5 Android Devices You Should Not Buy

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Shopping for new gadgets — whether a smartphone, a tablet, or even a piece of wearable technology — can be a lot of fun. But it’s an inevitable part of the process to run into some devices that you really shouldn’t buy. Sometimes, they can be a little difficult to recognize. Think of the Apple devices that most people shouldn’t purchase, chief among them the Apple Watch, which is cool but isn’t yet capable enough to appeal to a broad range of users. Others, like old versions of the iPod, are simply too outdated to be useful in a world that’s moved on to more capable devices. The same logic applies to many devices in the wide world of Android.

It’s not just Apple’s lineup that has a few products you should avoid, or the iOS ecosystem that’s found on a few gadgets that were impressive in their heyday, but really aren’t worth the investment anymore. There are quite a few Android devices that we’d recommend you avoid buying, either because you’re paying too much and getting too little, or because they just aren’t capable enough yet. But unlike the iOS device lineup, there’s a practically endless array of manufacturers making Android devices. That makes it a lot more difficult to figure out which devices are worth the investment and which ones you’re better off skipping.

To make things easier for you, we’ve set down a few guidelines that can help you make good decisions about the devices you’re interested in purchasing. These are good rules of thumb to follow when you’re in the market for a new smartphone. And they underline the importance of the most crucial part of gadget shopping: doing your research. Read on to find out what kinds of Android devices you should avoid.

1. Smartphones running old versions of Android

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Most Android fans are well aware of the terrible state of its update system. The only Android devices that get the latest version of the operating system right after Google releases it are Google’s own Nexus devices. For all of the other smartphones and tablets on the market, updates go through equipment manufacturers and wireless carriers, who can delay an update for months or simply ensure that devices never get the new version of the software at all.

When you’re shopping for an Android phone, it’s important to pay attention to the OS version that the device is currently running, and to do your research on whether the device is likely to be updated with the next version of Android. Having the latest version of Android is important not only so you have access to the latest features, but because the latest versions of the software patch security vulnerabilities and fix bugs identified in earlier versions of the operating system.

Because of the release schedule that Google has set for Android, devices running the latest version of Android appear in the fall months, conveniently timed for the impending holiday season. If you can wait until the fall to purchase a new phone, and are interested in the kind of phone that would get the newest version of Android right away, then it’s often worth holding on to your old phone a little longer.

2. Low-end devices from major brands

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While companies like Samsung, Sony, HTC, and LG make great high-end smartphones, you should approach their low-end lineups with caution. When you have a budget in mind, it’s easy to set a price limit and opt for whatever recognizable name you can get within your budget. That’s a bad strategy, since many low-end smartphones from popular brands are over-priced for their underwhelming specifications, and you’re more likely to find a great budget-friendly phone from a smaller brand that specializes in affordable smartphones.

If you want a smartphone from a popular brand, many of their mid-range and high-end phones are worth saving up to purchase. But even in 2015 Samsung released phones with 512MB of RAM and without 3G capability, and many manufacturers introduced phones with little usable memory and with prices that are much higher than those of comparable phones from lesser-known brands. And many major brands continue to offer outdated phones; there’s no reason to buy a smartphone that’s two or three years old when there are plenty of newer, more capable options at the same price point.

Whether it’s the display resolution, the internal storage, the RAM, or the processor speed (more details on hardware specs here), it’s important to check the specifications of each phone you’re considering to figure out whether you’re actually getting a good deal, or whether you’re looking at a phone that’s going to be too slow to run your favorite apps and won’t have enough storage to handle your photos and your music. If you want an actual “smartphone,” you should look for devices with at least 8GB of storage (preferably more), with at least 2GB of RAM, with a display resolution of at least 720p, and with at least a dual-core processor.

3. Flagship lines that are due to be updated

Samsung Galaxy Note5

Samsung Galaxy Note5 | Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images

If, on the other hand, you’re looking at high-end Android smartphones, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do your research on the phones and brands you’re considering. In a problem that’s familiar to fans of the iPhone, which is released on a predictable annual schedule, it’s sometimes difficult to figure out when you should buy a smartphone in a company’s line of flagship phones, since they’re updated often.

If you’re ready to upgrade to a new phone but find out that a new version of the model you’re considering is about to be released, it often pays to wait for the new model to be announced. That way, you won’t miss out on at least evaluating the specs that are upgraded, the features that are added, and the hardware that’s updated. While they may not be additions that will make a big difference to you in the short term, buying the most recent version of a phone can give the purchase more longevity (and help you avoid having to upgrade again sooner rather than later).

Waiting for the next generation of flagship phones also makes it more likely that you’ll get a phone running the latest version of Android. That’s an important consideration, since a phone with the latest software will likely perform better and keep your data more secure than a phone whose software is a year (or more) behind. And even if you decide not to get the new one, the older model should become cheaper immediately after an updated model comes out, so it’ll pay to wait.

4. Tablets powered by Android Marshmallow (or earlier)

Tablet

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As we discussed late in 2015, the introduction of Google’s first Android tablet, the Pixel C, should have been an exciting moment; instead, it was a disappointment thanks to the large gap between what the tablet should have been capable of and what Android Marshmallow actually enabled it to do. Google has its work cut out for it with Android N, the next version of the operating system, where it’s expected to introduce some of the features that can make Android a competitive platform for tablets.

The upshot is that you shouldn’t buy an Android tablet yet. They lack native support for the multi-tasking and split-screen features that would make a tablet worthwhile, and because Android doesn’t support any tablet-centric features, most apps aren’t optimized for the tablet’s larger screen sizes, either. Google has never emphasized the concept of tablet-optimized apps in its communications with developers, so we think it’s wise to wait until Google has its tablet problems sorted out before purchasing an Android tablet.

5. A device you haven’t researched

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For many tech fans, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t buy the device you’re going to use most often without doing your research. But if you needed a reminder, here it is: You should never buy a smartphone without doing your research first.

It’s easy to walk into your carrier’s store at the mall or the local big-box electronics store and be impressed by the bright displays and sales associate’s recommendations. And while it’s always a good idea to hold a phone in your hand before you buy it — and perhaps the only way to make an informed decision on something like the device’s screen size — you shouldn’t ever buy a phone without taking a thorough look at its specifications, determining what version of Android it’s running (and when or if it’s likely to get an update), and even looking through reviews by people who have actually used the phone.

Particularly in the world of Android devices, you have too many choices to settle for something sub-par. It doesn’t even matter what your budget is; if you figure out what you’re looking for and what you’re willing to pay, you can find a good smartphone with appropriate specifications and decent build quality. It just takes some research, and the resolve not to be swayed by the bright displays and clever marketing you’ll encounter at the store or even online.

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