMMENDATION: Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 (above, €159 prepay from Vodafone)

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Two to Try

New Samsung S3 tablet  (€679)

Samsung hasn't really cracked the productivity tablet yet (as Apple has with its iPad Pro), but it's making some incredible devices. The new Galaxy Tab S3 has one of the best screens you'll ever see on a portable computer. That means it's amazing for watching things like Netflix and YouTube on. (It also has good speakers.) It comes with a pen stylus which, I think, unnecessarily adds around €100 to the price.

Apple MacBook Pro 13 Retina Touch Bar (€2,099)

Apple's touch-sensitive 'Touch Bar' strip at the top of the computer's keyboard offers you a number of shortcuts depending on what program you're using. When using the computer in a general way, it has useful controls such as screen brightness, volume and a shortcut to Siri. When using Safari, it lets you switch windows and so on. Does this make the laptop worth its lofty price? Alone, no. But there's lots of other stuff (looks, performance, security) on board, too.

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