It is nearly impossible to go out in public without seeing someone tapping away at a smartphone. These devices, which combine many of the applications of a computer with a cellphone, have become a way of life for many people. Before deciding whether to get a smartphone, consider the advantages and disadvantages.
When it comes to capabilities, smartphones like the BlackBerry, Android, iPhone and Windows Phone far surpass their less technologically-advanced counterparts like basic clamshell or flip-style phones.
Basic cellphones allow users to talk, text and use limited features such as a calculator and alarm clock and sometimes browse the Internet on a less-than-optimal browser. Smartphones offer users the ability to check into social media sites, send and receive email, perform transactions on bank accounts, pay bills, read books, instant message friends, watch television and movies, browse the Internet, check the weather or the latest sports scores and more. Developers are constantly adding applications that can be downloaded to smartphones to enable them to do more.
Because smartphones offer more capabilities than basic cellphones, they offer a sense of convenience that other phones simply do not offer.
Among the capabilities of smartphones are GPS applications, which provide users with turn-by-turn directions to anywhere from nearly any location. Banking applications allow users to check their account balances and perform transfers, pay bills and, in some cases, deposit checks. Social networking, email and instant-messaging applications allow users to keep in close contact with friends, family and colleagues. Checking the weather, the latest news headlines, movie showtimes, stock standings and even the business hours at a store or restaurant make smartphones ideal for someone who wants those conveniences.
On a basic cellphone, users can complete many of those tasks by calling their bank, stock broker, weather line or movie theater, but these options are limited and can take more time than they would on a smartphone.
One of the major drawbacks to smartphones is the cost associated with owning and operating them.
Your monthly cellphone bill for a smartphone will undoubtedly be higher than it would be for a basic cellphone. Major cellphone carriers like Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint users can expect to pay $75 to $120 per month for a smartphone -- plus taxes and fees. Those charges can be even more for heavy users.
Monthly plans for basic cellphones generally range between $10 and $60 per month, depending on how many minutes and text messages you want to buy.
The cost of the smartphone itself is also a consideration. Smartphones can retail for $600 or more. One of the benefits of signing on with a major cellphone carrier is that a discount is usually offered when you open your account and sign a service contract with the company. With a contract, customers can be eligible to receive smartphone handsets at a much more affordable cost -- sometimes even for free. Signing the contract is an incentive for the company to offer customers these incentives. However, if you want to break the contract before it expires, there's usually a fee that can run well over $100.
Non-contract, prepaid cellphone companies such as Virgin Mobile, Cricket, U.S. Cellular, Revol and Straight Talk may offer considerably less expensive monthly plans for smartphone customers. These monthly plans range from $35 to $75 per month and offer comparable service to their monthly-billed counterparts.
Unlike post-paid major cellphone companies, however, prepaid companies usually charge customers full price for the actual smartphone. With a prepaid plan, customers can expect to pay $200 to $600 for the handset alone.
While smartphones can do much more than a basic cellphone, they are also more prone to breakage since they have more parts to break. Smartphones work like a tiny computer and have thousands of parts that could potentially cause issues. From freezing to the force-closing of applications and problems with booting, smartphones pose many of the same potential problems as a computer or tablet.
Most new smartphones are covered by a factory warranty for one to two years after purchase, but beyond that, if the phone suffers software or hardware problems, it's up to the customer to replace the phone. Insurance plans offered through the phone carrier can absorb some or all of the cost of a new handset in the event that the smartphone becomes non-functional or even if it becomes lost, stolen or damaged. Insurance plans for smartphones can be pricey, however, adding anywhere from $10 to $20 per month onto recurring monthly charges.
A used smartphone will cost less than a new one while still providing a lot of the functionality you need. Used handsets can be purchased for less than retail price on auction sites like eBay; you may also find them advertised on Craigslist or in a local newspaper's classifieds section. Before purchasing a used smartphone, check that the phone does not have a past-due bill from the company that originally sold it. Companies such as Sprint, Virgin Mobile and Verizon can make the phone unusable if there is a past-due bill associated with it -- even if the bill isn't the new owner's responsibility.
- pocket pc image by Philip Date from Fotolia.com