Use our Phone Finder to find the phone you're looking forBuying a new phone, like any big ticket item, is a mix of excitement and trepidation. At the end of the day you'll have a shiny, awesome new phone in your pocket, but there are a number of pitfalls to avoid along the way.
Here are WhistleOut's the top 5 smartphone shopping obstacles to keep in mind when buying a phone this year.
1. Signing up for Insurance
Phone store sales staff don’t have too many options for upselling customers. After you choose a phone and settle on a plan, there isn’t too much room for the old “would you like fries with that?”
Well, except for device insurance. It will probably be the last question you’re asked and it will be strongly recommended, but do you really need it?
If you look at the major carriers, the average price of insurance is about $12 per month, or $288 over the life of your plan. You will also need to pay another $150 excess if your device needs to be replaced, and a further $150 if this occurs in the first 3-months of the insurance policy — so you definitely don’t want to break your phone then.
If you're concerned that you might drop your phone and smash the screen, check out how much a screen replacement costs before signing on for insurance. It varies by model, but we find it ranges between $150 to $250 -- far cheaper than the total cost of insurance and excess fees.
At the end of the day, the choice is yours, but if you pay for insurance and don’t make a claim, the amount you pay will equal your handset repayment fees over two-years.
2. Taking sales advice as gospel
There’s something about those perky 20-somethings in phone shops that beguile us into forgetting that their job is to sell us something. They may not look like used car salesmen, but their jobs are not that different.
Recently, the WhistleOut team did a round of mystery shopping in local phone shops and from the 20 or so sales staff we spoke to, every single one of them recommended the same phone brand, and only a few offered alternatives when we asked for them.
Now, it could just be a coincidence, but there is a good chance that some, if not all, were being offered incentives for recommending specific brands or models at specific times. And really, should we expect anything else? Should these staff be any different to the salesmen who sell TVs or washing machines?
Whatever you position is, you would be wise to do a bit of research yourself and form your own opinion about a new phone before asking a shop assistant for a recommendation.
3. Confusing Megapixels with Photo Quality
As part of the same mystery shopping experience mentioned above, we asked staff in phone stores which phone has the best camera, and the default response rom the staff was to refer to the megapixel count on the in-store phone description cards.
Megapixels refer to the number of pixels captured by the image sensor in the phone’s camera. Imagine the sensor is a glass of water and the megapixels described how much water the glass can hold. It is a measurement of capacity, not quality.
Using megapixels as a guide to the quality of pictures isn’t a completely terrible idea, but it doesn’t give you the full picture (pun intended). Phone makers tend to match their best phone cameras with high megapixel sensors, but it doesn’t help you compare between the models of different manufacturers.
For example, if you were to look at the iPhone 5s and the Samsung Galaxy S5 you would notice that the Samsung has twice as many megapixels. But after comparing photos taken by both phones, you would never say the GS5 was twice as good. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to say the iPhone camera was worse at all.
Similarly, the HTC One M8 uses an image sensor with 4-megapixels, but because of HTC's Ultrapixel technology, the images taken by this camera are comparable to the 16-megapixel camera in the GS5 or the 20-megapixel camera in the Sony Xperia Z2.
4. Believing outright phones are cheaper
This is an old phone-buying myth which has been gathering steam along with the popularisation of no-contract SIM-only service providers. We’ve looked at it a couple of times, crunching the numbers over two-year periods, and we always find that it is still cheaper to buy phones on plans.
It is not necessarily better, though. No-contract plans offer you freedom to switch providers, which is a highly desirable option among phone owners. It is also cheaper each month -- so long as you can handle the pain of paying for your phone upfront. While most people will pay $60 or more for a phone on a plan, SIM-only plans tend to be about $40.
But when you add it all up, taking usage and handset repayments into account, you’re still likely to save a few hundred dollars with a phone on a plan.
5. Always buying the latest and greatest
We recently published an article talking about why the Galaxy S4 makes for an excellent, and cheaper, alternative to the newer Galaxy S5. We pointed out that while the GS5 has additional features, like water-resistance and a fingerprint scanner, it offers a very comparable user experience to the GS4, but it will cost you $300 extra, or more, over the course of a 24-month plan.
This is just one of several examples we could have chosen, with the same being true for Sony phone, HTC and even the Apple iPhone.
Again, this comes down to doing a bit of research before you shop. Do you need or want the extra features? Is there any perceptible difference in the performance of this year’s model over last year? There is something fun about owning the best, new phones, but if you want to save some money, there are plenty of viable alternatives.