Which phone to get has become a critical question in peoples’ lives. Increasingly, through internet enabled services offered on today’s phones, Australians have come to rely on their mobile connection for everything from entertainment to timetables. Unfortunately, the rapid growth of mobile technology has created a huge array of phone options. For some, it’s created an overwhelming quantity of information. It can be hard to wade through all the facts and find the mobile phone which suits you.
The Basics Of Mobile Phones
When it comes to searching for the perfect mobile phone for your needs, there are numerous options and things you will need to consider. From brand to network and even your plan, there are a lot of decisions. This is a one-stop guide to the basic information you should know when considering purchasing your first or next mobile phone.
Mobile phone manufacturers or brands
There is certainly no shortage of companies producing quality mobile phones. Some people are brand-loyal while others focus more on what the specific phone can do for them. A quick look at some of the most-recognized mobile phone manufacturers:
- Apple: This is the technology giant in the United States started in 1976 by the late Steve Jobs. Apple is behind the famous iPhone. There are several generations of this phone, with the newest being iPhone 5c. Apple doesn’t really offer a “basic” mobile phone; they specialize in the smartphone with all of the bells and whistles.
- Samsung: This company offers a variety of mobile phone options, from a basic flip phone to a sophisticated smartphone. Samsung is present in 79 countries and boasts about $187.8 billion of revenue U.S. annually. After Apple, they’re the biggest phone company in the world.
- LG: Another company offering a variety of phones, from basic to smartphones, is LG. This company is about to release their first curved smartphone, the ‘G-Flex,’ exclusively in Australia in February 2014.
- Motorola: This is a company under Google. They offer customers the choice of a handful different smartphones. Their latest model is the Moto X, which features backs made of natural wood, including bamboo, walnut, teak and ebony.
- Sony: This tech giant also keeps their focus on smartphones – with about seven available in Australia.
- Nokia: They are most well-known now for their Lumia smartphone line, but also offer a line of phones called Nokia Asha. Nokia saw quite a dip in sales in the first three quarters of 2013. Things got so bad, they were bought by Microsoft. How the mighty have fallen. Sales numbers for the final quarter are due out January 23, 2014.
- HTC: This company has a smartphone to fit pretty much anyone’s needs with 14 different devices. HTC was founded in 1997 and designed many popular mobile phones on the market. They have been manufacturing and selling devices under their own name since 2006.
- Huawei: This company really offers something for everyone – even a phone for the rugged outdoorsman. This is the company that developed the portable Wi-Fi modem a few years back – offering it with Virgin mobile, Vodafone and Optus.
The most important features to compare for mobile phones
While choosing your specific mobile phone, you will notice there are plenty of different features you need to consider. Some may be more important to you than others. Always make sure to compare some of these important features before selecting your device.
- Screen: Many mobile phones now have touch screen capabilities, but there still a few that leave out the feature. Make sure to check if this is important to you. The screen sizes vary with each phone. If you plan to do a lot of texting, typing or watching videos, you will likely want to choose a device with a larger screen size.
- Battery: This will tell you how long you can use your phone on a single charge. Both the standby time and talk time should be provided – and these will be vastly different. If you plan to use the device a lot, especially for apps, opt for a phone with some serious battery power. Battery is tough to measure. What the phone companies say on the box often doesn’t mean a lot in real life. As a guide, battery power is measured by mAh ( mili Amp hours ) and the higher the number the better the battery.
- Size: For some, bigger is better, while others prefer a smaller mobile phone. Make sure to check the size of the entire device to see if it fits with how you intend to use it.
- Looks: The exterior appearance is important to many – whether it is sleek and slim or larger and more rugged. Many phones also offer a color option as well that you may wish to consider.
- Camera: While most mobile phones now have cameras incorporated in them, some still do not. For those that do, you will still need to make some choices. Some phones offer two cameras – one on front and back – while others just have a single camera. Also, the megapixels the camera can take can be important if you plan to use the device to take a lot of pictures. You should also take into account if the camera can just take still images or video as well.
- Software: Different phones offer different software, or programs, for you to use. Many include an Internet browser, texting capabilities and various other applications and games already installed in the device.
Mobile phone operating systems
Different mobile phones also run on different operating systems. This will determine how your phone operates and what applications you are able to access and download.
For those of you who are interested in the main operating systems for mobile phones today, there are probably three current and notable operating systems to be aware of. They’ve been developed by some of the worlds largest technology companies ; Google, Microsoft and Apple.
- Android: Google’s is the Android, an Open Source system which many others- notably Samsung and HTC– use, as well. Android recently overtook iOS in terms of global market share and is rapidly out accelerating the Apple brand, helped by a broader array of phones, many of which are significantly cheaper than their Apple equivalents.
- Apple’s iOS: Apple’s on phone software is known as iOS. It’s exclusive to Apple and their proprietary rights mean that you’ll only find it on mobile devices from the Apple company, whether that’s a tablet, a mobile phone or something in between. People find it flexible, easy to use and most of us have experience with Apple products in one way or another these days.
- Windows 8: Microsoft were last to market with their Windows Phone 8 software. Android and iOS had been in market for some time when Microsoft got their. Considering that, Windows Phone is remarkably capable. It has some innovative features, it’s easy to use, it contains some of the best elements of both Android and iOS and if you’ve used a Windows laptop or computer ( who hasn’t ) then you’re off to a good start when you boot your phone up.
Types of mobile phone
You can obviously purchase your mobile phone new, but there are other options out there that could save you some money. This can be especially helpful on the budget if you are looking to get one of the more technologically-advanced mobile phones. Sometimes the savings comes from the ability to take your phone to any service provider without having to purchase a new device.
- Second hand: This is a phone you purchase used – whether from the company or a friend, or wherever you choose. The phone is likely set for a single service provider that it must be used with.
- Unlocked: These can offer some things a locked phone cannot, including use of third-party applications not otherwise available on the device. You can take this phone to pretty much any service provider, even if that provider doesn’t offer that specific phone themselves.
- Jailbreak: This can allow you to use many more third-party applications on your phone as well. It also allows you to use other service providers. This is frowned upon and will likely void the warranty, so if something goes wrong, you will likely not get any help.
Australian Mobile Phone companies
In Australia, you have several options available to you when it comes to selecting your mobile phone company. This is different from the company that manufactures your mobile phone. This entity will provide you service for the mobile phone.
- Telstra: They are the biggest company in Australia when it comes to providing service for mobile devices. They claim the largest and fastest network in the country. Telstra also now has a presence in 15 countries worldwide.
- Virgin Mobile: The company provides service for more than 1 million customers in Australia and boasts claims of having the highest customer satisfaction rating of any service company in the country. They run on the Optus network.
- Vodafone: This is the largest telecommunications company in the world. There are nearly 7 million customers in Australia alone and they have the country’s newest 4G network.
- Optus: They are the second-largest company in Australia. They were previously Boost Mobile.
- MVNOs: This is a ‘mobile virtual network operator.’ These companies don’t have their own infrastructure, but use the network of another company to provide service to customers.
- Amaysim: This is a SIM card option for customers. Basically, you purchase a SIM card from them and put it in your mobile phone device – and then have service through them. They offer low-cost options for customers.
Mobile phone networks
Different phones and providers will offer different networks as well. They run the spectrum from basic and slow to rather fast and sophisticated. You will need to make sure to get the best network for your daily needs on your mobile phone.
- GSM: Global System for Mobile Communications is a more basic network for mobile phones. It uses a SIM card to store information, such as contacts.
- GPRS: General Packet Radio Service basically boosts 2G phones for better data capabilities.
- 3G: This is the third generation of communication networks for mobile devices. Customers can send and receive data at a rate of at least 200 Kbit/s. This is typically the minimum network to easily run a smartphone or tablet. ( More detail on 3G, below. )
- 4G/LTE: This is the fourth generation of communication networks and uses IP addresses for usage. Rates can be up to 1G/s. ( More detail on 4G, below. )
- TDD: Time-Division Duplexing means the data is being sent and received on the same channel by alternating usage. This is good for using the Internet while on the go.
- FDD: Frequency-Division Duplexing means the data being sent and the data being received are on slightly different frequencies. This may mean less interference.
- 5G: This isn’t an official network, but is what is referred to when talking about the future of mobile phone networks. It is expected to be faster and more efficient than any of the current options.
Plans for mobile phones
Once you have selected your type and brand of phone, chosen a service provider and network, you still have another major choice to make – your plan. Plans can run from very cheap, offering only the very basic in voice service, or quite expensive. You will need to decide what features you will use on a regular basis: voice, text and data usage. Once you have an idea what you expect to use, you can choose the proper plan for you.
- SIM Only or BYO: This is where you use your own phone (or one you purchase) and insert a SIM card into it to use a network. Amaysim uses this plan style for their service.
- Contracts: Many companies have you go into a contract with them – most are for two years. During this time, you agree to pay for a certain amount of usage at a set rate. You also are agreeing to stay with the company for the set amount of time. If you decide to leave the contract early, you will have to pay.
- Prepaid: There are several prepaid options out there. These services don’t require a long-term relationship or contract. You simply pay their set amount for however many minutes, text, data you want to use. When that amount is up, you no longer have service until you pay for more.
- On Account: This is kind of the best of both worlds between contracts and prepaid. You pay a monthly fee to the company for the service. Many companies using these offer unlimited plans – offering unlimited talk, text and data for a relatively affordable price. The benefit here is you can drop the company at the end of the month if you wish and pay no penalties.
If you’re a music lover
If you’re after phones for music, you’re in luck. Any modern mobile phone will come with the ability to play music files like MP3s. Things to look for, when you’re considering your options :
- Where Is Your Music Now? If it’s in iTunes, you might lean towards an Apple Phone. One fo the best bits of an Apple phone is how easy it is to transfer and listen to music on your iPhone. However, if you use a different music library or player to store and manage your music, consider Android or Windows Phones. Transferring files from your computer to an Android or Windows Phone is as simple as dragging and dropping a file in Windows File Explorer. If your music isn’t already in iTunes, trying to get your tracks on an iPhone could be tricky!
- How important is sound quality to you? Some manufacturers, notable HTC with their investment in ‘Beats Audio’ have focussed on the music experience their phone offers. With the right headphones ( often, these are offered as a Gift With Purchase – especially if you buy your phone online ) HTC devices often offer cleaner, crisper sound.
- Will you be using earphones all the time? Devices released in 2013 like the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 have louder speakers than have been available in the past. If you’re buying one of the current range of phones for music capabilities, the ability to listen to a track while you wander around a room, without having an earpiece is likely to be important to you. Using NFC, it’s even possible to connect up any number of Samsung Galaxy S4s and have each play a different part of the track ! For example, putting two next to each other and having one act as the ‘Right Speaker’ and one as the ‘Left Speaker.’ Or to have one Galaxy S4 play base notes and another play treble.
- How much music do you have? Although most current mobiles can be used as phones for music, not all of them have the necessary memory to support more than a few hundred tracks. If you have a significant music library and want to take it with you wherever you go, you might like to consider a device with either a lot of memory ( 32 GB is priobably the minimum to consider if you have a large music library. ) Better yet, products such as those in the Samsung Range have expandable memory so you can have multiple memory cards, each with it’s own content. Perhaps one for music which you use all the time and another for films if you’re going to be on a long journey ?
If you like to browse the internet
If you live your life online and flit from webpage to webpage when you’re out and about, consider the internet as one of your key buying criteria.
- How much surfing do you do? Internet and browsing capabilities are essentially what separates today’s mobile phones from those used in the 90’s and early ’00s. If you’re trying to establish which phone to get and are considering phones for internet and web browsing, why not bear these thoughts about screens in mind.
If you need a big screen
What screentype would you like ? There are 3 main competitors if you’re trying to figure out which phone to get and the screen is a major consideration for you. AMOLED, LED and Retina. This stuff isn’t nearly as technical as it might sound.
- AMOLED: This technology is used by Samsung. It provides bright, rich, colourful displays but it can be hard to see in direct sunlight.
- LED: These screens are used by companies like HTC. They’re easier to see outside and whites are crisper. However, LED screens can look ‘washed out’ in some situations, especially if they’re backlit.
- Retina: Apple’s trademarked displays are the Apple screen type. They’re somewhere between AMOLED and LCD, a good compromise in some senses but not nearly as engaging as an AMOLED screen if you’re going to be browsing the web for a significant proportion of the time you’re on your phone.
Phones that are best for Apps
Apps, or Applications are small pieces of software which solve a problem for you. It was Apple who revolutionized the market with its iPhones and the iTunes app / music store. Customers can use these facilities to install the software which makes their phone do exactly what they want it to. In no time at all, we’ve become used to it. Modern Apps are there for every purpose, literally at your fingertips to do almost literally everything for you.
- Apps for Android. Android has the largest range of applications available on the market. Android phones are ‘open’ which means anyone can write an application for them. You get range but not always the highest quality with Android apps.
- Apps for iOS : At the moment, iOS ( That’s Apple’s Phone Operating System ) have around 1m apps available in their app stores. Apple screen every app which enters their iTunes store to make sure it works well and offers a good user experience.
- Apps for Windows Phone 8. Windows 8 has fewer apps available now, although they are adding to their range quickly. This is a key deficiency for Windows phone users but the gap between the Windows App Store and its two major competitors gets smaller every day.
Do you need a 3G or a 4G phone ?
Technology advances so quickly, it’s hard to know which features are important in a phone and which have just been marketed well. Here are the key differences between 3G and 4G.
- 3G: 3G or ‘Third Generation’ data access capability has been around for several years in Australia now. For most people, 3G represents an acceptable data speed for their mobile phone but there’s no way they can be described as ‘cutting edge’ any more. Make sure you’re not paying too much for 3G Phones. Since, at the start of 2013, people started buying 4G / LTE phones, 3G has started to be seen as ‘old’ technology. As a result, 3G phones have fallen in price. In the prepaid market, they can be picked up for as little as $100 now.
- 4G phones started with the iPhone: In late 2012, led, in Australia, by the Apple iPhone 5, phone manufacturers started to release 4G or LTE devices. 4G is the latest ( 4th Generation ) mobile wireless data spurred technology. To the likes of you and me, it means fast internet on your mobile phone. Speeds users receive on their 4G Mobile are comparable to what you’re used to at home on your fixed line internet connection. 4G Phones represent relatively new technology. Australia is one of the few countries in the world to benefit from 4G network capabilities.
- Key point: If you’re buying a 3G mobile phone on a contract, it’s likely to be a 24 month term. Consider very carefully how you’re going to feel about having a 3G device in 2 years from now. Things have started to move on and it’s likely that by the end of your contract, there will be apps and services around which you can’t access because they rely on 4G
How much data do you need?
Mobile phones can do an awful lot these days. And that’s because they connect to the internet. Here’s how to work out the cheapest method of getting your mobile internet access.
- Average Data Usage for 3G phones: On 3G phones is between 500 MB and 1 GB. Most 3G Phone users know where they sit on the spectrum of data usage.
- Average data usage on 4G phones: The experience of using 4G Phones is so much smoother and slicker than 3G Phones, people find themselves using more data. Some statistics suggest that 4G Phone customers use twice as much data as their 3G counterparts. As always, the tips to avoid a large bill are the same. Make sure you know how to measure your usage, do it regularly, know how to add extra data to your plan if you need to and set your 4G Phone up to work off your home’s fixed broadband wireless router so that you’re not burning through your phone’s operator’s data allowance when you don’t need to be.
- Use a lot of data? If they use an awful lot, they know it and they probably download the operator’s Self Service Application to ensure they are managing their usage ( something everyone should do ! )
- Hardly use any? If they hardly use data at all, people tend to know that too. This group can afford to be on lower end plans.
- Everyone else: It’s people ‘in the middle’ who need to be most careful. Very often, this segment of phone users is fine on their plan for a long time but blow ( exceed ) their data cap once every few months and end up paying through the nose for it. The best advice for people shopping for 3G phones is to monitor your data usage every day. Know how much of your data allocation you’ve used and how much is left. Stop using when you get near your limit and learn how to buy a data bundle to ‘bolt on’ to your service if you really need the data and you’re close to running out. Give your telco a ring and they’ll help you figure out how to do it.
Australian mobile phone coverage
Make sure you compare the 4G phone coverage you’re going to get in the places you use your mobile.
- Use the operator sites: Each of the telcos have a section on their website to make both current 4G capabilities and planned expansion of 4G Phone reception, clear.
- Marketing of coverage: One helpful thing to be aware of is that the telcos can’t do any marketing of 4G services in areas that they don’t have 4G network coverage. If you’re looking at a billboard for 4G services, you’re in a 4G coverage area.
- Telstra’s network : Telstra has a healthy 14 million subscribers. Telstra cover 99.3% of the population with their signal. 3.2 million of their customers are 4G enabled and use the company’s 2500 x 4G base stations which cover more than 85% of the population. There are a number of questions over the company’s customer service and customer satisfaction levels, however.
- Optus’ network: Optus have 9.5 million subscribers. 1.4m of those are 4G enabled and Optus’ company target is to cover two thirds of the population by the middle of 2014 with their 4G network signal.
- Vodafone’s network: Vodafone has had a tough time of it recently. They’ve lost subscribers and some suggest that their market share has fallen to just 3 million. They’ve spent billions on upgrading their network but have never publically released either the proportion of the population they cover with 4G service or the number of their customers using it.
- Virgin Mobile’s network: There are also a number of MVNOs (Mobile virtual Network Operators) including Virgin Mobile operating in Australia. MVNOs rent access to a network owned by another company – for example, Telstra or, in Virgin’s case Optus. It’s a clever move by the company. They save money by not wasting it on network investment and focus on customer service. Which is perhaps why Virgin Mobile’s customers have been consistently more satisfied with their service than any other phone company in Australia over the last 5 years.
Tips on choosing the right plan
The best phone plans are the ones which provide great value. They give you just enough voice, SMS and data to get you through the month at a price you can afford. Here’s what to look for when you’re shopping for Australia’s best phone plans:
- A free phone: For most people, the key thing they’re looking for, when they buy a new mobile phone, is the fact that they get a ‘free’ mobile with their contract. Of course, the price of the phone is just included in what you pay. Unless you’re minted, it does help to not have to shell out the hundreds of dollars in one go, that today’s ‘Smart’ Mobile Phones cost though, and contracts help you do that.
- Predictability: The best phone plans don’t offer you any unexpected surprises. Make sure you check out the features of the plan you’re signing up to. There are some very nice features out there if you know where to look. For example, Virgin Mobile offer some of the best phone plans around. Not only do they allow you access to the Optus Mobile Network, but they let you ‘roll over’ anything that you don’t use one month, in to the next month.
- Unlimited: If you never stop talking on the phone or send a lot of texts, there are some great unlimited plans in the market. But be careful ! You might have read in the press how some operators like Kogan cut off their high end users – people who use a lot. This sort of practice gives the telco industry a bad name. Afterall, what does unlimited mean !? Amaysim have some genuinely unlimited and SMS plans ( for calls and texts within Australia ) as well as a substantial data unclusion. Check out our SIM only pages for more details. Remember though, you won’t get a free device with Amaysim.
- Excess usage: What is your cheap phone plan going to cost you overall ? Low end plans from the major operators very often come with small allocations of voice, data and texts. What looks like a budget price can end up costing you a lot more if you just blow your allocation substantially over the course of your contract. Be realistic about how much of each service you need ( voice, data, SMS. ) Remember, if you give your telco a call you can always move UP to a bigger price plan later on. It’s much harder to move down.
- Phone cost: When the profit in cheap phone plans doesn’t cover the cost of a new phone, the telcos charge you extra, each month, for your mobile. The total you end up paying for the plan and the device is often within $5 of moving to the next plan up – which has a lot more inclusions.
An introduction to the history of mobile phones
Not that many years ago, it was the humble TV which was the major contender for the honor of the life changing tech award. From inception, to development, to dominance it took just a couple of decades. But as the world got faster and the rate of change in technology increased, newer technology has been adopted faster and faster. And if we were to single out a particular piece of technology that has changed our lives the most, most people would agree, it was the mobile phone.
In some ways, the mobile phone business can be described as a square with four sides. The user, the chip manufacturer, the phone maker and the network service providers. The rapid development in mobile owes much too rapidly advancing computer technology and hardware – especially computer chips and the processing power they produce. Users have grown used to paying significant sums of money each months for mobile services that simply didn’t exist a few years ago, fueling investment by business in a never ending array of new mobile products.
Whatever generation you’re in you’ve become used to leaps in technology, especially electronics and computers. We take things for granted. Sometimes, it’s helpful to know what’s going on in the background, what circumstances contributed to the current state. It’s not always easy to see these trends when you’re experiencing the whirlwind of progress.
Here’s how we got here.
- The idea of mobile devices: Phone started with military trains in Germany around 1918 and became popularly available to the public around 1926 for first-class passengers on trains. But the mobile phones we think of today actually got their start around the 1940s. Later editions were big and bulky, expensive and only a few calls could be handled on the system at any given time.
- The first mobile phone call: The first mobile phone call was made by Martin Cooper of Motorola, USA in 1973. According to a recent study by UCN, these days, each day, more than 12 billion phone calls are made. And of course, it’s not just calls, either. There are a billion more applications than just voice being used for everything from checking where your kids are to fighting fruit with ninjas. The mobile phone has come a long way.
- The brick: Famously, phones started out huge and heavy. The initial ‘brick’ cost $4,000. But at that time, an increasingly mobile world was prepared to compromise for the privilege of being in contact when they were in a geographically different space. They paid a fortune for mobility by current standards for mobile phone hardware and calls. And the sweated as they lifted phones which weighed a kilo.
- Smartphones: The smartphone got its start in the 70’s with the idea of pairing telephones and computers. Devices that could combine the two began being sold in 1993. However, the first “official” smartphone didn’t hit shelves until 1997. Ericsson released the GS 88 “Penelope” and coined the “smart phone” term.
- BlackBerry: These days, BlackBerry users are derided and mocked. It was only a few years ago that the BlackBerry mobile phone was the must have accessory for the serious business man, the mad instant messenger teenager and the top government official. What BlackBerry gave all of them was an always on internet connection in their pocket. Internet connections allow your mobile to access the web, IP telephony High definition TV and, more recently, the benefits of cloud computing with its virtually unlimited and secure storage. Before BlackBerry, there was no ‘always on’ connection for users, they would log on to the internet by session, perform a task and then log off.
- Apple: Apple changed the nature of mobile phones by building their phone around it’s internet component, instead of it’s voice capabilities. Importantly, and, in the way Apple does, it changed the game for good by focusing on making their device usable by the average person. Apple connected the user to the internet with an intuitive interface and with what was by the standards of the time a huge screen.
- Now: Things have taken off since then and now you can do just about anything with a smartphone – from making a call to organizing your schedule, taking pictures to editing videos. The future can only hold more possibilities of faster communications, more technology and more integrated options for those on the go.
- Growth still to come: There is still growth to come. Apple are entering China and will, in effect, be giving a third of the world’s population an internet connected super computer. Phones are being joined on the Internet Of Things by sensors, cars, fridges and, well, everything else. Fortunes are being made by analyzing the trends in the data each of these technology component produce.