Yes, this will be my first smartphone
February 13, 2016 6:09 PM   Subscribe

I'm finally caving and buying a smartphone. Size is a major factor, but I'm also not sure how concerned I should be about the security of phones that are stuck with older versions of their OS.

I really don't want a large phone, and as far as I can tell, pretty much every phone is pretty large nowadays. The iPhone 5s is the size that I want (and from what I can tell it's one of the only phones you can buy that isn't really huge). I'm not at all concerned that it's less beefy than the 6 or 6s, and I'm not even worried that there might be a 5se soon. But it's also $500.

There are Android phones for half that much, but they're large, cumbersome and - here's what I'm really unsure about - they run older versions of the Android OS. I'm not planning on using my phone for banking, but I'd like to check email, and I know that older versions of the OS can be less secure. I will regularly be connecting to a VERY large semi-public network*, and I want to be sure I'm not putting myself or my data at risk.

All of this boils down to two questions for me:
- Is my concern over OS security unfounded, or otherwise overblown?
- Is the iPhone 5s really the only phone out there with a screen size less than 5 inches?

Honestly I'd be happy paying much less for a phone (I'm not made of money and the thought of carrying around a $500 phone sort of freaks me out), but everything about the iPhone 5s really does make it seem like a better option. Are the concerns I've laid out regarding Android phones valid? I can justify buying the more expensive iPhone if security and screen size are major factors, but I'm not sure if I can if it boils down to screen size alone.

* I say "semi-public," because it's a university wifi network with about 35,000 users, and I'll absolutely need to connect to that if I'm going to stay under my data limit.
posted by teponaztli to Technology (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The Motorola Droid Mini is smaller than 5 inches. It works beautifully for my purposes, but I don't use my phone as an MP3 player.

(also, may I ask that you write your carrier and various cell manufacturers and tell them how important it is to you that you not spend hundreds of dollars on a smartphone too large for you to comfortably use or carry? Took me over a year to get Verizon to admit this phone existed and that they could sell it to me and that was after I wrote several companies complaining that my smartphone needed replacing but that I refused to pay several hundred dollars for a phone that was 6x3 inches because it's too large for me to carry and use comfortably. Then, magically, Verizon coughed up the Droid Mini. While I was buying it, the woman in line next to me got so excited to see a reasonably sized phone that she returned the phone she had just bought to get the Mini instead)
posted by crush-onastick at 6:15 PM on February 13, 2016 [9 favorites]

Apple is widely rumored to be releasing a new phone in mid-march that will basically be an iphone 5-sized chassis with upgraded internals from the 6/6S.

That being said, as someone not used to a smartphone, you may be underestimating the screen size that you will actually end up preferring. Essentially everyone I know, for instance, who moved up to an iphone 6 or 6S from an older iphone has said they ended up preferring the larger 4.7" screen size.
posted by kickingtheground at 6:22 PM on February 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

Apple's apparently to launch some new phones in March, so maybe wait till then if you can?
posted by slater at 6:23 PM on February 13, 2016

Beaten by KTG!
posted by slater at 6:23 PM on February 13, 2016

Some info on the supposed iPhones coming in March:
posted by slater at 6:24 PM on February 13, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses! Just to clarify:

My partner had an iPhone 5 for a long time, and I'm familiar with the screen size. Yeah, a larger screen can be nice, but I'm pretty positive I don't want or need something large. Anyway, the 6/6s is definitely outside my budget.

I'm aware of the rumored 5se, but I'm concerned that it'll be more expensive than the 5s is now. I forgot to mention this in my original question, but I don't know if it's expected that the 5se will replace the 5s at that price point, or if it'll just be more expensive. Assuming it's the former, the only reason I'd want to wait is if I thought the 5se would last me longer before I needed to replace it (my decision to buy a new phone is motivated in part by my current phone's impending death).
posted by teponaztli at 6:31 PM on February 13, 2016

Best answer: I'm aware of the rumored 5se, but I'm concerned that it'll be more expensive than the 5s is now.

If you're concerned about security and software updates it will be worth your while to wait and find out. The Android OS-update-and-support situation is a garbage fire.
posted by mhoye at 6:49 PM on February 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Moto G third generation is new, cheap, gets great reviews, and has a screen size of 4.5 inches. You'll need to check whether there's a model that will work on your carrier, though.
posted by lollusc at 6:53 PM on February 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Moto G3 has a 5" inch screen, costs less than $180, runs the latest version of Android. Unless you are already locked into the Apple garden it may be a good choice for you. I'm quite happy with my first smart phone Moto G1.
posted by Mitheral at 6:58 PM on February 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The 5s is almost three years old. The 5se will definitely last much longer than the 5s. It's supposed to go on sale March 18th, according to rumors. Get as much space as you can afford, then try for a little more. That stuff disappears fast.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:29 PM on February 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

PS: the Moto G3 takes microSD cards so storage is unlimited.
posted by Mitheral at 7:33 PM on February 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you want an Android phone that will continue to get upgrades, you want Motorola or Nexus - and if you want cheaper and smaller, you want Motorola. The Moto G is great. Like Mitheral, I'm still on the 1st Gen Moto G and it is chugging along fine. I'm sure you'd be happy with the current models.
posted by ssg at 7:47 PM on February 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I just sold my $300 OnePlus One for a $40 Windows phone (Lumia 640). Yes. You read that right.

Just one data point here, and I'm sure many disagree, but for me... the only day-to-day difference for me using the OnePlus vs. the Lumia is speed, the quality of the screen resolution, and the camera. But then again, I read email, send text, read Flipboard and Kindle and that's about it. Don't get me wrong - the OnePlus is a sexy phone, with a gorgeous screen resolution, plenty of apps available and a sweet camera, but just too darn big. It's a great phone if you want a bigger screen - the OnePlus specs can't be beat at their price point. And when you compare that to the iPhone, it looks like a great deal. But for folks like me, price-wise it's still just too much.

Personally, I'd rather spend $60 on a piece of crap and run it into the ground until I can't use it anymore than be on a consumerist treadmill spending hundreds of dollars on a flagship phone every 2-3 years. At this price point, if I paid $60 every six months for a phone that's a behind the update curve, I'd still be spending less than buying a new phone in the hopes that it will last longer. You can't really get ahead of the updates, unfortunately.

Updates vs. price of the phone have always an issue, for me, and it seems for you too. I agonized over this and I was so frustrated over spending (what I believe to be) a lot money on something that is going to be obsolete and essentially worthless in 3 years. So, I got a cheap piece of sh*t, and you know what? It's fine. No one gives a hoot what kind of phone I have except for me, and yeah the updates on my Lumia phone will be gone in six months to a year, but really.... I don't think it matters. I wouldn't want to use an unsecure phone, but I'm not that worried about it. I wouldn't spend $700 on an iPhone or Android flagship phone just for security reasons.

Quite frankly, I think the whole cell phone market is a racket. The only reason I have a smartphone is because I need the GPS. Otherwise, honestly? I'd be still using a flip phone.

Just my two cents, N=1. Good luck!
posted by onecircleaday at 8:05 PM on February 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: OK, thanks everyone! I was already looking at the Moto G, but I guess my remaining question goes back to the OS security - I've heard that they're really slow to update it and it's still on an older version. Is this something to be concerned about?
posted by teponaztli at 8:06 PM on February 13, 2016

Best answer: I'm typing this on a 5s that I bought in nearly new condition off Craigslist for $250. I highly recommend this phone for anyone who wants something pocket-sized, and there are plenty of them being sold by people who are upgrading. The depreciation on new phones is truly something to behold. If you don't want the hassle of Craigslist, get one on . Apple phones are by far the most secure available, and anyone who says otherwise is not looking carefully at the evidence and incentives that most manufacturers have to skimp on security.
posted by wnissen at 8:09 PM on February 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: OK, husband chimed in (he works in the tech industry). Yes - there have been a lot of security problems with Android lately, but he's not sure if 2014 has vulnerabilities that aren't being updated. Either way they're going to stop running updates on the 2014 soon. You can run Cyanogen mod on it, though. Cyanogenmod is based on the latest version of Android, but it's not for non-technical folks.

If you want the modern Moto G, they'll probably support that for 2 years.

You're probably best off getting an iPhone 5S, like others have said. That will probably be supported for another 2 years or so.
posted by onecircleaday at 8:10 PM on February 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

OK, husband chimed in (he works in the tech industry). Yes - there have been a lot of security problems with Android lately, but he's not sure if 2014 has vulnerabilities that aren't being updated. Either way they're going to stop running updates on the 2014 soon. You can run Cyanogen mod on it, though. Cyanogenmod is based on the latest version of Android, but it's not for non-technical folks.

I should clarify - I was talking about the 2014 version of Moto G. The 5S was made in 2013, so it may not be updated for more than a year.
posted by onecircleaday at 8:23 PM on February 13, 2016

Best answer: I won't run a phone without security updates, just like I wouldn't run a computer without them. The vast majority of people don't care, but if you want to keep the information on your phone private, I think you need security updates.

That being said, getting updates is a real problem. Apple probably has the best update story. You can probably count on updates for 2-4 years for any new iPhone. That being said, you're going to pay much more for an iPhone than anything comparable on Android. There's nothing wrong with buying a used phone, but remember that you're only going to get updates for 2-4 years from the phone's original release date.

Flagship/expensive Android phones also usually get updates for 2-3 years, but you run into the same problem. You have to spend a ton of money to get them in the first place.

Motorola did patch the Android Stagefright bug in the relatively inexpensive 2013 Moto G recently, but it's otherwise no longer going to receive updates. So, that device got just over two years of updates. Someone above mentioned the Moto G 3rd Gen, which was released last July. If history holds, you'd get updates for another 18 months or so. This might be the best price/update time ratio you'll find. If you go this route, get the $220 phone, as it's a lot better than the $180 version. The screen is 5", so it's not small, but it's probably the best you'll do. Cheap Android phones basically don't get any updates ever, so rule those out completely if you're concerned about updates.

As onecircle mentioned, you could go with Windows 10 Mobile, which is guaranteed updates for 24 months. Windows 10 Mobile does all the basics (email, calls, SMS, maps, etc.) fine and you can get a decent phone for not much money (Lumia 640 is $30-$50, Lumia 550 is $140), but there are lots of "Windows Mobile is dead" articles, and the third party app story isn't good, so I wouldn't necessarily recommend it.

For the record, on some Android phones, there's also the option of using Cyanogenmod, which is based on Android, but getting it running is really only for the highly technical.

Buy a used iPhone with some update time left, a $220 Moto G or possibly wait for the iPhone 5SE.
posted by cnc at 8:56 PM on February 13, 2016

Apple will provide more consistent data security than android.

if I were you, I'd buy a used 5S.
posted by samthemander at 10:42 PM on February 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

The iPhone 5c is not as expensive ($278 new on Amazon) and is a really great phone that's not too big. I'm very happy with mine.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 4:07 AM on February 14, 2016

I have a Samsung Galaxy S3, specifically because it's smaller. I'd actually prefer it even smaller but I like it. I am running CyanogenMod on mine and it was not that difficult or overly techy. I think it's great for my purposes and phone usage. my sister has the S6 active and her husband has the regular s6. they are gigantic, in my opinion. also, I do not like I phones, I prefer the customization and screen size of my current phone.
posted by lunastellasol at 6:48 AM on February 14, 2016

Best answer: It is shocking to me that no one has suggested the Nexus 5x. Stock Android, great track record of up-to-date OTA updates to Android, no contract, for price-point and size best-in-breed specs. This phone might be slightly on the large side of what you describe, but it certainly doesn't approach phablet sizing.
posted by mcstayinskool at 7:36 AM on February 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Honestly i think the 5s is still a solid buy. It's going to get at least two more major software updates, which will carry it into 2018, and apple has a history of patching major holes even after EOL. Sometimes even YEARS after.

Apple is still selling new hardware with the same architecture as the 5s, mainly the original ipad air and ipad mini 2.

I would wait for the 5se announcement, but i think a used 5s is just an utterly monster deal right now for what you get. It's still extremely fast and just generally performs great, and is only a few percentage points slower than the 6.(which was more of a gain in physical size and other features, not performance). So yea, another vote for "used 5s".

If you do end up buying android, i'd literally only buy a nexus 5x at this point. And i soured on that due to the size increase from the nexus 5, which was basically the perfect size. A few coworkers have the 5x and i was kind of surprised the first time i saw it at how big it was... compared to my iphone 6. The original nexus 5 was actually smaller than the ip6 despite having a larger display.

The 5se will likely launch at exactly the same price the 5s is currently selling at, by the way. It's apples new model for that price bracket. Their new lineup is likely going to be 5se>6>6s. Sort of like how the 5c was sold alongside the 5s instead of the 5 continuing on at a lower price.

Do not buy a 5c by the way. They're reasonably cheap, but not much cheaper used than the 5s and the hardware is getting dated. It's four years old now and is not the awesomest and likely will not receive another update(meaning it'll only be current until this september)
posted by emptythought at 1:27 PM on February 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Just chiming in that I didn't mention the Nexus 5X because it's huge compared to what you want. You might check out this phone size comparison site.
posted by cnc at 6:50 PM on February 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm chugging along on an iPhone 5, which was my first smartphone, because I tried to upgrade last year and found absolutely nothing with flagship specs and reasonable screen size. Hadn't heard the rumors about the 5se, but I am SO EXCITED NOW for that to come out. My 5 is definitely showing its age, so I wouldn't go any older than the 5S if you're buying used.
posted by serelliya at 8:40 PM on February 14, 2016

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