Buying a smartphone can be daunting, particularly when there are so many new options on the market. Choosing the right phone is an intensely personal decision, and one answer may not fit all — even for those who aren't obsessed with the minute differences in technical specifications.
No matter who you are, the first thing to figure out is what feature is your top priority. While we’d all love for phones to have it all, the right decision requires you to rank some attributes. Based on the questions I often field about new phones, here are four common ways that you can frame your smartphone searches — and thoughts on how to use apply them to this fall's most popular smartphones.
The camera: Cameras have become a top priority for many smartphone buyers. Thinking about what kind of pictures you shoot and your own skill level may help you here. The good news is that most of the phones on the market have pretty good cameras, so it's hard to land with a bad option.
If you're mostly a point-and-shoot person, Samsung's Galaxy S8 and Apple's iPhone 8 will work for you. But they do lack some photo features available on more premium models.
If you often have trouble focusing on the right part of a picture with scenic views, for example, you may want to think about the Note 8. That phone allows you to adjust focus of a picture after you've taken, in case you decide later that you want the background in focus. It also always records a wide-angle picture with your close-up. That's nice for those of us who aren't always getting the perfect shot.
Tend to shake a lot when you're taking pictures? Go for a phone with a feature called image stabilization, which helps when shooting from a moving location (like a car) or for zoomed-in shots. The Note 8 has made this a selling point. Apple has stabilization in both of the iPhone X's cameras, and in the telephoto lens of the iPhone 8 Plus.
If you take a lot of pictures of people, the iPhone might be the better option for you. The iPhone X and iPhone 8 Plus have expanded on Apple's popular "Portrait Mode" settings, which allow you to shoot dramatically lit shots of people. With functions such as "stage lighting" or "contour lighting" they make sure that faces pop in almost any situation -- and you can apply those effects either before or after you take your shot.
LG's new V30 also has an impressive rear-facing wide-angle lens, which may have particular appeal to those who are always snapping vistas. The trade-off there is that the front-facing camera isn't as good, so your selfies won't be as good as your other shots.
If selfies are totally your thing, the iPhone X promises excellent selfies, thanks to the fancy tech that also powers facial recognition in the front-facing camera.
The battery life: Battery life is a good attribute to consider, particularly if you're on the go a lot and can't stay plugged in throughout the day.
Phone makers — Apple, in particular — aren't giving specific hour estimates on battery life any more, perhaps because mileage varies so much depending on how you use your phone. When I'm testing phones, I'm mostly looking for a practical standard: to see if they get me through a full day without requiring a top-up.
While the most expensive phones tend to have the best battery life, it's not necessarily the case this year. The Galaxy Note 8, Samsung's most expensive phone, doesn't have much better battery life than the S8+, for example.
For Apple, the iPhone X boasts the most battery life, explicitly promising two hours of extra battery life over the iPhone 7 — an extrapolation you could extend, presumably, to the iPhone 8.
But stats can be a little deceiving. The iPhone 7 wasn't the best for battery life in the Apple lineup; the iPhone 7 Plus did. If battery life is your main focus, then, the similarly long-lasting iPhone 8 Plus may offer the most bang for your buck.
Cutting-edge technology: If you want cutting-edge hardware, then you will have to pay for it. The Note 8 and the iPhone X are your phones here, as they are jam-packed with features such as facial recognition on the iPhone X or the stylus productivity features on the Note 8.
If you really like trying out new things, there is an interesting option on the table this fall: the Essential phone. Made by Andy Rubin, the creator of Android, the Essential phone is essentially an experiment. It has modular accessories, such as a detachable camera, to let you customize your purchase with add-ons.
The downside of having an experimental phone is that it's, well, experimental. The Essential phone got dinged in early reviews for not living up to its promise. The further into the unknown that you get, the more chance there is of things not working quite right yet — that's worth remembering for all devices.
One other thing to note: if you want new software immediately, then a) you're probably an Android fan and b) you'll probably want a Pixel. The Pixel is Google's phone, and is the first to get Android updates and all the new features that come with it. The Pixel should get an update later this fall.
Price: This is the attribute that, generally speaking, requires the most in terms of trade-offs. But focusing on price makes sense, particularly as smartphone prices are now hitting $1,000.
Price is often what makes people stick with the basic flavor smartphones; this fall, for most people, that'd be the iPhone 8 or the Galaxy S8, which work for those who just want a phone that works well. The price-conscious may also want to consider last year's phones, such as the iPhone 7 or the Galaxy S7, which get price drops as the new tech comes out.
If getting a really low price is your main objective, the field actually gets a little more crowded. You can look at some of the more “budget” top- or mid-tier phones for under $500, which tend to get the job done well, even if they're not likely to rock your world. Devices such as the Huawei Honor 8 and the Moto G series offer pretty-darn good features and performance.
The same can be said of the iPhone SE, Apple's smaller and less full-featured smartphone, which it sells for $350.