Your cookie preferences

We use cookies and similar technologies. You can use the settings below to accept all cookies (which we recommend to give you the best experience) or to enable specific categories of cookies as explained below. Find out more by reading our Cookie Policy.

Select cookie preferences

Skip to main content

What are smartphones?

We look at what makes a phone a 'smartphone'.
Share this guide
Mobiles - Guides - What is a smartphone?

The term smartphone refers to a multi-functional mobile phone handset with includes features such as a camera, web browser and a high-density display.

Other key features of a smartphone include additional storage 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 features: operating systems and 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.

The advanced operating systems that smartphones run on also help offer a smooth user experience.

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.

The two major smartphone operating systems are iOS from Apple and Android from Google.

Smartphone updates explained

mobiles - guides - What are smartphones?

Periodically, smartphone manufacturers issue software updates for their phone operating systems. These can be sent out automatically via a network, or requires 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.

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.

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 over £1,000.

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.


Best smartphones 2022: top 16 mobile phones ranked | Uswitch

Choosing the best smartphone in 2022 is a challenge. That's why we've ranked our top 16 mobile phones available to buy on the market right now. Read it here.

Learn more

The complete guide to buying your first smartphone - Uswitch

If you're looking into buying a smartphone for the first time, or want to buy your kids' first phone, here's what you need to know.

Learn more
comparing smartphones choosing a smartphone

How to choose a mobile phone contract - Uswitch

With so many great value deals on phone contracts, it can be tough choosing the right one. This guide will help you find the best mobile phone contract for you.

Learn more