Smartphones are America's new preferred computer. You can talk and text with loved ones whenever you please, have video conversations across national boundaries, capture moments in life big and small and access the collective knowledge of the entire planet, all with a little handset that slips into your purse or pocket. If you already own a smartphone, you know the power they put in your palm. If you don't, it's easy to discover how getting one transforms the way we interact with the world.
Nothing starts the day off right like the perfect song. For years, we've turned to MP3 players to get our musical fixes, but they're limited to the songs in our libraries. Not only does every smartphone have an MP3 player built in; they also let you supplement your collection with music streaming services. You can listen to a near-infinite number of songs through apps like Spotify, Pandora and iTunes Radio, often for free.
Capture Your Life
Today's smartphone cameras are almost as capable as dedicated point-and-shoot devices. Some are even more impressive. If you don't already take it for granted, you might not see the value in being able to shoot crystal-clear photos and on-the-spot video whenever you like. But when you're spending time with a loved one and suddenly wish you could capture a memory for all time, that smartphone becomes priceless.
There's an App for Everything
All smartphones come with a series of pre-installed applications to get you started. Their true power and versatility, however, are in downloadable third-party apps. Many are free, and others cost somewhere between $1 and $5, but all open up new uses you might never have thought of. Your smartphone can become a level to keep your pictures straight; an atlas of the world; a viewfinder into all the stars in the sky; or a cookbook with guides to your favorite recipes. If you can imagine it, chances are one of the hundreds of thousands of apps out there will let you do it with your smartphone.
Of course, picking the right device is no easy feat. There's a wealth of options to choose from, and if you're not a technology mastermind, some of the specifications can get overwhelming. Below, we outline what to look for as you're reading our top 10 smartphone reviews, like the Samsung Galaxy S6, the iPhone 6, and the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. Should you still have questions, check out the articles on smartphones we've put together.
Deciding to buy a smartphone is the easy part; picking one can get tough. Consider each of the attributes below when you're making your decision, and you'll find the process a lot more straightforward:
Good design is all about how a phone feels in your hand, and how well it reflects what you want to do with it. A lot of that's up to the individual – after all, if portability and ease of use are important to you, you'd choose a very different phone than if you wanted a multimedia powerhouse that can play movies on a big screen and give you great stereo sound. In general, though, the lighter a phone is, the easier it'll be to carry around and the more natural it will feel when held against your ear.
For many people, the camera is the most important part of any smartphone. If that includes you, you'll want to consider several factors. A phone's megapixel count is important – the more megapixels, the bigger and more detailed the image – but it's not the only spec you should consider. Look at each phone's aperture size, too. Larger apertures have lower F-stop numbers and let in much more light, which will give you brighter, more vibrant images.
If you're interested in taking videos with your new smartphone, look at the frame rates you'll have access to. All of the best smartphones can shoot 1080p video at 30 frames per second, but if you get a phone with a higher potential frame rate, you can shoot video and play it back in slow motion.
Having a powerful new smartphone is only fun if it will work all day long, no matter what you do with it. Bigger smartphones often have bigger batteries that help them last much longer through the day. You'll still want to get into the habit of charging your phone every night, but if you get a phone with a sizable battery, you'll be able to browse the web longer, watch more videos and listen to more music between charges.
As apps get increasingly complex, having a phone with the speed to handle them can be important. When it comes to a phone's internal components, bigger numbers are usually better, but look at our overall performance score for an at-a-glance idea of how speedy each phone is.
If you think you'll be taking lots of photos and videos and storing plenty of music on your phone, you'll need internal storage to match. Some devices, such as the iPhone, don't have expandable storage but come in versions with plenty of space built in. Other phones may have much less built-in storage, but you can buy microSD cards and plug them in to expand your drive space.
Sometimes the technology features built into a smartphone can be as important as the apps you download. Some, such as support for Bluetooth, have become commonplace. Others, such as infrared blasters that turn your phone into a remote for your TV, are only available on a few devices.
Most modern phones have near field communication chips that let you tap the phone on a scanner to make a purchase or trade information with someone. Many also have gyroscopes, compasses and accelerometers that, in tandem, can help your phone know exactly where it is and how it's oriented at any time. This can be useful for apps that track your fitness performance, help you stargaze, or otherwise respond to your movements.
Smartphones are fantastically powerful computers that travel with you wherever you go. Pretty much everyone needs a cell phone these days, even if it's just to help them in emergencies. But with the added power of smartphones, that cellular device can turn into an iPod, a camera, a library and so much more, right when you need it.