You’ve decided to take the plunge in the world of Android, so many phones available with different sizes, resolutions, and many other features can be overwhelming. There is no perfect phone, but there are phones that best fit your needs. Hopefully this guide will help you understand that no 2 Android phones are created equal.
You’re a Newbie
If you’ve never owned a smartphone, I recommend asking a friend or family member to borrow an old smartphone they might have lying around. If not, check Ebay or Craigslist, starting with a used phone first is my recommendation. Chances are you don’t know what you want or what to expect. Even if you think you know which phone you want, using a phone for 30 minutes at the store compared to a month makes a big difference. I often read comments of people who bought their first Android phone and have complaints about a specific issue that could have been avoided if they would have selected a different phone. The customer is now upset and want’s to leave Android, all because they didn’t do their homework. A good example is someone who bought a Galaxy S3, which we can all agree is a great phone, they got upset that their phone didn’t have Google Now (Before it was updated to Jelly Bean). They saw a commercial on Google Now, since it’s an Android feature they expected it to have it.
The good thing about Android being your first smartphone is that you don’t know any better. I don’t mean that in a bad way, you haven’t been accustomed to a specific operating system so everything is new. This is why I stress to borrow or buy a used smartphone first. Some people may be okay with hardware buttons, later to realize soft keys are nicer after they bought a Nexus tablet. These are things that most new smartphone owners don’t pay attention to at time of purchase. They just hear their buddy bought a new HTC One and how awesome it is but don’t do their homework.
If you’re coming from an iPhone or other smartphone, you have an idea of what you like from a hardware perspective. Most importantly you understand the basic features and capabilities of a smartphone, which consist of apps, internet, email, games and multimedia. However, depending what platform you’re coming from: iOS, BlackBerry, Windows, etc people’s expectations will differ. This is where things can get complicated, although the Galaxy S4 and the HTC One both run on Android the graphical user interfaces are completely different and can be a hit or miss depending on your expectations.
Consistency VS Features
There are 2 types of Android phones, Nexus phones and carrier phones. There is a significant difference between both and I will break them down to you. A Nexus phone is a line of mobile devices in which Google works in conjunction with a OEM partner to manufacture with critical specifications. Nexus phones use stock Android GUI also known as “Vanilla” or referred to as AOSP. It’s as basic as it gets, Google is in charge of the code therefore, whenever there is an update on Android, Nexus devices are the first to receive them. Some people say that stock Android is “boring” and doesn’t have enhanced features like carrier phones. The biggest benefit is you get a consistent experience throughout.
Then we have carrier phones, these phones are manufactured by companies like Samsung, Asus, Sony, etc with carrier branding in mind. They add features on top of Android and skin the user interface to differentiate themselves from the others. These features can be a big selling point to the consumer and are marketed heavily to attract buyers, especially those from other smartphone makers. In most cases these features are intuitive however, the biggest draw back is lack of updates. Some phones will never receive an update from the time of release, this can be upsetting and has led people to root their devices and flash custom ROM’s. But that’s a whole different subject on its own, you can read more about rooting 101 here.
So What Should I buy?
If you are the type of person that always likes to have the latest and greatest software and are willing to compromise hardware features like removable battery, micro SD support, etc. I would recommend a Nexus device. If you don’t care about having the latest bells and whistles, only care for what is available now but tend to be picky on the hardware side. Perhaps you like to take pictures and want a good camera or need a specific screen size, I suggest getting a carrier phone instead. But what if you tell yourself that you want a removable battery with a great camera, one of those cool stylus pens AND the latest updates on Android.
“I thought Android was amazing, why can’t I have my cake and eat it too.”
The answer is you can, sorta. Remember when I said, people who stopped receiving updates on carrier phones would root and flash a custom ROM? Well, since Android has a huge community of developers. Luckily, most modern phones have ROM’s available that are based on stock Android (AOSP). What this means is that generally when Google releases an update, in a matter of weeks in some cases even day’s developers port over the latest version on Android to a non Nexus device. This of course requires a bit of knowledge and some basic understanding and common sense.
Bottom line, there is no perfect phone. Whether you buy one that works best for you out of the box or decide to take matter in your own hands and make lemonade out of lemons is up to you. I’ve been on both sides of the fence, owning a Galaxy S (Carrier) as my first phone to owning a Nexus 4 today. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, the question really comes down to what matters most to you, hardware or software? Just remember, you can always replace software but you can never replace hardware.