If you’ve been looking around for a new phone, or keeping an eye on new releases, you’ve likely noticed there are a ton of choices. This means your ideal device is probably out there, but the process of choosing it might seem a bit overwhelming. In case you’re unsure where to start, we’ve rounded up the highest performing devices from the two major players in the mobile phone market, iPhone and Android, to narrow down your search.
Based on a Gartner poll, there were almost 400 million smartphones sold in the second quarter of 2019 alone. The most-sold brands were Samsung, Apple and Huawei, but there are ever growing numbers of other brands to choose from.
As you narrow down your wish list, it’s helpful to consider the main uses for your smart phone. Because chances are you don’t just use it for calls anymore—today’s mobile devices are a camera, casino, office, and theatre all in one. Knowing where you get the most use will help you find the option that’s best for you.
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Game on: Choosing a device that plays as hard as you do
If you’ve been smartphone gaming since the days of flip phones, you already know that mobile games have come a long way. But if you’ve never experienced smartphone gaming, you might be surprised at the number of available games and their quality. You’ll have your choice of thousands of iPhone and Android casino games, video games and puzzles to keep you entertained. The device you choose will contribute a lot to your gaming experience, so it’s important to choose a gaming-optimized phone if that’s one of your main smartphone uses.
Optimal gaming means having a phone with a large display, long battery life and good hardware to keep up with the fast-paced requirements of modern mobile games. Since mobile gaming is one of the most demanding uses of a smart phone, the best mobile gaming devices are also some of the newest, highest-quality devices across the board. Here are the top picks for game lovers:
- iPhone XS Max or iPhone XS: The XS iPhone models are the heavy-duty option in the newest line of iPhones. They have the biggest screen, at 6.5 inches, and extended battery life to keep the fun going. Apple’s draw for gamers is a lightning-fast processing speed that helps eliminate lag time in online games, where speed is crucial to a good play experience.
- Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus/10: Android-powered Samsung phones are loved by gamers for their great displays, high-power hardware and for having more expandable and customizable features than the iPhone. And if you want to take it to the next level with virtual reality gaming, Samsung delivers with VR compatibility for the most immersive gameplay ever.
- OnePlus 7 Pro: OnePlus phones are a solid contender against more popular Android models, but with a lower price tag. They’ve gained attention for their crisp display and smooth graphics, as well as a battery that will play as long as you do.
These top-of-the line gaming phones share a lot of features that make them gameplay powerhouses. But one big differentiator as you choose between numerous models is your personal preference about the operating system. Users who want a device with great configuration right out of the box, as well as a familiar and uniform interface, will appreciate the simplicity of Apple’s continuously improving line of iOS devices. But those who like to tinker with settings more will enjoy Android’s ability to customize more under-the-hood features than is possible on an iPhone.
Both phones allow some level of setting tweaking to enhance gaming. One easy change for any phone is turning on “do not disturb” mode, which keep you from being bothered by notifications while you’re immersed in a game. But if you want to get more in-depth with custom settings, only Android allows you to change graphics settings and system use settings to further enhance your phone’s power, using apps like Game Booster and GFX Tool.
And if you want to take your phone beyond the touchscreen, most models are compatible with external game controllers that mimic traditional console play, or have features that let you play on a big screen (using Chromecast on Android or AirPlay/Apple TV on iOS).
Finding the perfect device for photos and videos
Modern smartphones have revolutionized photography by making high-powered and high-quality cameras more accessible. Their lenses may be tiny, but they have some huge capabilities that weren’t even available in amateur-level digital cameras until ten years ago. Plus, taking photos and videos directly on your mobile device gives you the benefits of being able to view, edit and share on the go.
To get started, here’s a look at some of the best smartphone cameras currently available, and the key features that make them stand out.
- Google Pixel 3: Google technology is built into all Android-running phones, but this IT giant didn’t really break into the phone manufacturing elite until a few years ago. And the Pixel 3, the latest in their smartphone line, has a staggeringly good camera that isn’t matched by its Android-powered brothers. Pixel’s photos come out focused, crisp and detailed in a way that most smart phone photos fail to match. It also has superb low-light photography capabilities to give it a further leg up over competitors. And, of course running on Android meaning you get all the power and integration available for Android-powered devices.
- Huawei P30 Pro: Huawei makes great high-performance smartphones that have a solid following among Android aficionados: the brand has consistently held the third-ranking sales worldwide (Q1 2016-Q2 2019) according to Gartner research. And their superior camera technology is one of the draws: the P30 Pro has three separate shooting lenses that combine to create impressive photos. It also features super-zoom for greater versatility.
- iPhone XS (or the iPhone 8): Apple’s contributions to smartphone photography can’t be ignored. While they might not have all the features of their Android equivalents, they still take solid pictures with some cool built-in features like HDR processing and dual lenses, plus a front-facing camera that takes better selfies than any other smartphone. While the camera on the XS is a step above the 8, the two are fairly comparable, but with a significant difference in retail price. Camera buffs might be let down with Apple’s latest offerings, which don’t perform as well in low light and take lower MP photos, but casual users will appreciate the ease of use of the camera app and the consistent quality in good photo conditions.
If high-quality smartphone photography is important to you, you can either choose a phone with a great camera out of the box, or you can choose one that’s compatible with external accessories to enhance your phone’s capabilities. If your device doesn’t have a top-of-the line camera you could check out external smartphone lenses. These devices plug into or pair with your phone to boost its picture quality with a modern take on the traditional standalone digital camera. Photography leaders like Sony and Kodak have adapted their technology to work with today’s smartphones without compromising the device’s portability.
Other accessories, like mobile-friendly tripods, shutter release remotes (for taking selfies or group photos), and photo printers can take any smartphone photographer to the next level. But taking good pictures isn’t just a question of camera quality—it’s also about knowing your device’s features and knowing a few tips to make your smartphone photos look better than ever. (Check out this article for some great advice on creating Instagram-worthy shots.)
Hardware: What works hard and what can be replaced
A lot of the factors that go into choosing the right device aren’t visible to the eye, so it’s important to look at the hardware specifications of your potential new smartphone. However, these specs might be hard to decipher if you aren’t familiar with them. By starting with a phone with quality hardware, you increase your chances of getting a long useful life out of your device. Check how your device measures up in these areas:
- Processing power: A phone’s chipset is key to determining its performance. The processors, including the CPU (central processing unit) and GPU (graphics processing unit) make a difference in the speed and power of your device. Currently, one of the fastest is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845, used in phones like the Samsung Galaxy S9, OnePlus 6T and Google Pixel 3.
- Network: Many of a phone’s features are limited by the strength of their network, which is related to their built-in network capabilities. The fastest data transfer, which will result in better load times and reduced lag, is in LTE phones. If connectivity is important to you, look for the latest LTE-A devices, like the newest iPhone models.
- Storage: The capacity of a device can make or break its usability. If you download lots of apps, take lots of photos, or store music on your phone, models with less internal storage likely won’t cut it.
- Battery: Unless you want to be searching for an outlet everywhere you go, you’ll want to pay attention to battery ratings on a new smartphone if you’re a heavy user. This includes both battery capacity and fast-charge capabilities (some phones like the Honor Magic 2 can go from 0-100% in just 49 minutes). Gaming and video apps can drain a weak battery fairly quickly due to the amount of work your phone has to do to display them. If you find yourself having to plug in too often, it may be worth looking into an external battery pack or, on an older phone, replacing your battery altogether (more on that below).
When you’re buying a smartphone, you might not be thinking ahead to future repairs, but it’s good to have an idea of how repair-friendly your phone is long before something goes wrong. Due to heavy use, smartphones are susceptible to accidental damage, like cracked glass or water damage. Plus, as time goes by, you might notice decreased performance simply due to the age of your phone. You can always respond to declining performance by purchasing a new device, but there are some cases where simple repairs can extend the life of your smartphone.
- Cracked screens: A cracked screen is a deal-breaker on a mobile phone, but it’s relatively easy to repair. Phone manufacturers and retailers can replace a broken screen and make your phone like new again. Or, if you’re handy with small tools, you might want to try to do it yourself. You can find video tutorials online to get an idea of how it’s done—and to see if you’re brave enough to try on your own.
- Dead batteries: Defective batteries are another common reason for smartphone replacement, but it may be worth replacing the battery itself instead of the whole device. This is also something that can be tackled as a DIY project or done through the retailer.
- Out of space: If you’ve filled up your phone’s memory and can’t bear to part with any of your apps or photos, there may be another way. Apple relies heavily on iCloud of cloud-based storage of photos and videos, as do Android-powered phones with Google services. The Android advantage, though, is that many models, like the Galaxy S10+, let users supplement in-phone storage with a microSD card.
Depending on the age and quality of your phone, making these repairs or upgrades could be the best option.
RAM: The secret to a phone that keeps up
When you’re looking into hardware specifications, you’ll see a lot of talk about RAM and ROM. RAM, or Random Access Memory, is the key to how phones multitask and access data quickly. ROM, on the other hand, is the read-only memory that holds programs and routines (like start-up). These chips are much smaller than RAM chips, and you’ll hear more about RAM because it allows your phone to have easy access to the data needed to do computing tasks. Increased RAM means ability to multitask and perform data-heavy tasks like video replay and gaming.
While RAM doesn’t singlehandedly determine your phone’s speed, it’s a big contributor to a device’s capability. As smartphones are used for more and more intensive tasks, some brands have ramped up their RAM to get an edge on power. Here are some of the frontrunners:
- OnePlus 3: This device has an impressive 6 GB of RAM, which is more than most laptop computers. Along with its fast chipset and long battery life, that makes it one of the fastest phones for users who like to multi-task or are heavy gamers.
- Asus Zenfone 3 Deluxe: Similar to the OnePlus, the Zenfone 3 has 6 GB of RAM and a high-quality processor, including great graphics processing, making it particularly suited to demanding applications.
- iPhone XS: Currently, the highest RAM available in iPhone is in the XS family, with 4 GB of RAM. While this doesn’t stand up to the heftier Android models, it’s will still provide users with a fast gaming environment.
Even if you don’t buy a phone with heavy-hitting RAM, there are still some steps you can take to make your phone run faster. First, you can minimize the number of tasks that the RAM is responsible for by running fewer apps simultaneously. By closing out unused apps and reducing background processes, you’ll free up more of your device’s RAM for the task at hand. Similarly, freeing up storage space on your device can also make a difference in its speed, so it’s helpful to get rid of any unnecessary apps or media that may be slowing your phone’s performance.
How to say goodbye to your old phone
Once you’ve decided it’s time for a new device, you might be left wondering how you’re going to get all of your data and media onto that shiny new device. You likely will not want to start with a blank slate and will want to transfer some, if not all, of your data onto your new device. Transferring the basics, like contacts and mail accounts will help get your phone up and running without a pause. For other apps and media, the process for transferring will depend on the brand and OS of both your new and old phones. Switching between operating systems (iOS to Android and vice versa) adds an additional level of complication, but a bit of research and planning can make it relatively painless.
- Switching from iOS to iOS: If you’re upgrading to a newer iPhone, you’ll be pleased to find that Apple’s process for setting up a new phone is incredibly easy. As long as your previous iPhone was running iOS 12.4 or later, you can use iPhone migration to transfer all of your data to the new phone wirelessly. You just need to make sure you know your Apple ID and Password, and that your device is backed up. This migration not only transfers your data that’s backed up in iCloud (like data and apps), but carries over key settings like location and privacy, plus Apple features like Apple Pay and Siri assistance. Once the data has transferred, your new phone will be ready to go right away.
- Switching from Android to Android: Since there are so many different brands that run Android, there’s a lot of variation in how you’ll need to migrate to a new phone. If you’re switching between two phones of the same brand, you may be able to use a built-in app to painlessly move over all your data (available on LG, Samsung, and Google, among others). If you’re moving between two different Android-powered brands, you’ll likely have to rely on Google services to do the backup. Before switching, you’ll need to make sure that your phone is logged into your Google account. Then, you can simply access your backup settings and back up your phone’s data to Google Drive. When you move to your new phone, you’ll sign into the same Google account where you can access your backed-up information.
- Switching from iOS to Android: If you’ve decided to move from iOS to the more popular Android OS (used by around 86% of worldwide smartphone users according to Gartner), you can use an app like TouchCopy, or back up your phone to Google Drive.
- Switching from Android to iOS: iOS makes it fairly easy to move Android data and contacts to iOS, with their proprietary Move to iOS app, which will take care of most of the work for you.
When you’re switching over apps, you may find that some aren’t available on both platforms, since there are differences in the offerings between the Google Play store and the more exclusive iOS app store (based on Appfigures and Venturebeat research, Apple’s store has only 2 million apps compared to Google’s 2.5 million). For most mainstream and account-based apps, though, switching to a new phone is just a matter of signing into your account on the new device.
While there will always be a bit of an adjustment period to get used to your new device, modern smartphones are leaning toward easier out-of-the-box setup and intuitive design. iOS in particular is known for being very user-friendly. Android phones make take a little more time to get familiar with the interface, but in the end are more customizable and have a wider variety of models. Whatever route you choose to go, your new phone will be your key to an endless world of online games, media and entertainment.