Phones have been pocketable personal computers for four or five years now. For most of that time their productive capacity has been on a par with desktops and laptops.
While there was no dramatic gear shift in 2017, the performance gap widened. It’s now at the point where there is no longer any doubt about the epicentre of personal computer power.
For most people, in most walks of life, the phone is by far the dominant device.
Smarter than your average mobile phone
Some still call them smartphones. Yet smart seems redundant when few people in rich countries carry non-smart phones.
Even the low-cost not-so-smart phones on sale in supermarkets, dairies and petrol stations meet everyday needs.
You still need a personal computer for heavy lifting. It’s one thing to provide a quick email answer on a phone. Creating a marketing report or writing a thesis needs a bigger screen and a keyboard.
That’s where desktop and laptop computers still rule. Although devices like Apple’s iPad Pro nip at the margins of those applications.
People often overlook something else about phones. Phones are far more personal than personal computers. You can share a PC with others — tools like desktop virtualisation mean some computers are less personal than others.
Most of us are far less inclined to share our phones and other people are less likely to ask or expect it.
Gung-ho technology enthusiasts get starry-eyed about the idea of wearable computers. They may yet be a serious alternative. But for now, phones perform the same role. They are close to us most of the time. Attaching them to our wrists wouldn’t change things much.
And they are intimate devices. Few of us are far from our phones for long. They go with us everywhere. Chances are, that you’re reading this on a phone and not a PC screen.
This means buying a phone is an important decision; the most important personal technology decision you make.
I’ll leave it to you whether you choose an Android or an iPhone. In general I’ve no sage advice recommending one over the other. If you use Apple computers or an iPod, then an iPhone makes sense. If you’ve invested in iTunes music or apps, then an iPhone makes more sense than an Android.
Likewise if you’ve invested in Android software or in Google, you might do better with Android. Windows fans can go either way.
Which to buy?
People often ask me which specific phones they should buy. Here I can help with more direct, practical advice, even if I don’t name names.
Buy a phone that you can afford. Don’t stress your budget to have the latest or greatest model. Don’t feel you need to update every year or even every two years. Many three or four-year old phones are often good enough for most purposes.
Look after your device; it should go on doing whatever it did when you first bought it for its entire physical life. You may have to forego software or operating system updates towards the end of its lifespan.
If you are upgrading, get the most powerful processor and the most storage you can afford. If money is tight, compromise elsewhere before skimping on these features. Android users can often buy phones with a nominal amount storage and add a memory card.
While Apple and Samsung phones are, in general, a cut about their rivals, all the well-known brands are good. Sony is often overlooked, but the phones are great. The new Nokia models seem fine, although it’s too soon to say for certain. Huawei is solid. Oppo phones are cheaper, but are not second-rate.
Most technology writers assume readers have unlimited budgets. I’ve always been aware than paying the thick end of $2000 for a phone is beyond many people. You can find many bargains for half that amount.
Even a mobile phone costing a third of that price tend to be worthwhile. Apple fans can pick up an iPhone SE for NZ$600. There are many solid Android options at around this price.
There are no bad premium phones at the moment. And life in the second rung isn’t too shabby.