Need a new smartphone? Thanks to manufacturers and carriers who will stop at nothing to have you sign on that magical dotted line at the bottom of a 2-year contract, it can be nigh impossible to tell what you should actually care about when it's time to shop for a new phone. Carriers in particular have a tendency to play up select features while downplaying the stuff that matters, making it easy to get tangled up in the intricate web of marketing buzzwords and pseudo-selling points that any company rep would be happy to assault you with. Read on for our tips on some smartphone features that might be worth skipping.
1. The biggest data plan
You're on your smartphone constantly. You check email, make calls all day, and update your Facebook status with a fervor bordering on religious. You're probably burning through your data plan, right? Wrong. Most smartphone owners assume they use way more data than they actually do. And who can blame them? The spectre of massive overage charges is enough to scare anyone over to a carrier's biggest, most expensive data plan.
Activities like streaming HD video and downloading whoppingly big files from the web can suck your data pool dry in no time, but if you're just an inbox junkie or a casual web surfer you're probably using less data than you think. Ultimately there's only one way to know: check your monthly bill and keep an eye on your data usage over the course of a month or two. If your data plan has more extra legroom than you need, downsize next month and pocket the savings.
2. More megapixels
The megapixel myth is one of the most pervasive misunderstandings in digital photography, and now smartphones have caught megapixel fever too. Manufacturers tout the high-res cameras (8MP!) on their devices, but all is not as it appears. Sure an 8MP shooter is going to best a lowly 2MP camera every time, but when you cross a certain threshold, there's more to the equation.
For example, the 5MP camera on the iPhone 4 produces crystal-clear shots with remarkable fidelity. Comparing those photos to the (newer) Galaxy Nexus's 5MP cam shows that not all smartphone cameras of the same resolution are created equal, largely thanks to the iPhone 4's low light-friendly sensor. The iPhone 4S takes its camera to unprecedented heights with an f/2.4 aperture that soaks in light for even sharper shots.
Still, a few smartphones on the way sport massive megapixelage that should actually catch your eye. There's no denying that the HTC Titan II's unprecedented 16MP will set it apart from the pack, and Nokia's Lumia line continues the manufacturer's trend of top-notch cameras, in part thanks to Carl Zeiss-branded lenses. Instead of mincing megapixels, look at the whole package when it comes to smartphone shooters.
3. Siri on the iPhone 4S
Apple bet the iPhone 4S farm on its deeply integrated virtual guide Siri, but Siri ain't the only show in town. There's no denying that Apple's too-smart-for-her-own-good voice assistant is clever and convenient, but if you ask us, Siri is more of a perk than an integral feature. For many of us, speaking into your phone (and having it make witty retorts!) won't go over well for the massive chunk of your day spent at the office, out with friends, or anywhere you aren't flying solo with Siri at your side.
Beyond that, Siri is a feature unique to the iPhone 4S, but plenty of apps will make your (spoken) wish their command. If you don't have a 4S and are pining for Siri, check out our list of the best Siri alternatives — they may not be as sassy and sophisticated, but they'll do your verbal smartphone bidding just the same.
For a little bit there, a pack of phones wanted to talk us into toting the third dimension around in our pockets. Smartphones like the HTC Evo 3D touted 3D as the hot next generation feature for mobile, but take a peek around shelves. Phones capable of recording and playing back in 3D are scarce, and that's not because we're on the verge of a 3D mobile revolution. For now, it's a gimmicky feature that the average consumer has very little use for. Sure, a 3D phone is a cool party trick, but don't let the third dimension steer you toward buying a phone that you're not otherwise sold on.
5. Physical keyboards
Most smartphone users cut their teeth on a physical keyboard. Whether it was the Motorola Razr, that former king of the flip phone hill (now reinvented as the touchscreen Droid Razr), or a BlackBerry, tapping out texts and emails on clicky buttons was once our only option. When touchscreen tech started popping up on devices, it was pretty horrible — a far cry from the multitouch swiping ease we enjoy today. But the iPhone's explosive adoption heralded a new buttonless age.
With high end touchscreen phones setting the pace for the industry, QWERTY keyboards will soon go the way of the floppy disc drive. The physical keyboard lingers around as a marker of a bygone mobile era, but resistance is futile. You might as well adapt now.
6. 1080p video
Much like the megapixel myth, manufacturers want to lure you in with the promise of awe-inspiring smartphone video. In this era of the instant capture, you might find yourself shooting videos with your phone only to zap them to the web minutes later — but does that mean you need high res video? If you're looking to shoot HD video on your phone, odds are that you're going to display it on the web and not on an IMAX screen, and 720p should suffice.
Not only will storing 1080p vids gobble up more precious storage space, but it'll take longer to upload, and really, you might be the only one who even notices the difference. Unless shooting cinephile-quality video on your phone is your utmost priority for whatever reason (to each her own!), don't sweat small stuff like this.
Steering clear of laying down cash for these six smartphone features? We do have a few suggestions for mobile perks you should steer toward:
High resolution screens: Your eyes will thank you for opting for an excellent screen like Apple's iPhone Retina displays or Samsung's Super AMOLED screens.
Battery life: Unless you want to invest in a designer paperweight, picking a phone known for balancing power with battery life will pay off for months (if not years) to come.
4G: Two years ago, 4G was little more than a marketing ploy. Now, carriers are building out 4G networks with the speed of an arms race, and most cities are getting up to speed. There are different flavors of 4G, but keep an eye on LTE-capable phones since LTE seems to be pulling ahead as the fastest, most readily available 4G network. Futureproofing with a 4G-ready device now means you won't be left in the dust as 3G speeds fade into a slow, distant mobile memory.
This article originally appeared on Tecca
More from Tecca: