Cellphone Features List and Buyers’ Guide

With so many phones to choose from, all seemingly similar, it is harder not easier to make a good choice these days.

New cell phones keep appearing, and these days there is a profusion of very similar seeming phones.  Some are from recognized brand names, others are from companies you’ve probably never heard of before.

But even after adjusting for major brand name phones such as Samsung and Apple probably charging a premium for their brand, there is a remaining major element of uncertainty – is a phone costing more than $1000 really any better than a phone costing less than $500?  How about a phone less than $200 – what does that omit?  Would you notice the difference between the $200 and the $1200 phone?  If so, how?

The answer to that question is of course partially subjective.   Different people place different value on different features.  The answer is also of increasing relevance because people are choosing to keep their phones longer.  Remember when most of us changed our phones every year when each new model came out?  That now seems as unnecessary as upgrading our computers and software every year, and now we are choosing a phone to last us two, three, even four years.  In such a case, it is helpful to choose a phone that is not only adequate for our present needs but which is somewhat “future-proofed” for the next several years as well.

We list below what to look for in key phone features and then provide two tables, listing dozens of phones and their features.

Specific Features to Consider

Screen Size :  There’s an unavoidable compromise between the convenience of having a reasonably small phone and the better visibility that is offered on a larger screen.  That compromise point has been shifting over the years.

When the iPhone first came out, it had what seemed to be an enormous 3.5″ screen.  Now, anything under 5″ seems small, and most phones have 6″ or larger screens.  When we wrote an earlier version of this guide in 2016 we were advocating bigger than 5″ and ideally bigger than 5.5″, and now we’d probably add half an inch to both those numbers.

In other words, you should look for screens larger than 5.5″ and probably larger than 6″.

Note that while larger screened phones need more battery power to drive the larger screen, the extra size of the phone usually allows for even more battery than is required by the larger screen, so in most cases, the larger screened phones may even have slightly longer battery life than the smaller screened phones.

Phone Size :  We show phone sizes in the supporter table but not the regular table.  Generally, there’s very little variation in phone size between brands, and it is more or less fair to say “all phones with a (particular) screen size will have a similar overall body size”.  In other words, look at the screen size for a major hint about body size.

The exception to the “all phones will be the same” is primarily to do with the screen’s aspect ratio.  A 6″ diagonal screen has very different height and width measurements if the aspect ratio is 12:9 than if it is 20:9.

It is relevant to note one other point, too.  The amount of the front of a phone which is taken up by the screen has grown over time, so now you can have a larger screen on a phone that is, itself, not necessarily any larger than an earlier model phone with more bezel around the screen.  For example, an iPhone 12 with a 6.1″ screen is actually smaller than an iPhone 8+ with a 5.5″ screen.

Screen Resolution :  To our surprise, screen resolutions haven’t increased much over the years.  But there’s a reason for that.  There comes a point where our eyes can’t distinguish more and more pixels of detail – they all blur and blend into each other.  That point depends on the distance between your eyes and the screen, and just how “sharp” your eyesight is.  For phones, it is generally thought to be somewhere in the range of about 300 dpi/ppi.  The original iPhones seemed to be very sharp with a mere 163 pixels/inch, so a bit less than 300 is okay, although a bit more is mildly better than a bit less.

The other resolution measurement is the simple count of pixels on the phone.  Most phone screens these days have 1080 pixels in the short dimension and 1920 or more pixels in the long dimension.  This is because that is the resolution used by HD video.  For that reason, you want at least that much resolution, so if you are watching video, you are not losing any picture information and quality.

We are slightly surprised no screens have appeared with a 2160×3840 resolution (the 4K video resolution standard) but we guess this is due to the pixel per inch count needing to be higher than current manufacturing allows at an affordable cost.  (If not appearing on a phone, we’d expect to see it on a larger sized tablet, but even the lovely 12.9″ screen on the largest iPad has only 2048×2732 pixels, at a modest 264 ppi density.)

Most screens around the 6″ diagonal size and around the 1080×1920 resolution will have about a 400 pixel/inch count which is more than necessary.

Don’t go below 1080×1920, and don’t go below 300 ppi..

Camera :  The evolution of cellphone cameras has been extraordinary, and now they are capable of astonishingly good quality pictures, even in difficult lighting situations.  Interestingly, their quality is not so much a result of their lens quality and pixel counts as it is of “processing” the image electronically and automatically, to correct for lens distortions and other picture problems.

In other words, you can’t compare phone cameras simply by looking at their stated megapixel counts, although if other things are more or less equal, more pixels is generally better than fewer.

The other development over the last few years has been to add multiple cameras to a phone.  This is because it is very difficult to give a phone a zoom type lens.  So instead of a single zoom lens, you might have a phone with two or three lenses, each of a different focal length, plus other lenses for maybe macro (close-up) photography or to distinguish background from foreground for effect processing, or for other creative purposes.

Are two cameras better than one?  Are three better than two?  The most cameras we’re seeing at present seems to be four – are they best of all?  The answer to all these questions is “it depends”, but in general, while more cameras might not essentially be better than fewer, they are almost never worse.

Our bottom line for cameras is to view them as being all acceptably good for casual photography, and to recognize that even the very best cellphone camera is still not as good nor as versatile as a separate dedicated camera, so if high quality is important to you, you’re better off buying a separate camera rather than seeking the best combo camera/phone unit.

Micro-SD Card :  This is close to an essential feature for most of us, and it speaks volumes about the arrogance of Apple and Google that both companies deliberately avoid allowing you to manage your own phone storage in an attempt to force you into paying more each month for their cloud storage services.

If you plan to use your phone to store lots of pictures, to take video clips, to hold a lot of music, and to store offline maps for GPS programs, you’ll probably find that you will benefit from the capability for adding/exchanging Micro-SD cards.

Dual SIM :  If you travel internationally from time to time, a dual SIM phone that allows you to simultaneously have your home country wireless provider’s SIM and associated phone number, and also a foreign SIM and phone number, both active in your phone at the same time, is a great convenience.  You have two phone numbers – your home phone number, the same as always, plus an in-country number too.

Be aware that some phones have the ability to have two cards in the phone – one must be a SIM, and the other can be either a second SIM or a Micro-SD card.  That makes for a difficult choice, because when you’re traveling, you’re more likely to want to use your Micro-SD card rather than use either expensive and/or slow cellular data services, and you’re also of course in a situation where a second SIM is valuable too.  A phone that supports both two SIMs and a Micro-SD card is best.

Another variation that is becoming increasingly common is a phone that might support an “electronic SIM” and a regular SIM too.  An electronic SIM means that instead of slipping in the little chip that gives your phone an identity and registration onto some carrier’s network, you electronically tell the carrier “this is my phone” and the carrier does it all electronically without requiring a physical SIM.

If your phone supports one eSIM and one regular SIM, we recommend you try to place your main cellular service onto the eSIM.  Every carrier supports regular SIMs, not all yet support eSIMs, so you keep your second SIM options widest if you leave the regular SIM slot open for a second service.

Connector :  Apple insists you use a unique-only-to-Apple connector for chargers and data connections.  All other companies use the international standard USB type connector, either in its micro-USB type or the more modern USB-C type connector form.

Most modern phones now use the USB-C connector.  While you probably have some investment in micro-USB accessories and chargers, it is time to make the change, and so we recommend you select a phone with the USB-C connector.

There are also different types of connection capability.  The current common “state of the art” form is version 3.1.  Some have older 2.0 which is not quite as good.  If you might want to use your phone for “clever” things such as controlling an SDR radio, and various other applications, we also suggest you consider phones that have the “On the Go” (OTG) capability in the connector too, which allows for better bidirectional sharing of data between other devices and the phone and for the phone to be either a USB controller or USB slave.

Headphone Socket :  Another Apple arrogance, this time deciding to deprive you of the ability to connect regular headphones and headset/microphones to your phone and hoping you’ll instead pay ridiculously more than you need to and buy a set of their overpriced Bluetooth headphones.

Unfortunately, some other manufacturers are now doing the same, although we’re encouraged to note that what seemed to be an unstoppable trend away from headphone sockets seems to have stalled.  Google has even started adding headphone connectors back on some of their Pixel phones.

We recommend you favor a phone with a headphone connector, unless you’re sure you’ll never use it.  Keep in mind that headphone connectors are also bi-directional, so can be used not only for headphones but for an external microphone (if you’re recording video, for example) and for assorted other devices too.

Fingerprint Sensor :  This is a convenient way of unlocking your phone, and sometimes also used instead of needing passwords by apps on your phone.

It isn’t just a gimmick, it is practical and useful.  We like the fact that it means you can unlock your phone while other people are watching, and not have them see your password.  They can copy and use a password, but not your fingerprint!

Some phones now offer facial recognition instead of, or as well as, a fingerprint sensor.  Most people we know seem to prefer the fingerprint sensor to the optical recognition.

Battery :  The earlier outrage at batteries that couldn’t be removed/replaced/swapped has largely died down, and it is now almost impossible to find any phone with a user-replaceable battery, so we no longer report on that.

We do mention both battery capacity and also battery charging.  There is only a weak correlation between battery capacity and battery life, but it at least gives you a sort of feeling for if the phone has an average or above average sized battery.

The original iPhone’s battery was a mere 1400 mAH.  Nowadays, it is not uncommon to find phones with batteries having three or more times that capacity.  A higher capacity battery benefits from a higher capacity charger so you can still charge it in a reasonably quick amount of time.  An original specification USB charger with 500mA maximum charging current can take 10 or more hours to charge one of the larger capacity batteries in modern phones.  We suggest you look for phones with 15W or higher chargers.

Some phones are now offering wireless charging.  That is, in theory, convenient; although in practice, not really as convenient as you might think.  You can use your phone normally when it has a charging cable plugged in, but when wirelessly charging, the phone needs to stay on the charging plate, limiting how much use you can get from the phone.  Additionally, wireless charging rates are currently much lower than most regular charging rates.  So we don’t see wireless charging as a “must have” feature.  Yet.

NFC :  There’s been a slow but steady trend in stores for their credit card readers to support not just swipe type credit cards with a magnetic stripe, and not just chipped cards that you insert into the reader, but also to support credit cards and phones with NFC (near field communication – formerly referred to as RFID).  This means you just lightly/briefly touch your card or phone on the reader and the data is transferred via radio signals.

This capability has become convenient and useful in phones, and we recommend you look at activating either the Apple or Android pay capabilities of your phone if it has NFC capabilities.  This is definitely a feature to seek in any new phone you buy.

5G Connectivity

Although still a very new technology, 5G is definitely the wave of the future, and particularly if you’re wanting to buy a phone that will remain useful and relevant for several years, we’d recommend you choose a 5G-capable phone now.

This is a complex topic, so we’ve written a separate article specifically about 5G phone service and frequencies.

4G Frequencies Too

We don’t report on if the phones can work internationally because all phones support all four GSM frequency bands for voice calling.

As for data, there is a profusion of different types of data service, and dozens of different frequency bands, making this difficult to summarize – even the very detailed Gsmarena.com website obscures that information but can be expanded on its listings to show it if needed.

This is definitely something to consider however, and when you’ve narrowed your phone selections down, it is helpful to then understand exactly which frequency bands they support.  Our above cited article also includes information on the 4G frequencies used by US carriers.

It is a reasonable assumption, if you’re buying a phone direct from a wireless company, that the phone will support most of the wireless company’s frequencies, but note that even phones sold through a wireless company might not support all the company’s many different frequency bands.  And if you might at some future time want to move your account to a different carrier, you should check, when buying the phone, how compatible it is with other service providers too.

How Much Storage Do You Need?

Something which is important are the internal storage capacities of the phones.  Different people have different storage requirements, and some phones are offered in multiple models with varying amounts of internal storage (for example, the latest iPhone 12 series come with three different internal capacity options – either 64/128/256GB or 128/256/512GB).

Of course, if you get a phone with Micro-SD card capabilities, the internal capacity becomes much less important.  With a Micro-SD card (these days offering you up to 512GB of extra storage at very low prices, and with 1TB cards just starting to appear, albeit at a higher price per GB)  you get to choose how much you store on the phone and how much you store on the card or cards.

The best way to work out how much storage you ‘need’ is to look at how much storage you have used on your present phone and adjust up from there, based on any additional uses you might wish to include on your new phone, now or in the future.  Keep in mind, in particular, that your new phone probably has a higher resolution camera and so each picture will take up more space than on your present phone.

On an Android phone, go to Settings and then to Storage & USB (the terms may vary slightly between phone models and OS versions) to find this.  With iOS, go to Settings and then to General and then to Storage & iCloud Usage.

Most people will find that their maximum storage needs are with photos and video, and possibly with stored music, and maybe if you have a lot of GPS map data downloaded.  But assuming you copy your photos to some other medium or to some type of cloud storage from time to time, there’s no need to have an enormous amount of space set aside for pictures (you can probably get 100 photos stored per GB of space you set aside for them).

Beware, however, that most cloud storage services do not store highest quality copies of the photos and video you take, especially if they are free services.  Even if you find it convenient to have your photos stored automatically “in the cloud” and don’t mind the lower resolution, we’d urge you to store your photos on your phone in highest resolution too.  This is easy with Micro-SD cards; if your phone shamefully doesn’t accept Micro-SD cards, you’ll need some way of regularly copying the pictures off your phone and either onto an external disk drive or onto a computer.

We suggest you consider 32GB as the minimum storage capacity for a phone that also allows Micro-SD cards, and 64GB as the minimum for phones that do not.

What Is Less Important

There are many other features that can also be compared.  We list some of them in the two tables (mainly in the special very detailed Supporter Table).

But quite a few of these features, while interesting to see, are really not very relevant or important these days.  Does anyone care if their phone weighs 6 ounces or 8 ounces?

When considering data service, don’t be blindsided into preferring a phone that can support data rates of (eg) up to 450 Mb/sec and feeling that is better than a phone that can support ‘only’ data rates of (eg) 45 Mb/sec.  The chances are that you’ll never get data rates from the wireless carriers even as fast as 45 Mb/sec let alone 450 Mb/sec, and even at 4.5 Mb/sec, the data connection will still seem amazingly fast.

If there is something else you absolutely need to know about before making a buying decision, there are several sources of information.  Obviously you can go to the manufacturer websites, and these are probably the best sources of information.  Alternatively you could go to one of the better review/comparison sites – our reigning favorite is gsmarena.com but others are almost as good.

The Very Best Phone at Present?

We provide information on 60 different phones in the table below.  There are many more phones not listed (we’ll be happy to add them, simply let us know), and it is hard to sort through them all to find one single ideal phone.

But if you limit your choices to 5G capable phones that meet all the “must have” requirements cited above, and which have a decent set of other features and capabilities too, your choices narrow drastically, and one or two in particular stand out.

Which are our current recommendations?  We share that information as a thank you to our supporters.  If you’re already a supporter, you should make sure you’re logged in, and when you are, you’ll see the added information with the purple introduction immediately below.  If you’re not logged in, or reading this via email, you need to log in on the website first.

If you’re not yet a supporter, can we ask you to consider joining.  Your support helps fund not just the operating costs of the site but also the direct costs of purchasing review items such as both these units.  Becoming a supporter is easy and access is granted automatically and instantly as soon as you’ve done so.  You can read both our phone recommendation and also the full 31 column table crammed full of data on all the phones in this article, plus lots of other supplementary material in other articles as well that is explained to you after joining.  Thank you.

SUPPORTER ONLY CONTENT

……….

END OF SUPPORTER ONLY CONTENT

Tables of Phone Data

We show you one or two tables of data, below, about a range of current and popular phones.  If you want us to add extra phones, let us know and we’ll do so if we can find good data.

We’ll occasionally update the list ourselves, too, as new phones come onto the market.

Supporters get access to a table that has a massive 31 columns of data, and a range of table management features to make it easier to focus on the data you most want.

Everyone gets access to the second simpler but still helpful table with 11 columns of data.

Same as we said above, if you’re already a supporter, you should make sure you’re logged in, and when you are, you’ll see the full table with the purple introduction immediately below.  If you’re not logged in, or reading this via email, you need to log in on the website first.

If you’re not yet a supporter, can we ask you to consider joining.  Your support helps fund not just the operating costs of the site but also the direct costs of purchasing review items such as both these units.  Becoming a supporter is easy and access is granted automatically and instantly as soon as you’ve done so.  You can read both our phone recommendation and also the full 31 column table crammed full of data on all the phones in this article, plus lots of other supplementary material in other articles as well that is explained to you after joining.  Thank you.

SUPPORTER ONLY TABLE

……….

Summary Table for Everyone

 

MakeModelScreen SizeResolutionRear CameraFront CameraNFC5GMicro SD CardHeadphone SocketBase Price
AppleSE (2nd gen)4.7"750x133412MP7MPYesNoNoNo399
AppleiPhone 84.7"750x133412MP7MPYesNoNoNo700
AppleiPhone 8+5.5"1080x19202 - 12MP7MPYesNoNoNo800
AppleiPhone XR6.1828x179212MP7MPYesNoNoNo499
AppleiPhone 116.1"828x17922 - 12MP12MPYesNoNoNo599
AppleiPhone 11 Pro5.8"1125x24363 - 12MP12MPYesNoNoNo999
AppleiPhone 11 Pro Max6.5"1242x26883 - 12MP12MPYesNoNoNo1099
AppleiPhone 12 mini5.41080x23402 - 12MP12MPYesYesNoNo699
AppleiPhone 126.11170x25322 - 12MP12MPYesYesNoNo799
AppleiPhone 12 Pro6.11170x25323 - ?12MPYesYesNoNo999
AppleiPhone 12 Pro Max6.71284x27783 - ?12MPYesYesNoNo1099
BluG9 Pro6.31080x23403 - 48MP16MPNoNoYesYes180
BluG90 Pro6.5"1080x23404 - 48MP32MPNoNoYesYes220
BluVivo X66.1"720x15202 - 13MP5MPNoYesYes110
GooglePixel 45.71080x22802 - 16MP8MPYesNoNoNo900
GooglePixel 4a5.8"1080x234012MP8MPYesNoNoYes350
GooglePixel 4a 5G6.21080x23402 - 16MP8MPYesYesNoYes500
GooglePixel 4 XL6.31440x30402 - 16MP8MPYesNoNoNo1000
GooglePixel 56.01080x23402 - 16MP8MPYesYesNoNo700
LGG7 Fit6.1"1440x312016MP8MPYesNoYesYes207
LGK315.7"720x15202 - 13MP5MPNoNoYesYes150
LGK516.5"720x15603 - 13MP13MPYesNoYesYes186
LGQ706.4"1080x23102 - 32MP16MPYesNoYesYes350
LGStylo 66.8"1080x24603 - 13MP13MPNoNoYesYes252
LGV60 ThinQ 5G6.81080x24603 - 64MP10MPYesYesYesYes500
MotoEdge6.7"1080x23403 - 64MP25MPYesNoYesYes300
MotoEdge 5G6.7"1080x23403 - 64MP25MPYesYesYesYes700
MotoG65.7"1080x21602 - 12MP8MPOptNoYesYes250
MotoG Stylus6.4"1080x23003 - 48MP16MPNoNoYesYes300
MotoOne 5G6.71080x25204 - 48MP2 - 16MPYesYesYesYes445
MotoOne Action6.3"1080x25203 - 16MP12MPYesNoYesYes325
Nokia5.36.6720x16004 - 13MP8MPYesNoYesYes176
OnePlus8 5G6.6"1080x24003 - 48MP16MPYesYesNoNo689
OnePlus8 5G6.6"1080x24003 - 48MP16MPYesYesNoNo700
OnePlus8T6.551080x24004 - 48MP16MPYesYesNoNo600
OnePlus8T+5G6.551080x24004 - 48MP16MPYesYesNoNo750
OnePlusNord N10 5G6.51080x24004 - 64MP16MPYesYesYesYes
SamsungA216.5"720x160016MP13MPYesNoYesYes250
SamsungA316.4"1080x24004 - 48MP20MPYesNoYesYes230
SamsungA516.5"1080x24004 - 48MP32MPYesNoYesYes268
SamsungA51 5G6.5"1080x24004 - 48MP32MPYesYesYesYes500
SamsungA716.7"1080x24004 - 64MP32MPYesNoYesYes350
SamsungA71 5G6.7"1080x24004 - 64MP32MPYesYesYesYes500
SamsungNote 20 5G6.71080x24003 - 64MP10MPYesYesNoNo1000
SamsungNote 20 Ultra 5G6.91440x30883 - 108MP10MPYesYesYesNo1300
SamsungS20 5G6.21440x32003 - 64MP10MPYesYesYesNo1000
SamsungS20 Plus 5G6.71440x32004 - 64MP10MPYesYesYesNo1200
SamsungS20 Ultra 5G6.91440x32004 - 108MP40MPYesYesYesNo1400
SamsungS20 FE 5G6.5"1080x24003 - 12MP32MPYesYesNo700
TCL10L6.5"1080x23404 - 48MP16MPYesNoYesYes250
TCL10 Pro6.51080x23404 - 64MP24MPYesNoYesYes450
UmidigiA7 Pro6.3"1080x23404 - 16MP16MPNoYesYes145
UmidigiA7 Pro6.3"1080x23404 - 16MP16MPNoYesYes128
UmidigiS5 Pro6.4"1080x23404 - 48MP16MPNoYesNo255
UmidigiF26.5"1080x23404 - 48MP32MPYesNoYesYes250
XiaomiMi Note 106.51080x23405 - 108MP32MPYesNoNoYes430
XiaomiRedmi Note 96.5"1080x23404 - 48MP13MPNo198
XiaomiRedmi Note 9S6.7"1080x24004 - 48MP16MPNoNoYesYes208
XiaomiRedmi Note 9S6.7"1080x24004 - 48MP16MPNoNoYesYes229
XiaomiRedmi Note 9 Pro6.7"1080x24004 - 64MP16MPYesNoYesYes240
MakeModelScreen SizeResolutionRear CameraFront CameraNFC5GMicro SD CardHeadphone SocketBase Price

 

Summary

Most modern phones have lots to love about them, and are more than adequate for most purposes.

Price should be one of the primary issues you use when choosing your new phone, but do be careful to ensure that you don’t accidentally sacrifice one of the “must have” features above in the process.

 

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