Smartphones have suddenly become ubiquitous in the past year or so. And today when we talk about mobile phones in general, it’s more often than not a smartphone. Call it fragmentation or a smart move to put the final nail in the feature phone coffin, Android is the primary reason why smartphones have been able to penetrate the budget level segments, making it more accessible to the masses. At the entry level segments, Android wouldn’t have been this successful if it weren’t for companies like Micromax, Karbonn, etc. who continually launch phones with “high-end” specifications but for less than half the price. It’s also because of this fact that you hear the argument crop up time and again – why spend something like Rs.30,000 on a phone when I can get roughly similar functionality and performance from phones that cost less than half that price?
If a smartphone is an investment for you, then ideally you should be looking at a use cycle of at least two years before you chuck it out for a new one. Looking at the rapid pace at which mobile hardware is advancing, most smartphones have a shelf life of about a year – and that’s if they’re lucky. The trickle of software updates start dwindling after about 6-8 months in most smartphones life cycle, unless and until it’s a highly popular phone or there are major complaints from users.
If you’re out looking for a new smartphone, then there are a couple of pointers you need to have ticked before you can start splurging. These are the bare essential features we feel you must have if you want your handset to be relevant two years from now.
A good display goes a long way
A 720p display up to five inches still gives you a good enough pixel count for sharp images and text. Depending on the size of the display you feel comfortable with, make sure that the pixel count is at least 250 ppi, if not more. Basically, anything close to 320 ppi is ideal since the human eye can’t distinguish between pixels above this. You can quickly calculate this by using DPI Calculator – all you need is the resolution and display size. There’s also such a thing as overkill. Full HD display’s will continue to dominate flagship phones as there’s no going back; however, this resolution does make sense if your screen size is about 6 to 6.8 inches, where the pixel count borders on 320. We have no doubt that such devices will arrive soon, but when they do, your display will look just as good if you keep the pixel count in mind now.
Apps, multitasking, boot times, etc. will all benefit from a decent helping of RAM. Going by today’s standards, we feel 2GB is a good place to start. The difference between 1GB and 2GB might not be very evident at the OS level, but heavy apps like games, which tend to load high-resolution textures into memory, will benefit. Windows Phone 8 is designed in such a way that it runs pretty much the same on 512MB of RAM as it does on 1GB, which is not the case for Android.
At least 16GB of on-board storage, if non-expandable
Just like a desktop PC, expanding the storage on your smartphone lets you carry along much more of your personal media files, take longer HD videos and install/move large games onto it. Unfortunately, not all phones (mostly high-end) have this feature, which means you need to think twice before you start copying data. In case you’ve set your sights on a handset without expandable storage, then make sure it’s at least 16GB. The reason for this is that the OS will easily take up around 2GB or more, leaving you with lesser usable space.
Look for either a dual-core Cortex-A9 or a quad-core Cortex-A7
Number of cores and higher speeds don’t really matter unless and until you have the right combo. Dual-core chipsets can be equally or even more powerful than quad-core chipsets. The Galaxy S3 is the perfect example of this as the US variant, powered by a dual-core Qualcomm chipset, was faster than the international version with a quad-core chipset. Finding the perfect chipset is next to impossible since there are a million possible combinations and the performance varies from app to app. However, a speedy dual-core chipset should guarantee smooth running of any future OS updates, at least for the next couple of years.
Camera is important to make better use of apps
8MP shooter, preferably with a BSI sensor
The camera has become an essential part of today’s smartphone; it’s no longer just used for that occasional picture or home video. Augmented reality apps, card scanners, OCR and face tracking for gesture support – all rely on your phone's camera. More than the megapixel count, it’s the type of sensor that matters. And looking at today’s phones, a BSI (Backside Illuminated Sensor) sensor is a good place to start. Another factor affecting the picture quality is the image processing chip added by the OEM, which can have either a positive or negative effect.
In addition to GPS, GLONASS has become increasingly popular in handsets launched this year, and we feel this will soon spread to more handsets in a couple of years. The advantage of GLONASS is faster triangulation of your position as well as re-locking your position in case you switch between apps. The advantage of having both radios in the phone is very noticeable – we feel it is very essential going ahead.
The bottom Line
There are some features like NFC and LTE that haven’t made it to the list, and this is because it’s not something that you can’t live without. NFC has been hyped for a long time now, but we’re yet to see any impactful real world use of it. LTE or 4G should gain momentum towards the end of the year, but honestly, today’s 3G speeds are good enough for most tasks, including streaming HD video.
Looking at the current market, a couple of phones that match or come close to our future-proof requirements include Apple’s iPhone 5, LG Nexus 4 and the Samsung Galaxy S4, to name a few.