With over 419.1 million smartphones sold in Q1 2012 alone, and dozens of handsets by wireless carriers from AT&T to T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon now competing for attention, interest in mobile devices has exploded.
But for shoppers who can't tell 4G LTE (super high-speed downloads) from 1080p (ultra-high-definition graphics), let alone Apple from Android, it begs an important question: What is the best smart phone of all? Ironically, the answer can be just as convoluted - it all depends on your personal needs, individual budget range, and how you plan to use the device, not to mention how often.
For sake of brevity though, several key points to keep in mind when shopping for a new smartphone include:
Screen Size and Display - Resolution, crispness and overall visual real estate varies by model, as does feature set, with some units touch- or multitouch-enabled for more intuitive usage.
Battery Life - Battery life differs by devices as well - as a rule of thumb, accept no less than 4-6 hours of talk time. Note that Internet use can seriously deplete energy stores at an even faster rate: Research online and ask around to get a sense of actual hands-on performance.
Internet Access - Questions to ask include: Does the phone offer a fully-featured Web browser? Does it support the Flash software format? What transfer speeds are offered? Will it work with online or cloud services I commonly utilize? And do you really need more bandwidth, e.g. 4G download rates (a boon for multimedia enthusiasts) if all you're doing is surfing the Web or sending emails, for which 3G speeds suffice.
QWERTY Keyboards - Some phones offer virtual on-screen touchpads for typing - others, such as BlackBerry models, physical keyboards better suited to banging out lengthy emails or writing reports. Individual preference will vary.
WiFi Connectivity - Provides high-speed wireless Internet access via hotspots so you can enjoy brisker online transfer rates. Some models may even function as portable hotspots to which you can sync up other devices, e.g. your digital camera or laptop.
GPS Support - Models with GPS navigation systems provide location-based services, so you can enjoy real-time mapping, instantly pull up directions, get in-store deals on-demand, see who's around you, or check in to locations on social networks.
Calling Plans and Coverage - Beyond asking "what is the best smart phone?" feature-wise, you'll also want to ask which handset offers the best support and coverage. Different carriers' reach varies (e.g. some offer better coverage in metropolitan than rural areas, or more widespread 4G networks), as does signal strength and practical real-world performance. When shopping around, check coverage maps, research other users' feedback online and ask friends and family who use these services to relate their own hands-on experiences. Likewise, when signing up for cell phone contracts, consider actual data and call time usage (averaging your last 6-12 months of bills to determine call time or texting needs can help) to determine your family's requirements. Texting and data plans may also be bundled or sold separately.
As for specific smart phone models, some recommended choices include:
Apple iPhone 4S - Apart from the handset's hyper-intuitive interface, ultra-crisp screen, videoconferencing capabilities and voice-controlled personal assistant Siri, it's the growingly-ubiquitous device's support for hundreds of thousands of downloadable apps that makes it a must-have for so many.
Nokia Lumia 900 - Among the most-recommended Windows Phone models, this clever gizmo's sharp-looking 4.3-inch display, 8MP digital camera and 4G LTE connectivity options combine with eye-catching design to provide an attractive all-around performer.
Samsung Galaxy S3 - Shipping June 21 in the US, this critically-acclaimed Android model offers a sizable 4.8-inch high-definition display, solid computing horsepower, slick streaming video capabilities and novel features from voice controls to high-end 3D gaming support.
Droid Razr Maxx - A boon to business owners, Motorola's most practically-minded phone offers high-speed downloads, GPS connectivity and stylish looks, but shines brightest for its 20+ hours of continuous talk time, saving you from constantly running on empty.