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The complete guide to buying your first smartphone

Here's everything you need to know before you buy a phone for the first time.
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Modern smartphones have long been separate from the home phones we grew up with, and they've replaced countless gadgets and in-person activities since coming to prominence in the 2000s.

You can use them to take excellent pictures, check email, surf the web, shop online, use social media, watch films and TV shows, play games, apply for jobs, do your online banking... the list goes on.

But before you do any of that, you need to buy the right smartphone for you. And that’s where we come in.

In this guide we’ll run you through the basics you need to know when buying your first ever smartphone, from what features you will need, what kind of camera you might want, the best operating system for your needs, how much you want to spend and what kind of accessories you might want.

Ready? Then let’s begin.

iPhone or Android?

These two types of phone use different 'operating systems', which is essentially what powers everything you do once you've turned the phone on. They have divided mobile phone fans all over the world over which is better: Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android?

In truth, it really depends on which you are used to. They largely work the same, with a series of homepages showing your apps arranged in a colourful, tile-based grid.

When one comes up with a new feature (like dark mode, which makes all your apps easier on the eye when viewed at night to ease eye strain and help you sleep) the other promptly implements something very similar, so you can rest assured you won’t be left behind.

The main issue is software updates, which bring you the latest features. Google’s Android runs on hundreds of models of phone, which makes sending out software updates a bit of a challenge. So some models might not get the latest features until months after others.

The exception? Google’s Pixel range of Android phones. Because they’re made by Google (who makes Android), they’re the first to get new updates.

There are far fewer models of iPhone than Android phones, and they’re all made by Apple, so updates roll out quicker.

If you want to make sure you’re first to get the latest features, buy an iPhone, or one of Google’s Pixel Android devices.

How many cameras?

Smartphones generally have a minimum of two cameras: one rear camera for general photography and video, and one front-facing lens for selfies and video calls.

But if you see a phone marketed as ‘dual camera’ or even ‘triple camera’, it means it has two or three cameras respectively on its back.

"What’s the point of that?", you might ask. Different lenses serve different purposes. A wide-angle lens will be great for panoramic snaps, while a telephoto will let you zoom in from a great distance.

So the more rear lenses a phone has, the more shooting options you will have, and the better your photos will come out.

If you're keen to get the best photos possible, check out our guide to the best camera phones.


Smartphones are so versatile you really don’t need many accessories. But you’ll want to know that the ones you do want are available to you.

You’ll want a decent selection of cases, for example, so you can keep your phone safe while helping it look its best.

The most popular models of phone have the most accessories, giving you the best choice. These are Apple iPhones, Samsung Galaxy handsets and Google Pixel phones.

Of course, it could be that your current phone of choice has a case that fits the bill perfectly. But do your research before you buy, so you’re not left with a smartphone inside a case that either a) doesn’t protect it well enough, or b) you don’t like the look of.

Now you know what to consider, what are some of the best phones available right now?

Premium performance at cut-price cost: iPhone SE

If you want an iPhone without a hefty price tag, the 2022 version of the iPhone SE is for you. The revamped iPhone SE has the classic iPhone 8 design – complete with a physical home button – but includes a more powerful A15 Bionic chip.

There are some compromises. The SE’s 4.7-inch screen is much smaller than the iPhone 11’s 6.1-inch, so games and films won’t look quite as stunning. But many will find the smaller size easier to handle.

It also only has one rear camera, so won’t give you quite as much photographic power as its more expensive stablemate. But with a saving of over £300, that’s a sacrifice many will be happy to make.

See the best iPhone SE deals.

Into the midrange: Google Pixel 6a

Google Pixel phones have some of the best specifications on the market, and the Pixel 6a offers a mixture of some their best without the top-level price tag.

A great processor that makes everything run smoothly, a fantastic main camera, 5G connectivity and the latest version of Android. While it doesn't have fast charging or a top-notch display like its big brother the Pixel 6 Pro, it does have plenty of premium features for a fair price.

See the best Pixel 6a deals.

Hitting the high-end: Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

If you want the best of the best, the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is for you. It has a huge 6.8-inch screen, tons of power and one of the best cameras around. Five of them, in fact.

It also has 5G, which gives you super speedy web browsing and download speeds where available.

It’s not cheap, but then this level of quality rarely is. So if you're happy to spend a lot of money on a lot of premium features, this phone might be right for you.

See our best Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra deals.

Replace your camera: Sony Xperia 1 IV

Sony is well known for its digital camera technology, much of which it has incorporated into its Sony Xperia range. With Zeiss glass, variable focal length lenses and intricate manual controls, the Sony Xperia 1IV is an ideal choice for any photography enthusiast.

See our best Sony Xperia deals.

Or go retro: Nokia 3310

If that’s all a bit much for you, you could always go old school with a retro-tastic Nokia.

The 3310 is the classic handset we all remember, complete with the iconic Snake game that was the talk of the classroom in the late 90s.

It’s a feature phone, so is less advanced than the other handsets here, but you can still surf the web and send text messages. Just don’t expect the latest apps and games.

But it’s cheap as anything. And with a battery that’ll last a whopping 25 days, there’s a lot more to it than just retro charm.

*Read our Nokia 3310 review.


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