How to choose the best mobile phone
By Oli McKean
Whether you want to go budget or premium, our expert guide will help you find the best mobile phone for you.
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The best mobile phones will take the place of your camera, mean your iPod doesn’t leave your desk drawer and allow a full working day of web browsing and calls without the need for a recharge.
The latest apps will run smoothly, and the screen will mean video and pictures look great and text is clear. See below for the key things to look for when choosing a new mobile phone.
Take a look at our mobile phone Best Buys to discover the models we recommend.
How much do you need to spend for a good mobile phone?
You can spend anything from around £60 to more than £600 on a smartphone.
If you want a premium top-of-the-range phone, you’ll have to expect a dent of at least £500 in your bank account. Models in this range typically come with a large, extremely detailed and vibrant screen. Plus, they’ll have all the latest features – which can include anything from a fingerprint reader to a heart-rate monitor.
At around the £400 mark, you’ll find phones with a good screen, long battery life and a decent camera. They may not have extra swanky features – such as a fingerprint reader – and they’re more likely to have a plastic finish rather than the sleek metal casing found on pricier models.
Spend at least £100 to avoid a complete dud
Looking for a phone that can simply manage everyday tasks? You might be able to get away with spending around £200. Phones in this price range shouldn’t struggle with web browsing, running Google searches and taking phone calls – but might not be up to the task of running the latest and most demanding apps.
If you just want the cheapest option possible, we recommend you spend at least £100 to avoid ending up with a dud.
All this said, there’s no hard-and-fast link between price and quality. Indeed, we’ve found a few Best Buys that cost around £200 and less – and some models with a premium price tag offer disappointing quality.
Make sure you check out our mobile phone reviews to get the most for your money.
iOS, Android or Windows: which OS is best?
The operating system (OS) is the software that powers your phone. It dictates what the phone menu looks like, what apps it can run and how easy it is to use. There are three main contenders to choose from: iOS, Android and Windows.
All iPhones use iOS and, unlike Android, the experience of using the operating system is broadly similar whichever iPhone you buy. New updates to iOS are released each year, but some older iPhones may be able to run only older versions – for instance, only iPhones from and including the iPhone 5 can run the latest iOS 10.
If your iPhone isn’t compatible, you’ll miss out on some of the latest apps, features and security patches introduced by Apple.
- Pros It’s easy to use and quick to learn, even if you haven’t used a smartphone before. It provides access to the well-stocked Apple app store – where apps are vetted before being released so you can rest assured they’re safe to use.
- Cons Apple iPhones are expensive – the latest iPhone 7 (32GB) will set you back by around £600, while iPhone 7 Plus (32GB) costs more than £700. You’ll be able to find cheaper deals on older handsets, though. Apple iPhones also do not come with a micro-SD card slot, so you’ll need to choose the memory capacity carefully to avoid running out of space for your app, music and photo collection.
Android is designed by Google and is used by many manufacturers, from bigger brands LG and Samsung to lesser known but emerging companies such as OnePlus and Wileyfox. It looks and behaves slightly differently depending on who manufactures the phone, but the basics are essentially the same.
- Pros It’s generally easy to use and provides access to the wide variety of apps, games and entertainment available from the Google Play store. There’s a wide range of Android phones available to suit all budgets.
- Cons In the past, Android has been slightly more vulnerable to attack than Apple handsets. But that is beginning to change now, with Google putting more emphasis on vetting apps in the app store and patching security holes. Sometimes the manufacturer and network provider can be slow to release Android updates to users – for instance, some phones still haven’t received the 2015 Marshmallow version, let alone 2016's Nougat.
Windows is not as popular as Android or iOS, but it is a big player at the cheaper end of the market.
- Pros Microsoft offers a range of decent-yet-affordable Windows phones – you can pick one up for around £120. Windows phones are fully compatible with Windows laptops and computers – good for finishing tasks while on the move.
- Cons There aren’t as many apps made for Windows phones as there are for iOS and Android. That said, all the big apps such as Facebook, Google Maps and BBC News are available.
Do I need a 4G phone?
Smartphones use mobile broadband networks to keep you connected. The fastest mobile internet service is called 4G and is available in parts of the UK. To check whether you can get 4G in your area, use our coverage checker map.
Most mobile phones come with 4G as standard now, but it’s worth checking any new handset is compatible – especially with cheaper models.
What size of phone is right for me?
Smartphones are getting bigger and bigger, with the latest high-end models measuring 5.5 inches and more - including the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and iPhone 7 Plus. While bigger phones are great for watching films and browsing the web, they won’t suit everyone. Some people find them too large and awkward to hold, and would prefer a less palm-stretching model.
The only way to find out which handset size is right for you is to try holding a few in the shop. If you do want something that will slip more easily into your pocket or bag, pick a 4-5-inch phone.
What about waterproof phones?
If you have nightmares about the time you dropped your phone into the sink, immediately immersed it into a bag of rice, and spent the next 48 hours desperately hoping all would be fine - you might be tempted by a waterproof smartphone. More and more phones are claiming to be waterproof, but these are typically the pricier models on the market.
Bear in mind that some phones claim a higher waterproof level than others. For instance, Apple says the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus can survive submersion into 1 metre of water for up to 30 minutes, while Samsung says its S7 and S7 Edge still work after being plunged in 1.5 metres of water for the same amount of time.
Which mobile phone brand should I go for?
While Apple and Samsung are popular brands, they're certainly not the only options to choose from. We've tested models from the biggest brands to those that are starting to really carve their presence in the market, such as Huawei.
Click on the links below to find out about mobile phones from different brands. Brands are listed in alphabetical order.
- Alcatel mobile phone reviews
- Apple mobile phone reviews
- Blackberry mobile phone reviews
- EE mobile phone reviews
- Google mobile phone reviews
- HTC mobile phone reviews
- Huawei mobile phone reviews
- Kazam mobile phone reviews
- LG mobile phone reviews
- Microsoft mobile phone reviews
- Motorola mobile phone reviews
- Nokia mobile phone reviews
- OnePlus mobile phone reviews
- Samsung mobile phone reviews
- Sony mobile phone reviews
- Vodafone mobile phone reviews
- Wileyfox mobile phone reviews
Find the best mobile phone for you with all of our fully-tested and independent mobile phone reviews.