Choose the right mobile phone
What do you want most out of a phone?
Being able to wirelessly swap photos with friends, check Facebook while waiting at a bus stop, or read news sites while having a brew at your local coffee shop -- all reasons why we love today's uber-connected phones. But it can be easy to get confused about all the different connectivity options on offer. Do you need 3G or 4G, and is NFC important?
The usefulness of Bluetooth Pretty much all mobile phones on the market today have Bluetooth onboard. Originally developed by Swedish company Ericsson, Bluetooth is a low-powered wireless technology that's primarily used to link wireless headsets and headphones as well as in-car speaker phone kits to your handset. Bluetooth can also be used to transfer contacts, photos and other data between phones that are within range of each other. If you're buying a smart phone, it will almost certainly have Bluetooth onboard.
Wi-Fi and creating your own hotspot Wi-Fi is another technology that's pretty much ubiquitous on smart phones. Naturally, having Wi-Fi on your phone means you can connect to Wi-Fi networks at home or at work, or use Wi-Fi hotpsots when you're out and about. This can be important if you're on a mobile contract with a limited data allowance.
However, Wi-Fi can also be useful for sharing your phone's mobile data connection with other devices, like laptops and tablets. Apple's iOS, Google's Android, Microsoft Windows Phone and BlackBerry 10 all have a built-in ability to create a personal Wi-Fi hotspot that you can share with your other devices. Be aware, though, that sometimes this feature is disabled by mobile operators unless you're on a specific data plan or pay extra to use it.
NFC is the new kid on the block Bluetooth and Wi-Fi have been around for ages, but new to the scene is near-field communication, or NFC for short. NFC is a wireless technology that allows devices to transmit information between each other when they're in very close proximity. It can be used for contactless payments -- where you put your credit card details into an app such as Google Wallet and then make payments by swiping your handset over NFC payment terminals.
NFC can also be used to transfer data, such as contacts details, between phones just by bringing them close to each other. Phones with NFC can also use tags to change phone profiles or launch applications. For example, you could place an NFC tag on your bedside table so when the phone comes into contact with the tag, it automatically silences ring tones and alert sounds, but keeps the alarm at full volume. NFC isn't exactly a must-have, as it hasn't been a smash hit with users yet. Apple, for one, has steered clear of adding the technology to the iPhone. It can be useful though, and may become more important in the future, especially if contactless payments take off.
Fast forward with 4G Virtually all smart phones today come with support for 3G mobile data. It's what allows us to view Web pages or download photos from Facebook without having to wait hours for them to appear on our phone's screens. But although 3G is much faster than the older 2.5G networks, it's much slower than what most of us are used to on our home broadband connections, delivering data rates of around 2Mbps or lower.
Mobile networks are upgrading to new 4G technology, however, and this will increase speeds dramatically. Already EE has its 4G network up and running in the UK, and with a 4G-compatible handset you can realistically achieve speeds of up to 20Mbps, which is faster than most people's home broadband connections. EE is ahead of the game because it uses a different frequency for its mobile network than the other operators, who recently shelled out a total of £2.34bn for 4G licenses, and their networks will be up and running soon.
At present, EE's prices for 4G are very high. A contract with a 1GB data allowance, for example, will set you back £51 per month if you sign up for 12 months -- that's much, much more expensive than a 3G plan with a similar data allowance. Also, using a 4G data connection on the current generation of 4G compatible phones tends to drain the battery much quicker than using 3G data.
As a result, it's probably not worth buying a 4G phone right now. Overall, we think most people would be better off waiting a while for the cost of 4G contracts to fall in price and for the battery life of 4G handsets to improve. There's no denying it's a hugely exciting technology that delivers really stunning data speeds, but the infrastructure won't be there for at least another six months.
- Bluetooth for hooking up to headsets
- Wi-Fi for cheap data access and personal hotspots
- NFC for contactless payments
- 4G for superfast data downloads