The Samsung Galaxy S23 may or may not be the right phone for you. Photo: Samsung
If you’re looking for a new smartphone, you certainly have plenty of options to choose from – but it’s not necessarily that easy to tell the differences between the dozens of glass-and-metal-and-plastic slabs out there. At the same time, certain specs and features that were once crucial are now less important, while others have become more important over the years.
This guide aims to help you choose a new smartphone that’s ready for 2023 if you don’t know where to start or what to look for to find the right phone for you. We won’t mention specific models, so the points here can be applied to any device. If you need specific recommendations, check out our guide to the best phones.
Android vs iOS
iOS shown on iPhone 14. Image: Apple
This remains a key decision, and one you may have made many years ago. We won’t do a point-by-point comparison here, but most of the most popular apps are now available on both platforms, and Google and Apple have copied many features from each other for their own mobile operating systems. In 2023, iOS remains a little more sophisticated, while Android is a little more customizable.
Of course, you’ll want an iPhone if you’re going to rely on Apple’s mobile apps – there’s an Apple Music app for Android, but not much else. Almost all of Google’s apps are now available on iOS, although one could argue that they’re slightly better integrated with the phone and with each other on Android. Messaging is of course very important, and iMessage is one of the main reasons people stick with iPhones.
Choosing a smartphone is of course not only about choosing a smartphone, because you also have to think about all the other gadgets you own: is an Apple TV 4K or a Chromecast connected to your TV? Do you have a HomePod Mini or a Nest Mini in your kitchen? Does your laptop run macOS or Windows? The answers to these questions will affect whether you choose Android or iOS.
screen and design
Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 4 is one of the few foldable options. Image: Samsung
There aren’t many variations when it comes to phone design, but there are some – and it’s worth checking out not only the aesthetics of the handsets available on the market, but also the colors they come in to match your perfect phone find. Camera bumps are an area where manufacturers still use some creativity, and it’s definitely easier to distinguish between smartphones from the back than from the front.
Unfortunately, fans of smaller devices don’t have much choice when it comes to screen sizes, as most phone displays are now around the 6-inch mark or larger. There are still a phone or two with smaller screens, but they’re rare and you might have to make compromises elsewhere. Superior OLED display technology is now used on flagship and mid-range phones, although you’ll still find LCD on budget models.
Pay attention to the screen resolution in pixels, which tells you how sharp text and images will appear on the display, and check the refresh rate, which is measured in Hertz (Hz): this gives you an indication of how smooth and smooth videos are everything will be smooth, right down to animated menus, although phone speed and memory management also play a role here. Finally, in terms of form factor, we have to consider foldable phones, although prices remain high and options remain limited for now.
The camera modules of the Google Pixel 7 cannot be overlooked. Image: Google
One of the most common uses for a phone is taking pictures and videos, and the good news is that even the cheapest phones are now pretty good at it. Paying more for a phone usually gets you bigger, sharper, and more balanced images, as well as increased optical zoom (able to zoom without loss of quality).
You see phones with the number of cameras they have on board, along with each camera’s megapixel rating (the size of the pictures they can take), pixel size (bigger pixels are better), aperture value (a smaller value means more light and more detail can be captured) and sensor size (bigger sensors mean more light capture and better shots).
These specs are all useful to know and affect photo and video quality, but the best way to really understand how good a phone’s camera is is to read reviews and watch sample shots: it’ll give you a much better idea than if you did looking at a spec sheet or believing the hype surrounding a phone manufacturer’s camera setup. That’s partly due to the post-processing algorithms that most modern phones apply to their photos. Here you can get an impression of Google, Samsung and Apple in action.
Apple promises up to 23 hours of video playback between charges on the iPhone 14 Pro. Image: Apple
We all want more battery life in our phones, and you see battery capacities in milliamp hours or mAh: the higher the number, the greater the capacity. However, there are numerous other factors to consider, including screen size and brightness, or how well optimized the phone software and its apps are.
As with camera quality, there really is no substitute for reading phone reviews to check battery life rather than believing manufacturer claims – the experiences of people who have actually used the handset should give you the best idea , how long you’re coming between charges, although a large battery capacity certainly helps.
It’s also worth checking the charging speed, measured in watts (W) – the higher the number, the faster the charging process. If you have a phone that can charge its battery in minutes instead of hours, battery life doesn’t matter as much as it’s easier and faster to charge it throughout the day.
The 2022 iPhone SE has an Apple A15 Bionic chip inside. Image: Apple
Processor speed and, to a lesser extent, available random access memory (RAM) indicate how fast a phone is. Besides the efficiency of the operating system, it determines how quickly apps load, how well multiple apps (or browser tabs) are handled simultaneously, the lag you might see in games, and so on. Then there’s internal storage, measured in gigabytes (GB), which is still important for storing apps, photos, and videos, even though most content is now streamed.
There’s an argument that the currently fastest processors offer more performance than the average user needs, but remember that the phones with these chipsets also last longer – sometimes it’s worth the extra investment if it means you have another or can continue for two years without upgrading again.
Newer processors also typically require less power, which extends battery life. Then there’s everything your phone uses artificial intelligence for – understanding your voice commands, tweaking pictures and more – which is also backed up by a more powerful processor under the hood.