Mobile device buying advice


'Tis the season for upgrading your smartphone or tablet - or buying one for the first time. Smartphones and tablets are THE hot ticket item this holiday season.  The big decision for you to make is which flavor of mobile device to buy: Android, Apple, or Windows?  (Sorry Blackberry lovers - there is not currently a Blackberry that can compete.)  I came up with some opinions and a comparison chart to hopefully help you make a decision on the device that is best for you - from my perspective of course.  Feel free to disagree.

This post is my attempt to inform those interested in upgrading who don't follow all of the latest and greatest tech trends.  My hope is to offer you some of my perspective, so that when you walk into your local cellphone or electronics store you won't be as easily talked into something you ultimately won't want, by sales people who usually don't have the customer's best interest in mind.  Remember that their priority is usually their commission, and certain devices make them more money.

For both tablets and smartphones, ultimately the choice comes down to how you will use the device.  Where is most of your content (music, videos, books)?  Do you need it to sync with your computer or certain services (Exchange, or Google Apps)?  Do you need to open and edit certain file types?  With that in mind, here is my quick recommendation:  

If you are an Exchange power user, love your Windows PC, or have a lot of content on the Xbox store, get a Windows 8 mobile device.

If you are a Google Apps/Gmail power user, own mostly content from Google Play, and you love to tweak out every little aspect of your computing device (but don't mind getting your hands dirty), get an Android device.

If you live in Amazon's content ecosystem with Kindle, Amazon Instant Video and their music, then get a Kindle Fire (which is their own fork of Android).

If you use iTunes a lot and have a Mac, OR if you could care less about anything listed above, then get an iPhone and/or iPad.

It's that easy.

Don't sweat the specifications/features or the lack of a certain function (but if you REALLY need a 5" screen then the iPhone is not for you).  Get the device that will fit best your lifestyle.  If you're not invested in one single computing/cloud platform, the iPhone will be the best choice for the vast majority of users.  It no longer requires being plugged into a computer, so it doesn't matter if you're not a Mac user.  For most average non-geeks the iPhone and iPad are just easier to live with and use.  My parents, in-laws and aunt can attest to this.

For me, besides being a huge fan of Apple's hardware, I really enjoy their software and apps system.  There are tons of great apps for everything, and I don't have to worry almost at all about getting hacked or contracting malware.  It's a worthwhile tradeoff for me not having as much control of the operating system, so I'm OK with that.

Most people just want to use their device and not fiddle with its settings.  Android devices generally encourage more tweaking of settings and manually managing apps.  If you enjoy that, then Android is definitely for you.

The last thing to keep in mind is that there is a stigma about Apple products being more expensive.  All three systems offer free older model devices with a contract.  And the monthly data costs are the same no matter what smartphone you have.  

Yes, iPads can cost more, but in my opinion you get what you pay for.  From the demo models I've looked at in stores, and from reviews that I've read, Android's cheaper tablets do not offer the same quality as the iPad - either in hardware or in the way the software runs (a common symptom is stuttering when scrolling).  

The Windows Surface apparently has great hardware, but the software doesn't seem to be ready for prime time compared to Apple's industry-leading and well-established iOS and its apps.  I genuinely hope that Microsoft can catch up - there are a lot of people eager to have a good next-generation Windows tablet.

For many of us, these mobile devices are business tools at the core of our daily work.  If they aren't yet for you, it's just a matter of time until they are.  So don't settle for a device that may not suit you function-wise for the sake of having a massive super high resolution screen.  Bigger is not always better.  Everything has tradeoffs.  Make sure the positives are worth the negatives, and that they don't get in the way of it doing what you need the device to do.  Just comparing features and specs is not the best way to find the best mobile device, especially since many specs don't translate to better performance in the real world.  It's more about how you will use the device than what the device has to offer.

Mobile computing is the future.  Are you equipped to make the right decision on which device is best for you?


DISCLAIMER:  I am a hardcore Apple device user and advocate.  This is not a feature-for-feature comparison per device, but rather a broader comparison of each group's offerings. Please use the comments to point out anything important I neglected to mention.  Please do NOT use this as an opportunity to bash your personal least favorite device or brand.

Here is some information that Wikipedia has on the subject: