What Is a Smart Phone?

By Travis Garner

A mother is showing her smartphone to her son.
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A smartphone is a mobile phone with an advanced operating system that functions at a significantly more advanced level than basic cell phones. With GPS navigation and a touch-screen interface, smartphones are limited only by the apps they support.

Sometimes feature phones are mistaken for smartphones. A feature phone has Internet access, can store and play music and perhaps even has a few apps. An important difference between feature phones and smartphones is the vastly increased functionality available in a smartphone.

Standard cell phones are capable of making and receiving calls and texts, but other functionality is limited.

What Can a Smartphone Do?

Standard features in smartphones include a media player, GPS navigation, Wi-Fi capability, a touch-screen interface and the customization of the phone with apps.

Apps greatly expand a smartphone’s capabilities. While app marketplaces for different smartphones are not the same, they each allow developers to submit custom applications to expand the functionality of the user’s phone.

Pros and Cons of Smartphones

For some, the cons outweigh the pros of owning a smartphone, and they stay with standard cell phones. Others discover that the advanced functions of a smartphone enhance their lives.

Cons of having a smartphone include the necessity for a data plan, paying a higher price tag for the smartphone and the smartphone's size, which is usually larger than a standard cell phone.

The pros that come with smartphone ownership include having a quality camera with you at all times, streaming music wherever you are, staying in touch with people through social networks and email, and access to the Internet.

The Major Smartphone Players

There are four major developers of smartphone operating systems: Apple, Google, Microsoft and Research in Motion. Each type of smartphone offers something different.

iPhone: Many people enjoy Apple’s iPhone because it interacts well with other Apple products, such as Apple TV and MacBooks. It’s also a good beginner smartphone option because the developers focused on ease of use.

Android: Created and continually developed by Google, Android is the top operating system in the smartphone market. It has been adapted for use with tablets, televisions and wristwatches. As open source software, it is available from many different phone manufacturers.

Windows Phone: Windows Phone makes use of a mobile version of Windows 8, which is also used by tablets and laptops. This allows Windows Phones to interact with other Windows 8 devices. One drawback to the Windows Phone is that the app marketplace attracts fewer developers than iPhone and Android.

BlackBerry: Once the leading smartphone, Research in Motion's BlackBerry is still in the game. It has managed to hold onto much of its corporate base because of its efficient enterprise solutions that other smartphones lack.

How to Decide Which Smartphone to Purchase

If you’re thinking of buying a smartphone, begin by asking yourself what you’d like your smartphone to do. If you want a diverse pool of games to select from, you might want to consider Android or Apple. Conversely, if you’ll largely be using it for work, Windows Phone or BlackBerry might be a better option.

Consider your level of technical proficiency. Apple is a good beginner smartphone, and Android has made great strides in making its OS beginner friendly. Windows Phone and BlackBerry are both considered a little less intuitive, especially for those who are not savvy with technology.