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What matters in the fall smartphone lineup: brand, display size, battery life, LTE

Matt Hamblen | Aug. 25, 2014
What doesnt matter: color

Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner, said smartphone buyers most want a strong ecosystem, which includes the hardware brand, but also a strong OS and a large number of apps. All those qualities apply to both Android, running on many phones from multiple manufacturers, and iOS on the iPhone.

For first-time smartphone buyers, Kantar's survey found an overwhelming influence from in-store clerks on customers to buy a Samsung phone. Most smartphones are purchased in-store, so demos there are big factor in purchases. Kantar's survey found that 59% of buyers who were recommended a Samsung phone in-store bought one, while just 6% bought an iPhone.

Display size and resolution
After brand, analysts and the Kantar survey found the display size and resolution are very important to buyers. "Bigger is better for most consumers," Kantar said in a research report, authored by Carolina Milanesi, chief of research.

The screen-size race among vendors actually started two years ago, and some smartphone displays are well over 5-in. diagonally. The coming Sony Xperia Z3 is expected to have a 5.2-in. display while the Moto G is expected to have a 5-in. display and the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 could have a 5.7-in. display.

Apple's iPhone 6 could be quite a bit smaller, at 4.7-in., although there are rumors a of second model at 5.5-in. "If there's only the 4.7-in., I think that customer interest would be more limited, unless the device had something very unique about it," she said. "4.9 to 5.5 is the sweet spot, while over 5.5 is still a niche."

One rumored feature of the next iPhone is a tough platinum display, something that could attract buyers but didn't register very high with Computerworld's surveyed analysts.

While there's expected to be a greater vendor focus this fall on screen clarity and resolution, those qualities might not especially be on the minds of many customers. Kantar's survey found clarity and screen resolution are less important than battery life, camera quality, overall durability and 4G/LTE capability into customers. (LTE was at the top of the list.)

"Today's phones have more than you need," Dulaney argued. "Do you really need a 4K screen?"

Longer battery life, faster processor
All four analysts listed longer battery life and faster processing as important, but less so than brand/ecosystem and display size. "Users have an expectation of all-day or better battery life and if the device doesn't meet that, it gets panned," Gold said.

It's getting harder to make predictions before a purchase of how long a battery will last when playing streaming video or other rich data, although some carriers and vendors offer a ballpark figure.

Processors are constantly improving and being incorporated in new phones. The coming Note 4 may have the Qualcomm Snapdragon 805, while the next iPhone could have a new A8 chip, faster than the A7 with 64-bit architecture that debuted in last year's iPhone 5S.


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