Smartphones are the category that has defined modern technology as we know it, the device we couldn’t imagine life without. With so many new models hitting the market each week, you might be wondering how we decide which ones make the cut. Well here’s how we test smartphones.
We test phones under the following main categories:
Make it our own
Like any product we’re testing, we simply use the phone as much as we can once it arrives for testing. That means our staff put their SIM card in and make it their actual phone - typically for a week and sometimes longer.
This means we’re not really thinking about testing as such and the device naturally gets used for all the things a smartphone is designed for. We go on social media, check emails, take photos, watch videos on the commute, and more.
You could call it ‘natural testing’ and it’s the best way to find out what we like about the device along with things that bug us.
Although we run benchmarks (details below), we feel this real world usage is extremely important to gauge how well a phone works - particularly when it comes to performance and battery life.
We’re looking to see how smoothly the phone runs when loading apps and gaming, how long it lasts during a typical day of usage and what features it has or even doesn’t have. During testing, we’ll also explore the software to see if there are bugs, annoying pre-loaded apps or any special additions.
Displays are hugely important to a phone so we’re looking for how well it does its job. Is it bright enough to use outside comfortably? Are colours accurate? Are viewing angles good? We’ll also consider whether any of the technology - such as a 4K resolution and 120Hz refresh rate for example - is genuinely useful or the phone maker playing one upmanship.
We will always test cameras thoroughly, testing each sensor and lens on a phone to see if it does a good job - if it’s a zoom lens, we’re going to zoom in and see what we get. As well as just taking general photos during natural use, we also make sure we take photos in a range of conditions including daylight, low light and macro.
As mentioned above, we run a set of benchmark tests on all smartphones in order to compare them with each other. Lab tests are an excellent way to get an idea of where a phone sits in the market - a bit like playing a phone edition of Top Trumps.
We also run an objective battery test that keeps the phone’s display on at an exact brightness and loops a set of tests in order to see how long they can last when given an identical set of conditions.
Fast charging is also a key element of testing and we always see how much juice the supplied charger can provide in 30 minutes, starting with the phone completely dead.
While a set of figures provided from the above apps is a nice numerical way of seeing how phones compare to each other - and we put the results in handy graphs in each review - it’s important to remember that they are synthetic tests.
So while a Samsung Galaxy might beat a OnePlus by a few hundred points in Geekbench, it doesn’t mean you should go and buy it - unless you really want bragging rights at the pub. Phones are extremely complex devices and reading our full review and buying advice is the best way to decide if a handset is the right one for you. We will always supplement lab tests with the findings from our natural testing.
It should go without saying, but devices are provided to us either from the manufacturer or sometimes a retailer or phone network for a limited time. We are under no obligation to score them in a particular way or give an award.