GadgetGuy’s Guide to Smartphones in 2014

When it comes to smartphone shopping, Australians are spoiled for choice. There are loads of top products out there, but how do you pick something that’s right for you?

In the next few months and by mid-year, the smartphone world will likely be a very different place.

All the major players on Android will have something new ready for us (and you) to inspect and play with, and you can expect a new flagship Samsung, Sony, HTC, and LG, as well as some cool things from budget players like Huawei and ZTE. We may see some brand new experiments from the Windows Phone players, and it’s even possible Apple will reveal a new iPhone or two when it presents at its Worldwide Developers Conference.

But outside of specs and features, the gist of a phone will still be the same, and beyond the ads and branding, you will be — just like you do when you purchase a camera — buying into a system.

Currently, there are four main systems out there which we call “platforms,” and each comes with its own list of positives and negatives. Ultimately, though, you’re finding a platform that matches you and your lifestyle.

For instance, will you be able to find the app you want on your new phone? Do you even need or wants apps to begin with?

Do you want a platform that’s easy to use, or do you prefer total control over your phone and want to change the keyboard and interface when you want to?

These are all questions a modern smartphone owner can ask themselves, and with four main choices for mobile operating systems out in the world, the answers may not be as simple as you think they are.

Apple iOS (iPhone)

Still considered by many to be the king of smartphones, Apple’s iOS is the platform many recognise as being the best and most stable out there.

Developed originally as a fork of the Mac OS operating system for desktops and laptops, iOS has evolved into a product in and of itself, and now even inspires the evolution of the operating system it came from.

In iOS, you’ll find softened square icons called “squircles” and a constantly flowing menu, which you can scroll through by swiping left to right. Each app appears as an icon, and apps can be stored in folders to make things more organised, if you so choose.

All the core functions of a phone are here, though, and you’ll find a dial pad, contacts, messaging, and the ability to do email, web surfing, and tons of apps, and we mean tons.

Graphics, games, photo tools, apps for writing, apps for getting fit, and apps for pretty much any activity you can think of.

Music apps are also very common, and not just in playing music from Apple’s iPod heritage, but also making music, thanks to the amount of sound software available on the platform.

In fact, while Apple has the most fleshed out application ecosystem out there — and pretty much every app comes out on iOS first — it also has one of the most diverse range of hardware accessory platforms too, with docks and add-ons galore, including Bluetooth pens, speaker docks, MIDI keyboards, DJ gear, blood pressure monitors, bathroom scales, golf swing analysers, gaming pads, remote control toys, and lightbulbs for your home, among other things.

Cars will even connect up easily with Apple’s iPhone in the near future, thanks to Apple’s “CarPlay” concept being used by nearly every car manufacturer in the world.

Compatibility already exists for most wearable devices, and since iOS is one of the most used operating systems in the world, you’ll be hard pressed to find device makers not supporting Apple iOS.

That said, iOS isn’t perfect, and you’ll find things aren’t as customisable on iOS as they are on other platforms, as Apple likes to keep things locked down unless you decide to void your warranty and go down the path of jailbreaking.

Unlike Android, keyboards can’t be switched out and replaced with gesture-based typing, with the home screen and menu control also entirely controlled by Apple. You can download other web browsers, but Apple hasn’t yet made it possible for you to select them as a default, with Safari stuck as that option at the present time.

Battery issues also seem to be something that plague older Apple phones at this time, as the most recent upgrade to iOS 7 seems to be shooting the battery life of pre-iPhone 5S devices in the foot.

Despite these battery woes, many people are still satisfied and happy with what the iPhone brings to the table, and given that Apple is the company that every other manufacturer is essentially trying to beat, iOS is one platform that won’t be going away any time soon.


Apple iPhone 5S

Price: Starting from $869

The best iPhone you can buy until the iPhone 6 rolls around later this year, the 5S takes last year’s aluminium body and provides some minor improvements, upgrading the chip inside, adding a motion-sensing chip, improving the camera marginally, and adding a fingerprint reader.

If you have an iPhone 5, it’s probably not worth upgrading, but if you want an iPhone, this is the one to go for.

Read our review…

Apple iPhone 5C

Price: Starting from $739

Little more than the iPhone 5 in a plastic case, it’s hard to recommend this model despite it being in our “recommendations” section of this article. Rather, we’ve put it here since it’s one of only three official iPhone models currently available.

Few things separate the 5C from the 5, which is no longer available. In fact, the 5C is thicker than the 5, made from a cheaper material, and has a marginally improved set of cameras. Unless the price is ridiculously better, it would be hard to find a compelling reason to choose the 5C over the 5S.

Apple iPhone 4S

Price: $529

The last of the “old” iPhones available, the 4S has the older 3.5 inch display, shorter than the 4 inch model that now comes on the 5-based phones. You still get an 8 megapixel camera, decent set of hardware specs, and support for 3G, while the dock connector provided is Apple’s older iPhone dock, which technically has more accessories for it.

The 4S is still a great phone, though iOS 7 may not provide the best battery life on this handset. Also worth noting is the lack of 4G LTE, which only arrived on the iPhone 5 and higher.

Read our review…


Wait for…

Little is known about Apple’s upcoming iPhone, but there’s plenty of speculation about it.

Suggestions of a bigger screen to better compete with the larger screened offerings from other manufacturers is the most likely of the possibilities, but there’s always more, with a better camera likely, support (finally) for the wireless Near-Field Communication (NFC) technology, and even the distinct possibility for new display technologies that reduce the screen bezel or are even transparent.