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Mobile phones

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Find the perfect mobile phone for your needs.

Finding the best mobile phone for your needs will be easy with our test results and buying advice. We look at what you need to know about selecting a good model, finding the right plan and choosing a provider.

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From our test

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Get instant access to 108 mobile phone test results

Finding the best mobile phone for your needs will be easy with our test results and buying advice. We look at what you need to know about selecting a good model, finding the right plan and choosing a provider. Join Consumer and use our expert test results and recommendations to find the model that's right for you.

First Look reviews

We’ve had a quick play in the office with these phones and gadgets.

Features to consider

If you're in the market for a mobile phone, here are some points to consider.

  • Battery: Smart phones are known for using a lot of battery power and will require charging much more often than non-smart phones. Battery life can be extended by turning off certain features like GPS and WiFi when not needed.
  • Ease of use: If you can, try out the phone in a store first to see how easy and intuitive it is to do what you want. Many new phones have touch-screens and changeable "virtual" keyboard - although physical keyboards haven't disappeared completely yet. The smaller the phone and bigger your fingers, the harder the touch screen is to use.
  • Reception: If you are going to use the phone in an area where there are weak signals, look closely at reception ratings (these are included in our test results). Some stores may lend you a test phone to try. You could also ask friends or business colleagues with phones on various networks to see if they can get a signal at your house or work. The reception of phones with internal aerials is affected by which way the phone is facing (towards a cell site), and whether the user's hand is covering the aerial. So if you're struggling to get a clear signal in a rural location, try turning the phone to face different directions, and make sure your hand doesn't cover the top of the back of the phone.
  • Portability: Bigger screens give you more usable real estate and make images look amazing, but the larger phones don’t fit comfortably in your pocket or in your bra. They’re also harder to use with one hand. We strongly recommend trying out these big phones before you buy one.
  • Cameras: Resolution and general lens/processing quality are improving, but are generally several steps behind dedicated digital cameras. Image quality is usually high enough for posting on the web or making small prints. (Remember the best camera is the one you have with you - which is usually your phone. And the newer smart phones can take some remarkable shots.)
  • Text input options: Predictive text is useful and worth taking the time to learn if your phone only has a small numeric keyboard. Nearly all smart phones offer full QWERTY touch screen keyboards. While the buttons are tiny, it can be faster for punching out texts and emails although large fingers can be a problem. Android and Apple phones can download different keyboard layouts, such as Swype on certain phones, that can be useful.
  • 4G and LTE: 4G (fourth generation) or LTE (Long Term Evolution) is technology that allows for much faster data transmission than older 3G networks. All the big telcos have 4G networks across the country, though some areas are still only served by 3G. To access it you will need a 4G compatible phone. While the speeds can be much faster the data charges remain the same, so be aware of how much you are using.
  • Browsing/email: Most phones allow internet browsing and sending or receiving email. Keep in mind that the user experience isn’t always pleasant – while some phones have enough processing power to quickly render web pages, others will struggle. If you find this to be the case, try checking to see if your favourite sites have mobile-optimised versions.
  • Games: The higher connection speeds, large screens and improved memory of modern phones are all the things you need to play increasingly impressive-looking games. However, game quality varies from title to title. If you’re interested in playing games on your phone, try searching the internet for the ones you’re interested in first – it could save you some money.
  • Connectivity: Many phones can connect to other devices, such as a PC or other phones, either by wire or wireless (using bluetooth or over a WiFi network). With the right software the phone can share content (music files, photos, text documents) as well as automatically synchronise calendars and address books. Such operations are free: it's the same as copying material from your camera or a CD. But you'll have to pay if you send this information across the mobile network.
  • Memory: Internal memory (also called dynamic, built-in, or onboard memory) varies widely between handsets. Extra storage capability comes in the form of external memory cards. Memory cards come in many sizes, usually between 512MB and 2GB. Usually phones that can take memory cards are supplied with one. Additional cards can be bought from most electronics retailers.

Operating systems

The mobile phone world moves fast. It seems that each year there’s a refresh of the operating systems (OS). Here’s a basic rundown of what to expect from the main ones.

Android

Most of the mobiles in our test run a version of Google's Android smartphone operating system. Each new version is given the name of a dessert (the last few were Jellybean, Kitkat and Lollipop). Unlike other OS, Android is released slowly across different phones rather than to every phone at once. So your friend’s phone may get the upgrade before yours does.

The number of applications (apps) has increased with each new version of Android's OS. The newest Android phones running the latest version of the OS now look as slick and polished as Apple's iOS. But how fast the OS works and how good it looks obviously depends on the hardware as well.

Android's problem is consistency as it looks and works differently on different phones. Some phones can't upgrade either, so be careful if you're looking to future-proof. Depending on the manufacturer the OS may also come with "bloatware" – software added by the company to your phone. These apps often duplicate functions that the basic OS would do.

Android phones use an open source OS and this competes directly with Apple's approach. Apple uses a proprietary system called iOS.

iOS

Apple’s iOS runs in a similar way on the iPhone and iPad – and parts of its interface have made it to Apple's OS for laptops and desktops. It’s a very polished operating system and Apple has made it work perfectly with its hardware. It’s often said that iOs is incredibly intuitive but that often depends on how you use your phone.

iOS only works on Apple products and only runs apps that have been vetted by Apple inside its "walled garden". This means Apple controls or "censors" the content on your phone. And the apps bought for your iPhone will only work on an iPhone. So if you want to keep your apps, your next phone must be an Apple.

iOS isn’t updated often but when it is, the files are large – and once you’ve upgraded it’s difficult to downgrade. With every update users of a previous iPhone version suddenly discover that their phones run much slower. So if you are considering upgrading do so with caution.

Windows phone

Windows Phone use a series of "live tiles" (formerly known as the Metro UI) that is a very nice minimalist set-up, vastly different from both iOS and Android. Its form is also replicated in the Windows 8 operating system for home computers and tablets.

It sits in an odd space between the open system of Android and the closed Apple iOS. While anyone can develop apps for Windows Phone, there are very strict parameters that have to be met, and hardware manufacturers also have to adhere to these restrictions. Your next Windows phone doesn't have to come from the same company but it will work in the much the same fashion (screen resolution, button placement etc).

The main weakness is that it doesn't have many apps currently available, although the fact that you can link it to your Xbox Live account means that there are plenty of games. In this sense Windows Phone is a small player in the market and most users will grumble about their favourite apps not existing on the Windows OS.

Mobile phone plan types

Phone plans fall into 2 main categories: monthly account and pre-paid plans. Think about how you'll mostly use your phone, as this influences the type of plan that will best suit your needs.

Monthly account plans

Monthly account plans are most suited to people who use their phones often, may make calls rather than sending texts, or require large amounts of mobile data.

The most common monthly plans charge a fixed fee every month. This allows a certain number of "free minutes" during peak or off-peak times, after which you pay per minute.

On some plans you will be able to add “packages” of free text messages, pixts and mobile data for an extra charge. Many monthly account plans require you sign up for a 12, 24 or 36 month term. They may also come with special deals such as free or discounted phones. These plans can lock you in to 1 provider, pricing plan and phone for a long time. Given the rapidly changing nature of the mobile market a shorter term is preferable.

Pre-paid plans

Pre-paid plans are a good choice for people who use their phone to send texts more than making calls. They are also good for parents who want to control their children's usage, or as an emergency-only service.

"Credit" is paid in advance onto your phone, and topped up when it's running low. Topping up can be done via credit card online or by phone, with top-up cards from retail outlets, or by money transfer via certain ATMs.

There is no long-term contract, and the only restriction is having to top up by a minimum amount once a year. Currently the major telcos are offering semi-pre-paid deals, where you pay a set amount in advance each month to receive unlimited texts along with a limited amount of calling minutes and data. The price and amount of minutes/data varies but these can be an excellent alternative to a monthly account plan.

Settling disputes

If you have an issue with a telco and have been unable to resolve it with them you could take your case to the Telecommunication Dispute Resolution service.

The TDR can look at unresolved complaints to do with billing, customer service, hardware faults, contracts, network performance, or something similar. This includes pre-paid mobiles.

TDR can consider:

  • Complaints about companies that are TDR scheme members.
  • Any service or product from any TDR member. You can also complain about how you have been charged for products and services (but not the pricing).
  • Complaints that have already been made to a telecommunications company, as long as it is within 12 months of the complaint first being made.
  • Complaints that involve claims for $15,000 or less, including compensation for direct loss.

Changing networks

Swapping a phone across networks isn't always easy.

Mobile phones use 2 types of technology for their signals. GSM technology has been used by Vodafone since it arrived in New Zealand, and 2degrees also uses this technology. For newer 3G phones, Vodafone and 2degrees use the 2100MHz frequency, but they also work on the older GSM system where 3G signals are not available.

Telecom’s XT network primarily uses the 850MHz frequency that’s not used by either Vodafone or 2degrees – but in some areas Telecom XT also uses 2100MHz!

Although phones from all networks now have SIM cards, swapping a phone across networks is not always a matter of buying a new SIM card and loading it up. Most Vodafone models easily swap over to 2degrees and vice versa. However, swapping from Vodafone to Telecom XT is not so easy.

Telecom has a web page where you can check compatibility of Vodafone and 2degrees models by entering the phone’s International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number. Swapping from XT to Vodafone or 2degrees is usually much easier, but it still may pay to check that the phone can pick up the signal.

If you plan to buy a new phone and want it to work on a specific network, it’s essential to check the network compatibility of the phone before you buy. It’s safer to buy the phone from the network you plan to use. Check the compatibility of parallel imported phones for any of the 3 networks before buying.

Global roaming

Taking your mobile phone overseas is easier than ever. But there are some important things to remember.

  • Call your network provider before you leave to ensure your phone has been activated for global roaming. Telecom’s XT, Vodafone, and 2degrees networks will allow you to roam with relative ease in many countries.
  • Check how much it will cost for texting and calling. In most cases, even receiving incoming calls will cost you. Also prices vary from country to country – call your provider or check their website to find out the rates for the country you’re visiting.
  • Avoid using the internet functions on your phone while overseas. The prices for mobile broadband while roaming are ridiculous – usually around $10 per megabyte – and it’s all too easy to be stung with a huge bill.
  • See if you can pick up a local SIM card and plan or even a cheap phone deal overseas. With the right deal, local rates could save you a lot of money.
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