5 boring but important tips for buying phones and other gadgets

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Buying a new phone, or other techie gadget can be frustrating. There’s just so much choice, and so many options – not to mention everyone has an opinion, so as soon as you mention it you’ll get tonnes of conflicting pieces of advice. And this is even before you factor in all of the endless marketing hype.

So what’s the best way to avoid disappointment? Here’s some ideas of what to bear in mind when buying gadgets. Unfortunately, I can’t lie – this is pretty boring advice – don’t expect to have your mind blown with revelatory new ideas – I’m basically going to confirm what you were secretly thinking all along. Read on – and you should probably forward this guide to your mum, too.
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1) Market leaders are usually the best

Whilst most technology journalism is geared towards finding out things that are exciting and new, the sad truth is that for all of the experimental new concepts, and YouTube videos of previously impossible technologies, it is almost always going to be the devices that are the market leaders that are the best ones to get for most people.

This means if you’re looking for a mobile phone, you’ll almost certainly be best off with an iPhone 6. Sure, there are other phones, with bigger cameras or faster processors out there – but if you want a phone that will be guaranteed to actually work and do all of the things you need it to, then nine times out of ten, the iPhone 6 will do the job.

The same is true for other product categories too: If you pick up a HD LG or Samsung Smart TV, then it will almost certainly be a better choice than a no-name brand promising a larger screen or 4K technology or whatever. The way the market leaders maintain their positions is by making stuff that works – rather than stuff that gets by, with a piece of technology that isn’t yet mature enough jammed into it.
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2) Think about what services and other devices the gadget plugs into

Gadgets don’t just work in isolation. Whether you’re buying a Chromecast, an Xbox One or a Nokia N1 tablet, ultimately the person you’re buying for will want to use it for something. This means they might want to check their Facebook, watch Netflix or listen to Spotify, for instance. So whatever you do, make sure the gadget you’re buying will hook-up with the services that the recipient will need.

Whilst most of the big name devices have near universal support for most services (for example, Facebook is available on pretty much everything with a touchscreen), it isn’t always the case, so is worth checking. Whilst a Kindle Fire tablet might seem like a great purchase, for example – if you’re a heavy user of Google’s apps, like Google Docs and Gmail, you might be out of luck, as Google’s services aren’t available on the device.

A particularly good example of this is Windows Phone – whilst it has Microsoft’s big name brand on it, the platform is seriously lacking in available apps compared to Apple’s iOS and Android. So whilst a number of the apps you’d expect are there, there are also some glaring omissions, like YouTube.

Games consoles are especially important too. Whilst an almost identical catalogue of games may be available on both PS4 and Xbox One, the connectivity consideration here is what console does the receiver’s friends have? PS4 players can’t play online with Xbox players, and vice-versa, so would you really want to be the only Playstation owning kid where all of your friends own an Xbox?

This is especially true of more specialist services: If your loved ones subscribe to, say, Curzon on Demand for foreign films, or NHL Game Centre for Ice Hockey, then device support on these more specialist services is unsurprisingly more limited.
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3) User experience is more important than hardware

Spend enough time following the tech scene and you’ll notice that a lot of debates inevitably get bogged down in discussing hardware: Which has the higher megapixel camera, which has has the faster processor and so on. Whilst this is relevant to a point, it tends to overlook the importance of software.

In other words, whilst having a 1500 horsepower M1 Abrams tank might be a powerful machine, a 150 horsepower Ford Focus is probably a much more practical choice for the vast majority of people. In the same sense, as I said before an iPhone 6 is probably going to be a much more useful device to someone than a 10% faster non-Google certified Android handset.

There’s also a tangible difference between the two leading mobile operating systems. Don’t underestimate the user experience.

The iPhone vs Android debate is exactly the same as the Sega vs Nintendo fight of old: A means by which gadget geeks compete to post-hoc rationalise a big purchase, in order to feel like they haven’t wasted their money. But there is a difference: The iPhone offers a much more consistent, and slicker user experience – in terms of swishy animations and the like, whereas Android offers deeper customisation. Whilst this may seem a no-brainer to go to Android, the extra swish-ness of iPhone also makes for a happier experience. Obviously personal preferences will vary – and some people may prefer to have more control. You’ll have to ask yourself what you prefer.
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Pic from here.
Pic from here.
4) Unfortunately, you do get what you pay for

This is perhaps the harshest truth in this article: There really isn’t much scope for finding cheaper alternatives when it comes to technology. The most expensive devices – like the HTC One M8, Galaxy Note 4 and iPhone 6 really are the best handsets you can buy. Obviously this doesn’t count if the phone is pointlessly coated in diamonds, but in terms of the cash spent on the hardware and software, the quality of the device will usually correlate with price when other factors (such as software) remain the same.

In other words, whilst the no-name Smart TV may be £200 cheaper than the Samsung, it almost certainly won’t have the same number of apps available – nor receive as many regular updates as the Samsung. Sorry, everyone.
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5) If a feature looks like a gimmick, it is probably a gimmick

We’ve already covered this, but it bears repeating. With every new technology there’s a rush to use it in a product: Samsung is particularly notorious for this with the devices like the curved screen Galaxy Note Edge, and previously the Galaxy K, which was a full optical-zooming camera lens stuck to the back of a phone.

It isn’t the only one: Yotaphone recently unveiled the Yotaphone 2, an Android smartphone which has an e-ink display on the back (like a Kindle screen). It sounds like quite a neat idea – a way to access notifications and messages without the battery draining proper screen. But like the Samsungs above, and pretty much every device with a piece of immature technology bolted on to it for no real reason, it had something else in common: Poor reviews.

A good rule of thumb here is that if it looks like a gimmick, it probably is a gimmick – and probably not worth paying over the odds for what will almost certainly be an inferior device.
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So what conclusions can we draw from this? Whilst there will be exceptions to these rules, when buying a new gadget it is perhaps best to go with the ‘boring’ choice. In other words, if you want a phone, get an iPhone 6, if you want a games console, get a PS4, if you want to read e-books, get a Kindle, and if you want to waste your money, get a Samsung Galaxy Note Edge.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

James O’Malley
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