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What is a smartphone?

Want to know what a smartphone is? Read our simple guide for the inside line on smartphone technology.

The term ‘smartphone’ refers to a multi-functional mobile phone handset that features everything from a camera and web browser to a high-density display and a wide range of multimedia options.

Other key smartphone features include masses of space, microSD card slots to allow you to upgrade further and intuitive touchscreen user interfaces so you can access all the great functions of the handset quickly and easily.

Smartphone operating systems & processors

To keep these super, high-end mobiles running smoothly, smartphones are equipped with powerful micro-processors. These are what enable smartphone users to access more than one function or app simultaneously and ensure that there’s minimal lag at all times.

Also helping smartphones offer a smooth user experience are the advanced operating systems they run on. These manage the distribution of the handset’s resources, offer users a wide array of functions that are ever improving with new software updates, and are now a key selling point for customers when choosing a smartphone.

Some of the operating systems you’re most likely to come across include Symbian OS from Nokia, iPhone OS from Apple, Android from Google, BlackBerry OS from Research In Motion (RIM) and Windows Phone from Microsoft.

Smartphone updates explained

Periodically, smartphone makers issue software updates for their phones' operating systems. These can be sent out automatically over the air through the network, or will require the smartphone owner to download them manually.

Updates for smartphones generally add great new features and are also used to fix any faults that might have been present with existing versions.

Google is perhaps the most regular issuer of operating system updates, often putting out several new iterations of its Android platform every year. By contrast, Apple usually sends out just one new version each year for the iPhone.

Considering an Android phone? Check out and compare offers on Android phones at our dedicated Android page.

What is a smartphone app?

Applications, commonly referred to as apps, are specific pieces of software that can be downloaded to enhance a smartphone’s functionality. They could be calendar and organiser apps, games, or amp reading tools - the possibilities are limitless. If it’s remotely useful, somebody will have created an app for it.

In order to download apps users can visit the online software store available for their specific operating system. Apple’s App Store offers hundreds of thousands of titles and the Google's Android Market for Android smartphones is rapidly catching up too. Third-party apps markets such as GetJar and Amazon Appstore also offer a huge range of apps, some even exclusive to those stores.

The great thing about apps is that they allow you to change the functionality of your phone whenever you like. Choose a smartphone with an extensive selection of apps and you’ll never be bored of your phone ever again.

Which smartphone?

The most critical factor to consider when deciding which smartphone to go for is how you plan to use it. For instance, if you’re looking to use it for emailing extensively you may want to consider a handset with advanced messaging capabilities, such as a BlackBerry. These offer secure push email support that automatically updates and notifies you of new messages, as well as physical QWERTY keyboards for efficient text entry.

Alternatively, if you’re keen on gaming you’ll probably want to choose a phone with plenty of games titles available, such as an iPhone, an Android handset or one of the latest Windows Phone smartphones.

If apps are your primary consideration, then you will almost certainly choose an Android handset or an iPhone. The range of applications available for these two platforms dwarfs that of their rivals, and there are continuously new ones arriving on their respective software markets every day.

Compare smartphone offers at our dedicated smartphone deals page.

Buying smartphones

Smartphones are available on pay as you go or pay monthly contracts. For contracts they are supplied free or at a heavily discounted price. However, on pay as you go packages or if buying unlocked, the latest smartphones can cost up tp £600.

This can be quite a steep sum to pay for a handset for most average shoppers, and as a result many smartphone buyers tend to choose a monthly contract option when picking up a newer, more expensive model.

These are designed to subsidise the cost of the phone and usually run over a period of between 18 and 24 months, so you’re essentially spreading out the cost of your mobile over a longer period.

Most monthly smartphone contract prices range from £20 to £40, with varying texts, talk-time and data allowances. In order to make the most of your handset, uSwitch recommends picking a contract that offers a generous web usage limit. This will enable you browse the web, download more apps and stream videos and music without incurring extra charges.

Compare all the latest phones at uSwitch now.

The future of smartphones

The pace of change in the smartphone market can be overwhelming, with new features and technology that constantly revolutionises the way we use mobiles. In years to come, the smartphone market is expected to see the rise of 3D phones and come in ever slimmer, slicker dimensions thanks to rapid advances in technology.

Also expected to become standard on handsets is augmented reality technology. This overlays digital information over images visible through the onboard camera, meaning that you can look for a particular location by simply pointing your phone towards the street

Head to our future of mobile phones guide page to find out more.

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