Woman wearing glasses smiling while looking at a phone in store

Shopping for a new phone is like choosing an avocado based on looks alone—it can be tough to tell what you’re signing up for. Since sifting through all the specs can be overwhelming, use these tips for buying a cell phone to help you figure out what’s most important. Whether you’re helping your teen pick the best smartphone for social media or looking for a great camera to snap pictures of the kiddos, our guide can help.

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1Which cell phone brand is best?

iPhone, Samsung Galaxy Google Pixel and OnePlus

There are plenty of different brands out there that serve different needs, but models from these four brands consistently make annual top-10 lists.

Apple iPhone

Pros Cons
The operating system (iOS) on iPhone is user-friendly, which makes it ideal for people with little or no tech experience. iPhones are compatible with other Apple technology (AirPods, iPads, Apple Watches). They can be tricky to use with non-Apple technology.
You get digital assistant Siri, who responds to voice commands like “play music.” iPhones are often more expensive than other brands.
iPhones come with security features that protect your privacy, including facial and fingerprint authentication. iPhones don’t have SD card slots, so you can only upgrade your storage by purchasing an iCloud plan.
Apple makes durable, water-resistant phones from aluminum or stainless steel and strong glass.

Our top pick: The iPhone 12 Pro Max (available in-store only) features the biggest screen on an Apple phone, one of the best cell phone cameras that captures brilliant low-light photography and a battery with long life.

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Samsung Galaxy

Pros Cons
Samsung phones feature OLED screens for better image quality without as much power consumption. Some users complain that the battery charge doesn’t last as long after a few years of use. In many models, you can’t replace the battery.
The Android operating system gives you access to thousands of games and apps via Google play. Samsung phones come with a lot of preloaded apps that can’t be uninstalled (only disabled), which take up storage space.
Samsung smartphones are resilient, holding up for many years if treated well. The phones can become very hot during gameplay.

Our top pick: The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra features a sharp camera that takes clear HD shots, a fast 120Hz refresh rate (which means the display refreshes 120 times per second) and a battery that lasts for two days on a full charge.

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Google Pixel

Pros Cons
Pixel users get early access to new versions of Android. If you take a lot of photos, you may need to pay for Google Drive to expand your storage limit.
Google uses Soli facial recognition technology to scan users’ faces super fast and allow motion-gesture controls for some apps, so you can answer calls with a flick of the wrist. Some older models of Google Pixel have issues with screen burn-in (discolouration across the panel), charging ports that stop working and system crashes.
Pixel phones have cameras that use high-resolution zoom for super-sharp, detailed pics. Pixels aren’t known for flashy designs, like some other competitors’ phones.

Our top pick: The Google Pixel 4a is known for its sharp, vivid display, a back-mounted fingerprint sensor that allows for quick-and-easy unlocking and its affordable price point compared to other similar models.

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OnePlus

Pros Cons
Whether you’re watching Netflix or gaming, OnePlus phones feature a high refresh rate, which means good speed and responsive performance. OnePlus is a smaller company than the others, so service centres can be hard to come by. Also, parts are not as readily available.
Many models are more affordable than competitors. Some newer models can be pricey.
OnePlus uses Alexa Support, so you can ask your phone to make calls or check the weather. Some users point out that photos turn out inconsistent with too much exposure.

Our top pick: OnePlus 9 5G charges fully in just 15 minutes (and supports wireless charging), has a fast refresh rate for streaming and an ultrawide camera that landscape photographers will appreciate.

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2How can you save money buying a cell phone?

Keep these handy tips in mind when you’re making a purchase.

  • Buy an older model: Last year’s model instead often ends up at a discounted rate when the new phones come out and you’ll get a lot of the same features.
  • Wait for seasonal sales and discounts: Shopping around back-to-school will score you bigger discounts than usual. Holidays like Christmas, along with other occasions like Black Friday, are also ideal times to find cell phones on sale.
  • Buy a refurbished phone: If you’re looking for a way to save money and help the environment, refurbished models work just as well as new ones and usually look like new, too. Check Walmart’s Trusted Refurbished program for a selection of handpicked products.

3Is it better to get a contract or buy your phone outright?

Walmart offers both options:

  • Carrier phones: You pay a lower fee for the phone upfront, then slowly pay it off with monthly installments alongside a service contract. (At Walmart, your cell phone provider options are Rogers, Telus, Koodo, Fido, Bell or Virgin and you must visit a store to sign up.)
  • Unlocked phones: You purchase them at the full price and aren’t tied to a specific service provider or contract.
Phone Type Pros Cons
Carrier Phone (with contract)
  • Service providers usually offer better warranties and insurance. If you have issues with your phone, you can bring it to a local carrier shop to have an employee assist you.
  • Most carriers offer financing plans that allow you to get a phone for zero to a few hundred dollars and then pay the rest off over time via your service bill.
  • Carrier phones are tied to a service provider. If you want to switch to another carrier, you’ll have to pay off your phone all at once.
  • Some service providers offer a limited selection of phones to choose from and it can be difficult to find older models.
Unlocked Phone (without contract)
  • Buying an unlocked phone means you get to choose your service provider and get the best deal.
  • They usually come with fewer preinstalled apps, which means you’re not as likely to require additional storage.
  • You must pay the entire cost of the phone upfront.
  • You won’t be able to ask your service provider for support if you’re having software issues.

4What are the main cell phone features to consider?

Family taking a selfie with a cell phone camera

If you don’t already have your heart set on a particular brand or you’re not sure which model is best, these are the six most important specs to investigate when you’re browsing.

  • Operating system (OS): Android (ideal for Google users) and iOS (ideal for fans of Apple products) are the most common, but some use Microsoft Windows or their own systems.
  • Mobile network: Mobile networks provide data connections and access to the internet. 5G connectivity is the latest technology, offering faster speeds and more bandwidth.
  • Battery life: A fast-charging, long-lasting battery means less charging time and more mobility.
  • Display: If you use your phone for watching your favourite shows or if your teen is into gaming, you’ll want to make sure the screen is big enough and offers high-definition resolution.
  • Camera: Anyone who likes to snap selfies for social media or take daily family photos will need a quality camera that has settings like night sight and portrait mode.
  • Storage space: Most people find that 64 GB or 128 GB of storage is plenty, but if you download a lot of playlists, podcasts or eBooks, you may want to look into extra storage.

5Are there any other nice-to-have extras?

Cell phone on a wireless charger

Whether you like having all the bells and whistles or have specific needs for work, these four features are worth looking into.

  • Wireless charging: Many newer phones are made with Qi technology, which means you can place them on a wireless charger to juice up.
  • Durability: If you work in construction or use your phone for DIY projects, look for dust- and water-resistant materials that can survive a fall or scratch.
  • Added security features: Some smartphones have biometric security features that use fingerprints, facial recognition or voice recognition, which can be handy if you don’t want to type in a PIN each time you want to unlock your phone.
  • Headphone jack: Many new cell phone models use headphone-jack adapters, which are often sold separately and can be easy to lose. If you like to plug your headphones directly into your phone, make sure you find a model that has a built-in jack.

6How do you choose a cell phone provider?

There are three important decisions you’ll need to make when deciding on a phone carrier.

  • How much coverage you need: Check out the carrier’s service area map (which shows what locations are covered by their network) to make sure you’ll have reception when you need it. It’s also not a bad idea to read reviews and ask friends and neighbours about their experiences. Most carriers don’t offer guarantees when it comes to coverage and your neighbourhood may just have a hidden dead zone.
  • The amount of data you’ll use: If you spend a lot of time at home and only use data-heavy apps and streaming services when on your Wi-Fi, then you won’t use up as much data each month. But if you’re always on the go, you’ll want to look for a plan that offers lots of data. If your family has three lines or more, research shared or unlimited plans that will help save money in the long run, since charges for going over your data limit can be high.
  • Your budget: Consider how much you’re willing to spend on your phone upfront and what carriers offer the most affordable plans. If you don’t use much data, a smaller carrier that offers a prepaid service might make sense for you. But if you’re using a lot of data or you want to invest in a family plan, one of the bigger carriers is probably a better idea.

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