Want to upgrade to a much more capable phone? The smartphone is the fastest-growing consumer tech product - combining the communications ability of your humble mobile with all the intelligence of a handheld computer. There are seven essentials to consider before you buy.
1. Would I use a smartphone?
Smartphones have even more powerful processors than ever before, lots of extra memory and their screens have got bigger - and much better - at displaying just about everything. All this means that the smartphone, which really began life as an `away-from-the-office’ tool for professionals (on-the-go emails, contacts and calendar access), has really widened its appeal. Sophisticated `multi-media’ tools, plus cheaper flash memory cards, means that your smartphone is now a great companion for mobile entertainment - for staying in touch via social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter - to music playbacks, mobile gaming, TV and video watching.
2. Which mobile network is best?
Not all smartphones for sale in-store or online work on all mobile networks, so first of all, research the mobile network you want use then select the smartphone brand that uses it. Most people select their mobile carrier purely for the plans on offer because data usage (especially video/movie watching) can be very heavy. Your smartphone plan - which may or may not include the handset but will definitely lock you in for a period of time - must be sufficient to cover the extra data you’ll use watching videos/movies etc - as well as sending emails/browsing the internet/playing games etc.
Before you sign your contract with a mobile carrier, familiarise yourself with the amount of data specific downloads take. 100Mb a month might sound heaps but it swallows one online video instantly! Once you’re on your plan and using your smartphone, regularly check your data usage monitor or you may be in for a nasty surprise with additional billing for data used over and above your plan. Also, if you are travelling overseas, be very wary of using your phone’s data service unless you are prepared for a staggeringly high bill.
3. Which operating system is better?
Your smartphone’s operating system (OS) is the software that makes the phone work. Currently, most people are choosing between the relatively new Android OS (supported by Google) which is now on a widening range of phones (Samsung and HTC together accounted for almost half of Google’s Android sales in 2010), or Apple’s iOS which is the operating system designed just for the Apple range of phones. The three other common operating systems that you can choose from are:
Your choice of operating system usually comes down to two main issues - the `look and feel’ of the phone and its applications (apps) capability. It’s the OS technology that decides how you will actually physically interface with your smartphone (some are easier than others), and secondly, and more importantly for some people, the OS software dictates which apps you can download. There are 1000s of apps to buy or get for free, but not all apps work on all phones. However, app design is changing rapidly and many applications like the Amazon Kindle e-reader app are now designed to work on Google’s Android OS as well as iOS, plus Windows Mobile 7.
4. What are applications (apps)?
Apps are a program you download, install, store and run on your phone. Apps only run on the operating system/s they are designed for: e.g. some Google apps are only available for smartphones using the Android OS. Before you decide on which smartphone brand to buy, research which apps you really want to use - the Apple App Store has 1000s of apps, however Google now has its own Android Market, BlackBerry App World was launched in April 2009, Nokia has Ovi for its apps, and Microsoft has Windows Marketplace for Mobile. By far the most popular apps are for gaming, but there are also many apps for navigation, social networking, personal organisation and all sorts of mobile entertainment which, of course, includes shopping.
Lasoo.com.au has its own Pre-Shop® Lasoo Mobile Apps to help you be a savvy shopper (Lasoo Apps are available to download free from Apple’s App Store, Android Market and Windows Marketplace for Mobile).
5. Are all smartphone screens the same?
Smartphone screens are either capacitive or resistive - and these are two very different technologies. The choice of display screen is important because, like your choice of OS, this technology determines your everyday experience with your phone.
Most people choose a capacitive screen (like the iPhone) because they’re more responsive and they enable multi-touch technology. The screen works by transferring a small charge of energy from the display to your finger, and then the software calculates which area of the screen has changed its charge. The less popular resistive screen technology works quite differently. You apply pressure to the screen usually with a stylus and then two very thin layers of metal (under the phone’s display glass) collect the location data at your point of pressure. A resistive screen is much better for drawing functions.
All smartphones have touchscreens or keyboards for data input (most people opt for touchscreen although some do still prefer to type), and like PDAs they can be synchronised with your desktop or laptop computer. If you’re going to be using your phone more as a PDA, an e-reader or to enter/store information like travel details or utility bills, choose a high-resolution and screen size designed for viewing documents, reading emails and browsing the internet. As video is now standard in smartphones, if you anticipate using this functionality a lot, make sure you select a large/better quality screen with high resolution (and good off-axis viewing angles) which will also display colours well.
The quest to deliver the best screen is really being pushed by consumers’ ever-growing use of video on their smartphones. Utube is the most downloaded app to date, which means people are moving away from viewing video on their computers and increasing their video watching on their phone. Smartphone screen displays - like notebooks or tablets - all use LCD technology for its fast refresh rate - great for bright display/low power consumption. You’ll see the word AMOLED (active matrix organic light emitting diode) which is the newest technology, more colourful than previous displays on many phones. This has been made even more vibrant by Samsung which have introduced Super AMOLED, the AMOLED touch panel plus a top layer of glass. Super LCD is another contender for smartphone screen dominance and offers better contrast and warmer colours than older LCD displays, but the downside is that it takes more power than AMOLED. Apple phones are different again - they use IPS technology (in-plane switching) in the LCD displays of the iPad and iPhone 4. Like Super AMOLED, IPS screens have vibrant colours - but they also offer the best off-axis viewing angles for the screen.
6. Are there different smartphone email delivery systems?
All smartphones deliver your emails wirelessly using an email client. Your smartphone handset uses its own email client and connects to the email server to send/receive messages over the GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) network. Smartphones running Windows 7 Mobile OS run ActiveSync with POP3/IMPA for Pocket Outlook, however Nokia smartphones running Symbian OS have a greater number of email options with a focus on corporate email clients. So, if you are going to be using email delivery a lot, check your smartphone’s email connectivity before you purchase. General connectivity is also important if you want to transfer files from your phone to your computer - your smartphone should have Bluetooth, USB, 3G and HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) as the minimum.
7. Which size camera is sufficient?
Camera functionality is standard now in all smartphones. Until recently, 5.0 mega-pixels was considered great resolution, however 8.0 mega-pixel cameras are now available in new smartphones like the HTC Mozart. If a camera is not important, then a basic 2.0 mega-pixels is sufficient but expect low performance. If you’re going to make use of video call functionality, choose a phone with dual cameras and make sure you check the quality of the built-in speakers as some are much better than others. Battery life is still a major obstacle to overcome when using your smartphone - especially if you’re running video which drains the battery very quickly. More than likely you will need to upgrade your battery otherwise you will have to charge your smartphone every day.