What are your must-have features in a cell phone?

Published: October 16, 2011

Over the course of four short years, our idea and definition of what a smartphone truly is has greatly changed. In that transformation, phones have become larger, more powerful and have begun touting specs we only dreamed of a few years ago. Manufacturers mix a dual-core processor, large touchscreen display, a large capacity battery and several other components together to conjure up what they hope to be your next phone. But creating a smartphone isn't a cut and dry process, and creating a "perfect" phone is quite impossible. What may appeal to you might not appeal to me, and vice versa.

Three years ago, I wouldn't have even considered buying a phone if it didn't sport one of Research In Motion's world class keyboards, and the battery had to last me at least a solid day and a half through heavy use. That was my criteria in which I chose my phones (though it didn't leave much of a choice). Camera and display technology, storage space and data speeds were more or less negligible.

Much like the phones themselves, we as consumers have evolved. Our expectations are much higher and much more effort must go into the decision making process. Buying your next phone is more like searching for your next car with each passing moment: perpetual release dates and waning shelf life cause severe apprehension in buyers, and sorting through mile-long spec sheets with ever-so-slight variations between devices can make for a rather touch decision – that is, if you aren't loyal to a specific manufacturer.

Unlike the pre-iPhone days, there is now a broad choice in hardware and software. Depending on your personal preference, you might begin your search with a particular operating system or manufacturer. After narrowing down those options, you might then consider display size and technology, processor clock speed and architecture, RAM, internal storage, battery capacity, camera quality, radio connectivity, build materials and quality, and much more.

Something I've noticed more of here recently is how no one phone has it all. HTC is quite possibly the worst for this and the Sensation 4G is a perfect example. Released one month after the Sensation, the EVO 3D shipped with a 4.3-inch qHD disply, a 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor, 1GB RAM and a 1,730 mAh battery. The Sensation, on the other hand, came with a 4.3-inch qHD display, 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon, 768MB RAM and a 1,520 mAh battery. Why HTC didn't simply bump the RAM to 1GB and pack in a little extra juice in the battery is beyond me. It was likely per T-Mobile's request, but it's still something HTC should have tried to negotiate and work into the Sensation prior to launch.

Incrementalization such as this only makes things harder on the consumer.  But ... I digress.

Over the past two years, I have owned, used and reviewed a large amount of phones. In doing so, I have discovered several features that I simply cannot go without. I have traded the need for a RIM-made physical QWERTY for a respectable camera and kept decent battery life in the mix, though I've had to drop my expectations pretty drastically. And after using the iPhone for so long, I simply cannot stand to stare at a display with a low ppi or with noticeable grain anymore. A 4.3-inch (or 4.7-inch, in the case of the Sensation XL) at WVGA resolution is nonsensical. Any phone above 4-inches should now have at least a qHD display.

Surprisingly, lack of 4G is not a deal breaker for me, nor is the lack of a dual-core processor – but having one or both is a huge plus, so long as they don't affect the performance of more important features. 4G is currently a battery suck, and I would rather have my phone last all day and take longer to download a file than to be able to watch the battery drain before my eyes. It is also worth noting that I try to avoid Android smartphones without dual-core processors now. But I don't mind the occasional Windows Phone from time to time, and a A5 chipset on the iPhone is overkill for the non-gamer.

If a phone is announced and is missing one of these three things, I won't even consider it as my personal device. All fingers are pointing to the Nexus hitting the mark in all of these three areas, and unfortunately, I can't help but get excited. Here's to hoping Samsung and Google deliver. Otherwise, I may have to give up and build my own phone. (Kidding ... sort of.)

Turns out, I'm not too terribly picky, but I know some of you are. Some of you have a preference for one processor or display technology over another, and I know some of you won't go without your precious 4G. There's nothing wrong with that. Nitpick away. But I am curious. What are your must-have features in a phone? Is there any one feature that will turn you off of a device instantly? Sound off below and tell me what's most important to you in a phone!

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