Which smartphone?

How to Buy the Right Smartphone for Your Needs

It's right up there with your wallet and keys, and it can sometimes even double as your wallet and keys. Your smartphone has become an indispensable companion, helping you stay on top of email and social updates, take and share photos and videos, play music and games, and do a whole lot more. So we probably don't have to tell you that choosing the right device is a big deal.

Our smartphone-buying guide covers everything you need to know before you buy, ranging from operating system and screen size to the camera and the carrier. Use this advice to make sure you get the very best handset for your needs and budget. Deciding between Apple's and Samsung's latest flagships? Check out our Galaxy S6 versus iPhone 6 face-off.

Operating System: Android, iOS or other?

Android
Android dominates worldwide sales of smartphones, and for good reason. You'll find many more choices than iOS or Windows Phone when it comes to design, display size, specs, capabilities and price. Plus, Android is an open OS, which means it's easy to customize with widgets, launchers, your choice of keyboard and more. Some Android-phone makers, such as Samsung and LG, trick out the software with additional enhancements, such as more-robust multitasking and easier access to settings.

With the latest version of Android, 5.0 Lollipop, the OS offers a slicker and more intuitive design, improved quick settings, and Priority Mode for showing the notifications only from people who matter most. Plus, Android offers a huge number of apps in its Google Play store. However, when a new version of Android arrives, it can take a while for the updated OS to hit your phone.

iOS 8
The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus run the latest version of Apple's operating system, which offers all sorts of enhancements. You'll find an improved Photos app, interactive notifications and (finally) the ability to swap out your keyboard. Plus, Family Sharing lets up to six people in your family share iTunes, books and app purchases.

The biggest reason to opt for an iOS device is its selection of apps. Apple's App Store tends to get the hottest apps and games before Android, partly because developers have an easier time targeting a smaller set of devices that have similar specs. By the same token, iPhones enjoy the broadest array of accessories, because there's less variation in design from one model to the next.

Comparing displays of the Galaxy S6 (left) and iPhone 6 (right).Windows Phone
Windows Phone has never caught on, but the upcoming Windows 10 could change that. Developers should be able to easily port Android and iOS apps to the platform. Windows Phone offers some compelling features on its own, such as a dynamic Start screen and the Cortana digital assistant, but they haven't been enough to sway shoppers.

BlackBerry
Unless you're already a fan, don't touch this. The company formerly known as RIM has struggled to win over shoppers with BlackBerry 10. On the plus side, there's a Hub that aggregates everything from email to social updates in one place. It's also fairly easy to multitask on these phones, and you can get a physical keyboard from the BlackBerry Classic. However, the UI is not intuitive, and the app selection is pretty skimpy.

Screen Size

Although bigger screens are en vogue, you'll still find a wide variety of display sizes. And size is only part of the story.

Small Screen (Less Than 4.5 Inches)
The main reason to buy a small-screen smartphone is for its compact design. You won't have to stretch your thumb to reach anything. But this size range is falling out of favor as more and more people gravitate toward larger canvases for media consumption and gaming.

Medium Screen (4.5 to 5.4 Inches)
This has become the smartphone sweet spot, with such devices as the iPhone 6 (4.7 inches), HTC One M9 (5 inches) and Galaxy S6 (5.1 inches). Most phones are fairly comfortable to use with one hand in this category, depending on the button placement.

Left: LG G4 with a removable battery. Right: Apple's unibody iPhone 6. Comparing low-light indoor photos taken by the LG G4, Samsung Galaxy S6 and Apple iPhone 6 Plus.
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