The operating system (OS) is the software that powers your phone. It dictates what the phone menu looks like, what apps it can run and how easy it is to use. There are three main contenders to choose from: iOS, Android and Windows.
All iPhones use iOS and, unlike Android, the experience of using the operating system is broadly similar whichever iPhone you buy. New updates to iOS are released each year, but some older iPhones may be able to run only older versions – for instance, only iPhones from and including the iPhone 5 can run the latest iOS 10. If your iPhone isn’t compatible, you’ll miss out on some of the latest apps, features and security patches introduced by Apple.
Pros It’s easy to use and quick to learn, even if you haven’t used a smartphone before. It provides access to the well-stocked Apple app store – where apps are vetted before being released so you can rest assured they’re safe to use.
Cons Apple iPhones are expensive – the latest iPhone 7 (32GB) will set you back by around £600, while iPhone 7 Plus (32GB) costs more than £700. You’ll be able to find cheaper deals on older handsets, though. Apple iPhones also do not come with a micro-SD card slot, so you’ll need to choose the memory capacity carefully to avoid running out of space for your app, music and photo collection.
Android is designed by Google and is used by many manufacturers, from bigger brands LG and Samsung to lesser known but emerging companies such as OnePlus and Wileyfox. It looks and behaves slightly differently depending on who manufactures the phone, but the basics are essentially the same.
Pros It’s generally easy to use and provides access to the wide variety of apps, games and entertainment available from the Google Play store. There’s a wide range of Android phones available to suit all budgets.
Cons In the past, Android has been slightly more vulnerable to attack than Apple handsets. But that is beginning to change now, with Google putting more emphasis on vetting apps in the app store and patching security holes.
Windows is not as popular as Android or iOS, but it is a big player at the cheaper end of the market.
Pros Microsoft offers a range of decent-yet-affordable Windows phones – you can pick one up for around £120. Windows phones are fully compatible with Windows laptops and computers – good for finishing tasks while on the move.
Cons There aren’t as many apps made for Windows phones as there are for iOS and Android. That said, all the big apps such as Facebook, Google Maps and BBC News are available.