Smartphones have evolved incredibly quickly in the last few years. They allow us to stay connected with friends and family, to capture important moments in our lives, and to access the boundless knowledge of the Internet.

Throw in a huge range of apps for virtually every purpose imaginable and you've got the kind of technology that we could only dream about a couple of decades ago.

If you still haven't picked one up then, well, you're in a dwindling minority and you're really missing out. But whether you're finally taking the plunge, or you're looking to upgrade, finding the right phone is never easy. There's so much choice and a lot to learn about smartphone tech.

You're probably going to be spending the next two years together, so you definitely want to think on it before you pull the trigger. Don't worry though, as we're here to help with a straightforward look at everything you need to know to make an informed decision.

What types of phone are there?

Want to get a new phone? It doesn't have to just be a question of whether or not to get the latest iPhone or Galaxy handset - there are many types of telecommunication device out there, so here's a simple list of what makes a phone smart, and at what point it really becomes a tablet.

Smartphone

iPhone 5s
Smartphones are for everyone and they can do everything

Standard smartphone screens range from 3.5 inches up to around 5.5 inches, and are mostly button-less. You'll see the odd keyboard-toting exception to the touchscreen rule, but largely the physical key is dying, except for power and volume.

We're hoping a new world of flexibility (as in screens that can bend) will unlock new form factors, but this is definitely the age of the rectangle when it comes to phones.

Beyond the basic shape there's a sliding scale of hardware that dictates the price. Cheaper generally means a poorer performance, but not necessarily too bad that you shouldn't be thinking of purchase.

Smartphones are all-rounders and they're designed for everyone.

Phablet

Galaxy Note 3
Big hands, big dreams, big phones

If you want something bigger, but not as big as a tablet, then you can find some giant phones pushing beyond 5-inch to go all the way up to 7-inch screens, where tablets officially start.

To be a true phablet a device should combine features of a phone and a tablet. The most successful example is the Galaxy Note series with its handy stylus (although Samsung prefers 'S Pen') and range of software features to take advantage of that extra space.

If you're more interested in the other features of a smartphone, beyond calls and communication, then super-sized phones and phablets could be right up your street.

Feature and basic phones

The Nokia 301 is distinctly retro

Some people just want a phone to make calls. You can pick up basic mobile phones for £30 and they'll suit luddites who need a phone.

There are also still a number of feature phones available that attempt to emulate smartphones and fail badly.

The truth is that budget phones running Android and even Windows Phone nowadays are so cheap you shouldn't ever consider taking a step back to the land of feature phones unless you truly only want to make calls or texts - or need a phone to last the week at a festival.

Five things you need to know

It can be daunting entering the world of the smartphone, or even choosing a decent feature phone, if all you've ever known is a rubbish Nokia from decades ago.

Here's our little cheat sheet explaining the top things you should be looking out for:

Screen size and resolution

The bigger the screen you go for, the better your experience will be for reading, gaming, browsing the web, and watching videos, but the trade-off is extra weight and size.

The general trend has been towards larger screens and 5 inches is common for flagship Android smartphones.

The resolution determines how sharp your screen will be and it will impact on everything you do on your phone. If you're coming from an older device then 720p will probably impress, but the latest high-end phones are boasting full HD 1080p resolutions as standard.

Processor and RAM

A fast multi-core processor will be able to handle all the latest games. If it's backed up by a decent amount of RAM then you'll be able to switch in and out of apps quickly and efficiently.

Generally speaking higher is better, but some manufacturers get more from the hardware than others. A quad core processor can make lighter work of video recording, dual core devices will largely be better on the battery.

For RAM always look for at least 1GB - anything less (unless you're paying peanuts and don't care) will garner you a sluggish handset)

Platform

The obvious choices are Android and iOS. Both platforms are slick, easy to get to grips with, and have huge libraries of apps to buy and download.

Windows Phone is a distant, but credible third, with some nice customisation options and a reasonable choice of apps. We can't really recommend BlackBerry any more - although if it does stage a remarkable turnaround, we'll let you know.

Storage

You'll be surprised how quickly your smartphone fills up with new apps and games to enjoy, photos and videos, and various other bits and pieces.

It's rarely a smart move to take the lowest option in terms of storage, and you'll find that microSD cards and cloud storage options are no match for more internal storage.

As a rule of thumb go for 16GB unless you're adamant that you'll never download an app or two or listen to music - in which case, question if you really need a smartphone.

Making sure there's a microSD slot will also give you peace of mind for the future - it won't help with app space but will offer a good spot for movies, music and photos in the future.

Trust us: storage fills up faster than you might think.

Camera

For most of us our smartphone is also our main camera, so you'll want to think carefully about how your prospective purchase handles photos and videos.

Don't just check the megapixel count. Higher is not necessarily better. You also want to think about low-light performance, shutter speed, and a host of other settings.

If it's a vital factor for you then make sure you compare the quality of shots on different phones before you decide.