Wirefly's Phone Buyer's Guide

by Scott Lewis on September 30, 2013

Are you thinking about buying a new smartphone or cell phone on your current carrier or perhaps moving to a new phone with a different carrier? If you're shopping for a new phone from a leading wireless carrier like Verizon Wireless, Sprint, or T-Mobile, Wirefly has an incredible selection from which to choose. With so many phones to choose from your biggest challenge may be narrowing the choice down to the right phone for you. 

Here's where our Wirefly Buyers Guide can help as we take you through various steps that include the selection of the right carrier, the cell phone or smartphone that is uniquely right for you, and of course the right phone plan and data plan that is right for you and your wireless budget.

Step 1: Selecting A Smartphones or Cell Phones From Leading Carriers

Wirefly features smartphones and cell phones from Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and T-Mobile. Each carrier delivers on every wireless consumer's need for speed with powerful and ever-expanding 4G Networks.

Some of the key criteria when shopping for your wireless carrier might include such factors as the range of plan options that match up with your needs and your budget, coverage areas with a special focus on 4G coverage - which can be up to 10 times faster than 3G - as well as the focus the carrier puts on the customer service experience.  On this last point conversations with friends, family, and co-workers about the carrier they use can carry some weight as can consumer review publications and - since you're taking advantage of the ease and 24/7 convenience of Wirefly online right now - you might also consider taking advantage of various social media venues like Facebook or Twitter where we have a presence to see what others are saying about the wireless carrier(s) you're considering.

Step 2: Choosing The Phone That's Right For You

Once you have selected the right carrier, you'll choose either a cell phone or a smartphone from our deep inventory of phones. You'll need to first determine how your new phone will best serve your own unique wireless needs. What do we mean by that? Well let's start with a self-assessment with questions that help you determine your preferences for that new phone and might go something like this:

  • Do I just use the phone in case of emergency or to call for directions if I get lost on the way to an appointment?
  • Am I a self-described technophile who is an early-adopter of consumer electronics in all their forms? I never want to be any further away from the Web than the comfort and convenience of my smartphone!
  • I'm a text message fanatic! I'd rather text than talk any day!
  • I'm a photography enthusiast: I want to be able to capture great images anywhere and rely on the two-in-one convenience of a smartphone with high quality camera and video capability.


So - first things first - will it be a cell phone or a smartphone? If you use your phone for talk and text messages, and you don't have an interest in Web browsing from your phone, and just basically see your phone as a wireless communications device, then the added expense of paying for the necessity of a data plan that goes along with a smartphone purchase doesn't really make much sense. While we typically break mobile phones into two separate and distinct categories - cell phones and smartphones - another term you should be aware of is feature phone. Think of a feature phone as smartphone 'light'. It is a phone that has certain features like a stylish touch screen, perhaps a slider design that accommodates the needs of a text messaging fan, a camera and may feature music capabilities that let you put that old iPod in the drawer forever. The feature phone has that extra special something and doesn't require the additional cost of a monthly data plan and can be your happy medium between the costs associated with pricier smartphone data plans and a practical but style and feature-deprived cell phone segment.

Step 3: Choosing A Smartphone Operating System: Android, Windows, or BlackBerry?

If you've decided you need a smartphone, we need ok at one of the most obvious elements of your new smartphone: the operating system or 'OS'. It's actually so ubiquitous that consumers and those within the industry often use slang terms to describe phones in a carrier's lineup: Android phone or Windows phone.

By far the leading operating system on smartphones, Android has had a number of updates over the course of its history. The folks at Google have assigned names like Ice Cream Sandwich, Jelly Bean, and KitKat amongst other names to describe the different updates to the Android OS. Most phone manufacturers lay a skin or user interface over a version of Android to add specialized function they believe user want and need on their next phone. All Android smartphones are customizable thanks to widgets and apps from Google Play, the Android app store featuring hundreds of thousands of free and paid apps.

The Windows Phone operating system offers a more consistent look and feel across manufacturing partners in part because Microsoft believes its 'live tile' approach offers a simpler, more intuitive user experience.  With information available at your fingertips without having to open an app, you can easily stay up to date with email, calendar events, and social media updates.  Like Android phones, Windows smartphones can be personalized with apps, games and pictures.

The population that buys a BlackBerry smartphone do so because they love their world-famous email capability. Recently, BlackBerry has made vast improvements to the web browsing experience, support, and expanding its own app market selection.

Step 4: Network Speed And Battery Life

In terms of importance, the speed at which a phone communicates with the network is likely second only to its operating system. Because it is so important, it's not at all unusual to see a phone incorporate the term 4G in its name to ensure potential consumers know it's lightning fast. Smartphones coming to market today are all about 4G Network speed in that your new smartphone will likely feature the ability to utilize an advanced wireless network that may be called 4G LTE, 4G HSPA+ or WiMaxx depending on the carrier. With speeds that can outpace 3G by as much as 10 times, you'll want to ready for the future of wireless by going with a 4G smartphone. Before purchasing your new phone, be sure to confirm the network coverage and expected data speeds in the area you plan to use your new phone most.

With all of the advanced capabilities and multiple functions running at the same time on todays advanced smartphones, battery life is almost as important as network speed and OS. A phone's standby time and talk time are two measurements you may want to take into account when selecting a new phone. You will want to make a decision based on how you use your wireless device and your past positive or negative experiences with charging your phone's battery. Standby time and talk time are two specific terms for a phone that is turned on and in use: standby time is defined by the maximum amount of time, measured in days, a phone is fully charged, turned on, and ready to receive voice, text, or email messages. Talk time, measured in hours, refers to your phone in active use, be it you chatting on the phone or surfing the Web.

Step 5: Slide-out QWERTY, Candybar, or Flip Phone

We revisit your self-assessment about how you'll be using your new smartphone to help decide what design is right for you. Some high volume texting fans might feel that a physical QWERTY keyboard is a non-negotiable item. Photography aficionados may have a recent smartphone release that has both a high megapixel count and minimal shutter lag-time to capture better action shots. With a two-year commitment to a phone in the offing, your self-awareness about how you want to use your new phone will go a long way towards ensuring your satisfaction with your choice.

Step 6: Screen style And Size

With the exception of a power button and the volume control, you'll control the majority of your phone's capabilities from the touch screen on your phone. You'll have the option of typing out a text messages, watching a video, or playing a game on your phone with the phone held in either a vertical or horizontal position.

As you might expect, there is no one standard size for a touch screen on a phone. They come in a variety of sizes with options from standard to high-definition resolution. The larger the display and the higher the resolution, the more expensive the phone normally is.

Step 7: Purchase And Enjoy

With the selection of phone narrowed down to ones that are tailored to the way you want to use it, it is time to pick one and place an order.  However, if you still have questions about the phones remaining on your short list, you can use the written product reviews here on the Wirefly Buzz blog to learn more about each phone.  In the video review section of the Buzz blog you will find educational and comparison videos that might also help you select the perfect phones.  After you receive your new phone, make sure to give it a chance before you pass judgment.  It normally takes about two to three weeks to get comfortable using a new phone.