How to properly buy an Android phone online

Over the past 6 months or so, I’ve been going through a (slow) transition from an older phone to a newer one I had purchased online. While it turns out I actually won’t be able to use the device I acquired, I figured I would share the experience, and create a little guide to help avoid the mistakes that I made.

While I will be specifically describing purchasing an unlocked smartphone from a 3rd party retailer, the following may also apply to other scenarios. I’m attempting to break this down as much as possible to make it easier to skim through.

1. Don’t buy on a whim

Likely the biggest mistake I made was that I bought my phone fairly quickly after finding the deal for it. Had I known then what I know now, I would have not made the purchase. While I knew roughly what I wanted in a phone, and understood the specifications, there were several other factors I had not taken into consideration (or even thought were that important). In my case, the device was not fully compatible with my cellular network. While the pressure of an ending deal lead me to overlook this fact, clicking ‘buy’ (even after doing a bit of digging) could have waited, since similar deals were available after that one had ended.

2. Check network compatibility

This is the point I cannot stress enough. Sure it would be nice to get a shiny new phone with all the bells and whistles (these of course being ringtones), but unless you’re interested in a glorified mini-tablet that can only connect to Wi-Fi, network compatibility is a must. What makes this particularly difficult is that each device will be able to connect to different cellular frequencies, so you need to check in advance before buying. Some websites, such as WillMyPhoneWork can help make this easier, but only to an extent. If the device in question is listed as being fully compatible with the network, then there are no issues (by fully compatible I mean it can use all frequencies the service provider offers). If this is however not the case, and only certain frequencies are compatible, more digging must be done.

The first thing to check is a coverage map from the network provider. It may be possible that the device in question works with 4G, but your area only has 3G. This is the easiest thing to check, since all providers should offer this information. What may not be completely shown is the frequency area coverage. In my case, only 1 of the 4G frequencies my network provider offered was compatible. This result was that, out of 4 major cities I had tried, only 1 actually allowed me to connect. I later confirmed this with a phone call to the network company, and the worst part was that the representative was actually surprised by the discovery. So the message to get from this? Call your cell network provider. It’s not likely the frequency coverage will be available online, so double-check with the company before buying. If the company cannot (for some reason) provide that info, look into other companies, or other devices with better compatibility.

3. Check the device specifications

It may seem counter-intuitive to only look at what you’re getting after doing all that research for network compatibility, but trust me when I say it’s worth it. Even if you decide to go with a different device, you should now know at this point how to eliminate possibilities because they aren’t compatible. Checking specifications doesn’t have to be a complicated process, since the goal is to make sure what you’re paying for is what you want. Many websites will even have videos showcasing features, or giving overviews of the devices they have. Here are a few things to look at with smartphone specifications:

Battery capacity

If you don’t care how often you have to charge your phone, you can skip this point. If not, this is something to look into. Personally, I’m not one to doing much with my phone regularly, so a 2200 mAh (mili-Amp hour) battery would be sufficient. This however is considered low for the average user. It’s often difficult to judge what capacity is best, so the easiest way is to try and figure where you stand as a user, then compare with reviews. If many people complain about battery life, then on average it probably doesn’t last the average user a full day. If there are hardly any complaints, it should last at least a day, if not a bit more. If comments show that the life is long, I would expect several days usage before having to charge. One thing to note, is that with pretty much any device, the larger the screen, the more quickly the battery drains, since that is one of the highest consumers of power.

Android Version

If you’ve grown accustomed to using a certain version of Android on an older device, then it’s likely you’ll want the newer one to have about the same version. Devices you can get online, even seemingly newer ones, may ship with older version of Android. As of writing this, many devices come with Android 5.0 or 5.1, which has been out for some time. Some devices are still shipping with Android 4.4, and few (if any) really ship with Android 6.0, since it’s so new. If you aren’t sure which version to go for, look up some video reviews on YouTube or other websites.

Removable and additional hardware

Different devices offer the ability to insert or remove different things. Things to look for could include the number of SIM cards that can be inserted (typically 1-2), and SD cards. If the device offers the ability to insert a micro SD card, this slot is often a hybrid SIM card slot, so you can either have dual-sim, or 1 SIM and 1 SD. One thing to note is that if “standard SIM” is listed, this likely means micro SIM. Some devices will also allow you to remove the battery, while others do not. These generally come down to a user’s preference.

Others

I could spend many more paragraphs listing different hardware options, but they all come down to user preference. Things like screen size and resolution (yes they differ from each-other), camera resolution (be careful for the interpolation resolutions), physical home button, notification LED, etc. If already a smartphone user, try to identify what you like and dislike about the device you use, and compare that to what you can get.

4. Research the deals

Now that you have an idea of what you want to get, it’s time to check prices. Even if you think a device may be pricey on one website, others may have it cheaper. Once you settle on the price, check what the website offers. This includes Warrantee, terms of usage, methods of payment and refund (they may only refund to credit on the website). It’s also important to look at customer reviews, and check the services as well as what the device includes. In my case I was able to get a phone with a case and screen protector included. If these are not included but (likely) desired, see how much the extras cost.

5. Place your order, and wait

Once payment has gone through, it will take a while before you see the device, depending on where you order it. Many companies will be shipping it internationally, often from China, so patience is key. In my case (though a bit unusual), I had pre-ordered the phone, and because of the high demand, it took me several months before getting it. Despite the issues with the network, I was very pleased with the device in terms of look and feel, as well as responsiveness. I even had friends with commercial high-end phones who were impressed, particularly for how little I paid. Sadly, I could not use it as a phone, but I would have kept it otherwise.

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