Which Phones Are Smartphones?

By David Weinberg

The iPhone 4, a smartphone made by Apple.
i Chris Hondros/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Advances in technology continue to push more powerful computing hardware into smaller packages. Mobile devices that combine the size and communications capabilities of a phone with the openness and Web browsing capability of a computer are considered smartphones. The minimum bar for a phone to be considered a smartphone is constantly changing with new technological advances, but a couple of features help to define a phone as a smartphone.

Processing Power

Smartphones are driven by powerful processors that enable them to run computationally intensive applications, render complete Web pages and run several processes at once. They typically have considerable amounts of RAM to improve performance. High-end smartphones may have enough processing power to rival netbook computers. Smartphone processing power is constantly increasing as faster and more energy-efficient processors are developed.

Connectivity Options

Smartphones integrate with other devices and data services through a variety of connections. Many smartphones have Wi-Fi connections to allow the phone to access data over a Wi-Fi network instead of a 3G data connection. Smartphones also have Bluetooth radios to wirelessly share data with other devices. Some also support stereo Bluetooth for wireless headphones. As of February 2011, virtually all new smartphones are compatible with 3G data networks for high-speed access. Many smartphones are also being developed to be compatible with new 4G data networks.

Data Services

Smartphones use wireless data services in a number of ways. They automatically synchronize your email accounts with their internal email client. They also keep your contact and calendar information synchronized with online calendar services or your computer-based calendar. Smartphones feature Web browsers that can display complete websites on your phone's screen. Some smartphones can even support Flash-based video. They can also stream media, such as Internet radio or Netflix videos, over a wireless data connection.


Smartphones have large high-resolution displays for Web browsing, video playback and video gaming. Many smartphones use touch-screen displays as their primary input due to ease of use and to maximize screen space. Smartphones that do not have a physical QWERTY keyboard use an on-screen keyboard for text input. Many smartphones use an internal sensor to determine how you are holding your phone. This allows the display to switch from portrait to landscape view when you turn the phone.

Operating System

Smartphones run custom operating systems. Apple's iPhones run iOS, BlackBerryies run BlackBerry OS, Android-powered phones run the Android OS, Palm smartphones run webOS and Windows smartphones run Windows Mobile or Windows Phone. Typically, applications that are developed for one operating system work on any smartphone running that operating system. This allows developers to spend more time creating quality applications and less time customizing their applications for individual phones. Each operating system has its own application store where you can purchase and download applications for your smartphone.