Cell Phones Considerations for the Non-Techie
Why some of the best choices are not “smart” at all
Written by Darla Palmer-Ellingson in Home Technology for Your Home
A friend of mine asked me why he couldn’t access the internet from his cellphone. He had a basic flip phone, the kind that looks like the communicator Captain Kirk used when asking to be beamed up to the Enterprise. After explaining to him the difference between a cellphone and smartphone, we looked at phones, features and costs.
If you have a non-techie friend or family member, there are a few things to consider before suggesting an upgrade to a smartphone. The following is a handy rundown you can share if you find yourself in the position of explaining the pros and cons of different types of phones and some ideas on how to help pick a mobile device that fits the user’s needs.
Cellphone vs. smartphone
First, explain the difference between devices. A basic cellphone can make and receive calls and basic text (SMS) messages. SMS stands for Short Message Service, which allows the sending of a message of up to 160 characters to another device. Longer messages will automatically be split up into several parts. Most cellphones support this type of text messaging. One can send SMS messages from a cellphone without a data plan to another cellphone or smartphone. A basic voice plan is required from a cellular carrier.
A smartphone is a cellphone with advanced features. It can send and receive calls and is capable of sending advanced text messages called Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS). With MMS, one can send pictures, video or audio content to another smartphone. For example, a photo taken with the phone can be sent to another device. Smartphones are also able to access the internet, download and exchange files and emails, send and receive emails and access different apps, which are software applications designed to run on mobile devices. Most devices are sold with several apps bundled as pre-installed software, such as a web browser, an email program, a calendar and an app for downloading more apps.
For a smartphone to access advanced features, it must be connected to a data plan through a cellular carrier.
What does the user want to do with the phone?
It seems my friend was curious about the internet because he liked surfing the web at home. Mostly he likes to read books and look at news. He doesn’t use email much and never texts. He thought a smartphone would entertain him while he was volunteering manning a hospitality desk at a local hospital. We took a trip to Best Buy so he could see all different types of devices in one place. It was a little overwhelming for him. I narrowed it down to three of the most popular smartphones: the Apple iPhone 7 (iOS), Samsung Galaxy S7 (Android) and the Microsoft Lumia 950 XL (Windows).
The cost of each smartphone we looked at ꟷ between $600 and $800 ꟷ was a bit of sticker shock to him. I explained that he could get a free or reduced price smartphone by signing a two-year contract, but that often the cost of the phone is absorbed into the contract price.
Insurance is an added (optional) monthly cost ꟷ protecting a costly device against damage or theft.
Data plans, coverage and cost
The next sticker shock came during the data plan discussion. While different carrier’s plans vary, it’s safe to say a smartphone plan is at least double that of a basic cellphone. Those carriers with lower monthly rates typically don’t have as much nationwide coverage, meaning voice and data connectivity may fail as you travel outside of their coverage areas. It’s important to review coverage maps in the area the phone will be used most and to talk to other users about their coverage.
The bottom line: owning and operating a smartphone is an expensive proposition.
Some basic feature phones look and feel just like a smartphone, with a large touch screen, a camera and video capability. LG’s Verizon-ready Extravert 2 adds a slide-out QWERTY keyboard to the mix, which may be a little easier for those not used to texting on a touch screen. A word of caution ꟷ if the user will be using texting on a basic feature phone, make sure to turn off MMS capability in the phone settings. If the user inadvertently sends pictures or even smiley face emojis over a basic feature phone, they could end up with significant extra charges. Turning MMS off will still allow plain text SMS messages.
My friend spent quite a bit of time looking at iPads, liking the large screen and easy-to-navigate touch screen. I explained to him that he could use an iPad at home by adding a wireless router with no additional data plan, and he could connect to free Wi-Fi at the hospital, his favorite restaurant and many public places, to read books and news. He ended up replacing his phone for free with another a basic feature cellphone using his current phone plan. I helped him purchase an iPad Air and wireless router for $330. He is happy accessing the internet and all kinds of apps on the go with the iPad without having to pay for the expensive data services associated with owning a smartphone.
A smartphone scenario
If your friend or family member is looking to you for advice on which cellphone to buy, they may also look to you for support.
My mother-in-law wanted a cellphone, so we gave her an extra one of ours left over from when we upgraded. She took to it very quickly but had a ton of questions. So when she wanted to upgrade to a newer smartphone, I encouraged her to buy the same Samsung Galaxy S7 phone I was buying. I taught her how to use it in short sessions so she wouldn’t get overwhelmed and could answer most other questions over the phone.
If you, a friend or family member are looking at owning a smartphone for the first time, weigh the use with the expense. If someone is asking you for advice on a phone, they may also ask your advice on how to use it. While I couldn’t do without my high-tech, for some less techie people, a basic phone will do just fine.