Previously, I have talked about how impossible it has become to buy a smartphone today. After jumping from phone to phone, I've finally made peace with the good and bad of what, in a few weeks will be, my new smartphone. And in this process I have realized the amount of productive time it took away from me. Why do we care about them so much? If you're a tech-enthused person like me, we probably do because we spend a considerable amount of time on it. It has become a gateway to everything we do in life -- ordering food, buying movie tickets, paying bills, ordering a cab, checking phone prices in local stores -- almost every physical activity in our life is being replaced by an app.
In the course of this journey, I've learnt a few truths that I'll put out here for the consideration of other troubled souls.
You *cannot* have everything, so learn to live with compromise
There are primary things you want from a smartphone. I wanted one that was fast and has a long battery life. Everything else is a good to have, and that's where the trouble lies. Even if you're paying good money, there's no guarantee it has *everything*. The Samsung Galaxy S5 (other than the gimmicky software features) does have truly useful additions like an Infrared blaster, water-resistance, ultra-power saving mode and USB 3.0, but is marred by a poor design. The Sony Xperia Z3 Compact looks a lot nicer and is very comfortably sized, but the phone making division might just be sold off, which leads to uncertainty in future software updates and serviceability.
My final (no really, final) choice, the upcoming Moto Turbo, is a monster on the spec-sheet but it is uncertain if it will support 4G LTE deployed by all Indian telecom operators. It is obvious that there is no best phone out there, and buying a phone today has become more about picking compromises than picking features. Because even a Rs. 10,000 smartphone practically can do almost everything a Rs. 40,000 phone will, the latter will just do it better. So start picking your compromises.
Buy the best hardware you can afford
In case you didn't know, the famous Bill Gates quote from 1981 that suggested 640K of RAM "ought to be enough for anybody", wasn't said by Bill Gates. Nonetheless, you may have heard similar notions like these about smartphones. Don't listen to them.
I cannot emphasize enough about the importance of this, which was once told to me by a good friend years ago. If you can't buy a smartphone that doesn't have the absolute latest chipset, make sure you get the closest to the best. Why? Based on personal experience of buying reasonably-priced phones with moderate hardware like the Galaxy Nexus in 2012 or the Moto X 1st Gen in 2013, I can guarantee you that the phone may feel fast on the day of purchase. But with newer OS updates and more app installs, it won't be long before the phone starts slowing down, and you're feeling the need to change.
"Thanks to aggressive players like Xiaomi, OnePlus, Yu etc, you are no longer penalized with middling hardware for not being willing to spend big money. "
The reason is simple -- newer operating systems are designed to work best with and take advantage of newer, faster hardware. Same is the story for apps. This is the age of excess, not moderation. Basically, I spent Rs. 20,000 on those two phones each in the past two years, and by the end of each year felt disappointed. I could have spent more in getting something that had the best-in-class hardware and lived today to tell a happier tale. But thanks to aggressive players like Xiaomi, OnePlus, Yu etc, you are no longer penalized with middling hardware for not being willing to spend big money.
Hardware is only one part of the story though -- great hardware can be ruined by bloated, unoptimised software. So, you'll need to be wary of past offenders whose phones over time have slowed down despite high-end hardware.
Don't just check the reviews, talk to people
A review is meant to give you a gist of what the device is like, from an expert who can share valuable information about its ups and downs. But a review is hardly the ultimate judgement, since even the best of reviewers out there will have used that product for a few weeks at most. There are things that are so minute that it may not get highlighted in the coverage, but could matter to you. For example, the Xiaomi Mi3 was an incredible phone for the price, but I would have never bought it because of one tiny flaw -- its edges are pointy and they poked my ear every time I made a phone call.
" The next best thing to do if you can't try it yourself is to question people who own one about specific doubts that the reviews didn't touch upon. You can find them on social networks if you don't personally know them. "
The most ideal thing to do would be to try the phone yourself before buying. But that is becoming increasingly difficult because the product you want to buy, in all probability, is sold exclusively online. The next best thing to do if you can't try it yourself is to question people who own one about specific doubts that the reviews didn't touch upon. You can find them on social networks if you don't personally know them.
Keep hard deadlines, or you'll never pull the trigger
As I've stated earlier, a crazy amount of productive time can be wasted as you make up your mind in buying a new smartphone. And the thing about technology is, there can be something new launched today that makes what you decided to buy yesterday seem pale. And it's not going to stop.
So, it is advisable to plan a realistic deadline for making that purchase. Many brands refresh their models once a year, it's a good idea to buy something right after it's launched (provided the price is right), and then commit to it for a fixed time. That will shield you from the emotional pain when something newer is launched. Else you're just going to keep wasting your time, like a dog that keeps chasing cars on the street.
Keep your old smartphone if you don't have a spare
One last thing right after you've bought that shiny new smartphone, don't dump your old phone just yet. If you don't have a spare, consider keeping your perfectly usable old smartphone in the drawer instead of selling it or giving it away. Think about it -- the absence of a smartphone from your life can be a big handicap. Now there are many situations when you can't use your new smartphone -- what if it gets stolen, it's malfunctioning and is out for repairs, you forget it somewhere etc. Thus, it is imperative that you have a spare smartphone handy, so you can at least get your basic apps and services running other than the ability to make phone calls. Brownie points if the phone supports the same size SIM card.