To determine whether a cigar is fresh or not I like to use what is called the pinch or squeeze test. Using this simple technique will help to ensure you end up with a very good quality cigar. Between your thumb and index finger gently pinch the cigar up and down the length of the body, checking for lumps or soft spots. A well-made cigar will not have any. A good cigar will feel firm, but not hard. If the cigar feels like a piece of wood, or if there is a soft, spongy spot then choose a different one and perform the pinch test again. Remember to be carefull when rolling it between your fingers as it can damage the wrapper. Be sure to always handle cigars gently.
Check the cigar's wrapper. A cigar's wrapper should have a an oily, smooth sheen, which means it has been perfectly humidified and the ends should be undamaged. If you find a cigar that is dull looking but, passes the pinch test and has some spring to it, then the cigar should be fine. The wrapper should also be free of any blemishes or greenish tinge. Remember most cigars are made from a blend of tobaccos and some color variation is normal, but extreme or abrupt color changes could indicate an inferior leaf, or that the leaves weren't laid together properly during the bunching process. Another item to look for is the size of the veins, smaller veins usually mean a smoother smoke.
Choosing the size and shape is a personal preference. If you are unsure which your personal preference, purchase a few cigars in different shapes, sizes and try them to determine which is your favorite. One of the things I enjoy is trying a variety of different cigars based on brand, size and shape.
If you are going to smell the cigar before buying it, please don't touch it to your nose. This is unhygenic if you don't end up purchasing the cigar. The better thing to do is to hold the foot (the open or square end) of the cigar about 1/2 inch below your nose and breathe in. You should get a pleasant aroma rather than a bitter or foul smell.
If a cigar has holes or trails running through the cigar this is the sign of a tobacco beetle infestation. Don't smoke this cigar or place it in your humidor.