Smart Smartphone Shopping This Christmas

What smartphones should you be buying this Christmas? Lukasz Porwol gives some sound advice.

Christmas is coming! What should I buy for a rebellious teenager, my better half or my dear old dad? The answer is obvious …a smartphone! And even more obvious: the iPhone!

But isn’t it far too expensive? Isn’t the Samsung Galaxy S4 actually better? And hold on a sec …Sony has the waterproof Xperia Z! They are still quite pricey and someone was telling me the Nokia Windows phones are pretty awesome. And while I’m at it, the technical slang spouted by so many salespeople doesn’t exactly help! What are they talking about?!

These and similar questions will bother thousands in the run up to Christmas. In this short article we intend to help desperate gift buyers to find the perfect solution that will not be rejected outright by their nearest and dearest. Here we won’t focus on fuzzy technical details but rather on user experience, which is what matters the most!

The first and most pressing concern when Smartphone shopping is the budget; it boils down to how much we want to invest versus what we actually expect from a smartphone in terms of functionality, style and choice.

I want something stylish and I don’t care about the money!

Here the answer is usually very typical: Apple is synonymous with style. It is rather
undeniable, especially seeing as how the brand new 5S is also available in GOLD!
It feels great in your hand. It is solid, fast, brilliant; quality all around. But if you are intent on purchasing an iPhone then stick with the 5S. Don’t waste your time for 5C; it’s like deciding to holiday in style by going out and buying a Ferrari caravan.

But style is subjective and not everybody wants to drive a Mercedes S class even if money is not a problem.

Okay, something less ostentatious please. I like to see where the money is going!

What about something stylish but more practical, sporty with a bigger screen and a decent camera? The Sony Xperia Z1 sounds like a good choice here. Sleek and lean with a gorgeous glass design, the Z1 has a huge full HD screen for watching movies while traveling. It also has great sound along with a super camera (5S level) and a waterproof and dust-proof heavy-duty body. Phew! It sounds like a right bargain when it comes to pricing (just below iPhone).

But hang on a minute – isn’t the Samsung Galaxy S4 available in the Active waterproof version as well? I cannot lie, it does and the price is almost the same. Technical parameters are also pretty close. So it comes down to a matter of taste. There’s also the (slightly older) Xperia Z, which is still a great smartphone offering at only minimally less bells and whistles than the Z1 for with significant cost saving.

Our subjective ranking here (with an analogy to the car market):

  1. iPhone 5S: Mercedes S class Gold
  2. Sony Xperia Z1: BMW 7 L
  3. Sony Xperia Z/Samsung Galaxy S4/Samsung Galaxy S4 Active: Audi A8

Come on! I need something to enter the smartphone world but I’m on a bit of a budget!

Welcome to the world of Windows Mobile! Surprised? You shouldn’t be because for decades Microsoft has helped mainstream laptop producers to supply us with midrange-priced computer systems. And this is being repeated in the mobile market with Nokia and the new range of Windows 7 and Windows 8 Phones.

If you’re being especially budget conscious and want to go the route of a secondhand phone Windows 7 is a solid option but if you’re in the market for a shiny new handset go for Windows 8. The reason is simple: Windows 8 is a more mature and much improved mobile operating system and will be increasingly supported by apps developers in the future.

The winning Windows 8 phone has got to be the Nokia Lumia 520 which can be found priced at about €90 on Pay As You Go (SIM-free it costs €110). In other words for the price of one iPhone you can buy several Lumias in colours to matching all of your outfits! Actually you don’t really need this anyway because the Lumia 520 has exchangeable covers available in yellow, blue, white and red. A real bargain! The phone itself is solid and offers plenty for the price.

So what’s the catch? Surprisingly, there are few catches. There isn’t anything bad to say aside from the absence of a flash. So no taking pictures when you’re down the local – unless somebody brings a torch! If you’re willing to upgrade to the Lumia 625 for about €150 you’ll get the flash.

Another good feature across all Windows 7 and 8 Nokia handsets that must be pointed out is the free turn-by-turn GPS navigation included; it comes with offline maps so you can navigate around the world while traveling without incurring a whopping great phone bill!

And do not be afraid of the Windows system: it is incredibly simple, handy and very fast. It actually performs better than Android and could be considered a better platform if only more apps were available.

Some general advice if you want to spend more than €250: go for midrange Android phones from Samsung, HTC or Sony (whatever matches your taste and your pocket). Nevertheless if your budget is less than that Windows is the way because Android handsets below that price tag are usually slow, relatively smaller and, in general, annoying.

Our subjective ranking here (with an analogy to the car market):

  1. Nokia Lumia 520: Volkswagen Golf VII
  2. Nokia Lumia 625: Audi A3
  3. Nokia Lumia 710 (Win 7): Volkswagen Golf V
  4. Mid-range Android handsets from Samsung, HTC or Sony: Hyundai i30

What about smartphone security?

While many people opt for smartphones with the best looks, widest range of apps or nicest pricetag, there are those of us who will shop according to how secure these handsets are when handling sensitive data such as online banking. In fact, I think we’d all like to shop and Whatsapp without the NSA spying on us!

According to many mobile security firms Apple is the clear winner here. This is down to the iPhone having the best (hardware-based) encryption systems. Windows Phone is a close second (surprise!). The bad news for the those attached to the popular Android operating system (popularity comes with a price) is that a determined hacker can enter the system in mere seconds.

Our subjective ranking here (with an analogy to the car market):

  1. iPhone: Mercedes S presidential panzer-limo
  2. Windows: Audi A6 with a good alarm
  3. Android: a Zip car (shared car)

And the overall subjective winners are:

  • Premium model: iPhone 5S
  • Silver: Sony Xperia Z1
  • Bronze: Nokia Lumia 520

Okay, now run to the shop and get what you need while there is time! Enjoy and merry Christmas!

You can follow Lukasz on Twitter @porwolluke

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