How Does a Smartphone Work?

by Shawn McClain

    Smartphones exist in a the middle ground between a standard mobile phone, also known as a feature phone, and a full-fledged computer. Early smartphones simply combined some aspects of personal digital assistants, like email capability and basic productivity software, with a mobile phone, but modern smartphones contain a wide variety of powerful features designed to make your life easier and keep you connected to the people and systems that are important to you.

    Calling Features

    No matter how many other bells and whistles a smartphone features, at its heart it is still a mobile telephone. The calling features on a smartphone are fairly standard and typically include voicemail, call forwarding, caller ID, call waiting and three-way calling. The phone feature will only operate while you are connected to an available wireless network, so it will not work if the only available connection is through Wi-Fi unless you have a Wi-Fi calling app set up.

    Connectivity

    Most smartphones have multiple ways to keep you connected. The most basic connection will usually be through your wireless carrier's third generation (3G) wireless network. The 3G designation refers to CDMA, UMTS and HSDPA technology that transmits data considerably faster than the 2G technology available in the 1990s. Some modern smartphones can use a 4G network like an LTE, LTE-A, WiMax or HSPA+ network. Many smartphones also allow you to connect to an available Wi-Fi network to allow for much faster data transmission and to help relieve congestion from the carrier's wireless network. A smartphone using a Wi-Fi connection will not use up its allotted data usage because the connection happens outside of the carrier's network. Some smartphones even allow you to do the opposite, using your 4G wireless connection to turn your smartphone into a Wi-Fi hotspot so that other Wi-Fi-enabled devices can connect to the Internet through your smartphone. Carriers will charge extra to use this service, and all data used in this manner will count against your allotted gigabytes of data usage.

    Email and Messaging

    Your smartphone is designed to keep you connected to everything that's important to you, and the included messaging functions are at the heart of that design. A smartphone's email application can connect to the carrier's basic email service, but it can also connect to a public email account or even a business' Exchange server, allowing you to stay up-to-date on your email anywhere you have a wireless signal. Smartphones have the capability to send and receive SMS and MMS messages as well and often include a master inbox so that all your messages and email show up in the same place.

    Applications

    Applications have drastically changed the scope of smartphones over the past few years. While most smartphones initially came with a handful of pre-installed productivity apps, the advent of application stores like Apple's iTunes Store and the Google Play store have created a vibrant market where smartphone users can download and install all manner of applications. These apps include pieces of productivity software, games, utility software and even social media apps, which leverage your smartphone's connection to keep you notified of updates to your social networking sites. Some apps do require an fee to download them, but many are offered free of charge.

    Camera

    While the inclusion of a camera and video camera capabilities are not unique to smartphones, the quality of a smartphone camera and the functionality of the smartphone's camera and video applications are far superior to what you will find on a regular cell phone. Smartphone cameras currently range as high as 8 megapixels and the included software can manipulate the ISO, shutter speed, aperture, white balance and many other image settings. The software also allows you to edit your images and videos on the device without requiring that you download them to a computer first.

    About the Author

    Shawn McClain has spent over 15 years as a journalist covering technology, business, culture and the arts. He has published numerous articles in both national and local publications, and online at various websites. He is currently pursuing his master's degree in journalism at Clarion University.

    Photo Credits

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