I wrote a post a while back called “Do You Really Need A SmartPhone?” It has proven to be very popular, and usually gets lots of search engine attention. Apparently, people are really confused about this!
Today, I re-read that original post and found it . . . um . . . confusing. Oh, my information was good; it just wasn’t organized as well as it could have been. So I’m going to make another stab at it here:
‘Do I Really Need A SmartPhone, Part II”
What is a SmartPhone? It’s a cellular phone that can access the Internet. That usually means it can access the Internet via a wi-fi connection or over your carrier’s mobile network. This is important because when you access the Internet on your SmartPhone via a wi-fi signal, there is usually no additional charge. However, when you access the Internet over your carrier’s mobile network, the usage counts against your monthly allowance, and if you go over the allowance, there is usually an additional charge. As a practical matter, many have a wi-fi network set up at home, and that works fine for SmartPhone Internet access there, but when we’re out and about. . . that’s where you’ll be running on your carrier’s mobile network.
For what reasons might you want to access the Internet with your SmartPhone? There are a million reasons. And none of them may be important to you. Here are a few of the most popular things people do with their Internet connected Smartphones:
- Navigation. The GPS navigation built into the phone uses the Internet.
- Email. You can collect your email on your phone . . . but it requires Internet access.
- Facebook. When you are on it, you are on the Internet, whether at your computer or your SmartPhone.
- Google/Searching. If, like me, you want the answer NOW, you may be using search features on your phone, features that jump to the Internet to find the answer.
- Apps. If it’s an App, chances are it operates off the Internet – or ‘In The Cloud.’ How about the one that tracks your morning run, telling you how far you went and showing your route? Internet. How about that QR Code reader App? It’s going to take you to the Internet. How about that YouTube App or the automatic ‘radio’ you downloaded? They run over the Internet, and therefore, count against your monthly data allowance.
You see, there are quite a few things you might do with a SmartPhone, on the Internet. The question is: would you? You’re the only person who can answer that, and you may not know until you get a data plan and try it for awhile.
Now that you mention it, what is a ‘data plan?’ and do I need one? A data plan is what enables you to access the Internet with your SmartPhone when you are away from a connected wi-fi signal. It gives you Internet access through your carrier’s mobile network. So, if you are going to be using your SmartPhone for Internet activities when you are away from a wi-fi network, yes, you are going to need a data plan. And they aren’t cheap. Usually you pay for a monthly allowance of data use – usually mesured in Gigabytes (GB). A couple of GB is fine for most average users. But if you’re going to stream movies, watch baseball games, play cloud games and so on, you’re going to burn that up quickly.
Is it possible to have a SmartPhone and only use it over wi-fi? Yes. While in Mexico earlier this year I used my phone only over wi-fi. All of the Apps and other features I wanted worked fine. But that was a special situation. If you’re at home, where you have a wi-fi network, and that’s where you’re usually going to be when you want to use your phone to access the Internet . . . why wouldn’t you just use your computer? Or your tablet? The screens are bigger, and there’s nothing you can do on a SmartPhone you can’t do on a computer (except, maybe make calls).
What about text messages? That’s where this whole discussion gets squirrely. Most text messages in the US go over the carriers mobile netowrk. Since they are text, not voice, they are data, right? Yes, but most carriers charge for text messages differently than they do ordinary Internet data use. They usually charge for messaging by the number of texts sent/received, within a monthly allowance. That’s why most cellular plans have three components: Voice/Data/Text, with an allowance for each component. But, what if you don’t have a data plan? Can you still get text messages (which, technically, are data)? Yes. Almost all phones, Smart and Dumb alike, can make and receive calls and text messages.
What if you decide you really don’t need to access the Internet when you are away from your home base computer? What if Navigation and email and Facebook are not important to you when driving down the road? Then you probably don’t need a data plan. And if you don’t need a data plan, you don’t need a SmartPhone. A ‘dumb’ phone (which is a pretty smart instrument) will make and receive calls and text messages without a data plan. It will probably cost a lot less, too.
It is my humble opinion that unless you are a person who lives on (an in) your phone, for whom your phone IS your computer, OR unless you are in a business that requires you to be richly connected to the full cadre of information and media housed on the Internet . . . you probably don’t need a SmartPhone.
And, if you decide you do need one, rather than get lassoed into a two year contract with a carrier, why not take control of the whole situation. Start by buying a phone outright. I recommend the Google Nexus 4 phone available through the Google Play Store. At less than $400 it’s all the SmartPhone you’ll ever need. Then, shop various carriers’ ‘bring your own phone’ plans and choose the best one – at the moment – without a contract requirement. When you hear of a better deal somewhere else, take your phone and switch. Armed with information about what constitutes data and data usage, and with your own phone, you will finally be in control of this important part of contemporary life.