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Why buy a smartphone? What are the advantages?

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girls using mobile phoneYou may be entirely happy with a simple cheap mobile phone. And as has been observed about the current world financial crisis, there is no point in “spending money you don’t have, to buy things you don’t need, to impress people you don’t know”.

But here are some thoughts about good motives for buying a smartphone (ie. the new generation of computer-like phones with a touch-screen), now that prices are falling fast:

  1. Smartphones are way easier to use than the old button-operated phones. The difference is as dramatic as old DOS computers versus Windows. Just about every operation is intuitive and web/computer-like. There is no need to fear that these are complex difficult gadgets, only for techies. They aren’t!
  2. Texting, calendars, diaries, time alerts/alarm clocks, and address books are all quick and easy. And at last, mobile access to the Web is practical and simple because of the touch-screen.
  3. Even with PAYG, you can access the Web and many other services in any wifi area, free.
  4. There are vast numbers of ‘apps’ which extend the usefulness of your phone in many ways: check the Android Market and iPhone App Store. Always read the app reviews before installing. Also note that some apps may be incompatible with some phones. Skittish phone behavior is often caused by a recently-installed app.

    You are also strongly advised to install a security app such as Android Lookout (which will also track your phone if you lose it).

  5. You’ll have a half-decent snapshot camera/camcorder that you can use 24/7, and extend its capability with various apps; also an easy-to-use picture gallery. Do protect the lens and keep it clean. Phones have a clear window on the back of the cover (this is not actually the real photographic lens) which is only plastic and easily scratched. It is possible to buy replacement hardened optical glass replacements. It is regrettable that few smartphones have sliding lens covers to protect from dirt, dust and scratches, or even hardened optical glass as standard. (I designed a protector for my HTC Desire as part of the flip-out case, and fitted a Nokia N97 sliding lens cover to my wife’s Desire.) A dirty, dusty or scratched lens will dramatically reduce photo quality.
  6. You can write notes (which will syncronize to your main computer if you wish), record voice memos, keep a detailed calendar schedule with reminders, and much more.
  7. Jesus-followers can install multiple versions/languages of the Bible with the free YouVersion app, which works offline. Daily devotionals and reading plans are available too. (YouVersion will also install on a web-equipped ‘feature phone’, ie. the previous generation of phone with some ‘smart’ features.)
  8. The Kindle appcan be installed, giving you access to Kindle books, including many free classics. Amazon also gives you the opportunity to convert PDF files into Kindle files, making them more readable.
  9. You can install a very adequate sat-nav app – CoPilot is good.
  10. GPS will always show you where you are, with compass, and integrates with the remarkable Google Maps.

  11. You can easily Tweet, email, or access Facebook, Google+ and eBay from your phone.
  12. It’s a ready-made MP3 player – take your music, audiobooks, or podcasts with you wherever you go. FM radio is a frequent option on Android phones too.

  13. Games apps make it into a hand-held games console for relaxation, or even a ready-made diversion when traveling with children.

  14. Jesus-followers can download video clips or other conversation-starting evangelistic resources, to share the good news face-to-face: read more.

Buying and choosing

  • Go for the largest screen you can afford – it really does make a difference.
  • If you use PAYG, you can buy SIM-free smartphones new or second-hand, to use with the mobile provider of your choice (and if you wish, your existing SIM and number). (Check that your chosen company provides good coverage in the areas you need. Your home or workplace may be in a poor-reception area.) If you do not make many phone-calls, you can use PAYG with a smartphone (with or without internet access, and normally stick to wifi to access the smart features.

    If you opt for a contract, it may be cheaper to buy your own phone and go for a SIM-only contract. But since smartphones now make up the bulk of new mobile contracts, you will find competitive contract prices available for smartphones, which will normally provide some degree of cover for a broken or defective phone.

    Be aware that a smartphone set to access the 3G/4G Web via the mobile signal rather than wifi, will be constantly searching for emails and many other types of updates, and gobbling up a large amount of bandwidth – ensure that any contract provides sufficient bandwidth, and disable these downloads if necessary, and especially when traveling abroad on a limited data plan.

    Many smartphones are available on eBay second-hand, from people legitimately selling unwanted contract upgrades (on which the warranty will likely be transferable). With due caution, you can get some real bargains. Note that phone unlocking, unless done by the manufacturer, invalidates the warranty (as will tech tweats – ‘rooting’ Android phones and ‘jailbreaking’ on iPhones). Some phones are sold by the manufacturers as unlocked for any network. Otherwise only choose a phone locked to the network you wish to use.

  • Which operating system to choose? The two most popular, and therefore with the most apps available, are iPhone and Android. Each has advantages and disadvantagesGoogle for more. There is essentially only one model of iPhone, but growing range of cheaper Android smartphones available. If you choose any other operating system (Windows 7, Blackberry) your choice of apps is currently very limited. The most useful and often indispensable apps are usually only available for iPhone or Android.

  • Some people struggle with an on-screen keyboard, others love them. You have two options here:

    a) get a ‘capacative screen stylus’. BoxWave are said to be the best. Long and mini lengths are available, and they can be tethered using the headphone socket: available from Amazon US and Amazon UK.

    b) Alternatively, choose a slide-out phone with a real ‘qwerty’ button keyboard. See if you can try both types, perhaps using friends’ phones. Each needs practice. Don’t give up! You may take some weeks to become accurate and proficient. Also available are several ‘swype’ apps which allow typing without removing your finger from the on-screen keyboard, by sliding your finger from key to key. Some people find these very effective.

  • Always read online product reviews before buying, such as TechRadar and CNET, and pages covering the wider issues of how to choose phones, networks, contracts etc, eg. PC World.
  • Smartphones are power-hungry, and usually need recharging once a day, depending on usage. (You can also charge from any computer USB port.) Google for the many tricks, tips and settings for power-saving that can double battery life. Keep a keyring emergency phone charger with you – these contain a single AA battery and will power your phone for a short bonus period. They are widely available at mobile accessory shops and on eBay. Choose one with good customer reviews though, some are of poor quality. A more powerful option is a larger pocket charger such as the well-reviewed Energizer XP1000 or XP2000. (If you need to use the phone solidly for an hour or more away from a charging point, these are essential.) You could also buy a second battery for your phone and keep it charged up, or keep a second very small basic phone such as the cheapest baby Nokia (standby time measure in many days rather than hours!) as an emergency backup.

  • There are online forums for each mobile operating system, for instance Android Forums.
  • Be aware that smartphones are computers! You need protection from malware and other security threats, just as much on a laptop or PC.

You will soon wonder how you managed without a smartphone! They really are a blessing.

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