How to spend the right amount on your next phone Before you read the reviews, here’s everything you need to know about buying your next phone – and spending not a penny more than you need to. Buying a smartphone has never been a simple task, but with handsets becoming more sophisticated and powerful by the month, it’s even more important to know what you’re looking for before making your final decision. Do you want a phone with a big screen and top performance? A phone with a zoom or wide-angle camera? Or is battery life all-important? These are all questions you need to ask yourself before you purchase your next smartphone. You never know, the answers might surprise you. How Much Do You want to spend? This is the most obvious question, but deciding how much you want to spend is critical because it will dictate in large part what sort of phone you can afford to buy. If you have less than £500, don’t even think about a new flagship or an iPhone – they’re out of your reach. whether you buy on contract or SIM-free. However, that doesn’t mean you have to suffer with a sub-standard handset. Sure, you won’t get the latest, greatest features or necessarily the fastest performance. but most smartphones are pretty good these days, especially in the mid-range between £250 and £500. And some of those phones are former flagships that have fallen in price. Zoom, wide-angle and portrait cameras The main feature that separates top phones is the camera. The differences in quality are shrinking, though, so it’s features that determine what makes the best choice in your price range. A dual camera is key if you’re a keen photographer, but not all dual-camera setups do the same job. Cheaper phones with dual cameras tend to reserve the secondary shooter as a depth-mapping tool to help the camera apply background blur more accurately to portrait shots. As you move up the price scale, the secondary camera takes on extra duties. In some, it’s a black and white camera, in others it’s a zoom camera, offering usually 2x lossless telephoto images. More unusually, the secondary camera sometimes offers a wide-angle view that lets you capture sweeping landscapes or large groups of people from close up. And a few phones offer both zoom, standard and wide angle or black and white cameras. Do you record much video? Video recording is not an area many online reviews go into in much depth about. but if you record a lot of video and you want to watch that video on your big TV afterwards, it’s worth paying attention to the specifications, because this is an area where phones vary wildly. Not even the priciest smartphones all shoot smooth 60 fps 4K video fully stabilised – and even phones that do often fail at the fundamentals, struggling to lock focus without “hunting” back and forth and stepping distractingly when zooming. Only a few phones provide truly excellent all-round video modes: all the iPhones, the OnePlus 6T and the Samsung Galaxy handsets. AMOLED or IPS and do you need all those pixels? There are two types of screen found in smartphones today: AMOLED (active matrix organic light emitting diode)and IPS LCD (in-plane switching liquid crystal display). Typically, AMOLED displays deliver the best image quality. These displays have superior contrast and can provide a deeper level of black than IPS screens. It used to be the case that IPS displays countered this by offering higher peak brightness and better colour accuracy. but, these days, both Samsung and Apple’s AMOLED screens go brighter than 600cd/m2 (candela per square metre) and come with calibrated colour profiles, matching their IPS counterparts on all counts. But what about 120Hz displays, such as those found on “gaming” phones? They look great, but you shouldn’t expect universal support from games developers. Not all titles, including PUBG Mobile, support the ultra-high frame rates possible on such displays. Finally, don’t let a “low” resolution 1080p screen deter you from buying a phone. A resolution of 1″,080 x 2″,340 on even a big 6.4in screen such as the OnePlus 6T’s is still sharp enough that most people can’t tell the difference between it and higher resolution displays. Storage, expansion and Dual-sim If you’re spending a lot on your phone, you typically don’t have to worry too much about storage. Most high-end and even mid-range handsets come with at least 64GB of internal storage, which should allow you to store plenty of apps. And leave enough room to download a series or three on Netflix to binge on when you’re stuck on a plane. It’s only when you dip below the Storage, expansion £250 mark and enter the budget smartphone space that you need to start to pay attention to storage and expansion. Here, 32GB is just about enough but you will probably want to ensure you can expand that via microSD, just in case. If you opt for 16GB or below, expansion is an absolute must. Fortunately, at the low end of the smartphone spectrum, most handsets do come with expansion. If you also need dual-SIM capability, be aware that most phones offering microSD expansion and dual-SIM do so by employing a dual-purpose second slot on the SIM tray. This means you can use either a second SIM or an expansion card, but not both at the same time. Battery life This is the one thing you can’t guarantee by spending the big bucks. In fact, we’ve found in this Labs that some of the best phones for battery life are actually among the cheapest. So, what to look for? Size is the key here: most phones with a 4″,000mAh or larger battery will give you a phone that lasts all day and some way into the next. Couple a big battery with a lower resolution display and a very efficient processsor and you get the best returns. That’s why the OnePlus 6T lasted so long in our battery life tests: it uses a Snapdragon 845 and combines it with a big 3″,700mAh battery and a screen with a sensible 1080p resolution. To 3.5mm Jack or Not To 3.5mm Jack It might sound prosaic but one of the key features to pay attention to is whether the phone you’re planning to buy has a 3.5mm headphone jack especially so if you have a pair of wired headphones you treasure – because your choice of smartphone is shrinking by the month. Even OnePlus has stripped out the good old 3.5mm jack in the interests of saving space and expanding the size of the battery. Of course, you can attach an an adapter to your headphones and connect via USB-C or Apple Lightning all the same. but the small size of such adapters makes them easy to lose. We prefer the flexibility of the good old 3.5mm jack and wish manufacturers would stop removing them. Phones such as the Motorola Moto E5 Plus prove it’s possible to squeeze both into a handset that’s not too chunky. Weigh the pros and cons, and choose wisely It’s rare that a smartphone does everything absolutely brilliantly and everything you want it to, so you should make sure to decide what your priorities are before you start. You might find you don’t need to spend big bucks on a phone that does the business. Above all, it pays to know exactly Weigh the pros and what you want and to be flexible in your choice of phone. Don’t just plump for a phone from a manufacturer you know and trust; a better choice might be available elsewhere at a lower price.