Smartphones are quickly becoming the global standard for mobile phones and it’s easy to feel as though you’ll be left behind if you don’t buy, say, the iPhone 4.
This short guide will bring you up-to-date with smartphones, steering you through everything you need to know about smartphone features and costs.
Smartphones, as the name suggests, are smart phones – an evolution of basic mobiles that simply handled telephone calls and text messages.
The term doesn’t have a universally agreed definition and, confusingly, manufacturers often market even the most basic mobile phones as smartphones in attempt to jazz-up their devices.
However, most true smartphones share several basic characteristics: wireless internet support, touchscreens, instant connection into your email account, sat-nav style navigation features and downloadable applications.
The most iconic smartphone is Apple’s iPhone. It first appeared in 2007 and several variations have since launched, the most recent being the iPhone 4 (read our iPhone 4 review).
Rival manufacturers including Nokia, HTC, LG and Sony Ericsson have all since launched their own smartphone models (read more smartphone reviews).
All smartphones rely on an operating system (OS) to function, just like computers rely on Windows. Various smartphone OS exist already, but the most common are Apple’s iPhone OS and Android.
Android was created by search engine giant Google and is used by several smartphone manufacturers, particularly Taiwan-based HTC.
Manufacturers periodically release free smartphone OS updates that aim to fix any operating bugs. Updates may also add extra features to your smartphone, such as support for other languages.
You don’t need to plug a cable into your smartphone to access the internet because the devices are designed for wireless web access, whether you’re at home or walking down the street.
If you have a wi-fi connection set-up at home then you can connect your smartphone to it. Pages load at the same speed they would on your PC.
Smartphones can also access 3G mobile networks – a feature known as mobile web – to give you near-PC speed web access while, say, sat in a coffee shop or airport.
Network operators usually give smartphones away for free when you sign an airtime package, such as £20 per month for 24 months. You may have to pay a one-off fee for the very latest smartphone.
Most operators will cap your smartphone’s mobile data download limit, perhaps to 1GB per month. Make sure you compare smartphone packages offering unlimited mobile web to ensure you don’t rack-up unexpected costs while surfing over a 3G connection.
Pay-as-you-go (PAYG) smartphones are available, though upfront phone and mobile data costs can be high. Accessing the web from your smartphone over a wi-fi connection is one way to avoid expensive 3G costs PAYG.
|Galaxy S3 Mini(white)|
Applications tend to be referred to as apps. These downloadable programs let you add new features to your smartphone to keep the device up-to-date and interesting.
Apps are downloaded from virtual stores – the iPhone’s is called the App Store – accessed directly from your smartphone. Apps are available for almost anything, for example, some already exist for magnifying the text on your smartphone’s display, others for checking stock market prices and even one for ordering takeaway pizza.
The most common app categories are: games, entertainment, social networking, music, travel, sports, news, finance, weather and books.
Some apps are free and others carry a charge. Prices range from 50p to well over £100, so be careful what you click on.
Smartphones are like cars because manufacturers create different models to cater for different tastes and uses.
Comparing the technical specifications of several smartphones you like the look of is a good way to analyse which models have which features. As a general rule, every smartphone should feature: