Skip the spiel: how to buy a smartphone

Forget the hype, forget the marketing pitches. Forget the guy in the telco store telling you this phone will change your life. Forget it all, because this is how you buy a phone, and you can make the decision mostly by your lonesome.

I’ve been a reviewer for seven years now, and in that time have looked at lots of phones, so many that I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had to move on from great messages people have sent me, and so many that Google’s list of connected devices on my account surpasses the range of phones in your local Telstra store.

In that time, I’ve learned a lot about what makes a good phone.

It’s not just a screen, an operating system, some hardware, and some pretty looks. No, there’s much more that makes a phone great, even brilliant, and while it’s hard to get something terrible these days, it’s often harder to know what you’re purchasing, and to know what you want.

Our desk a week ago. So many phones to get through and compare.

Phones are a massive part of what we spend money on these days, especially in Australia, where the world sees us as a great place to test products on.

We’re small — our population fits neatly into Los Angeles, even though our land mass approaches the whole of the USA — and yet we spend big, buying smartphones, computers, headphones, cameras, TVs, video game consoles, and home appliances by the plenty.

We love tech, we really do, and phones make up a big part of that.

So it should come as no surprise that people often call us up and ask one question more than anything else: what phone should I buy?

I get it in emails and in phone calls. I get in when people see the phones I’m using on buses and at get togethers, parties, and shindigs.

Valens Quinn — our TV guy on Seven’s “Sunrise” and Ten’s “The Project” — gets it too, as does the original GadgetGuy, Peter Blasina, who says it’s a common question called in when he appears on radio.

“What phone should I buy?” people ask after seeing the cacophony of posters, billboards, TV commercials, bus skins, and web advertisements. Product marketing is everywhere you go, and it has one purpose: to help tell you to buy a product, in this case, a phone.

But how do you buy a phone?

Don’t believe the hype, forget the spiel

When the iPhone 6 came out a couple of weeks ago, I received a phone call from a friend.

“Should I buy the iPhone 6?” they asked.

I’d had the phone for a few days, and some of my tests had already been performed, so I was firming up my conclusions about the product ahead of the written review, and so I said “it’s a nice phone, and it’s a good iPhone, but there’s so much out there, I’d look around and see what fits best.”

“I think I’ll get the iPhone,” they said immediately after, and ended the call shortly after.

That’s the thing about questions: when you ask specific ones, there’s a likelihood you already have the answer you want, but you’re just looking for someone to agree with you.

It didn’t matter in that phone call that I thought the person should try more products. They had already been incensed by the marketing pitches, the ads, the hype, the spiel, the lines around the Apple store, and the fact that the initial reviews were all overwhelmingly positive.

Before even going into an Apple, Telstra, Optus, Virgin, or Vodafone store, they knew without a doubt that they wanted the iPhone 6, and asking for my opinion was just something to put their mind at ease. My answer wasn’t entirely relevant, or even needed.

But when you buy a phone, you shouldn’t be asking if you should get X or if I think you should get Y.

You should be asking what fits your hand, what feels good in between your digits, what sits comfortably in your pocket and looks nice in your handbag, and what feels and looks good when you hold it to the side of your face.

And pending the release of some uber-cool augmented reality system, there is only one place where you can start your search for a phone.

Go in store and find three

You can start that search in a store.

Pick a phone store, pick any phone store, because there are hundreds of the things, and are now likely outnumbering pubs in this great nation of ours.

When you pick a store for research, it doesn’t really matter which store you go to. While some phones will only be released with some carriers, most phones will work on another network, and so if you buy a phone that only Optus sells and you end up staying on Telstra or moving to Vodafone, there’s a likelihood that you can buy it outright and use it anyway.

This doesn’t always work perfectly, mind you, and extra features — such as APT700MHz for inside calling on Telstra or Voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) which isn’t available locally yet — may not be included or working. In Australia, many of the technologies are the same or similar, so as long as you buy locally or compatibly, you should be fine.

So pick a store, any store, and go inside, and find three phones.


Find three phones that match you, three phones that say “I want to pick this up every time I make a phone call and every time I make a text.”

Find three phones that scream you, that look comfortable to hold, that are fashionable for your sense of fashion, and that you won’t want to drop the moment you pick them up.

Find three phones because there are so many phones out there, narrowing it to one product seems rather silly.

And when you find them, don’t think about operating system or hardware specs. Don’t even think about price, because you can deal with that one later.

Think about the simple and most obvious thing that few people tend to think of: how it feels in your hand.