MOBILE MAY: A beginner’s guide to smartphones

11 May 2011

Are you buying a smartphone? From the hardware to the apps, we tell you everything you need to know.


When buying a smartphone, consider how much you’ll use it for doing things like taking photos or watching videos. A lot of smartphones these days have 5-megapixel cameras, with more high-end ones boosting that further, such as the Nokia N8’s award-winning 12-megapixel camera. Check to see if it has a LED flash and also see if it can record and play back videos at HD in 720p or 1,080p for top quality movies.

Many smartphones today have processor speeds for 1GHz to handle graphics and multitasking, though some budget devices will be slower. New devices coming soon are boosting this to 1.2GHz.

Pay attention to some of the connectivity options on the phone to match your needs, such as USB ports for PC connections, HDMI ports for HDTVs and 3.5mm jacks for headphones.

In terms of connectivity, smartphones can connect to the web through Wi-Fi or 3G when a wireless connection isn’t available. Surfing the web through 3G can get expensive with the more data you use, so shop around for your data plan.


High-end smartphones are aiming for the 4-inch and up screen size, which gives you great screen real estate, particularly when you’re browsing the web. There are exceptions for those wanting something smaller, including the iPhone 4 and some budget smartphones. Weight is another concern, as a lot of powerhouse smartphones can be a little bit heavy, so you will need to make some compromises.

Touchscreens prove useful for the changeable nature of the smartphone interface, but it can make texting and typing a bit challenging. Many touchscreen phones have compensated, giving vibrating responses when you press a key. If this isn’t enough for you, there are smartphones available with a QWERTY keyboard.


Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS, can only be seen on its own small range of mobile devices, such as the iPod touch, iPhone and iPad. It more or less works quite similarly on each device.

BlackBerry’s OS also only runs on BlackBerry phones. These smartphones have great communication capabilities, such as with emails and IM-ing and many of them have built-in QWERTY keyboards. One of the biggest features of these devices is BlackBerry Messenger, an instant messaging app used between owners of BlackBerry phones.

Google’s mobile OS Android is a lot more open than Apple’s and BlackBerry’s. Not only is it available on numerous different mobile brands, such as Samsung, HTC and Sony Ericsson, it can look differently, too, depending on the phone brand. However, no matter which phone it is, if it’s an Android device, it will run Android apps.

What is a bigger concern is what version of Android the phone has, as older versions may not be able to run newer apps. The latest is Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), which was released at the start of 2011. Smartphones running this version of the OS include the Google Nexus S, the HTC Desire S and the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc.

Microsoft revamped its own mobile OS with Windows Phone 7. Like Android, it’s available on numerous different phone brands, but unlike Android it looks the same across each phone, using a minimalist ‘tile’-based interface, and features such as photos, music and your contacts have their own ‘hubs’.

The Symbian operating system is available on Nokia phones, with the latest being Symbian^3. It has a strong focus on multitasking and offers multiple homescreens for accessing widgets.


Apps are arguably one of the most important parts of the smartphone as they can help you make your phone your own. Each OS has its own app store, providing you with apps for an infinite amount of purposes. Cooking, music, gaming, business, travel, education – you name it, there’s an app for it.

Apple’s iOS has the largest amount of apps, with hundreds of thousands available, while Android is gaining fast on that figure. Windows Phone 7 is still quite new, so it’s impressive that it has managed to hit the 10,000 mark already. And for Symbian, Nokia’s Ovi store has 40,000 apps.

Many apps are either free or require payment using your credit card, but the charge is usually quite low – from 79 cents and up. Installing them is quick and painless, usually requiring just a few taps.

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