Any new smartphone has a gimmick. Whether it’s wireless charging, fingerprint scanning or even eye-tracking, there’s always an amazing feature you “can’t live without.” But let’s be honest: many of those features you really can live without.
On the other hand, some of the futuristic technology available in next-generation smartphones is really useful. But which features do you need in your toolbox and which are just the icing on the cake? This definitive list ranks 10 useful features your smartphone needs to have.
1. A long-lasting battery
Your smartphone could have a shrink-ray or turn lead into gold and it would still be useless without juice. There are ways to boost the battery life of your gadget, but at the end of the day a larger battery is going to last you longer.
The Droid Maxx is the undisputed king of batteries. It will get you close to 48 hours of use. The Galaxy Note 3 has a respectable battery life at 12-16 hours of use, but it’s still well behind the Maxx. The iPhone 5S is around 10 hours and the Samsung Galaxy S4 brings up the rear at 9 hours.
2. Warp-speed processing
Speed is still the ultimate prize in the smartphone arms race. You notice when apps lag or when swiping takes an eternity.
The iPhone 5s is the fastest smartphone on the market. Its A7 chip is even light years ahead of blazing fast phones like the Samsung Galaxy S4 or the surprisingly quick Motorola Moto X. But don’t despair if your phone feels a little sluggish — there are ways to speed it up.
3. Crystal-clear display
Smartphones are as much about enjoying media as they are about communicating. You watch movies, play games and view photos on your mobile screen and you want the crispest display around.
In this case that award goes to the Samsung Galaxy S4. It has the best resolution and most pixels per inch. The LG G2 and Nokia Lumia 1020 are close behind, but it’s Samsung’s super AMOLED display technology that sets it ahead.
While the screen on the iPhone 5s and 5c can’t match the size or pixel density of their competitors, it’s still a solid high-resolution display and many people prefer it for its color accuracy.
4. A great camera
You don’t have to be a pro photographer to see the difference between modern phone cameras and the ones on your old flip-phone. A great camera is important for more than just great photos. You can use your camera for some surprising other things, like visual search.
Nokia’s Lumia 1020 includes an elite ZEISS lens, image stabilization and a whopping 41 megapixels. It’s clearly the best camera phone because it’s more camera than phone!
The iPhone 5s and the HTC One are also very respectable shooters. Their image sensors have larger pixels, which gives you better color range and excellent low-light images.
Near Field Communications allows your smartphone to transmit data to other phones and tablets in the vicinity. It’s really handy for sharing pictures and music. You can even use it to pay at stores and restaurants. Plenty of great Android and Windows phones offer NFC, but not Apple.
6. Multiple windows
You’d never settle for seeing just one window on your computer, why would you on your phone? Samsung Galaxy phones, as well as LG’s G2, Optimus and Enact are superb at letting you see multiple apps at once. Other Android phones and the iPhone stick to displaying a single app at a time.
7. Plenty of storage space
Most smartphones come with anywhere between 16 and 32 gigabytes of storage. Extra space is a nice luxury, but these days you’ll be saving most of your media in the cloud.
8. Infrared remote control
How cool would it be to control your TV with your smartphone? You’ll never search for the remote again. Phones like the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 include Infrared transmitters as well as apps to help you control your TV. Of course, there are third-party infrared add-ons for the iPhone and other Android phones.
9. Fingerprint sensor
Apple’s most gabbed-about feature on the new 5s was definitely the fingerprint sensor. It’s not really any more secure than traditional lockscreen passcodes, but it does save you time. The HTC One Max Android phone also has one, but few other phones do at this time.
10. Wireless charging
This is a handy feature for those of you who don’t want to plug in your phone. Just set it down and it’s charging. And don’t worry; wireless charging is perfectly safe.