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Buying a smartphone

Buying a smartphone

Smartphones have come a long way since the first iPhone launched in 2007. The latest models are essentially portable computers, and they're only going to get more powerful.

Like a computer, smartphones aren't just about hardware. You also have to think of the software. In this case, that means apps. It doesn't do you any good to have blazing-fast hardware and nothing to run.

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See a comparison of the best smartphones here.

Apple

The iPhone 6 is the latest and greatest smartphone from Apple. The first thing that you'll notice about the iPhone 6 is that it looks very different from previous iPhone iterations. It's longer and flatter than anything we've seen from Apple before. It comes in two flavors: The regular iPhone 6 and the larger iPhone 6 Plus.

The basic iPhone 6 has a 4.7-inch screen, while the Plus's screen clocks in at 5.5-inches.  It keeps the iPhone 5S's, dual-band Wi-Fi, 4G cellular and a new, smaller connector. But it adds the much more powerful A8 processor as well as a second M8 processor built for the gadget's health tracking and fitness sensors.

The cameras have seen an upgrade with improved optics and image processing, with the front camera now sporting 1.2 megapixels. The 8-megapixel rear camera has a larger image sensor for better low-light shooting, and a dual-LED flash for better colors. Don't forget - with a few additions, you can turn your iPhone into a high-end camera.

The iPhone 6 doesn't have a 32 gigabyte option. Apple bumped it and added a 128-gigabyte drive on the high end. The price haven't changed, and you should expect to pay $199 (16GB), $299 (64GB) or $399 (128GB) depending on what device you want. Tack on another $100 if you want the longer iPhone 6 Plus. The case still comes in the three optional colors (silver, gold and space grey).

Buy more storage if you think you're going to buy a lot of videos, music, games and other apps. Keep in mind that you can get 5GB of online iCloud storage for free.

If you're looking for a less-expensive smartphone, the iPhone 5 has been rebranded as the iPhone 5c. It has basically the same specs, but uses a new plastic case that comes in a variety of colors. You can get it for free with a two-year contract. I'd avoid the iPhone 4S at this point, because its aging hardware is already barely chugging along with the resource-intensive iOS 8.

I would go with the iPhone5c if you're looking for a less-expensive option - remember, it will have to last you 2 years.

On the software side, the iPhone 6 is running the latest iOS version 8. This update completely overhauls the look of iOS with newer fonts, icons and animations. Click here to learn about 5 cool things about iOS 8. Of course, you still have the personal voice assistant Siri and other features like Passbook and Maps.

The iPhone's other major software feature is the connection to Apple's ecosystem. You have access to more than 900,000 apps, along with movies, music and books. Content is easy to find and buy. Apple regulates everything, so you know it's safe.

For first-time smartphone buyers, or those who want an easy-to-use system, my first recommendation will always be the iPhone. However, I know the iPhone isn't for everyone. Read on to learn about your other options.

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