How to buy a smartphone: A guide for newbies

How to buy a smartphone: A guide for newbies

Summary: Believe it or not there are still a lot of folks walking around with a flip phone. These folks have never owned a smartphone, but many are feeling pressure to grab one. Here's a simple guide to catch up with the rest of us.


While it may seem that the smartphone has become ubiquitous in today's busy world, there are quite a few folks who have never owned one. I see them quite regularly while walking around the busy city. Believe it or not, there are still a lot of flip phones out there.

Smartphones 300

A caller to my favorite tech radio show, Technology Bytes on 90.1FM KPFT in Houston, got me thinking about these "flip phone" people. This particular caller has never owned a smartphone, but was feeling the urge to catch up with his peers by getting one.

His greatest concern was buying the right smartphone to ensure a good passage into the mystical age of the smartphone. He knew nothing about smartphones, as evidenced by his statement that he didn't even know if he wanted one with a physical keyboard or not. He isn't aware that very few, almost none in fact, have a physical QWERTY keyboard.

After thinking about this for a while, this guide on how to buy a smartphone for newbies is for this guy and all the other folks toting a flip phone who've asked me about getting a mysterious smartphone.

Don't overthink the purchase

First and foremost, while buying a smartphone is a seemingly daunting task, don't overthink it. The fact is, any smartphone on the market will be a giant leap over the dumb phone you are using now.

You might be tempted to turn buying a smartphone into a big research project, similar to what you would do to buy a PC, but it's not necessary. You might think you need the top-of-the-line, state-of-the-art smartphone, but you don't.

Any of the smartphones on the market will be a monumental leap over the dumb phone you are using now, so don't beat yourself up over which one you "want". Instead, go to your wireless carrier's store (or big box retailer) and see what they have and what they offer for good prices.

Almost certainly, they'll have iPhones and Android phones all over the place. They will also have Windows Phones somewhere.

As a total newbie, and there is nothing wrong with that, be aware that any of these phones will be just fine for you. No matter which phone or which platform you embrace, it will open up a world of wonder to you.

On any of the phones, you will be able to work with your email, tweet, surf the web, or most anything you currently do on your computer. Facebook addicts in particular will find the smartphone to be a joy.

Since any smartphone will do, you might as well buy a smartphone at a decent price. I feel pretty confident stating that even "cheap" smartphones will be a tremendous leap over the dumb phone you have now.

So don't agonize over shopping for your first smartphone. Look over the displays in the store and rest assured that any of the displayed smartphones will open up an entire new world. Even buying a smartphone due to its appearance is perfectly fine. Go ahead and buy one and prepare to be blown away.

Once you get familiar with your new smartphone, you will become savvy enough to get serious about shopping for your next smartphone. Detailed research will come into play then to help you make your next purchase decision. And you most certainly will continue on the path of the smartphone once you discover it actually makes your life better.

Topics: Mobility, Android, iPhone, Smartphones, Windows Phone

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  • I break it down for newbies like this

    1. Get phone that has the largest screen that fits in your hand. This has more to do with typing than anything else.
    2. What are your uses beyond it being a phone. I.E. Music, video, photographs, etc.
    3. What kind of battery life is acceptable?
    4. Do you plan to use Bluetooth?
    5. Do you plan to hook up to corporate? If so what platforms are acceptable?

    Once they answers the questions I typically point the to mid market and above devices. Starter devices seem to be buyers remorse for most users as they become more adept with smartphone usage. I never encourage people to spend more, as many mid market and up devices seem to come with pretty good teaser prices.

    Great article!
    • I do similarly

      1: Hold every phone and look for the ones that fits most comfortably in hand ( I hate touchscreen typing which is why I don't define this by screen size. )
      2: Is the phone for work or for Play? and how much of each? Durability matters more for your work phone, fun features matter more for a play phone
      3: How long between charges? will you get a second battery does having a removable battery matter?

      usually just thinking about those can eliminate the bulk of showroom floor models
    • In Addition

      Stay away from the Major Cell Phone Carriers. You don't need LTE/4G unless you are an online gaming or video streaming junky. Besides, if you are still on a "dumb phone" you are probably not living someplace where you will actually get those LTE/4G speeds anyway so don't waste your money.
      Like someone else later points out, get a big screen because you will have to use the on-screen keyboard. Another reason to get the big screen is that it s simply easier for an old fogie (if you are still on a dumb phone you are probably an old fogie) to see and use when you set the text size to very large so you can read.
      WalMart/Straight Talk to get a phone and a service plan. Any grand child can provide your tech support.
      • Stupid

        How does having a dumbphone mean not living in a 4G area? Let's see my friend has a dumb phone obviously he lives in anon4G area. But wait I have a smartphone and live in the same town and I get 4G. How can that be according to your theory?

        Straight Talk is crap. Their hones are crap. The free phones carriers give out are better than the phones Straight Talk sells for $200. Straight Talk may use the carriers' networks, but guess what, if an area is congested a carriers own services get priority over MVNOs like Straight Talk.

        By the way you say get a big screen. Guess what straight Talk doesn't sell phones with big screens.
      • Sorry to tell you this..........

        Not everyone with a non-smart phone is an old fogie. Those of us grounded in reality just prefer NOT to spend our money on outrageous data charges. Be real! If you are working for an employer like you should be, you have a computer in front of you most of the time to use on a break or lunch. Do you really want to get caught "playing on your phone" by your boss? Are you really a business owner? Your comments are offensive, and your demeanor suggests that you ARE NOT!
        And by the phone has held up longer than most of the Androids and iPhones that people have shown off. I don't consider it smart to pay the amount of money that people throw away on data plans. Or phones that have to be upgraded to keep up with the Jones'. DUH!
        Talk about suggest a location factor as opposed to the type of phone a person uses? Who do you think you are?
  • Its even simpler than that

    Just get an iPhone and be done with it. :-)
    • The iPhone doesn't "click" for someone like me.

      I have bad vision (glasses) and small (woman) hands.

      You might think that it'd be great for a man like me, but it isn't.

      The build quality's decent, but the small display and sharp edges are a deal breaker for me.

      Despite being designed for hands like mine, it hurts to hold it for longer than a minute.

      It's a carpal tunnel case waiting to happen.

      Phones like the S3/4 and the Lumia 920 are better on the palms, and easy for the eyes.

      In my case, compared to the iPhone, the two are actually usable.
    • I-Phone apps

      Tiggster79, although I would normally agree with you, my problem with the i-phone is they have not caught up with the android apps that more specifically applies to your EMT and Paramedics. I-Phone has NO apps and therefore, is not useful to many of us. If I was in any other field, then you would be correct. get the I-phone and call it a day
  • Flip phone

    My phone plugs into a digital answering machine that plugs into the wall.
    I am very techie.
    It is my job and has been since vacuum tubes.
    I could care less about smart phones but I certainly will get one eventually.
    Many people are like that.
    • some just want a phone

      One option Do not change!

      If i just want *just* a flipphone i get a flip phone. Much sturdier , can be dropped (even in water) and is much easier to use (for seniors)

      Battery life is also much better. These are not dumb phone, just much simpler!
  • I'm one of those fogies

    on $100/year pay/go who just leaped from candy bar for a $49 sale on an LG Optimus Net (Bell Canada, Gingerbread Android). It's a small marvel. I'm a fairly practical PC user, so the tech aspect was not intimidating.

    The number one functional limit to me was how little built in "internal storage" the phone has left after all the OEM kludge installed on it. It took a while to figure out a) you can move many but not all fine "apps" to the SD card, but not not get rid of the OEM stuff without a risky technique called "rooting", so c) avoid "updating" those OEM cloggers if not using them, and d) a lot of apps are redundant to mobile optimized web sites that run perfectly well from the browser without installing anything.

    I'd also caution new users to look for a removable battery and to get a big fast microSD card to handle the apps as efficiently as possible.
  • I have a flip phone

    and it does all it needs to do nothing more, nothing less..

    If that makes me dumb so be it.
    • You are not dumb..... are practical! Good for you! How will these people survive when a tower goes down? OMG! How will they survive?
  • Re:

    I generally do primary research as buying a smart phone tends to have so many choices and risk of money spent! Further help on mobile phone and mobile applications can be found at:
  • it should be simple

    it's the same as buying a computer.
    1) try some in the store or at a friend's house so you know what OS you like.
    2) read some freaking reviews. we have the internet for a reason.
    3) buy.
  • I avoid "smart" and "savvy" like the plague

    I have a Samsung flip (actually slide out) phone. It is a Tracfone. It costs me around $120.00 A YEAR to own and use. It currently does what a phone is supposed to do. Make telephone calls when needed. Receive them when I turn it on to do so. I haven't found anywhere that it doesn't work. I do not have it stuck in my ear when i'm walking around, driving, or sitting on the pot.

    It can send and receive text messages. It can also take photos and send them, but why bother?

    It has a klunky browser with limited access. If i get on it, it is by accident because it eats up calling units.

    All the hype about "smart" phones is that "savvy" marketers get dumb consumers to spend lots of bucks and fall into a hole staring at one as one TV commercial unwittingly tells us.

    Oh yes: I also have a "magic jack" which i use with my MAC computer to make calls that my landline would charge me for.
    General Ludd
    • you could make the same stupid argument about your car

      you could sell it today and walk everywhere, and save tons of money a year on gas. but that's not as practical or as fun. same for smartphones.
    • Excuse me...."Dumb Consumers"?

      just because YOU don't feel a need for a smart phone doesn't make everyone else "dumb". Having said that, most people who have flip phones may not really KNOW what they want in a smartphone (or even what they're capable of). I not only use my smartphone for calls, texting, surfing and email but also to do research, games, weather reports and myriad of other things that a flip phone just doesn't offer. The trade off, of course, is the higher cost. But that's the cost of technology. Why do you even need a flip phone? Just call people on a pay phone or at home and be "really smart".
      • I've a cell phone because pay phones were all removed.

        When I retired I dropped my cell phone because reception was so bad here. US Cellular looked at the map and let me out of the contract early because they said nothing would work. I sold the Cell One phones (Motorola Startacs, batteries, chargers, etc.) on eBay.

        That was fine but about 5 years later (2006), they had removed all of the pay phones in a nearby town where I was trying to catch up with a buddy who was all over town installing cable modems.

        I did some checking and got a tracfone - which worked great (always ran out of service time before minutes) until about 2 years ago when some people started texting a lot. I could never remember how many times to press what number to get an "s" and I needed more minutes, so I switched to a Net10 with a slide-out keyboard.

        At home, I have no cell service except a marginal one in winter (the tree leaves block it), so no need to pay $112 (only provider in range is US Cell and that's about type typical rate) for something I can't use 98% of the time.

        Besides, I have a REAL phone (landline) that always works so well and sounds so much better than any phone I've owned or tried!
    • General Ludd,

      Thank you!

      'Nuff said!