In Part 1, we listed the essential features that collectively define a smartphone. Now, we’ll dive into the details about the various types of smartphones based on their prices, screen-sizes and operating systems.
Smartphones by price range
A smartphone’s price typically depends on the brand name and the features it offers. Consequently, smartphones are categorized into entry-level, mid-range and high-end.
These are smartphones that offer nothing more than the basics and cost less than $200 for GSM unlocked versions. A typical entry-level smartphone priced less than $100 features a small screen, a single core processor, low memory, microSD slot, Wi-Fi, a VGA camera, and a plastic body. There are some cheap smartphones with 5-inch displays but they have a very low pixel density and poor viewing angles.
On the software-side, these phones usually don’t ship with the latest operating system and do not receive regular system updates from the manufacturers. This is a good option if you want a temporary phone for a rugged outdoor trip where you can’t risk taking your more expensive high-end smartphone.
Stretching your budget to over the $150 mark can get you a more powerful yet cheap smartphone. Samsung and Motorola offer more entry level options than other manufacturers, such as Apple, who mainly target the high-end market.
The mid-ranged unlocked smartphones are priced less than $450. In addition to new mid-range releases, flagships from the last couple of years are usually included in this category.
With powerful dual-core or quad-core processors and sufficient RAM, they are capable of running some of the latest apps and games smoothly. They also have enough storage for multimedia files, decent screens, good cameras and GPS function.
If you are not a techie and don’t care about the latest and greatest, these mid-ranged smartphones can save you some cash.
These are the flagship smartphones that are making headlines in today’s tech blogs and websites. They also carry a hefty price tag costing more than $600 when unlocked. On contract they are available for less than $100 to over $200 up-front, depending on the type of plan selected.
The high-end smartphones feature premium and stylish designs, sharp FHD and FHD+ displays, powerful processors, a hefty amount of RAM, plenty of internal storage, and high megapixel cameras. They’re also unveiled with the latest operating systems, and are the first to receive an update when a new software is released.
If you can’t settle for anything less than the best, then these are the smartphones to get.
Smartphones by screen size
The screen is considered the primary determinant of a phone’s size. Screen-sizes are grouped into three categories: Small, standard, and large.
Most small-sized smartphones have screens that take less than 4-inches of space and have very low resolution and ppi. These are usually found on entry-level Android or Windows smartphones, as well as older iPhone releases. Small-sized smartphones typically have low to mid-range specifications, and affordable price tags.
One exception, however, is 2016’s Apple iPhone SE. Released as an update to the iPhone 5S, the SE packs high-end hardware in a 4-inch screen-size phone. The SE is meant to please users who want a phone that’s compact and easy to carry but still as powerful as larger devices.
The size trend of smartphone screens have been sharply going upwards. Only few years back 3-inches was the norm but now the standard screen size ranges between 4.3” and 5.5” inches. Even the previously adamant Apple has succumbed to the pressure, and now has phones that are as large as their rivals.
The standard screen-size provides a great balance between the extremes and ensures that the phones never feel too big or too small, regardless of the buyer’s preferences. At the moment, the screens on nearly all the current crop of flagships are standard-size, and 5 inches is considered the ultimate sweet spot.
Large Screen (Phablet)
If you’re planning to do a lot of reading, web browsing or movie watching then the Phablets are for you. Phablets are powerful handheld devices that offer mobile phone functionality, but have screens that are nearly as large as traditional tablets. These smartphones usually have screens 5.5-inches or larger, but are still light and thin enough to fit into handbags and jacket pockets.
Tablet users who are accustomed to browsing and reading on large displays will find that Phablets are a good alternative away from home. Moreover, these devices are an ideal choice for mobile gamers who want big high-resolution screens for gaming on the go.
The current trend of flagship releases involves a standard size model and a larger version, typically identified with a “plus”, “XL” or, in Samsung’s case, an “Edge” added to the primary name. Consequently, big handsets have become just as popular as their smaller counterparts. Large smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and iPhone 7 Plus are among the best smartphones around.
Smartphones by Operating System
Android, iOS and Windows Phone are the dominant operating systems among smartphones, which means that any smartphone you buy today will likely be running one of these three platforms.
Due to Google’s open source policy, An
droid is the most widely-used mobile OS in the world, running in around 85 percent of global smartphones.
One of the most apparent features of Android is the UI. Although manufacturers have formed a habit of customizing the interface to give phones a sense of uniqueness, there are still features that remain the same. For instance, Android has three buttons at the bottom of the screen; the Back button which returns a user to the previous page, the Home button for going back to the main screen, and the Apps button which shows all the active apps.
Unlike iOS and Windows, Android puts the user in the driver’s seat, giving them the freedom to move and change icons, screens, widgets, layouts, fonts, and loads of other UI settings, which make the phone adaptable to different preferences.
Google releases a new version of Android roughly every year, which comes with new and improved features. Currently, the latest is Android 7.x Nougat, running in the most recent,high-end smartphones.
Apple’s multi-touch, multi-tasking operating system runs the tech giant’s iPhone, iPad and iPod, as well as the Apple Watch.
Compared to Android, iOS is a closed-off OS that can only be used on Apple devices. Its interface offers the basics, and only a handful of customization options. Although this might be a limitation to smartphone savvy individuals, casual users will find iOS relatively easier to navigate. Moreover, because of exemplary optimization with the hardware, the latest iPhones are among the fastest devices around, despite packing modest specifications on paper.
Followed closely by Android’s Play Store, the Apple App Store is the most populated mobile app market, offering millions of applications to devices running iOS.
Like Google, Apple unveils a new iOS version every year, followed by a series of improvements and bug fixes. Currently, the latest release is iOS 10, and it’s available to both the latest and older iPhone and iPad models, dating back to 2013.
Microsoft had virtually no say in the smartphone industry until 2010, when it released an extensively revamped version of its Windows platform for mobiles, called Windows Phone.
Windows Phone got rid of the desktop-like interface common with previous Windows-based devices, in place of a more touch-friendly tiled interface. The UI features interchangeable and removable squares and rectangles on the home screen, each belonging to an app and serving a specific purpose.
Perhaps the biggest advantage to buying a Windows-based smartphone is seamless integration with Windows desktops and laptops, where music, video, photos and documents can be synced and shared across all your Windows devices. However, despite the far Windows Phone has come, it still remains third-best, among the major mobile platforms, particularly because of inferior app optimization and a sparsely populated app store.
There you have it! The major classifications of modern smartphones. Of course, the type of device that works for you will depend on your preferences. Therefore, identify the things you want your smartphone to do for you, and decide which of the above categories will work to your complete satisfaction.
More smartphone information
- Smartphone Basics – Basic information about smartphones.
- Smartphone Hardware – Smartphone hardware fundamentals explained.