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What is the best smartphone for a first time user?

By Adam Doud December 10, 2014, 10:00 am


It’s a question that a lot of us need to answer, because of who we are. What phone should I buy? So often, the answer to this question really depends on the user’s history. Are you tied into an ecosystem? What smartphones have you had in the past? What are you used to?

But every now and then, you get a blank slate. You get a field of freshly fallen snow. No footprints to disturb the unbroken landscape. So you get to help them decide where the snow angel is going to go. You have a virtual blank slate, with no preconceptions. So what do you tell those people?

Well, we at Pocketnow are going to try and answer that question – or not as the case may be. But it so happens that two of us are attempting to answer that question as I write this. So what do you say, Pocketnow?




Adam Doud

Contributing Editor

“Windows Phone, but only if it fits.”

My father is a proud Blackberry Torch toting smartphone user. So maybe his example is not a proper one for this article. A Blackberry is a smartphone – kinda. But it’s old. It was old when he got it two years ago. There are apps, sure, but it’s honestly more of a smart dumbphone than an actual smartphone, at least in my book. So in a Star Wars, “from a certain point of view” standpoint, I am looking for a smartphone for a first-time user.

The easy answer to this question is, “Windows Phone or iOS”. The price barrier for iOS is hard to swallow for many first time users – after all they’ve often been getting the free options for their dumb phones. So $200 PLUS a two year contract is not so easily shaken. Then there’s Windows Phone. The ease and minor customizability are both great for a firs time user who has no expectations about the capabilities of a smartphone. But then there’s my dad who has seen mobile phones of every shape and size set on his counter year after year when I’ve come over.

So when it came time to answer this question for him, I steered him toward the Moto G. He did not want a contract – who does? But he still wanted to have a great experience at a cheap price. I tried to steer him toward Windows Phone at first, but to be honest, it just didn’t “fit” him. This was more of a gut feeling on both our parts, and it’s not for lack of trying, but my Dad just seems like an Android kind of guy.

So I guess my answer is to say that Windows Phone is the easy answer, and the answer that will fit most owners and their budgets. But sometimes, that just doesn’t fit. Sometimes you look at a puppy and his name is ‘Killer’ and sometimes, you look at a puppy and his name is “Fluffy”. That’s probably a bad analogy, but my Dad is definitely a Fluffy.




Adam Lein

Senior Editor

“If you want cheap AND stable, Windows Phone. Everything else, you only get one of those.”

The best smartphone for people either finally upgrading from a dumb-phone or just getting their first phone in general is definitely an inexpensive Lumia Windows Phone. You can get a Lumia 530 on T-Mobile from Best Buy for $35, or an AT&T Lumia 520 for $30, and sometimes you can find AT&T Lumia 635’s for $40. The low-end Lumia phones cost less than having lunch with a friend. I got my parents two Lumia 520’s for $45 each last year as their first smartphones and they love them. They think the camera is amazing and totally love taking pictures of their grandson. The large live tiles in Windows Phone make the smartphone easy to customize too. You can make it as simple or as complex as you want to.

It’s a lot easier to learn than most Android phones and a lot less expensive than an iPhone. Unlike cheap Android phones, a $35 Lumia is very stable, fast and reliable as well. I actually know some experienced Android users who have switched to cheap Lumia phones to use on cheaper service plans just to save money. They still have plenty of functionality! The Lumia 52X series also have interchangeable battery covers for personalization, spare batteries cost about $4, and they’re built surprisingly solid. If you do happen to break a Nokia phone, big deal… it was $35. The fact that it comes with the best music service around and offline GPS navigation for free makes it all an even better deal.




Anton D. Nagy


“Depends on the investment.”

This all depends on the finances said “first time smartphone user” disposes of, or how much he or she is willing to invest. Since it is a first smartphone, I’m guessing that the amounts invested are to be kept at a minimum, which is not a good idea in terms of the user experience he or she is going to get.

However, money is a big factor. If the smartphone has to be a budget device, I’d recommend a lower-end Windows Phone. That’ll keep the “first time smartphone user” busy for a little while, and happy for a little bit more. Sadly, Windows Phone (as a platform, and as an ecosystem), is not something I’d personally currently recommend in the long run.

If he or she is shooting for a mid-ranger, I’d recommend getting last year’s iPhone. iOS is simple enough for a short learning curve, and the app ecosystem is the best currently out there. And, with Apple’s policies, most of the apps will run flawlessly on one-year-old hardware.

If money is not an issue, then go for a high-end Android device, or the current iPhone. If we’re talking Android, a high-end phone (S5, G3, M8, Z3, you name it) is both future-proof enough, and powerful enough, to offer a great user experience. With the iPhone, everything above applies, plus a future-proofing for at least two-years of contract.




Joe Levi

Senior Editor

“You’re not just buying a phone. You’re buying an ecosystem. Go with the one with the most choice.”

The question is which smartphone is best for a first-time user, but the decision goes well beyond that device. Whichever platform you adopt is going to influence your pocketbook well into the future.

Most first-time buyers only consider the device itself. The ecosystem around which those devices are built is every bit as important as the device itself, if not more so. Books, magazines, newspapers, music, movies, and TV shows all got in to your “digital library” and are available for you on the next device you buy, and the one after that, and the one after that. Apps, too, carry over to your next devices. Purchases that you make now and in the coming months will be available to you on your future devices. Put another way, if you change to a different platform, all the purchases that you made on your prior device won’t be available to you any longer (Apple, Google, and Microsoft all have their own app and content stores).

With that in mind, I’d go with the platform that offers the most options. If you don’t like your first choice, you can switch to a phone made by another OEM, but based on the same platform. Android is the platform that offers the most choice in this regard. Samsung, Motorola, HTC, Asus, NVIDIA, OnePlus, OPPO, ZTE, and so many more build phones and tablets based on Android. Any purchases you made through Google’s Play Store are available on any other Android-powered device.

Go with the platform with the most choices. Even if you don’t want to root or do anything “technical” with your phone or tablet, Android is the best option.


Michael Fisher


Editorial Director

“It depends on the customer.”

In sales –a business I spent some time in– an essential part of the job is a process called “qualifying the customer.” That’s the part where the salesperson gets to know the customer’s wants and needs so as to best match him or her with the right product. In a business like wireless with its 2-year contracts, qualifying is more important than almost anywhere else. You need to know what someone actually needs in order to sell them something they’ll be happy with.

That’s why there is no “best first smartphone.” As much as I love the notion that there’s a simple answer to this question, it’s a completely bogus one. Including carrier variants, there are 129 smartphone models to choose from across the top four US carriers right now. Part of the reason for all that diversity of supply is diversity of demand: a Motorola Admiral on Sprint may be a much better fit for the tugboat captain than would the iPhone 6 on T-Mobile. Conversely, someone looking for a piece of stylish kit for social engagements would probably be better suited by the HTC One M8 than the Samsung Galaxy S5. The examples stretch on forever.

That’s not to say the products called out by my colleagues here aren’t solid choices. In addition to/alongside their selections, I’ll nominate the second-generation Moto G for the penny-pincher and the second-generation Moto X for the person who wants something a little nicer: both provide a feature-rich but approachable Android experience. On the simpler, cleaner Windows Phone, the Lumia 830 strikes me as a solid choice (though we’ll have to wait for Jaime Rivera’s final take on that), and on iOS of course it’s hard to go wrong with the iPhone 6.

If you want something more specific than those generic, predictable answers, let us qualify you. We’ve got a weekly podcast with a regular segment called “Which Phone Should I Buy?” If you’re truly looking for a first smartphone (for yourself or someone else), write us at podcast AT pocketnow DOT com with as much information as you can give us, and we’ll give you an on-air recommendation tailored to your own specific needs. If you don’t have the time for that, then like I say, my colleagues are smart guys and their recommendations are good ones. All I’m saying is: if I were shopping for my first smartphone, I’d want to be qualified.




Stephen Schenck

Chief News Editor

“I have no idea. That’s why I asked. Probably…Android…probably.”

Well, I submitted this idea for an editorial mainly because I don’t have a good answer. I’m trying to hook my mom up with her first smartphone, and having taken her out shopping for one, it’s clear she’s overwhelmed by the options.

My instinct says “bigger screens are easier to use” and “larger batteries are more convenient,” but I’m not sure that’s a fair generalization for the sort of things all new users will look for.

It’s an easier question if you’re already integrated with Apple’s, Google’s, or Microsoft’s cloud services, but the sort of person who doesn’t have a smartphone by 2015 isn’t likely to be the same kind real into those things, either.

I like the idea of devices like the Moto X or One M8, but I think I just gravitate towards those because they’re solid phones – neither really screams “new user friendly” at me. I have philosophical issues against recommending either Windows Phone or iOS, but that still leaves me with a mountain of Android options – and paring those down is huge task. Samsung has that Easy Mode jazz, but is that doing a new user a disservice by oversimplifying things, preventing them from learning how to really use a phone? For the moment, I’ve got more questions than answers.



Michael Fisher, Starfleet

“Captain’s Log. Stardate 48364.3. The best smartphone for a first time user is still elusive. We need more data.”

So that’s where we are. How about you? Even better, have you ever recommended a smartphone for a first time user? What did you recommend and how did it go? Did you make a friend for life? Or did it end up being a premature Swappa listing?


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