A smartphone provides so much more than just the ability to talk and text. It is essentially a miniature computer, compact enough to be held in the hand and carried in a purse or a pocket. Web surfing, data transfer, emailing, video or audio streaming, and a number of other functions, applications, and services are available through a smartphone. In fact, the sheer number of options for both hardware and software may be confusing to first-time smartphone buyers. This guide will define and clarify some key terms relating to the function and use of smartphones.
Smartphone Platforms or Operating Systems
The operating system (OS) or platform installed on a smartphone determines its software functionality. Much like the operating system on a personal computer (PC), a smartphone's OS runs the phone and provides a way for the users to navigate through programs, to adjust settings, and to accomplish tasks. The four main types of smartphone operating systems or platforms are iOS, Android, Windows, and BlackBerry .
Developed by Apple, the iOS smartphone platform is a modified version of the operating systems used on Mac desktops and laptops. iOS mobile devices such as iPhones are popular because of their power, their intuitive interface, and the enormous number of applications they make available to users. The iOS mobile browser is widely considered the leader among smartphone Web browsers.
iOS devices also have a characteristic layout. Their home screen contains a grid-like arrangement of colorful icons, allowing users to quickly identify the location of their music, their books, their Web browser, their apps, their emails, and more. A home button allows the user to quickly return to the home screen anytime they like.
A few drawbacks to iOS include its lack of support for Adobe Flash (a popular Web-based multimedia platform), its lack of a physical keyboard, and its strict limits on customization. Apple generally releases a new version of its mobile iOS every year, allowing the company to keep up with consumer demands and to tweak any features that may have caused an issue in the past iteration.
Smartphones that use the Android platform have become extremely popular in recent years. The Android system is designed specifically for Google services such as Gmail and Google Maps. However, it does not have as many applications as iOS devices do, and it lacks the support necessary for a stellar gaming experience. Despite these drawbacks, it does have a sufficient variety of the most popular apps.
Android, unlike iOS, allows its users the freedom to customize. Manufacturers often customize Android smartphones with skins and widgets, which can give each phone its own unique feel. Some users find the customizations more annoying than helpful, while other tech-savvy users appreciate the additional flexibility. Although the Android OS has made great strides in recent years, it can still seem slow compared to the smooth, swift function of an iPhone. Despite the presence of a few drawbacks, the wide variety of models and pricing options in the Android market makes this platform appealing to buyers on a budget.
The Windows Phone is a smartphone developed by Microsoft. Its interface, called Metro, is a swift, high-functioning, user-friendly system that integrates Microsoft Cloud Services, Bing search functionality, Zune Marketplace, Xbox Live, and Microsoft Office programs. Instead of icons, the Metro home screen uses "live tiles." The tiles constantly update to show new information that is relevant to the user. While not as customizable as Android smartphones, the Windows Phone offers consistent updates to bring its users the newest functionality as quickly as possible. While the entire system is unique and well-designed, its originality may cause a learning curve for users who are more familiar with Android and iOS navigation and functionality.
BlackBerry devices experienced a surge in popularity after becoming one of the first smartphones on the market, particularly among professionals in the workplace, but they have since lagged behind the other platform options. BlackBerry's strengths lie in its business-related functionality, including its physical keyboard, its messaging systems, and its email capabilities. However, the BlackBerry's less-than-ideal browsing abilities and lack of applications make it unsuitable for most users, who tend to expect higher speeds, a smoother interface, and more options from their smartphones. For buyers who need a basic smartphone primarily for work-related needs, the BlackBerry can still provide valuable service. Budget-conscious buyers will appreciate the relatively low pricing of BlackBerry models as well as their affordable data plans.
Smartphone User Interfaces
A smartphone's user interface (UI) is the way in which users communicate with the device. In a smartphone, the UI may be a touchscreen, a keyboard, or a combination of both. iOS devices such as the iPhone have no keyboard, but instead incorporate a touchscreen interface. Through a series of taps and drags, users can easily text, type, browse, game, and do a variety of other tasks. A stylus can also be used if the iPhone user requires greater precision for some activities. Apple uses the same user interface and colorful icons on its iPad series, and this provides user-friendly standardization across Apple devices.
Other smartphones, such as the BlackBerry, employ some combination of keyboard input and touchscreen technology. For frequent, rapid typing and texting, users may find the physical keyboard more comfortable and efficient. For navigation through programs and webpages, simply touching the screen is quicker and more convenient. Buyers will need to think about their smartphone habits and decide whether the physical keyboard is important to their lifestyle.
Smartphone Hard Drives
The hard drive within a smartphone houses its OS, its programs, and any additional data that users have added. Hard drive storage capacity is generally measured in gigabytes (GB). Smartphone manufacturers usually allow users a few different hard drive options so that they can select the amount of hard drive space they need for their phone, and a price increase usually accompanies each increase in space. In the early days, the original iPhone had two options: 4GB and 8GB. Today, buyers considering the iPhone 4S can choose 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB models. Similar options are available for smartphones with Android, Windows, or BlackBerry platforms.
Smartphone Screen Resolution
The screen of the average smartphone is about 3.5 to 2.7 inches. A few, like the Evo and the Droid X, have gone larger, with screens larger than 4 inches. For the most part, many of the current smartphone models have excellent screen resolution. Many Android smartphones also have high-quality resolution at 480x800, while the 640x960 Retina Display on the iPhone 4 stands at the high end of the spectrum.
The speed at which the battery is depleted depends on the intensity of its activity. A brand-new smartphone with a new battery should be able to handle hours of talk or video streaming. In music mode, an iPhone can last for days without needing to be recharged. Eventually, however, calling, taking photos, texting, streaming content, downloading data, and playing games will slowly drain a smartphone's battery until the phone turns itself off due to lack of power. Usually the phone will send its owner several "low battery" warnings before powering down. When the battery is low, owners should plan to charge the smartphone as soon as possible.
A smartphone charger is a small device that converts the alternating current (AC) from an electrical outlet into usable direct current (DC). The current is converted inside the bulky node of the charger and then flows through the wire, into the smartphone's port, and triggers a chemical reaction once it reaches the battery.
Within a smartphone's lithium-ion battery is a cathode (lithium metal oxide) and an anode (carbon). During the charging process, lithium ions flow through an electrolyte conductor from cathode to anode. When the phone is being used, the chemical reaction is reversed and the ions slowly go back from anode to cathode, draining the stored energy.
Smartphone Covers or Cases
A smartphone represents a significant investment for many buyers. Most users choose to provide protection for their smartphone by purchasing a cover or a case appropriate for their habits and lifestyle.
Since smartphones come in all shapes, sizes, and weights, buyers should be very careful to ensure that any cover or case that they purchase fits their phone perfectly. The areas for the ports, the antennae, the microphones, and other parts should all match up.
Style and Durability
A smartphone's cover should not sacrifice durability for the sake of style. Buyers should be able to find a number of attractive style options that provide sufficient protection for the screen and for the body of the smartphone. Heavy-duty rubber, sturdy leather, carbon fiber, aluminum, and titanium are all common materials from which smartphone covers are made. These types of materials help with shock resistance in case the phone is dropped and can also provide defense against any sharp objects that could scratch the phone. Buyers should ensure that the screen protection accompanying their new smartphone cover still allows full touch capability and does not trap air bubbles between the screen and the protector.
Smartphones access the Internet via a network. The type of mobile network used by a smartphone is designated using a number/letter combination, such as 2G, 3G, or 4G. The chart below identifies the characteristics of each network.
2G networks works well for texting and calling, but have limited data transfer capabilities. 2G has been replaced in most areas by 3G networks.
3G networks handle calls, texting, and data much more readily than 2G, though 3G networks are currently being upgraded to 4G in some areas.
4G networks handle calling and texting easily and allow for very fast data transfer. 4G networks are replacing 3G networks in some areas.
An understanding of the network capabilities of different smartphone models will help buyers choose the features most appropriate for their needs.
An application, usually referred to as an app, is a program for a smartphone, usually purchased via an app store or downloaded for free. An app might be a game, or it could be something more practical such as Adobe Reader or an organizational app.
Buying Smartphones on eBay
When you enter "smartphones" into the search bar on eBay, you will likely receive thousands of listings, the sheer number of which can be overwhelming. For a more targeted search, go to eBay's homepage and select Electronics from the left-hand navigation menu. Next, click Cell Phones & Accessories, then click Cell Phones & Smartphones, and from there narrow your search by checking the box on the left side of the screen for your preferred brand, carrier, condition, price range, operating system, and/or color.
As you review the resulting listings, you may have additional questions that you would like to ask of sellers. eBay sellers can be contacted via the "Contact Member" link on their profile page or through the "Ask a Question" link in the item listing. For additional savings, check for sellers who offer return policies, who have good feedback scores, who provide free shipping, or who advertise package deals or bundles. You may be able to obtain a smartphone and a case or an additional charger through a single listing.
Buyers who research the important terms related to smartphones will be in a better position to begin shopping for one. With eBay's wide selection of smartphones and its buyer-friendly features, the shopping experience for a new smartphone can be enjoyable rather than frustrating. Once the transaction is complete and the new smartphone arrives, buyers can begin to enjoy all the features and functionality that a high-quality smartphone provides.