Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Smartphones: Let Your Wallet Be Your Guide

So you're looking to get a smartphone, eh? Good for you.

It's about time you joined us in the 21st century. Whether you're a journalist, a soccer mom or just a person on the go, life now requires a connectivity that's hard to get on your old Motorola Razr. Trust me, when you get past the lack of buttons and start using cool apps like Instagram and Flappy Bird, you'll be in a totally different world.

Er, but how do you get started?

If last year's smartphone model is too passé for you, you're in luck; several cellphone companies have just released their latest gadgets at the 2014 Mobile World Congress and you can be one of the first to know about them. I've reviewed three phones below based on price range, from budget to high end. So, if you don't want to shell out $200 for a phone you know your toddler will dunk in the loo, maybe  go with the cheapest. Except I've heard that some of the phones this year are waterproof. Maybe you can get a little crazy after all.

Budget: Nokia X

It's a bird, it's a plain, it's a Nokia, it's an... Android?

By Rob Lawton from Preston, United Kingdom [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Nokia X and its brothers, the X+ and the XR have made quite a stir in the mobile world with their somewhat complicated software. They're using Google, but Nokia will soon side with Microsoft, Google's arch-nemisis. What will be the result of this high-tech drama? Most likely a lot of confused customers.
If you're a previous smartphone user, it's normal to be confused. Certain brands go with certain operating systems, just like peanut butter goes with jelly. iPhones run iOs. Other phones run Android. And there's that often-unheard of group that runs Windows. Well, Nokia used to be one of them, but not anymore. They've made the switch to Android, which means that you'll be able to get your cool Android apps, albeit from the Nokia Store. But if you're a veteran Android user, beware: These are not the 'Droids you're looking for. You may find things to be unfamiliar and a little unpleasing. If you're totally new to this whole thing, then don't worry. You don't know what you're looking at anyway, so it's all good.

The operating system isn't the only thing to notice about these phones, however. The X comes with a 4 inch screen (the XR has a 5 inch) and 4 GB of memory/512MB of RAM. While the picture-taking abilities aren't fancy, its 5 megapixel rear and 2 megapixel front cameras will work in a pinch. The price will definitely catch your eye: it's only €89, or approximately $122. 

Unfortunately, you won't find this phone anywhere near the U.S. These candy-colored legos are meant for the emerging markets in places like Eastern Europe and India. But if you're doing business abroad and need a quick smartphone, the X may be an option.

High End: Samsung Galaxy 5S

The Mobile World Congress has been raving about this phone even before it was released, and everyone was waiting with baited breath to see if the leaks were true. Although a price and a specific  release date (sometime in April) haven't been announced yet, with all the nifty features this phone has to offer, I think it's safe to say that this is not a low-end phone.
By Janitors, via Flickr

To start, this phone is water-resistant. No more worrying about dropping your phone in the sink or the pool, as long as your pool is 3 feet deep. It's also plastic, so rust isn't an issue either.

Also new is the 5S's ability to recognize fingerprints on its home button. You'll now be able to lock some of your documents with your fingerprint as well as use your digits to confirm purchases on Paypal.

This is an Android phone (specifically Android 4.4 KitKat), so you'll be using Google's operating system to manage your life. It comes with something called the Download Booster, which essentially speeds up your phone by marrying Wi-Fi and LTE together into an amazing relationship. It also comes with 2GB of RAM, which will also speed things up to say the least.

Fitness lovers will appreciate this phone's heart rate-monitoring feature. You can monitor your heart rate through your fingers on the back of your phone via the S Health 3.0 app that comes with the Galaxy 5S. Just make sure you don't drop your phone while you're running.

If you love taking photos, you're in luck. The 5S's 5.1-inch full HD Super AMOLED touchscreen will give you plenty of viewing space to frame your shots and the back camera grants you a whopping 16 megapixels, which is almost as good as a Nikon D7000. The front camera has only 2.1 megapixels, but your selfies will still look beautiful. The Galaxy S5 also comes with some cool features, like a real-time HDR preview before your take your shot and a 0.3 second auto-focus.

But what about the worst thing about a smartphone? Ah yes, the battery life. The Samsung Galaxy 5S comes with a 2,800 mAh battery, meaning you'll get about 10 hours of web browsing or 12 hours of video streaming. If that's not enough for you, the "ultra power saving mode" will keep your battery alive longer, as long as you're willing to run everything in black and white and close down all unnecessary programs.

Possibly Higher End: Sony Xperia Z2

By Stephane <3 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/hetstyle/8519972698/) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

With a crisp 5.2 inch screen, 3 GB of RAM and 16GB of memory, this phone might have a tiny leg up on the Galaxy 5S in some areas. It too can handle a dip in the pool, and records video in Ultra HD or 4K resolution. It also has a 20.7 megapixel camera (which is better than some DSLRs) and has a feature called Timeshift which allows you to record slow-motion videos at 120 frames per second. You could do some serious journalism with this baby.

Did we mention the noise canceling feature that you can use with headphones? Your airline flights have just gotten that much better. Also notice the Lifelog app, which connects to several Sony wearables and can track your fitness, similar to the S5's focus on your health.

Like the Galaxy 5S, the Xperia Z2 will run on Android's latest version of KitKat. It's not a very attractive looking phone design-wise, but its HD (1080p) Triluminos display is dazzling.
Although a price hasn't been released yet, you can look for it in March (a whole month ahead of the Samsung Galaxy S5). It would probably be safe to look to the Xperia Z1 for indications of how much it might cost, but let's be honest: with that many features, this phone is an investment.

So which will you choose? These phones have just been introduced to the public, so its hard to tell whether the phone you want will become the next trend in mobile or whether it will just be one of those awkward conversation pieces you use at a bar. Either way, congrats on entering the world of the smartphone. You have arrived.

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