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Choosing the right mobile phone for 2021

For many people, a mobile phone is the computer they spend the most time with.

That makes sense. Phones don’t do everything well, but they are handy. Up to a point they are easy to use. Best of all, as the name suggests, they are mobile. You can take them to the work instead of bringing the work to them.

Modern phones handle voice calls, messaging and video calls. That’s only the start. They all have internet browsers, which gives you access to many cloud applications.

They also run apps in their own right. Your phone includes a camera and a GPS device that knows where you are and how to get to your destination.

All modern phones can play music and games when you are not working. Some include features allowing you to measure distances or handle other specialist tasks.

We’re not at the point where you can leave your wallet at home, but you can pay bills or unlock doors using your phone.

Popular mobile phone choices

There is a bewildering array of phone models. Although there is less phone brand choice than you might imagine. Here I’ve focused on the most popular models from the best-known brands. There are also a couple of wild-cards worth considering.

You should consider whether you need a 5G mobile. While 5G is faster than 4G, the older network is good enough for every mobile application in use today.

There’s no pressing need to upgrade. At the time of writing Vodafone and Spark have limited 5G networks. But they are growing fast. If you expect a phone to last years, it may pay to get a 5G model the next time you upgrade.

A word of warning, the Covid pandemic disrupted phone supply chains. New Zealand is not always at the front of the queue for models, especially with the Asian phone brands.

You may need to look further this year than in the past.

Apple is favourite

At the end of 2020 Apple was New Zealand’s top selling phone brand. It got there on the back of the iPhone 12. This comes in four models ranging from the $1350 iPhone 12 mini to the $2700 iPhone 12 Pro Max. The less expensive models are doing best at the moment.

The iPhone 12 represents the biggest change to Apple’s phone line since the iPhone X in 2017. It’s an all-screen design which brings together the best features of recent iPhones in a thinner, lighter package. Battery life is long, I go two working days between charges.

Performance is better than any other phone on the market and the iPhone 12 is more durable than other mainstream phones. The iPhone 12 works with the new 5G networks carriers are now building around New Zealand.

Depending on the model you either get a great camera or what could be the best camera available on any phone.

While iPhone 12 is expensive compared to rivals, you can expect it to earn its living for the next five years. That’s not something you could say about most alternatives.

Samsung top Android

There’s a reason Samsung, along with Apple, dominates New Zealand phone sales.

Samsung’s Galaxy models have been the best Android phones over the long haul. Rivals, especially Huawei, may pull ahead at times, but you can’t go wrong with a Samsung phone.

This year Samsung sales have fallen back a little. Yet the brand still enjoys success with its high-end and mid-range models.

Phones don’t get any further upmarket than the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2. It’s beautiful. If you need a device that is more a tablet you can fit in a pocket than a traditional phone then it is worth the $3500 asking price.

A bigger, 7.6-inch, screen, means you can read much more than on an ordinary phone. It also works better with web-based cloud apps.

There’s something magical about looking at a web page on the outside screen when using the Fold2 as a normal phone, then opening it to the same place on the same page on a much bigger screen.

Samsung has less expensive phones. According to IDC Research, the company’s A Series phones sold well last year. This year Samsung has updated A Series models.

The $700 Galaxy A51 has many of the features found in upmarket phones. It includes a fingerprint reader hidden behind the main screen. There’s a huge 6.5 inch AMOLED screen that is brighter than everyday displays.

Huawei in decline

Until recently Huawei was the clear challenger brand. That changed when President Trump banned US companies from working with the company. This meant Huawei couldn’t use American technology.

Huawei has the resources to make its own hardware and software. That’s what it does now, but the ban means users don’t have easy access to services like Gmail, Google Maps and so on.

It’s possible to work around the ban. Yet to no-one’s surprise most people chose not to buy Huawei phones. If the ban doesn’t worry you, the Huawei Y6p is an excellent budget phone. You can expect to pay around $230 for the Y6P.

For the money you get a lot of phone. There’s a 6-inch screen, 64GB of storage and a 5000mAh battery that will run for a couple of days. The catch is that you can’t run Google services. Many Android apps are not available. Although Huawei does offer a vast library of suitable apps through Petal Search, a few popular choices are missing.

Beyond the mobile phone big brands

Nokia and Xiaomi are two interesting smaller Android phone brands worth considering.

The $400 Xiaomi Redmi Note 9T is New Zealand’s lowest priced 5G phone. It does 95 percent of what a phone costing four times the price might do but leaves you with cash to spend elsewhere.

You may remember Nokia. These days another company, HMD, uses the brand under license. It makes a range of non-nonsense Android phones.

Nokia guarantees its models, like the $300 Nokia 3.4, get regular software and security updates. That puts it ahead of most other Android brands.

It’s slow compared with other phones mentioned here. And isn’t outstanding in any department except the quality of its software and its value for money. It’s a great choice if you don’t plan to push mobile tech to the limit.

A version of this post was first published in NZBusiness magazine. It is online as Which mobile phone is right for you?