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Sep 6 / Justin

Advice on Phone Purchases


One of the more challenging #firstworldproblems many of us need to contend with is what smartphone to buy. With the new iPhone coming up soon I know it is something on many peoples minds. A good friend recently asked a question of a few people by email. I gave a brief response. My wifes response was much more thought out than mine (not a big surprise there for anyone who knows her!) and I thought it deserved a wider audience.

I’ll paste verbatim below:

Needs: Skype, What’s App, Evernote, email, photos – to this I’d add general web browsing, Facebook, Dropbox access (read only mostly), and other SMS (KakaoTalk and We Chat). Despite the limited number of applications here, video is a high-frequency use case, so chipset, processor and GPU cannot suck. I am not a patient girl and I don’t deal well with lag and I can’t imagine that the Jeff who is incensed at HSBC does either. Hence I’d limit the choice set to the upcoming generation of phones or one generation back.

Phones under consideration
Newest generation
  • iPhone 6 – 4.7″ (TBA Sept. 9, likely available in HK shortly)
  • iPhone 6 – 5.5″ (TBA Sept. 9, likely available in HK shortly)
  • Galaxy Note Edge (just announced, likely available in HK shortly)
  • Galaxy Note 4 (just announced, likely available in HK shortly)
  • Galaxy S6 (TBC May)
  • Mi4 (TBC this fall)
One generation back
  • Mi3
  • Galaxy Note 3
  • Galaxy S5
  • iPhone 5
I’m personally not interested in the Sony Xperia series nor the Moto X so I left these off but you might include them if you’re looking to explore your options.
Arguably the most important factor is screen size, so I’ll group these into 2 sets: Phablets and Non-phablets. As a Note user, the choice for me is clear, but for you, this is less obvious. The iPhone 4 (is that what you had before?) is 3.5″ and the iPhone 5 is 4″. 4.7″ will put you in Samsung S series territory (approx 5″) and 5.5″ would be a few tenths of an inch shy of the Note’s screen size. Despite claims to the otherwise, phablets are definitely pocketable across a range of men’s clothing (pants, shirts, blazers inclusive) and the real estate is excellent for getting stuff done on the go.
Phablets: iPhone 6 – 5.5″, Galaxy Note Edge, Galaxy Note 4, Mi4
Non-Phablets: iPhone 6 – 4.7″, iPhone 5, Galaxy S5, Galaxy S6
Amongst the phablets, I’m torn. The curved edge display on the Galaxy Note Edge looks like it could afford some interesting UI alternatives that I feel I should be familiar with, but is likely to be expensive. Also the stylus experience has improved to the point where I’d actually miss the pen if I didn’t have it. Mi4 is probably gonna be unibody so no replaceable battery (big negative) but cheap (big positive) and I love the idea of playing around with the MIUI and getting a better sense of what’s got all the nerds so excited. I agree the iPhone 6 – 5.5″ (and 4.7″) will be the conservative option. To me not that exciting. Oooh, thinner, big deal (Apple may prove me wrong), but it’ll be a solid phone offering a known experience.
Non-phablets: here the choice drivers are price (correlated with generation, i.e. old vs. new) and OS (Android vs. iOS) and to a lesser extent, screen size. I’m not really considering non-phablets but for you, Jeff, I think I’d stick with iOS go for iPhone 5. Would be a good mix of improved performance (slightly bigger and faster) and price, since it’s not the iPhone 6. If screen size is an issue for you though, switch over to the Galaxy S series as tackling the Android learning curve would be worthwhile.
Lastly, an aside re: wearables — no. The specs on smartwatches are not yet good enough to be standalone. They’re mostly designed as companion devices and the app experience isn’t robust enough yet to support the usage you describe in a non-annoying way. My tune may change after Sept. 9, but we’ll see.

Keep me posted on your research. I’m holding off to the iPhone 6 and Mi4 announcements to make my decision.