How to Test a Phone In the Store

Use our experts' guide to in-store testing before you spend big bucks on your next smartphone.

How to Test a Phone in the Store

You need a new phone. In the store, you see three different models that might work, but you don’t know how to decide on the best one for you (not the best one for the salesperson). These quick and simple in-store performance tests will separate the winners from the posers, and lead you to a decision you can feel good about.

Note that these tests provide only part of the information that will go into your buying decision. They’re best used to choose from several devices that you’ve already determined have the features you seek.

Also remember that how many tests you’ll be able to do will vary from store to store. Depending on the outlet, you’ll find display devices that are fully functioning and ready to use (and test), or you’ll find a room full of gadgets that are largely disabled or not turned on at all. Our advice is to shop in stores that allow for a hands-on buying decision.

Photograph by Robert Cardin


Many phones don’t come with sample images in the gallery, but you can preview the various wallpapers that are usually in the ‘Personalize’ section of the settings.

Note the sharpness and colorfulness of the phone’s display, as well as the deepness of the darks and the brightness of the lights.

Open a text message or a Web page, and look at the sharpness and contrast of the text.

Photograph by Robert Cardin


Open the text messaging app and use the touchscreen keyboard to type a few sentences. Note the responsiveness of the keyboard, and how many errors you make after typing continuously for 15 seconds (keep track of time using a stopwatch app on your existing phone, or bring a stopwatch). Also, how much pressure does it take to register a keystroke?

Photograph by Robert Cardin


Shoot a few photos with the camera, and review the results. Are the images sharp and colorful, but not washed out or oversaturated with color?

Shoot a bit of video, and view it on the phone. Is the video sharp, well lit, and distortion-free?

Photograph by Robert Cardin


Will the size of the phone work for you? Does it fit well in your hand? Is it light enough or heavy enough? Will it fit well in the pocket or bag where you’ll store it?

Photograph by Robert Cardin


Try typing in both the upright (portrait) and sideways (landscape) positions. Does the display switch easily between those modes? Is there a delay as the sensor figures out how you’re holding the phone?

Photograph by Robert Cardin


Look for the 3G or 4G symbol. If you see the rounded Wi-Fi bars, you may have to disable that function in the settings.

With the phone’s cellular connection on, open a couple of Web pages, and note how quickly the content loads. Go to YouTube and play a few high-def videos to test the network connection.


If the phone has a sample video, launch it. If you see choppiness or jitter, the processor could be underpowered. Launch a few of the preinstalled apps; then launch the video camera function. Note the time that elapses between when you press the icon and when the app or function starts.


Find a sample audio file (or a music video), and play it using the music player app (one should be built in). Plug in your headphones. Does the phone’s am­­plifier produce enough volume? Is the sound quality of the music good enough?

Photograph by Robert Cardin

Today's Best Tech Deals

Picked by PCWorld's Editors