Challenges of buying a modern day mobile phone – A guide to save you pennies

Smart phones are made up of several key components, not just lots of storage, a snazzy camera and screen. These vital parts are all but ignored by marketers and customers. It is understandable people glaze over at spec sheets.  Mobiles are evolving, and keeping up with the rate of change requires research. Blame the big manufacturers, but you still need to understand what you are buying if you are to get the best bang for the buck.

The most important part is the Central Processing Unit, or CPU which most of you probably haven’t heard of yet. This is the driving force behind everything that happens on a mobile. It determines how quickly you can zip through menus, run apps and load web pages. On modern phones, look for anything with a Quad-core CPU for optimum speed. Next is the Graphics Processing Unit, or GPU. This is responsible for anything “pretty” on your mobile such as your camera pictures, games and Youtube.  Then there is the storage capacity made up of gigabytes (GB) of space. The bigger it is, the more you can store. And let’s not forget the RAM, or Random Access Memory. That word memory is often confused with storage, but is actually a clever piece of hardware that allows all the other major components to ‘talk’ to each other. Too little, and it will splutter and slow everything down. Sounds complicated doesn’t it? But seriously, ensuring you have the fastest and best quality will ensure some smooth operating.

Taking the time to look into the internal specifications will ensure a buyer gets the best from a device. Upon first glance, names such as PowerVR GX6450 Quad-core GPU are to complex too worry about, and they are.  A simple check will find the fastest ones.  The fancy names are used as a cool sounding marketing tool to quickly differentiate between a minefield of components and for geeks to get excited about. Never has the old argument ‘mine is bigger and better that yours’ been better illustrated than in the world of technology.

Apple, one of the biggest technology companies concentrates on the experience a customer has when using their products. Apple’s aim is for their products to be as easy to understand as possible which is why features such as their Facetime application or the features of the camera appear in their advertisements. It makes the consumer feel safe knowing what their phone can do. But they will tend to ignore how well their phone can do it compared to other devices by not mentioning anything else too loudly

Global business analysts Strand Consult ran a survey gauging customer satisfaction with their handsets, and the results were telling. In a statement, the company said: “Various reports from around the world over the last three years note that consumers have increasingly experienced poor coverage with their smartphones. The challenge for mobile operators is that the perceived coverage rarely reflects the quality of the network that the operators build and run, but rather the quality of the smartphones that people use. As a new groundbreaking study shows, the quality of the smartphone combined with how it is used and configured is more to blame than the mobile network” meaning it’s important to get the right internal components right for you first time.

From a retail perspective, Carphone Warehouse said: “Our staff are fully trained to speak to customers about every aspect of the phones we sell. We find most customers would rather know which apps were available on the device”

She added: “I think the reason customers do not fully investigate other specifications is because they generally do not care.” She admitted to not knowing the detailed specs of her own phone, and was blissful with her ignorance. Typical of so many users, she just wanted it to access apps and take great selfies. Carphone Warehouse said it would rather avoid confusing customers with complex technical jargon.

Visiting a store, an EE assistant said “We have a new 24 month contract on the iPhone 6 Plus. Have you got a particular size in mind?”  Storage capacity was at the top of her list. Nothing was mentioned about other components. I wanted to explore why the specifications of a new mobile are almost redundant compared to speaking about the features. After all, the better the spec, the better the phone will perform, as the Strand findings revealed.

The EE sales consultant talked about capacity. Using a memorised rough guide she came up with figures for how many files of each type of media I store.  Not once did she mention other specifications.  Using this limited line of questioning means customers could be sold short if they were intensive users meaning anyone who uses their mobile phone on an hourly basis may find themselves very limited on how quickly they can complete tasks on their mobile phone. Open browsers, applications and even cameras, all take a toll on performance. Spending hundreds of pounds on a product only to find it hamstrung by poor performance is frustrating.

Asking the public what was important, it was clear no research was done.  Student Francesca Jones, 19, said “I have an iPhone 5S because they’re one of the most popular phones and reliable.” She failed to mention the specification of her phone when asked. She added: “It doesn’t bother me about the specification. I just want it to work.”  So why spend up to £600 on a phone you just want to ‘work’ when there are much cheaper alternatives out there?

Kirstie Battson, a graphic designer from London hates her device, saying: “I cannot wait until my contract is up. I bought my phone on recommendation from a friend and hate it; the Internet is slow and the camera is absolutely rubbish.” It’s a Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini, which is now a weakly specced phone. She took out a 24 month contract thinking the phone would be up to scratch with her pictures and using the internet but because of its tiny CPU, it’s clearly not. It’s slow and that comes down to the CPU inside.

Smart phones do the same thing. Each has Internet access, an internal camera for photos and video and can access the same apps. But some perform so much better than others.  Spending more time researching internal specifications will answer the most important question; which is faster and better made? Until we learn to look more closely at specifications, manufacturers will realise they can just sell any old junk, and we all lose out. There is an old adage that says you get what you pay for. Apple is notoriously expensive, and you don’t always get the best specifications. Which goes to prove brand image is sometimes everything and herd mentality is alive and well which, in Francesca’s case, is exactly what she fell for.

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Stef Murphy

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