Smartphone Accessories Buyers Guide

Okay, you bought a shiny new smartphone but what other goodies should you get to go with it? PAT PILCHER unearths those must-have phone accessories.

 

Cases

First things first, smartphones cost a bomb! So, protecting your investment is a must. We at Witchdoctor recommend smartphone skins, a case, and a screen protector, to be on the safe side.

Phone cases or covers are a complete no-brainer. A growing number of smartphones are crafted out of glass/ceramic, which makes them slick and prone to fumbles/drops. Without a protective case, a dropped phone can get scuffed, scratched, or worse, broken. A carry case can absorb much of the impact and will help to protect your phone’s screen from breakages. A side bonus is that some cases also come with credit card and money holders, allowing them to double as wallets/purses.

If you want a case to improve shock/impact/water resistance, go for a brand name case. If you are looking for a case to store cards and provide some basic protection, there are plenty of no-brand options available online and via retailers that can cost much less. If the usual telco retail shops don’t have cases for your make and model of phone, search online at AliExpress or Banggood.

Skins

Even if you have a case, wrapping your phone in a durable vinyl skin is still a great idea. There are tonnes of different finishes. These range from wood grain to leather and carbon fibre. Skins from the likes of Dbrand can give your phone a customised look and feel, allowing you to stand out from the me-too crowd. Skins will also protect your phone when out of its case. Beware that fitting a skin to a phone can be a fiddly exercise requiring dexterity and patience.

Screen Protectors

Because phones inevitably end up in pockets and purses with keys, coins or other sharp objects, the odds are good that their screens will get dinged. A screen protector on your device’s display can stop that from happening. Because most screen protectors are made from extremely thin tempered glass, they’ll also provide a small measure of protection should you drop your phone. Some phones ship with screen protectors pre-fitted, but it is worth checking to see if this is the case as a screen protector can extend the useful life of your phone. Like vinyl skins, screen protectors can also be super fiddly to fit, so check to see if your retailer will fit it for you.

Ear Gear

Most smartphones come with earbuds bundled in their box. They’re usually cheapies that use a USB dongle (phone makers stopped supporting 3.5mm audio jacks ages ago). We all want better audio and less complexity, so Bluetooth ear gear is one of the first phone accessories many buy.

When looking at headphones, consider their audio performance, fit, and battery life. Also, look at what audio codecs they support. If you want decent quality audio, look for a codec that supports high bitrate audio, such as LDAC or AptX. Witchdoctor has reviewed tonnes of headphones and earbuds which can help you narrow down your options.

At the upper end of the earbud and headphone market sits Sony. Their highly-regarded WF1000XM4 buds deliver stunning audio and come with a well-featured Android/iOS phone app. For anyone looking for good in-ear audio, the WF1000XM4 buds come highly recommended. Budget buyers need not miss out. The Jaybird Run buds deliver surprisingly good audio at a pocket-pleasing price.

USB OTG Drives

USB OTG has been supported by Android for a while (Apple versions can also be had). OTG USB drives are handy when transferring a music library onto a smartphone or using a phone with little storage.

USB OTG flash drives are just like plugging a USB stick into a PC or Mac, allowing you to transfer files on and off your phone so you can save backups of photos and/or free up scarce phone storage.

Lexar’s JumpDrive Dual Drive is an OTG drive that comes with storage capacities ranging from 16GB to 128GB. The clever part is that while the M20 drives have a USB C plug and an old-school micro-USB plug so they can plug into PCs/Macs, making transferring files a doddle.

Smartwatches

Smartwatches are hugely popular because of their sheer versatility. With a smartwatch, you can discretely check notifications (which, if you’re in a meeting, is dead handy) and take or make calls (which is great if your hands are full and you can’t pull your phone out of your pocket). Smartwatches typically come with voice assistants, fitness tracking and health monitoring plus the ability to install other apps.

When buying smartwatches, several factors need to be considered. Design is important – everyone wants to buy a watch they like the look of. Sporty types tend to go for chunky rugged-looking timepieces, while professionals tend to want slimmer dress watches. Another consideration is the ecosystem. The Apple Watch makes far more sense if you own an iOS device than most other smartwatch operating systems. The most important thing to consider is battery life. Not all smartwatches are created equally. Some last just 12-24 hours before needing quality time with their charger, while others, such as Huawei’s GT Watch can run for up to 2 weeks.

 

 

Portable Bluetooth Speakers

Smartphones might be awesome, but their speakers are not exactly an audiophile highlight. Playing music through smartphone speakers typically sounds like the output from your nana’s transistor radio. That said, this is a problem that’s easily fixed. Simply add a decent portable Bluetooth speaker that you can carry around to deliver decent-sounding music.

The JBL Flip 6 is an example of a great portable Bluetooth speaker, ticking all the right boxes for Bluetooth speaker specs. As you’re likely to be using just one speaker, aim for one that delivers a 360-degree sound field. Alternatively, check to see if two of the same speaker can pair to provide stereo. Also, look for a portable speaker that packs some decent audio but can still be picked up and easily carried or stowed for travel. For taking your speaker out, durability is another key spec, so aim for an IP67 rating (for water and dust resistance). Last but by no means least, look for decent battery life.

Chargers

Car Chargers

If (like me) you’re navigationally challenged, then chances are you’re a big fan of Google/Apple maps. As useful as GPS on your phone can be, it can be about as useful as a cat door on a nuclear submarine if your phone’s batteries are flat. Enter stage left, the humble car charger. A car charger plugs into your car’s cigarette lighter to keep your phone charged. There’s a massive range of car chargers available. Ideally, a car charger should have at least two USB ports so multiple devices can be powered.

Wireless Chargers

Fiddling around and trying to plug a charger into your phone before heading to the land of nod isn’t much fun. What if you could simply plunk your smartphone down, and it’s charged up in the morning? Belkin’s BoostCharge Dual 15W wireless charger can work this magic on not just one wireless charging gadget but will simultaneously wirelessly charge two devices. Choosing a wireless charger isn’t hard. Look for a design that hasn’t been hit by every branch of the ugly tree on its way to the ground (this thing will end up on a nightstand or somewhere where you’ll be looking at it every day). Also, look at its wattage rating. While wireless charging is much slower than wired charging, not all wireless chargers are created equal. Higher wattage wireless chargers are faster. Also look at cable management. Does the charger have a long power adaptor cable that tucks tidily out of the way?

Mains Chargers

As bizarre as it sounds, many people want a power brick. Without one, their phone is soon about as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike. Adding to their woes, some phone makers no longer include power adaptors with phones (cheap bastards!) This hasn’t escaped the folks at Belkin. Their BoostUp 20W USB-C GaN fast charger easily fills the gap. GaN might sound like a dodgy Aussie cricketer, but it refers to Gallium nitride, a high-performance alternative to traditional silicon transistors. Because GaN transistors crank out much less heat, you get a smaller charger that packs all the oomph of its bulkier siblings. When looking for a power brick, aim for a higher wattage. If you’re looking to plunk the charger in a laptop bag, size and weight are also likely to be key considerations.

 

 

 

Portable Chargers

Portable chargers are insanely handy because when you need them, you really need them. Consisting of a battery and circuitry designed to let it act as a charger, portable chargers will keep your phone charging when away from a power socket. Ideally, look for portability and weight. Is the power bank able to be slipped into a pocket without the sound of tearing fabric? Also, check out its capacity, which is typically shown as a milliamp-hours (mAh) figure. This is a rough guide to how many complete charges the power bank can provide before running out of juice. Power banks usually range from 3000mAh to over 20,000mAh. Most smartphones have a battery of approximately 3000mAh. Based on this, a 10,000mAh power bank should (in theory) be able to charge the phone three times.

Aside from being small and light enough to carry in a pocket or laptop bag, Belkin’s BoostUp Charge USB-C PD Power Bank 20K comes with a USB Type C port and has enough capacity to drive a Mac or Microsoft Surface Pro, and even a Nintendo Switch. As it is a USB C capable beastie, its included USB-C cable supports 30W power delivery for super quick charging (and its own recharging). There is also a USB Type-A port for charging older, non-USB C gadgets.

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