Hereís our Canadian back to school buyer's guide. Itís that time of year again, no more all day TV marathons or sleeping in till 3pm. Itís time to increase your student loan and prepare for a new room mate. Yup, itís time to buy a bunch of technology that will be obsolete in a few months - or is it?
Over the past few years, cellular phones have been improving at a very rapid pace. In Canada, we often sign 3 year contracts. On the Android side, that means there are people who are still using HTC Magic/Dream and Samsung Galaxies (the first generation one). They were nice phones in their time and while they havenít gotten any slower, the Android ecosystem has moved on as has the hardware. On the iPhone side of the things, 3 years ago people were buying iPhone 3Gsí. The 3Gs has aged much more gracefully and is still receiving updates from Apple. But with a new iPhone around the corner, the 3Gs is definitely showing its age.
Age is a phoneís worst enemy, more so than on other type devices. I like to compare the phones with the personal computer industry. A while back, each generation of PC was a huge improvement over the previous and warranted an upgrade. Then Intel released the Core 2 Duo chip. Even though subsequent generations of PCís are substantially faster, for the average user, a Core 2 Duo computer offers enough processing power that they see little reason to upgrade.
I think Smartphones have reached a similar point. While Iím sure future handsets will have much more processing power, I believe that the latest generation hardware is far enough ahead of the software that it will take a while before the software catches up. The catch is that there is a minimum amount of hardware you should be considering if youíre buying a phone right now.
I mean, with the exception of NFC, a phoneís hardware list has pretty much remained static; Colour screen, camera, WiFi, Bluetooth, etc. Since there hasnít been any new hardware to add, manufacturers have been improving it.
On the Android side of things, you should be buying a phone with at least a 800x480 display, dual core processor, 512MB of RAM with 1GB preferred. If youíre buying a phone with no expandable storage you should also look for at least 16GB of storage. As for which version of Android you should get look for at least Android 2.3. Donít expect any software updates after a year unless youíre willing to hack the phone yourself.
On the iPhone/iOS side of things, with 3 current models the choice is a little easier. First off, remember that a new iPhone is just around the corner so if you want one, do yourself a favour and wait. Even if you donít feel you need the latest version, a new phone will cause price drops on the current model. Still, if you canít wait, Iíd say get the iPhone 4s or 4.
If you want to be different, thereís always Windows Phone. The problem with Windows Phone and obsolescence is that there is a new version just around the corner that wonít run on ANY of the currently available devices. This is a good way to make the platform less attractive to developers. That said, there is one bargain on Windows Phone that is impossible to ignore (more on that later).
If you want a Blackberry, the decision is much more difficult. While there have been a couple of new Blackberries released this year, really, they havenít released anything of note in the past year. Itís also not a secret that RIM is working on BB10 which wonít be compatible with the current generation of hardware. So unless you absolutely must have a Blackberry, Iíd keep the one you have now and wait. The Blackberry Bold 9900 is a beautiful phone and is now pretty much a zero dollar phone. Still, itís already been out for a year, itís going to look like an antique in 3.
Both Android and iPhone have very vibrant software ecosystems with many apps that will keep your attention. Apparently, Windows Phone has over 100,000 apps but my experience is that this ecosystem is far less interesting. Of course things could change if the upcoming version of Windows Phone really takes off. Blackberry on the other hand is pretty much a dead ecosystem since itís about to be replaced with a new one.
Whoís got what:
Iím going to list all the nation wide carriers along with some higher end choices along with more affordable ones.
If you have the cash on Bell, Iíd go for the Samsung Galaxy S III or Motorola ATRIX HD LTE. The Galaxy S III is much more popular and has many accessories available for it. The ATRIX HD LTE is a bit cheaper and has the same basic hardware. Itís actually slightly faster and, in my opinion, has a better screen. That said, I have a Motorola XOOM and Motorola RAZR XT910 kicking around and Motoís been absolutely terrible at keeping them updated.
If youíve got less money to spend consider the HTC One V. Just watch out, while the One V has a few strong points: 800x480 display, Android 4.0 and expandable storage, its single-core 1Ghz processor may limit its lifespan.
On Virgin Iíd recommend the Motorola RAZR V. At $349.99 and no contract, itís a very compelling, up-to-date choice. As for budget choices, I donít recommend any of Virginís lower priced handsets.
With Rogers, you have to decide between the Galaxy S III and HTC One X. The One X has a better screen while the S III has expandable storage and a bigger battery. Itís a tough choice but Iíd go with the S III because the One X only has 9.9GB available for storage - you canít add more.
If money is tight, get the Nokia Lumia 710 for $229.99 with no contract. Itís available in black or white plus you can use it on any carrier including Wind and Mobilicity, if you unlock it. Most unlocked phones only work on RoBeLUS (Rogers, Bell, TELUS) or only on Windilicity (Wind, Mobilicity). Yes, it runs Windows Phone but itís a solid phone with the same basic processing power as itís more expensive brothers, the Lumia 800 and 900.
Another choice is the Motorola Defy Pro. Processing power-wise itís not as powerful as the Lumia 710 but it is running Android 4.0 but the real story about the Pro is that it has a physical QWERTY keyboard plus itís ruggedized - good if youíre clumsy. The keyboard is good if youíre a Blackberry user who moving on.
On Fido, I hate to say it, but I donít recommend any of their handsets. The HTC One S is a very nice phone but at $100 on a 3 year itís priced about $50 too high. The HTC Desire C, Galaxy Q and LG Gossip Pro have low resolution 480x320 screens, which I donít recommend. The Optimus L7ís processor is too slow, the Xperia U has a dual-core processor but only has 4GB of non-expandable storage. The Optimus 2x is a good case study on why LGís phone division is doing poorly - when LG launched it, it was a flagship phone but now, almost a year and a half later the Fido 2x is still sporting Android 2.2. I guess at $30 on a 3 year you can also try the Galaxy Nexus but it too is a little over-priced.
I donít recommend any of the phones on Chat-r. If youíre going on Chat-r, bring your own device.
TELUS is like Rogers. Itís a choice between the Galaxy S III and HTC One X. If you skipped my Rogers section I basically said go with the S III. However, on TELUS, the One X is priced 80 dollars less than the S III. If you can live with only have 9.9GB of storage then give the One X a shot. Itís a very good phone.
While TELUS has the HTC One V, I was checking out the Futureshop shop flyer and noticed theyíre selling the Sony Xperia Ray on TELUS for $100. It has the same basic specs as the One V but itís got a smaller 3.5Ē screen. The Ray is sort of an ultra portable smartphone. If you can live with the smaller screen is a really good deal. If you canít grab that then check out the One V.
On Koodo, check out the Samsung Galaxy S II X. Unlike the S IIís on Bell and Rogers the Koodo one has a pentaband radio so it will work on Wind or Mobilicity if you unlock it. At $300 itís a steal of a deal.
While Koodo does sell the HTC One V for $200 (a smashing deal) Iíd say spend the extra $100 and get the S II X.
Unlike the Rogers, Bell, TELUS Galaxy S III, the Mobilicity version doesnít support LTE. However the Mobilicity one will run on RoBeLUS and Windilicity if you unlock it, which gives you some flexibility. If you donít want to spend $599.99 on a phone check out the Nokia Lumia 710 at $199.99.
While Wind has the Galaxy S III, Iíd go with the Huawei Ascend P1. At $399.99 itís a really good deal. Itís fast enough, has a nice screen and more importantly, it fit really well in your hand. Itís also able to run on RoBeLUS and Windilicity. The only minus to the P1 is that it lacks NFC. Right now, Iíd say NFC isnít an important feature to have but I think that will change in a year.
Like Rogers and Mobilicity Wind sells the Nokia Lumia 710. Give it a shot if money is an object.
Unfortunately I havenít tried any of Public Mobileís phones so I canít recommend any of them.
One thing I havenít mentioned yet is that Smartphones in general have terrible battery life. While some people will say one phone has better battery life what it really means is that itís battery life sucks less than the others. If youíre going to school and then coming back home then any phone will work well for you. However, if youíre staying out all day make sure you take steps to protect your battery. Iím talking about stuff like lowering your screen brightness, using your phone less, turning off features youíre not currently using, etc. However, the best way to protect your phoneís battery is to turn if off when you can.
Still, if thatís not an option consider packing a charger or a portable battery pack. Also donít forget that gravity causes dropped phones to fall at 9.8m/s2 so grab a case to protect your investment.
With that said, go do your best, study hard and donít drop your phone!