New Smartphone Recommendations?
January 26, 2021 5:39 PM   Subscribe

I have an ancient OnePlus One that I've limped along with for maybe 5 years now. Although the battery life is shit and the interface annoys me, I have avoided buying a new one because I didn't want to spend the money, But now I *must* buy a new phone because my carrier, T-mobile (and, I gather, other carriers) will not support it after the end of this month.

I'm probably going to stick with T-mobile both because I'm used to it and because I like the contract-free pricing of $43/month for unlimited everything. But I am open to other carriers if people want to make a case for them. I live in central Maryland and coverage is ok, not great. If there were a carrier that genuinely (I mean based on personal experience, not ad claims) offers service when I am hiking in more remote places in central Maryland such as the Frederick watershed, Gambrill state park, etc. I'd love to hear about it.

If anybody has upgraded recently and is a T-mobile customer, I'd be interested in what deals you were offered, what you chose and how you like it. T-mobile has sent me messages that they have deals and credits for people upgrading, but they do not include details. They state that you have to visit a store to learn more. I'd rather know going in what I am going to be offered, so I have time to decide.

These are my preferences:

* Android (just because I'm used to it; I guess I could be talked into something else)

* Of course I want to spend less rather than more, but looking at it in a long time frame. I'd rather invest more now in a phone that will not break or become obsolete in a year or two. I will pay more for quality and long life, not bleeding edge or bells and whistles. I am skeptical of used products and wouldn't get one unless it was from a reputable source that offered a warranty.

* Good battery life! OnePlus One was never especially good, and has gotten ridiculous as it aged. I'd like a phone that I can just charge once in a while, not every day (sometimes multiple times a day!) even when I have location services turned off and the battery on power save mode. I have on occasion actually run out of battery power while out. This needs to not happen anymore.

* A screen interface that functions correctly! The OnePlus One has annoyed me from day one because the place on the screen that corresponds to the space bar is entirely too close to the space that corresponds to taking me back to the main screen, and it's too easy to be interrupted in the middle of typing by this. I have relatively small fingers and am agile at hand-eye stuff; it's not me, it's the OnePlus One, is what I'm saying.

Any opinions are welcome. Tell me where I'm wrong or what I haven't thought about. I plan to visit the T-mobile store tomorrow or the next day. Thanks!
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds to Technology (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
One note, your current phone only supports 1 out of T-Mobile's 5 LTE bands. And it's a high-frequency one, not one of the newer low-frequency bands that travel much better. So pretty much any new phone is going to get you much better reception, without switching carriers.
posted by wnissen at 6:19 PM on January 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You might check out the Sonim XP7 or XP8. They are ruggedized, waterproof Android smartphones that advertise long battery life.

My partner and I have their XP5s model, which is technically an Android phone but has a standard telephone keypad (real buttons!) instead of a touchscreen, and the interface is customized accordingly. It is "throw down several flights of stairs into a swimming pool" durable (if not more so) and the battery can easily last a week. (It's also a brick of a phone and only suitable talking & texting, but that's what we wanted.) Audio quality is fantastic, too. I get the impression the XP7/8 are the "actual smartphone with apps and stuff" equivalents.

Sonim phones are pretty pricey new. We got ours unlocked from ebay which meant no warranty, but their support people were still really pleasant and helpful when I had issues with a software bug.

I've used the XP5s with a few carriers, both CDMA and GSM. The XP8 advertises compatibility with a zillion different bands; the XP7 looks a little more limited in that regard so you might have to check with your carrier.
posted by sibilatorix at 6:33 PM on January 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am a T-mobile customer. I never bought a phone from T-mobile (the ones they offered in store were more than I wanted to pay) so instead bough a almost-new unlocked phone from Swappa. Not sure if they offer a warranty but they do have a return policy so if your phone doesn't work you can send it back (the first one they sent me was locked to AT&T even though it was advertised as unlocked, I sent it back with no trouble).

I have a Pixel 3A which I love - I do charge it every night but I use it quite a bit during the day (games, location always on, no power saving features), not sure how long it would last if you tried to conserve the battery, and it hits all your other points - good screen interface, android, reasonable cost.

My other recommendation would be a newer version of my previous phone, which was the Motorola Moto G4 ( or G5? they are up to G7 now). Again, reasonable price, good screen interface, android, and good battery life.
posted by matcha action at 6:47 PM on January 26, 2021

Best answer: T-Mobile customer (happy) and former OnePlus One user and current OnePlus 6 as well as Pixel 4 user. If I recall, the OnePlus came with what is now called Lineage OS already installed. OnePlus has developed their own version of Android. It is called Oxygen OS. I happen to like it. It is pretty bare and closely approximates pure Android which I run on my Pixel 4. Battery life is partially the hardware, partially the OS and partially the user. I have not had an issue with any of the 3 phones mentioned in my answer (onePlus One, OnePlus 6 or Pixel 4). YMMV. Actually my OnePlus 6 battery is starting to deteriorate but not materially. Pixel makes the 4a which is a budget phone and is on sale now. The OnePlus Nord has good reviews and is under $500.

The OnePlus One and most of OnePlus's phones are larger phones. The Nord is a smaller phone as are the Pixel 4 and 4a. That might affect the space bar thing. I have larger hands and have never had an issue, but I acknowledge it could be an issue for others.

I think T-Mobile is having a sale now. I pay $35/line for 4 lines. I get 50gb data before throttle. My son reached it last month and said he did not notice any difference. It is a lot of data. Unlimited talk and text. Taxes included. 20gb Hotspot usage. Free Netflix and a subscription to the Athletic. Every Tuesday they have some bs promotion.
posted by AugustWest at 7:31 PM on January 26, 2021

Go to the T-Mobile app to see the details of the deals. Under the tab "shop" (natch).
posted by AugustWest at 7:32 PM on January 26, 2021

Best answer: I just got a Moto G Stylus through Google Fi, and the battery is really long lasting! I'm also finding it absolutely perfect for all of my needs.

I checked, and T-Mobile doesn't sell them directly. But, you should be able to get an unlocked one, and put it on the T-Mobile network.

(If you are thinking of switching to Fi, you can get one new for $99, as long as you port your number over, activate it within 30 days, and and keep the service for 60 days. I switched to GFi from T-Mobile, as I have no need for an unlimited data plan, if I'm only leaving the house 3-4 times a month for quick errands. If you want to try it, feel free to PM me for a $20 off service offer referral.)
posted by spinifex23 at 8:12 PM on January 26, 2021

Best answer: I don't know if you're wedded to postpaid or you use a ton of data, but if you're interested in looking at prepaid my wife's on T-Mobile's $25/month plan that offers 5 GB of data plus unlimited talk and text and it's going great. A screaming deal compared to the Verizon prepaid plan she was on previously.

I'm using a Pixel 2 that's ~3.25 years old and while the battery is just now dying it still is a great experience—excellent camera, up-to-date Android (though it's gotten its last update I believe), really fast user interface. I've heard mixed reviews about their high-end devices since then (currently the Pixel 5) but the Pixel 4a sounds great from what I've read about it; if I were upgrading now it's what I'd get, based on my experience with the 2.
posted by Polycarp at 8:34 PM on January 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Another Tmobile user here...I'm on my third Samsung Galaxy. I get them used on or amazon, usually two models back from the current one. They last about 4 years from that point, but can push to 5 if the charging port doesnt fail (its repairable but many shops dont do microsoldering). Replacement batteries are inexpensive. Galaxys tend to be a bit better than the concurrent iPhone, about $200 cheaper, and with consistently better cameras. I'm going to upgrade to an S10 shortly.
posted by ananci at 12:02 AM on January 27, 2021

Best answer: The most frequently recommended phones don't generally have a removable battery, but if you're interested in one that does, here's a list with a few recommendations. (There's also the FairPhone.)

Regarding interface, I think the latest versions of Android let you get rid of the navigation buttons altogether in favor of gestures where you swipe up from the bottom of the screen.

In terms of longevity, look into how many years of updates are guaranteed. I think for Pixels (and possibly top of the line Samsungs?) it's 3 years, but most phones only get one or two. And if you'd consider installing something like Lineage, it's worth looking at what kinds of models they support - I generally get middle or bottom of the line stuff, and unfortunately there aren't a lot of official roms out there for that. (Long update lives are the one thing that's tempting to me about iPhones.)
posted by trig at 2:30 AM on January 27, 2021

Best answer: T-Mobile customer and just yesterday got the Pixel 5, unlocked. Previous phone was the Pixel 3XL. I'm just a fan of the Pixel line and you may be able to find deals on them. The camera has always been a strong selling point for me. Some of my local T-Mobile stores have the Pixel 4 in stock, but I had to order from Google directly.
posted by poppunkcat at 4:25 AM on January 27, 2021

I've always had good luck with refurbished phones. Half the cost of new, and work just as well. (You do risk the battery life being slightly decreased but it's never been a problem for me.) Just search Amazon for "pixel unlocked refurbished" (substitute whatever model you're looking for). Swappa has been a good secondary source when Amazon didn't have what I wanted. I've seen Redditors say not to buy from eBay, as there's substantial risk of getting a poorly-working or stolen phone.
posted by commander_fancypants at 12:45 PM on January 27, 2021

Response by poster: Update: I ended up choosing Samsung Galaxy S20 + Google Fi. Thanks everyone!
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds at 12:01 PM on January 28, 2021

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