The rise of the mobile phone has been one of the most world-changing events of the past twenty years. Nowadays almost everyone has one and many people feel they couldn't live without one. They have evolved from simple devices for making phone-calls to multi-purpose tools with uses in every part of life. Choosing a mobile phone is, therefore, an important decision that has wide-reaching effects. Here is a guide to some of the main things to consider when buying a mobile phone.
1. Pay As You Go (PAYG) or Contract?
Although this isn't strictly a phone feature, it is an important thing to consider at the time a phone is being bought. Getting a contract with a 'free' phone allows payment to be spread over a number of months, but buying a phone outright and then using PAYG or a cheaper contract can work out much less costly in the long run.
2. Where to Buy From?
Bricks and mortar phone shops come in two main varieties: those tied to a particular network operator, and those which sell phones from a number of different operators. There are also dealers specialising in second-hand phones. Online retailers and auction sites are another good option, and can sometimes offer better prices.
3. Which Supplier or Tariff?
It is beyond the scope of this guide to make recommendations either for or against any particular mobile phone network operator, or tariff. These change day by day, and different ones are right for different people and different usage levels. The important point is that which phone to get and which tariff can be intimately linked issues. Never assume that because a particular phone is one price with one network, it will be a similar price with all the others: there can be wide variation.
4. Locked or Unlocked?
A locked mobile phone is one that can currently only be used on one network. An unlocked phone can be used on any network. Unlocked phones typically cost more than locked ones. They are more versatile: it is easy to change networks, or even use more than one sim (see 'Multiple Sims' below). Locked phones can be unlocked, though this is a specialist skill. This is legal in the UK, but illegal in some other countries, for example the United States.
5. Warranty and Insurance
As a mobile or smartphone is typically a fairly major, expensive purchase: it's not a good idea to buy one without some protection against faults, and maybe against loss or accidental damage. New phones, such as the iPhone 6s and Samsung Galaxy S7 generally come with a warranty against manufacturing faults, but used ones may have no protection at all. For this reason, it may prove to be a good idea to buy through a well-known, reputable dealer or auction site, which offers a guarantee should the phone not be as described. Consider whether mobile phone insurance might be a good idea. It tends to be quite expensive, but for people prone to losing or breaking their phones it can be a good deal. But more careful phone owners should act with caution, as they can end up subsidising the frequent losers.
Often overlooked, but absolutely vital to the experience of using the phone.
This is particularly important for people who like to watch videos on their phones, but also for those who use the Internet more generally.
This is measured in pixels per inch (PPI). The more pixels per inch, the clearer the picture. Again, this is particularly important for people who use their phones to watch videos, or who use their cameras a lot.
The processor is essentially the phone's 'brain' – the part that actually does everything it is asked to do. It follows, then, the faster the better. Nowadays, many phones are 'dual core' or even 'quad core'. This means they have more than one processor, making them even faster, and particularly good at multi-tasking.
8. Operating System
The operating system is fundamental to the experience of using the phone. The two most popular are iOS, from Apple, used for iPhones, and Android, an open source operating system owned by Google since 2005. Customers already using one of these will find there's a slight advantage to continuing to do so. Not only will the interface be relatively familiar, but they can avoid having to re-buy apps. Android apps will not work on iOS or vice versa. Otherwise, there aren't major differences between the two for most casual users.
It's not important to have a huge memory unless the phone will be used to store hundreds or thousands of songs, videos, apps or pictures, but it should be at least moderately sized, or the phone will begin to run slowly. There are three main types of memory storage:
Phones come ready equipped to store a certain amount of information, but it may not be adequate for more than some contacts and text messages.
One of the drawbacks to an iPhone is that they have no slots for memory cards. However, most other modern phones do have them. Using a card can be a useful and relatively inexpensive way to expand a phone's memory.
The most modern and versatile solution is to store music and apps not in the phone itself but online. This is great for people who want to access them on multiple devices, or share them with others. It also means that they're not lost if the phone is broken or stolen. On the other hand, it can make them difficult to access in circumstances where the Internet can't be accessed.
10. Battery Life
There's no point in having the best phone in the world if it is unusable half the time because the battery is dead. This is one of those often over-looked features that can make a huge difference.
11. Type of Keyboard
A full QWERTY keyboard, either buttons or through a touchscreen is essential for people who want to type anything but brief text messages.
12. Touchscreen: Resistive or Capacitive?
Most, though not all, modern phones have a touchscreen. Touchscreens are either 'capacitive' or 'resistive'. Resistive touchscreens, as the name suggests, work by the top layer of screen being pressed down against sensors: they rely on resistance. They often require a stylus. Capacitive touchscreens are much more responsive, and work through electrical conduction. They can be worked using a finger rather than a stylus and can respond to multiple points of pressure throughout the screen. iPhones, for example, have capacitive touchscreens.
Even people who don't think of themselves as photographers can find it helpful to have a decent quality camera on their phone. So can people who do think of themselves as photographers, and, therefore, have much better quality cameras. It's very useful to be able to take a photo whenever and wherever. Try to go for a camera that takes photos of at least 5MP.
A video camera can be a great way to capture and share memories.
A secondary camera is also a handy option. This is one that faces forward towards the user – great for videoconferencing and similar activities.
If the camera will be used to take pictures indoors or in poor light, a flash is essential.
14. Speaker Phone
This is one of those features people don't know they need until suddenly they do. Speaker phones are great for impromptu teleconferencing, and for when the user is being put on hold: it is possible to let the music play while getting on with something else.
15. Type of Sim Card
Sim cards basically come in three different sizes: mini (this is the normal sized one), micro (smaller) and nano (even smaller).
Some people use multiple sim cards: for example, one for home and one for work; one for the UK and one for abroad. Many phones have space for two sim cards, and a few have space for three.
Find Mobiles and Smartphones on eBay
To browse mobile phones, including smartphones, on eBay, start at the homepage and then go to the section for Electronics & Technology from the menu on the left. From there, go to Mobile & Home Phones and Mobile & Smart Phones. Shoppers with a particular make or model in mind can then use the left-hand menu to narrow their browsing. It's also possible to look at phones available for Auction or Buy it Now separately.
There is no 'one size fits all' answer to the question 'which mobile phone is right for me?' It pays to consider which features are essential for the individual user, and which can be compromised on.