Buying a smartphone for someone is a very generous gift, in and of itself, though being such a personal device, you naturally want it to be the right fit. With so many handsets to choose from, breaking down the bevy of options to go with something that suits a particular loved one requires some patience, and maybe even some stealthy investigating. The good news is that it’s easy to get the goods and make a more informed buying decision.
For starters, knowing that the person in mind is heavily invested in either iOS or Android helps narrow things down. If they are BlackBerry or Windows Phone diehards, that also makes things easier for you, too.
Where things could get a little more complicated is if said person is looking to make a change, or hates his or her handset so much that the operating system becomes tainted, as a result. I’ve personally seen this happen with Android or BlackBerry users switching to iOS, and vice versa.
Your better half
The last thing you want to do is disappoint your partner in crime. Husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend — this should be the easiest person to buy for because you see them every day, know what they use and what they complain about most.
I’ve seen couples who use the same type of phone and others who follow completely different paths. A sure sign that it’s time to get something new is more complaints about crashing, slow performance or even a desire for a larger display. If your better half is on a contract with a carrier, options may be limited by whenever there is an upgrade window, though that doesn’t stop you from replacing their phone with something purchased outright and unlocked.
Which one to get? You will likely have a good idea, but you may want to consider something that isn’t so obvious. For example, if they have a Samsung handset, but aren’t particularly beholden to the brand, you could go for an LG G4, Nexus 5X or Moto X Play. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, yet in all three cases, they are less expensive than Samsung’s flagships.
If the iPhone is preferred, it really depends on which model they’re using. Someone wielding an iPhone 4S will see a dramatic difference going to an iPhone 6. There is, after all, three years between them, and outside of a big screen size upgrade, so many other factors see an improvement—camera, performance, TouchID and better compatibility with accessories because of the Lightning connector.
Note that I mentioned the iPhone 6 and not the 6s. The reason, in that particular instance, is that the 6s isn’t necessary. It can be if that person wants it bad enough, but I would recommend it more in cases where someone is upgrading from an iPhone 5, 5s or 5c. Moving from any of those to a 6s or 6s Plus is a big jump. If, however, 16GB isn’t enough storage, then better to move on to the 64GB iPhone 6s.
If you’re dealing with someone who still loves BlackBerry, the Priv is well worth it. It’s a full-fledged Android handset, so there is nothing to worry about with app compatibility, and the slide-out keyboard sufficiently keeps the company’s tradition intact.
The parental units—never an easy duo to shop for. When it comes to smartphones, usage habits and inherent needs should trump all else. Chances are, an elderly parent doesn’t care, or want, to use the various frills smartphones offer. So long as the basics work well and the learning curve isn’t steep, the fit should be ideal.
For example, an iPhone 6s may not be necessary for someone who is unlikely to benefit from the features Apple added. An iPhone 5s may very well be a good fit because it does the same basic things in the same way, more or less. There isn’t much difference playing Candy Crush or messaging contacts on either device. Photos are also going to be perfectly fine for most situations.
This is equally true in the crowded Android front. The Moto X Play may be a good choice because of its long battery life, or a Nexus 6P for the fingerprint sensor in the back to unlock the device each time, negating the need to use a PIN or passcode. The Samsung Galaxy A5 is also a good option.
For the less demanding parent, anything in the mid-range or entry level should suffice.
The most challenging of the bunch, yet arguably the most vocal on this topic. Sometimes, even the most knowledgeable, given the comfort and experience they tend to have with the technology. Buying a smartphone for a teen is easy when the want is obvious, though not so easy if that want is the latest and greatest.
What do teens mostly do on their phones? Texting, social media and music are probably the top 3, and you don’t need the best phone on the market to do those things. If gaming is a big part of their usage, an entry-level handset won’t do. A mid-range one certainly could, though performance takes a hit if a game requires more power under the hood to run.
It doesn’t hurt to ask your teen what they like to use on their phone, and what they feel is missing—without pulling the cat out of the bag, of course. Casual conversation can elicit plenty of information to decipher which smartphone they might like to use.
Younger kids who may not be as in tune with the latest devices don’t need the best of the best anyway. If the phone is primarily for staying in touch, then overall performance and reliability is preferable to bells and whistles. An entry-level or mid-range phone will suffice, though I would even suggest a hand-me-down or used phone could be a good option, too.
If financing a smartphone purchase is something you want to consider, Best Buy does offer some plans, including a 90-day payment option. You can also ask employees at any store location to get the lowdown on what’s available to you.
By Ted Kritsonis, Editor Smartphones
I’m a fortunate man in being able to do the fun job of following and reporting on one of the most exciting industries in the world today. In my time covering consumer tech, I’ve written for a number of publications, including the Globe and Mail, Yahoo! Canada, CBC.ca, Canoe, Digital Trends, MobileSyrup, G4 Tech, PC World, Faze and AppStorm. I’ve also appeared on TV as a tech expert for Global, CTV and the Shopping Channel.