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Ultimate Smartphone Buying Guide – January 2021

Everything you need to know about picking the right smartphone and say goodbye to all misconceptions

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Ultimate smartphone buying guide

Smartphones are the core gadget of our technology-fueled life. We may end up buying new smartphones frequently for ourselves and for friends and family. Only a few people among us have a clear idea of the latest technologies and ability to pick the best smartphone. But for others, they end up buying a Smartphone which offers more revenue for the sales agent (in offline Market) or may end up buying a phone which is recommended by tech reviewers by considering a general consumer in mind. In any of these cases, these smartphones may not be the right choice for your own specific needs.

By this guide, we are trying to take you through the complete process of selecting the best smartphone for your specific needs and also trying to remove every misconception in our reader’s mind.

As you know, smartphone technology changes rapidly, and new phones are launching every day by day. So we will update this guide every month to make sure you are always staying ahead of the curve.

Also, in the last section, we will provide links to articles in which we recommend our favourite smartphones for every price category to make your purchase easier.

What are the things to consider before buying a Smartphone?

First of all, let me say this. There is no perfect smartphone out there. Instead, you should buy a smartphone, which is very close to fulfilling your needs. Also do not set a sharp price limit, always ready to go up a little, if a much better option is available.

In a smartphone, both hardware and software have equal importance. You will understand it properly in the coming sections. In general, things to consider when picking a smartphone are(not in particular order)

  1. Design and Build
  2. Display
  3. Processor
  4. Ram and Storage
  5. Software
  6. Camera
  7. Battery
  8. Fast charging
  9. Network and Connectivity
  10. Audio output
  11. Miscellaneous

This guide is intended for a general audience, so this is going to be an enormous article. If you are a tech nerd, you probably know many things mentioned here. We will upload a shorter version of this guide for tech savvy people within 1-2 days

You can use these anchor links to go to the specific section you need to read and feel to skip the rest of the areas. But we recommend checking out every section for more pieces of information.

Design and Build

Design and Build- Ultimate Smartphone buying guide

Design

It is entirely a personal preference. So we are only going to discuss some aspects of the design. One of the significant changes that happened recently is phones getting much taller aspect ratios. It helps to reduce the width of the phone and make it comfortable to hold. New smartphones have aspect ratios like 20:9 or 19.5:9, etc. 

Display sizes now vary from 6 inches to 6.9 inches, and we think 6.4 inch to 6.5 inches is the ideal size. If you are into a small phone 6 inches to 6.4 inches will be the size to consider, but it is hard to find a device in that size.

The weight of the device should be below 200g for comfortable usage. If it sits below 190g, it will be great. But right now a lot of devices are launching around 210g, that is not a good thing. Most of the devices have huge camera bumps now due to the presence of large camera sensors, and we should adapt to it.

Build

Here we are mentioning some of the common materials used in modern smartphones and our preferred choices.

Device Frame

It can be stainless steel or Aluminum or Plastic. Plastic frames help to reduce the overall weight but offer less strength and feel cheaper in hand. In contrast, the stainless steel frame offers excellent strength but makes the device heavier. The Aluminium frame keeps a balance between strength and weight. For example, the latest iPhone 12 Pro with its stainless steel frame weighs 25 gram more compared to iPhone 12 with an aluminium frame with the same dimensions and battery capacity.

Smartphone with steel frame

iPhone 12 Pro with steel frame

Front Glass

Irrespective of the type of glass used, Any phone should have an excellent oleophobic coating. It is primarily a concern in low budget (Under 10K) and ultra low budget devices. Xiaomi devices usually do better in this regard than the competition in the budget segment.

It should be better to have a glass with more strength and scratch resistant capability. A popular name in this segment is Corning Gorilla Glass. They have different variants, GG Victus > GG 6 >GG5 > GG4 > GG3, etc. The Latest iPhone 12 series comes with Ceramic shield glass, which is also a glass made by Apple and Corning. The latest iteration of these glasses promises more resistance to break and slight improvements to avoiding scratches compared to predecessors.

There are a lot of other players in this segment, but not as popular as Corning. Example: Dragontrail glass

Rear Panel

Manufacturers use different materials for the back Panel like Glass, Ceramic, Polycarbonate, Glastic(Plastic+glass), Vegan Leather and Metal. Nowadays, metal back panels are scarce, due to inability to do wireless charging. Pixel 5 is an exception, In which they made a large hole in the centre and did a thick textured paint job over the back panel.

smartphone with vegan leather back panel

Vegan Leather back panel on Mate 40 Series

Ceramic is considered to be the most premium material. Then comes Vegan Leather and Glass back. In India, only phones priced above 12/13K get a glass back or other premium materials. If you go for a plastic (glastic) back, it should have a matte finish otherwise you can notice a lot of scratches in the glossy back within some days of usage.

Display

Display- Ultimate smartphone buying guide

Having a great display panel has a significant impact on the smartphone user experience. There are various factors to be considered when selecting a great display based on your price constraints. Some of the information mentioned below might help you to make better decisions. 

Display Resolution

1080P(Full HD) should be the optimal resolution for smartphone displays. Nowadays, smartphones(display) getting bigger and bigger and having an HD(720P) panel doesn’t make any sense. When we have HD resolution in Large displays, you can quickly notice pixels in the near distance, and streaming experience will not be the best. But sometimes we have to make some compromise based on price. So these are our recommendations.

  • If you are spending 10K or more your phone should go for Full HD (1080P) or high resolutions panels.
  • If the display size is smaller than 6.1/6.2 inches and having an HD panel shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. 
  • It is hard to find a Full HD panel in the sub 10K segment. So you have to go for HD panels in that price segment. 
  • Having a 4K panel in smartphones doesn’t provide any benefits at all rather than more battery drain.
  • It should be great to have 2K(1440P) panel on premium high-end devices especially if the display size is huge (6.5 inches or above)
  • Recently there are some budget devices offering HD displays with 90Hz refresh rate compared to Full HD panels with 60Hz. You should go for 1080P(full HD) and don’t fall for advertisements.

OLED or LCD?

There are different types of display panels, say TFT, LCD and OLED panels. TFT panels are cheapest among them and seen in low budget devices. They typically have low maximum brightness levels and low viewing angles compared to LCD. 

As you all know, the OLED(AMOLED) display is considered as more premium and offer’s punchy colours, deep black, high contrast ratios, High maximum/peak brightness, low low-brightness levels, more brightness adjustment levels, etc.

Brightness Levels

There are maximum brightness levels and peak brightness levels. A good OLED display has maximum brightness varying from 600-1000 nits and peak brightness from 800-1500 nits. Peak brightness only produced when playing HDR contents. The brighter the display is, the better.

On the contrast, a good LCD’s maximum brightness levels will be 400-600 nits and peak brightness up to 450-700 nits. If the display brightness level is below 400 nits, it will hard to visible in outdoor conditions (some TFT display)

Like maximum or peak brightness, the low-brightness levels are also very important. If the display can lower the brightness levels to very low, it will help to avoid eye strain in pitch black conditions. If the display has more levels of Brightness adjustable levels, it will be better.

Display Colours

In General, one should pick a display with accurate or better colours, high viewing angles and Brighter display. We already discussed viewing angles and brightness levels. There are a lot of factors which indicate how good the display can produce colours. Some of them are High – Contrast Ratio, NTSC Colour Gamut, DCI-P3, Adobe RGB and sRGB levels/values. 

AMOLED(OLED) typically has very high values of these factors, meaning they can produce much better colours than LCD. If a display can score 100% or more in NTSC or DCI-P3 levels, it will be excellent. 

Also, there are 10-Bit panels and 8-bit panels out there. 10-bit panels can produce 1 billion colours compared to 16 million colours in 8-bit panels. But only very few high-end flagship phones have 10-bit panels out there like the OPPO Find X2 series, OnePlus 8 Pro, etc.

There are also various certifications like HDR10+ and HDR10 certification, which let you stream HDR content. as the name suggest HDR10+ is the superior one

JNDC or ∆E values: If the display has lower values of JNDC or ∆E values. In that case, the display can produce colours very close to real-life colours (in natural/standard colour profile), which helps in better colour correction if you are into content creation or photo editing. But in general, most of the users prefer a slightly vivid colour profile. 

Note: it is easy to get everything wrong with OLED.

No one can make all the OLED Panels exactly similar to each other. So each panel will be different from each other. Brands usually check a few panels from a batch, if it reaches a certain standard they approve the entire batch. 

Only Apple and Xiaomi high-end flagships (Mi 10 Ultra and Mi10 Pro) have gone through calibration for each panel. So many of the OLED panels out there will have small levels of pink tint issues, green tint issues or black crush issue’s at low brightness levels. 

Due to PWMs, In low brightness levels, some users may have eye irritation due to screen flickering, but it can be avoided by turning ON hardware Level DC dimming. But colours get affected by it. So it is better to have great LCD panels over poor OLED Panels.

Refresh Rate and Touch Sampling Rate

Refresh Rate:

The display on our mobile refreshes every second to update the current image and create a sense of motion. Standard TVs, monitors, and smartphones refresh the screen 60 times in one second. If the screen refresh rate is higher, more frames will appear in one second, which will result in a smooth motion.

If your smartphone has a higher screen refresh rate, it will have better motion output while scrolling, animations, transition from one app to another and other UI tasks. Eventually, the smartphone will feel fluid and fast.

Nowadays you can see devices with 144Hz, 120Hz, 90Hz or typical 60Hz refresh rate in smartphone and also some phones with Adaptive Sync support, which will automatically switch refresh rate based on the content (example: Xiaomi Mi 10T and Mi 10T Pro with Adaptive Sync up to 144Hz). On the other end, if the screen refresh rate is higher, it will consume more battery than the typical 60Hz screen, the technologies like Adaptive-Sync helps to overcome this.

Touch Sampling Rate

Touch Sampling Rate is the number of times a screen can sense a user touch input in a second. So with the increase of touch sampling rate, you have a far better chance of registering your touch input, and it will improve your gameplay and overall user experience. Currently, 240Hz (like on Asus ROG II) is the highest in the industry with touch latency of 4.16ms(pretty impressive) compared to typical 60Hz touch sampling rate(16.6ms. latency). Most of the current flagships, gaming phones and some mid-range devices have 180Hz or Higher Touch Sampling rate now.

OLED with Lower Refresh Rate vs LCD with Higher Refresh Rate

It is one of the most asked questions to tech reviewers in recent times. As many of you know, OLED is a much more expensive panel compared to LCD’s. So smartphone manufacturers go for LCD panels to get a high refresh rate option over OLED displays. We also didn’t have a clear answer for this, because it will heavily depend upon panel quality, especially LCD panel quality. Let me explain with some examples.

  1. Recently Xiaomi launched Mi 10T and Mi 10T Pro at 35K to 37K segments with 144Hz Adaptive Sync LCD panel. They can get OLED panels with 90Hz at the same price which they spent on that LCD. Here definitely 90Hz OLED is preferred over 144Hz LCD by most people. But we can’t go wrong with that LCD Panel. It is not because of its 144Hz refresh rate. If you look at other specifications of that panel, it is one the best LCD panels out there with excellent maximum brightness levels(650 nits) and Colour Gamut (NTSC 96%, 98% DCI-P3). which is close to an AMOLED Panel compared to typical LCD’s with ~80% NTSC and 450nits max brightness
  2. In the 25K segment, we get Redmi K20 Pro, Galaxy M51 with excellent 60Hz AMOLED panel and Realme X3 series with 120Hz LCD panels with deficient maximum brightness level(below 450nits), In that case, it is better to go with OLED 60Hz. But if we get 90Hz AMOLED at that price, it would be much better.
  3.  In the 20K segment, we get 120Hz LCD(Poco X3) compared to Realme X2’s good AMOLED 60Hz. According to tech reviewers, Poco X3’s has good LCD panels. In this case, if you are a gamer with Higher Refresh rate panels because it improves your gaming experience due to more frames and better touch sampling rate usually comes with Higher Refresh rate panels. 
  4. 60Hz AMOLED vs 90Hz LCD, go with AMOLED option
  5. 60Hz 1080P LCD vs 90HZ HD(720P) LCD, go with 1080P 60Hz LCD

Flat Display vs Curved Display

Smartphones with curved display look more premium and offer bezel-less feel to the users. But it comes with a lot of drawbacks too. Even though brands claim they have a good ghost/falls touch prevention algorithm, you have to deal with ghost touches if you are not using a case. Also, some content gets lost in those curves, and if the phone falls, the chance of breaking the display glass is very high. 

Smartphone Performance

A smartphone’s performance is determined by its processor, amount and speed of RAM and storage speed. 

Processor

A Processor, also known as SoC (System on the Chip) or chipset, is the most crucial smartphone component. It is essentially the brain of the system. Smartphone chipset is all in one processor, which means it contains CPU, GPU, Camera ISP(Image Signal Processor), DSP( Digital Signal Processor), radio, modem, and more.

So it determines your smartphone speed, raw power, gaming, image processing, digital signal processing capabilities, etc. So always try to pick a smartphone with the best processor in that price segment.

Does No. of Cores and Clock Speed Matters?

I have seen many offline retailers saying to consumers, “this phone has octa-core 2.4Ghz Processors, it is an excellent processor, so this phone never hangs, etc.” Even a famous website “versus.com” gives their score based on it. Does it make any sense? 

Let me answer this through an example: according to verses.com, Apple A13 Bionic(Hexa-Core) has a final score of 65 points compared to MediaTek Helio P35 with 75(Octa-core) Points. A13 Bionic powers Apple iPhone 11 series, and Helio P35 powers sub-10K segment smartphones. Is that enough to understand that logic is pretty wrong. that logic makes sense whenever two devices have the same cores with different clock speeds.

So the Type of Core is mainly determining the performance of a CPU. Cortex X1, Cortex A78, Cortex A76, Cortex A75 are some of the high-performance cores. Cortex A55, Cortex A53, etc. are some of the low-performance power-efficient cores out there. If you look at Snapdragon or Apple Processors, they modify these cores slightly and give different names.

What are different smartphone processors out there.?

There are mainly five major players in the smartphone processor manufacturing industry, Qualcomm Snapdragon, MediaTek Helio, Apple Bionic, Samsung Exynos, and Huawei Kirin Chipsets. In which Apple and Huawei released their latest 5nm SoCs recently. 

As the manufacturing process advances, we can lower the nanometer value. As the nanometer becomes lower, the chipset will be more power-efficient and can include more transistors in the same area. Qualcomm will release their first 5nm processor soon, the SD875 SoC. 

Qualcomm Snapdragon has 800 series, 700 series, 600 series and 400 series SoCs. In which 800 series is the superior one.

MediaTek has Dimensity, G series, X series, P series and A series Processors, in which Dimensity series is the flagship chipsets.

Recommended Processors In Different Price Segment

Price SegmentRecommended Processors(Indian Market)
Below 8KHelio G35, Helio 935, Helio G25, SD 439
8K to 10KHelio G70, SD 665, SD 662, SD 660, SD 460
10K to 12KHelio G85, Helio G80
12K to 15KG95, G90T, SD 720G, SD 730G, Exynos 9611
15K to 20KSD 732G, Helio G95, SD 720G, SD 730G, Helio G90T
20K to 25KSD 855, SD 765G,SD 750, SD 732G
25K to 30KSD 855+, SD 855, SD 765G
30K to 40KApple A13 Bionic, SD 865, SD 855+, SD 855, Exynos 990
40K or AboveKirin 9000, A14 Bionic, A13 Bionic, SD 865+, SD 865

Note: Stay away from Exynos Processors if you are serious about gaming. All the recent Exynos processors are showing a significant difference between snapdragon counterparts, especially in Gaming Performance, Camera Performance, and Battery Life, Checkout our article on issues with Exynos processors for more details.

Ram and Storage

Ram:

RAM is the system memory that smartphones use to hold data that active applications are using. The operating system always uses up a portion of your smartphone’s RAM. Having sufficient RAM can allow you to have a larger number of apps running in the background, which significantly affects your multitasking experience. However, some smartphones are breaking all barriers and installing a whopping 12-16 GB of RAM in their smartphones. That is overkill for smartphones.

LPDDR5 is faster and more efficient than LPDDR4X. If you are buying new phones above 40K, it should have LPDDR5 RAM.

Our recommended amount of RAM for different price segments:
Price SegmentAmount of RAM
Below 7K2GB will be fine, but 3GB recommended
7K-10Kminimum 3GB, 4GB should be great
10K-14Kminimum 4GB, 6GB maximum
14K-20K6GB should be the minimum, 8GB max
20K-35K6GB minimum 8GB max
35K or Above8GB min, that is enough, you can go for more
RAM based on the storage options

Storage

Give more importance to storage speed than the amount of storage, here you can see the order of speed, UFS 3.1>UFS 3.0 write turbo>UFS 3.0>UFS 2.1> UFS 2.0>eMMC 5.2>eMMC5.1

Adequate storage is essential. The current standard is 64GB on lower-end models and 128GB to 512GB on flagships. But the price will be a concern in this regard. So check out our recommendations below.

  • Up to 8K go with the 32GB option and ensure the device supports an external SD card.
  • 8K-10K 32GB minimum, 64GB is preferred and ensures the device supports an external SD card.
  • 10K-15K 64GB minimum, 128GB maximum and then look for SD card slot if possible
  • Above the 15K segment, 128GB should be the minimum storage space, go with more storage options based on your requirements. It is better to pick more internal storage than adding an external SD card. The external SD cards couldn’t keep up with UFS storage speeds.

Software

OnePlus Oxygen OS 11

Oxygen OS 11

Having an excellent software experience to complement the hardware makes a good device. So having a well-optimised software is important. We have android and iOS. Here I am not going to an iOS vs android fight. Both have advantages and disadvantages in many ways. And choose the best operating system for your specific requirements.

The key advantage of iOS or Apple devices is they give software updates for a longer period, around 4 to 6 years compared to maximum 3 to 4 years on android devices. And some apps are more optimised for iOS devices, mainly due to only very few iOS devices launching per year compared to an uncountable number of android devices.

Like Apple’s iOS, there are numerous android devices with their skin or UI (user interface) smacked on top of android. OnePlus has OxygenOS, Samsung comes with One UI, which has improved by leaps and bounds from its TouchWiz days, MIUI on Xiaomi phones, ColorOS on Oppo and Realme(Realme UI-Modified Color Os), etc. are a bunch of them. Here are our thoughts of some of the popular user Interface out there

Do not buy Huawei/Honor smartphone due to the lack of GMS(google mobile services)

iOS

iOS will be the most optimised user interface out there. Especially with the latest iOS 14, Apple has done a pretty great job in terms of optimisation, and it runs pretty well on old Apple devices like iPhone 6s than iOS 13 did.

We wouldn’t say iOS devices are completely bloatware or Ads free. Apple usually pushes the promotion of its services in some areas of the User Interface.

Pixel UI

Pixel UI is slightly modified UI of stock android, or rather call pixel UI itself as stock android. They come with least bloat and ads out of any User Interface out there, but they are not well optimised though, sometimes they show some random bugs, pixel UI lacks some useful features, but it is the cleanest software experience out there.

Oxygen OS

The OnePlus Oxygen OS has been very close to stock android. Still, their latest iteration Oxygen OS 11 is slightly inspired by Samsung’s One UI design in some areas, and especially it improves single-hand usage. We wouldn’t say Oxygen OS is optimised perfectly, but still optimisation is good and it is one of the cleanest bloatware and ads-free experience after stock android. But recently, OnePlus starts to pre-install apps like Amazon, which is not a great move. In terms of features, it has more features than android but not much as One UI, MIUI or Color OS.

One UI

Samsung One UI is one of the most optimised skins from the android segment, but One UI has the most amount of bloats compared to any other UI. One UI also gives a lot of ads, especially promotions of Samsung’s products and services, but not extreme ads situations like MIUI, but they are only one which asks premium prices and still sells ads and boats.

Article: Remove Ads and Bloatware from Samsung smartphones

Xiaomi MIUI

MIUI has been one of the most optimised android skin for the past few years, but recently the optimisation become worse and also ads situation becomes much worse. MIUI doesn’t have many bloats like One UI, but they have plenty of ads in various parts of UI, some times these are nearly adult content standards. Especially the MIUI 12 is optimised for a high refresh rate screen, and a lot of users with 60hz display complain their devices hang a lot these days.

Article: Remove Ads and Bloatware from Xiaomi smartphones

Color OS (Realme UI)

Color OS was one of the worst Android skin out there till last year. After they released Colour OS 7, they improved a lot, and now it is probably a top 3 after Pixel and oxygen OS in the android side. They are very well optimised and have a lot of features. In terms of ads and bloats, they sit in the Middle ground between clean and MIUI.

Article: Remove Ads and Bloatware from realme and oppo smartphones

Camera Quality

Camera quality- Ultimate smartphone buying guide

More number of cameras and more Megapixels doesn’t mean a better camera. Instead, better quality sensors and better software algorithms make the difference

Regardless of the price range, the phone should have good camera quality to justify its price. Currently, a lot of manufacturers are in the race to add multiple cameras and highest MegaPixel count. But in truth, more number of cameras and more Megapixel doesn’t mean a better camera. Instead, better quality sensors and better software algorithms (computational photography) make the difference. Especially today it is 50:50 between hardware and software for final output. 

You can understand it with a simple example, Pixel is still leading in terms of picture quality with their 3 to 4 years old hardware and iPhones comes second with also very old hardware(optics)

Currently, multi-cameras are norm and phones with a single rear camera are very rare even in ultra low budget segments. You usually get a primary lens which sports the highest MP count, a wide-angle shooter or sometimes telephoto with a bunch of extras like depth, macro, colour filter, monochrome for the sake of marketing purposes and most of them are useless.

According to us, low Budget devices should come with a single good camera on the back, as the price increases they can add an ultra-wide-angle with macro capability(wide-angle cameras can be used to take macro pictures, example: OnePlus 8 Pro, OnePlus 7 Pro, Mi 10 Ultra, etc.). As the price gets increased, they can add a 2X telephoto for better portraits shots(equivalent to 50mm in DSLR, means better blur and better portraits).

In flagship devices, they can add an extra 5X or 10X telephoto (periscope) for super zoom ranges. There is no need for independent macro or depth sensors, especially the 2MP ones in any smartphone. If they still have money, use ToF(time of flight) or Lidar sensor for better depth detection.

When it comes to high megapixel counts, in smartphones, there is a small space for such an amount of million pixels to stack so that each Pixel will be small and light coming to each Pixel will be very low. That is why it is not recommended to use high megapixel mode in such cameras in low light. In general, these high megapixel cameras shoot pixel binned photos. Which means they essentially turn four or more pixels into one big Pixel (so get enough light), that add more clarity, and details to the image. So to get a better output, each Pixel is to be as large as possible. In such cases, the overall sensor will help a lot. That is why the latest flagship smartphone has large camera sensors. If the camera sensor size is big, it will have a low focus plane and give natural depth like DSLR cameras. 

So when we look into camera specs, give importance to sensor size, lens aperture, pixel size, etc. Also, for now, try to stay away from 108MP marketing. I didn’t mean they are bad. But there are some better low MegaPixel count better sensors out there like 48MP Sony IMX689 custom made for oppo find X2 series and OnePlus 8 Pro, custom made 48MP sensor by Omnivison for Mi 10 Ultra and Huawei RYYB sensors, etc. Also, current 108 MP sensors are pretty rough around the edges at the moment plagued with image fringing and autofocus issues. We can get better details when zooming by using a separate telephoto camera than cropping these 108MP samples. 

Selfie Camera

According to Us, there should be a single good selfie camera on the front, that justify the price of the smartphone. We are not a big fan of dual front cameras (double punch holes). Because we don’t think it is worth decreasing screen real estate over an additional camera, we are only going to use 0.001 percent of overall phone usage. 

So our preference for the front camera location is, Under display camera > single punch hole (as small as possible ( top left corner> centre > right top corner) > pop up camera > dual punch hole> water drop notch

Pop Up cameras are very good for full-screen viewing experience. Still, we are not a fan of it, because we think we can use the additional space used for the motor and lifting mechanism for useful features like more battery and other stuff.

Below you can read some of our thoughts on major manufacturers camera processing and picture quality.

Apple

iPhones always have a very reliable camera package out there. The iPhone takes the best smartphone videos for a while and continues the lead. In terms of photos, they have never been on top of the after Pixel started their journey. But they are always in the top 3 and keep similar colours in all lenses compared to the competition. Low light photos are a weakness for iPhones due to the 2 to 3 generation old optics, but Apple is catching up with new computational advancements and night mode algorithms. But still, iPhone’s low light photos tend to produce warmer colour tunes which are very different from reality. Apple used new optics in the iPhone 12 Pro Max, but we are waiting to know about its low light capabilities. But the device is still not out now.

Google Pixel

Pixel devices are known for their camera. They are still using the oldest optics in any smartphone but even lead the table with exceptional computational photography. Pixel was way too ahead in low light photography (along with Huawei) two years ago. But right now competition catches up or even out throws them by using large camera sensors which let in a lot of light through the lenses, and the Pixel has been struggling with noise due to the small sensor, which is way too heavy to control for their software magic. But in daylight and even in small degrees of low light conditions, no one can match images from pixel cameras. Video has never become a stand out from pixel cameras, but with pixel 5, we have seen a massive improvement in this regard, but the old hardware becoming the limitations to it. But if Pixel updates the hardware, they already have excellent software to backup for video capturing of upcoming pixels.

Samsung

Samsung smartphones have never been on the top or bottom in the camera quality chart. They always stay in the above-average segment. They keep updating their optics and software each year and remain as a reliable option. They usually produce little more punchier and cooler tune photos. If Samsung can work on the software, they can quickly come on the top. Especially when Apple and pixels always tend to stay with older hardware

Huawei

Huawei is known for its crazy optics (hardware). Their flagship smartphones have the best camera hardware (optics) for a while till last year. We think Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra is out-thrown them in terms of hardware this year. The software has never been an advantage for Huawei smartphones. Their daylight photos tend to vary heavily from reality in terms of colours. Huawei has been the leader in low light photography along with Pixel for the past two years, even though Pixel achieved it with Software, Huawei did it with hardware. But competition improved the optics, and Huawei lost the king of the low-light now. The recently launched Huawei mate 40 series still has one of the best cameras out there. but the major issue with Huawei devices are these advancements never really benefit or transferred to their budget devices, and their budget devices always stay behind the competition in terms of camera performance 

Xiaomi

Camera quality has not been an essential factor for Xiaomi until 2 to 3 years ago. Until then they are the most improved company in this regard, and their latest flagship Mi 10 Ultra(only available in China) has one of the best cameras right now. Xiaomi improved the optics and computational photography a lot in recent times. But problems with them are sometimes they give more importance to marketing than actual output. 

Xiaomi has the best camera system in their Mi 10 Ultra with one of the best/maybe the best primary sensor in any smartphone, which is a custom 48MP sensor made by Xiaomi and Omnivision. They also have the best ultra-wide sensor on that phone. Mi 10 Ultra has the best combination of optics (primary+ultra-wide (with the macro capability)+ 2X telephoto+5X telephoto), and it shows the results in final images.

But many of their Mi 10 series went for inferior but costlier 108MP sensors just for marketing purposes and gave useless macro or depth sensors along with it.

In general, Xiaomi never had a good selfie camera till now (they have to work on software in that department) and Xiaomi cameras tend to provide saturated footage in 4K resolution. Also, Xiaomi night-mode is still far behind the competition. But all the latest Xiaomi cameras tend to produce more real-life colours. Even though Xiaomi’s night mode algorithms are way behind, mi 10 Ultra captures one of the best night shots due to its optics (even if night mode of off)

Unlike the competition, their advancements in camera technology are transferred to the budget segment very fast, and due to that, their budget devices usually have very reliable cameras.

OnePlus

OnePlus devices are never known for their camera capability. Except for the OnePlus 8 Pro, many of their phones didn’t get good reviews for their cameras. In OnePlus 8 Pro they used a custom made sensor made by Sony and Oppo for Oppo’s Find X2 series. This IMX689 is one of the largest and best sensors out there. OnePlus 8 Pro benefited a lot from it. But in the rest of their devices, they still use 2 to 3 years old IMX586 sensor, and OnePlus camera software has never been a talking point. But the OnePlus 8 Pro may have the best night mode algorithm in any smartphone, and it’s night mode sample can out throw iPhone 12, Pixel 5 and galaxy flagships. Latest OnePlus devices have good video taking capability among android devices. In terms of front camera pictures, they are also at the bottom along with Xiaomi. 

OPPO and VIVO

These are two phone manufacturers more concentrated on cameras than the rest of the phone. But they have never been on the top in most of the categories. Recently OPPO Find X2 series comes with flagship-level cameras which can match High-end flagships from Samsung, Huawei, OnePlus and Xiaomi. VIVO has never been that high, but if we take the best camera phones under 35K India, most probably VIVO X50 series will be in the top 3.

Battery Life

The Battery Life of a smartphone is depending upon a lot of factors, which includes battery capacity, screen size, screen resolution, refresh rate, software optimisation, screen type (OLED or LCD), Processor efficiency, etc.

According to us, a smartphone should last for a single day of moderate usage. We are not a fan of enormous battery, that affect the ergonomics of a device and make it uncomfortable to hold. We are not mentioning the specific maximum or minimum amount of capacity here. Instead, it is always better the device weighs below 200g-210g.

Charging Speed

Xiaomi's 80W wireless charging

Xiaomi’s 80W wireless charging

Here at the picky beast, we give immense importance to fast charging. Here we are discussing some of our thoughts on different charging solutions. 

Wired Charging

It doesn’t make any sense in 2020 if any device comes with 5W charging in any price range or ship with a 5W charger in the box even if the device supports faster-charging speeds. 

Chinese brands lead in wired charging solutions, and they are now selling devices with above 100W fast charging which can fully charge the device in 20-25 minutes maximum. They don’t impact the battery cells health because these devices come with multi-cell battery design, and they use parallel charging to each cell at a lower watt rate. 

Currently, all the fast charging solutions above 65W use dual cell or multi-cell battery solutions. Only disadvantages of these solutions are the overall space for the battery will decrease. For example: if a device comes with 5000mAh and 30W fast charging, if we need to use 65W fast charging instead of 30W, we will have to compromise on battery capacity and final battery capacity will be around 4500mAh if we use the same space as before. 

  • Any device priced more than 8K should have support for any fast charging (above 15W) and devices below 8K should come with a minimum 10W charger.
  • If you are spending above 15K, the device should be capable of charging a 4000 mah battery in around 75 minutes.
  • For Flagships and premium mid-range devices, the charging time should be below 1 hour.
  • USB Type-C should be the standard
  • All devices should support universal charging solutions like USB PD(Power Delivery) or Qualcomm quick charge along with their proprietary high-speed charge solutions.
Reverse Wired Charging

There are some devices with huge battery support reverse wired charging out there, but you don’t need to look for this feature, because it is useless and just for marketing purposes.

Wireless Charging

Unlike western or North American countries, Indian don’t use wireless charging solutions much, basically due to the absence of these chargers in coffee shops, public spaces, etc. Also, another major reason is wireless charging is pretty slow compared to a wired solution till recently. 

Recently Chinese OEMs made huge improvements in wireless charging solutions, and they can match the fastest wired charging solutions right now. Most of the Chinese smartphone makers have proprietary 30W or above wireless charging solutions and companies like Xiaomi recently announced 80W wireless charging which can fully charge a device within 25 minutes. 

According to Us, wireless charging is a nice additional feature to have on our devices, but it doesn’t include the basics, it would be nice to have it in the flagship or expensive devices. Also, check for Qi wireless charging support (5W to 15W) along with proprietary wireless charging to ensure universal compatibility with other wireless charging out there. 

Reverse Wireless Charging

Reverse wireless charging is a must feature to have for any wireless charging supported devices. It helps us to charge our accessories like fitness bands, TWS earphones, etc. phones should keep support for minimum 3W or goes up to 10W reverse wireless charging.

Network and Connectivity

Should you buy a 5G phone in India today?
Should you buy a 5G phone in India today?

Our answer is No. There is no need to buy a phone for its 5G support. Wait until the auction happens, and manufacturers have a clear idea about frequency bands used here and launch devices with all of these bands. Until then, buy the most suitable phone for you by looking at other factors. On the other hand, if the phone you are going to buy has 5G support, it may be useful after two or three years. But most people usually change phones every 1-2 years or less. So it may not be helpful at all. Read more about 5G in India through our article.

WIFI

In terms of WIFI, we should say any phone above 10000₹ must have WIFI 5 in 2020, and any phone above 35K segment must have WIFI 6. WIFI 6 simultaneously connects two WiFi connections. Usually, they will connect to both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz to give faster and better coverage. Also, having 5Ghz WIFI helps to transfer data through nearby share or other third party services like Xender, Shareit, etc.

Bluetooth and NFC

In terms of Bluetooth, it should be BL 5.0 in 2020 in any price category. In India, NFC doesn’t have any importance, so if your country uses NFC based payment systems, you should go for it.

Audio Output

Ultimate Smartphone Buying Guide - January 2021 8

Image Credit: Xiaomi UK

Speakers

Anyone wants to have excellent speakers in our smartphones, but it heavily depends on the smartphone’s pricing and companies’ priority on sound quality. For example, LG smartphones usually have excellent quality speakers, even in their mid-range smartphones. 

Stereo Speakers is always an excellent option to have in our smartphones, especially in the above 20K segment. Brands usually provide stereo experience in different ways. Most of them go for ear speakers double as the second speaker but with less output capacity, and it is the most popular option out there.

But recently, Xiaomi came with a separate speaker on the top of the phone with the same output power and quality as the lower one and earned a lot of praise for excellent stereo effect in their Mi 10 Pro. Huawei announced their Mate 40 Series with the same setup. 

Proper Stereo speakers are very rare in the sub-20K segment, but recently we got Poco X3 and Realme 7 Pro with stereo speakers. The Poco X3 earned a lot of praise for its good quality stereo speakers. 

Nevertheless, The sound output should have good depth, clarity, details, low end(punchiness), etc. 

Headphone Jack/Wired-sound output

It is sporadic to see a 3.5mm headphone jack in modern devices, especially in the above 20k segments. Whether the phone has a 3.5mm jack or not, the phone should have good sound output through earphones/headphones. It will depend upon DAC inside the device. 

Most of the phones out there come with the default DAC of the chipset. But when it comes to flagship and mid-range devices, they should have a Hi-Res DAC instead of the default one. LG, Xiaomi does a pretty good job in that department. Xiaomi devices usually have a Hi-Res DAC in phones above 20K segments. OnePlus never provided a Hi-Res DAC in any of their phones till now. 

Bluetooth Audio

If you are serious about wireless audio, make sure your phone’s latest Hi-quality Bluetooth codecs. LDAC is the most superior codec out there. Also, the newest generation of Bluetooth stable and efficient connection, Bluetooth 5.1 is the latest generation. 

Miscellaneous

Haptic Feedback

According to Us, Haptic feedback is one of the crucial smartphone features. It has a considerable impact on the overall user experience. 

For those who don’t know, Tactile(haptic) feedback is vibration motor feedback, and it is just as important as visual feedback when you’re touching a flat sheet of glass. It means how the vibration motor functions to make your phone vibrate when you want it to vibrate.

Apple does an exceptional job in the haptic department for a while now, Android manufacturers need to catch up with Apple, but they also improved a lot in recent times, but only in the flagship segment. We don’t usually see any phones with good haptics in the sub 20k segment in India. Recently Poco X3 has a good one for the price. 

IP Rating

iP 68 water resistant

An IP rating is always a nice feature to have in any price category, but it costs a lot. But we can expect some splash or water repellent coating in the budget segment or iP53 splash resistance. If you are spending above 50K on a smartphone, it should come with iP68 resistance, which lets you dip the phone on water. 

Fingerprint sensor and Face Unlock

According to Us, all phones should come with a fingerprint sensor and Face unlocking irrespective of the price range because it is pretty cheap to implement. But we usually didn’t get this in Sub 8K segment phones.

The in-display fingerprint scanner can only be implemented on OLED displays so expect side or rear-mounted capacitive fingerprint scanner on phones with LCD.

Recommend smartphones for the different price segment

  1. Best Smartphone under 8000 Rupees in India
  2. Best Smartphone under 10000 Rupees in India
  3. Best Smartphone Under 12000 Rupees in India

Currently, other price segments still work in progress, and we will update links for recommend smartphones in other price segments very soon…

Please give us feedback in the comment section, so we can further improve this guide according to your needs


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