What Do I Need to Know About Buying A Smartphone?

April 28, 2009

in communication,mobile computing

by David Hakala

A smartphone is a cell phone with many of a computer’s features. A smartphone can store and run applications such as a calendar, contact manager, games, Web browsers and email clients, even a stripped-down version of Microsoft Office if you have the Windows Mobile operating system. Here are some things you should know when shopping for a smartphone.

First, smartphones come with various operating systems, just as there are Windows, Mac, and Linux computers. Here is a summary of smartphone operating systems:

Palm OS: found on Palm smartphones and PDA’s (such as the Treo 600 and Treo 650). Features include contacts, calendar, memo, calculator, phone, SMS and MMS messaging, still and video camera, world clock, web browser, email and audio/video player.

Symbian: found on Siemens, Nokia and Sony Ericsson, Motorola and some Panasonic Smart phones. Features include SMS/MMS, voice recognition and caller display. PDA functions include viewing documents and spreadsheets, an appointment calendar, Web browser, email and to-do lists.

Microsoft Windows Mobile Pocket PC or Smartphone: This OS is includes applications such as Word and Excel that have been optimized for handsets. Typically these models are intended to sync to desktop computers. Microsoft Media Player is used for audio and video capture and playback. Microsoft ActiveSync is used for desktop synchronization. Other applications can be downloaded and installed.

BlackBerry: BlackBerry devices download email from an email server, support up to 10 email accounts, and have a range of email options such as email download to a PC.

The Apple iPhone is in a class by itself, wildly popular and expensive. Many much cheaper iPhone lookalikes are available running other operating systems.

Physical features to look for in a smartphone include a case that fits your hand comfortably; USB and memory card ports; and most of all a keyboard that you can type on comfortably. The display should be large enough to read email on. Test drive several smartphones before buying.

Web browsing on a smartphone is problematic. Most Web sites do not have alternate versions optimized for the tiny screens of smartphones, and navigation can be challenging. But it is very handy to send and receive email on the go. You will need an Internet access plan from your cellular carrier, available at extra monthly cost of about $20 and up.

David Hakala has perpetrated technology tutorials since 1988 in addition to committing tech journalism, documentation, Web sites, marketing collateral, and profitable prose in general. His complete rap sheet can be seen at