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This post was updated in January 2015.
While Android phones are gaining popularity by the day, prospective buyers are often confused thanks to the plethora (literally bucket loads) of Android phones out there. It seems like everyone and their mom is churning these devices, and if you intend to buy one anytime soon, you will do well to assess your needs first. Which Android phone is the best for you, will depend on how you intend to use it.
Here, I will try to run you through some basic things you should be considering before you go Android shopping.
You might also be interested in: Top 5 Android Phones in January 2015
Network considerations are obvious, so we won’t be discussing them. Nearly all Android phones (international versions) support 2G, 3G and 4G networks, but in the end, your connection will be dependent on your local network provider.
The size of your phone is very important, in terms of portability and safety. If you are one to carry your phone in your hand all the time, you will not want something huge and heavy. Likewise, if you are a sucker for ‘big’, you will find plenty of Android phones to satisfy that itch.
Over the past couple of years, screen sizes have gone through the roof. Gone are the days of Apple telling you that a 3.5 inch screen is optimum. People nowadays want larger screens which facilitate media consumption. Luckily for you, Android devices come in all screen sizes – from tiny ones to huge 5 and 6 inchers!
However, screen size is not everything. You will need to check for the display resolution on your particular device, which effectively dictates how crisp and clear your display will be. Currently, 1280 x 720 is a good resolution, but HD displays (1080p), like the one on the Samsung Galaxy S4 (1920 x 1080), are already here. While the higher the resolution, the better the display, you don’t necessarily need an HD phone. Matter of fact, you won’t even notice as big a difference between 720p and 1080p, unless you are very particular about details.
Memory, both in terms of RAM and built-in storage capacity, is a very important consideration. Most people don’t know that advertised memory capacities don’t include the space taken up by the operating system. For instance, if the official specifications of your phone say it has 16 GB built-in storage, you will only be able to access around 11 to 12 GB, because the rest will be used up the operating system (much like a Windows installation using up your hard drive space).
If you like to download movies and music directly to your phone, you will have to be careful about the built-in storage. However, several Android phones come with the ability to load external memory cards, which can compensate for lack of built-in memory. If your budget is tight, get an Android phone with at least 8 GB on-board memory and external memory card support.
As for RAM, technically, the more you have, the smoother your operating system will run. Older Android phones often come with 512 MB RAM, which works fine if you are a light user (only use your phone for texting, calling, light gaming and web browsing), but will limit your ability to run several apps at a time. High-end phones these days typically come with 2 GB RAM, but most mid-range phones sport 1 GB chips, which are adequate for average multitasking.
Much like the personal computer market, the smart-phone scene is also falling prey to the number-of-cores disease. While there is undoubtedly a huge performance difference between older Android phones and the more recent ones, you should not fall for how many cores your phone’s processor has. Typically, mid-range phones these days come with dual-core processors, while high-end ones boast quad cores and more (the S4 has an ‘Octa core’ processor – more on that later).
However, a newer, more advanced dual core will perform better than a last generation quad core, and if you are in the market for a new Android phone, going with a recent dual-core will be a safe bet (especially if you don’t want to spend a fortune on your purchase).
All this hardware power comes at a price. Your phone’s battery life is one of the most crucial factors, because if you have to charge your phone over and over again, the portability factor will go out the window. Phone specifications list battery capacities in mAh, and the higher the number preceding the unit, the more power the battery can store. If you are looking at a low to mid range phone, with a reasonable display and processor, a 1500 to 1900 mAh battery will suffice. Phones with bigger displays (5 inch and over) on the other hand, require larger batteries (2000+ mAh). However, most Android phones these days don’t have user-replaceable batteries, which is a major problem for some people. Check whether the phone you want has a user-replaceable battery or not before purchasing it.
These are some of the more basic, yet important specifications you should be looking at before you make your first Android purchase. There is much more to Android hardware than explained in this post, and if you have more questions, feel free to leave comments.