Understanding smartphones: a simple guide

This guide will walk you through the components and features of your device, from A to Z.

A woman holding s smartphone

Do you sometimes wish you knew more about your smartphone? This simple guide will walk you through all the components and features of your device, from A to Z. 

Apps
These are similar to the programs you would use on a computer, but are usually a lot smaller and simpler. Which apps you can use on your smartphone will depend on which operating system (see below) you are using. Types of apps include internet browsers, camera apps, banking apps, games and more.

Top apps of 2015

App store
This is where you can download apps. If you are using an Apple smartphone, you can only download apps from the iTunes Store. Android users are able to download apps from Google Play, Amazon Appstore and other locations; but be careful, as these other locations may not be safe.

Buttons
A vestige of the old phones we knew and loved, physical buttons are now nearly gone from modern smartphones, but it’s almost impossible to remove them completely.

Apple iPhones have:

  • a physical button on the front called the home button
  • a volume up/down button and a ring/silent switch on the left-hand side
  • an on/off button on the right-hand side.


Android phones have different buttons depending on the manufacturer, but generally you will find:

  • At the bottom on the front of the device you will find a menu button, home button, back button and occasionally a search button. On some devices, these buttons may be located on the touch screen rather than being physical buttons
  • an on/off button on the right-hand side
  • a volume up/down button on the left-hand side.


Camera
Most smartphones have one camera on the front for taking selfies or for using apps such as FaceTime, and another on the back for taking regular photos.

When you open the camera app, you can usually swap between the cameras by tapping a face or camera icon surrounded by arrows.

The camera on the back of the phone is usually much better, so unless you’re taking a selfie, stick to the back camera. Usually tapping on the screen controls the camera, but most smartphones also allow you to use the volume button to take photos. 

Charging
Smartphones all use rechargeable batteries that are charged by plugging your phone into a wall charger.

It’s best for your smartphone if you charge it before the battery runs out completely. You should also unplug it once it’s fully charged, but once every now and again it’s good for your phone to let the battery run out completely.

Make your iPhone or iPad battery last longer

GPS, accelerometer and compass
GPS uses satellites to determine the location of your phone and is free to use.

The accelerometer is a small device inside your smartphone that can tell the angle you are holding your device. This is how it knows to rotate the screen when you hold it sideways.

There’s a small compass inside your smartphone which, combined with the previous two components, makes your smartphone a handy tool for navigation.

Manufacturer
This is the company that manufactured your smartphone. iPhone’s are all manufactured by Apple, but Android devices come from a number of different manufacturers, such as Google, Samsung, Nokia, HTC, Sony and more.

Microphone
Your smartphone has a microphone at the bottom that is used when you’re talking on the phone. If you have headphones plugged into your smartphone, there is usually a microphone on them that allows you to talk hands-free on the phone.

Operating System (OS)
This is the software on which your device operates. Apple iPhones run on ‘iOS’, of which the most recent version is iOS 9, Apple releases iOS updates simultaneously to everyone.

Android devices run on the Android OS, of which the most recent version is 6 (Marshmallow). Phone providers release Android updates independently, so your phone may be several versions behind.

Ports
Ports are where you can plug things into your smartphone. Smartphones typically have a charging/data transfer port at the bottom of the device, and a 3.5mm headphone port at the top (or bottom).

Screen
Smartphones all use touchscreens. You may have heard the term ‘resolution’, this refers to the amount of pixels on the screen.

A pixel is, more or less, a little light that can change colours. The more of them you have in your screen, the better quality (or higher definition) it is.

A resolution of 1080p means that there are 1920x1080 pixels, which is equal to 2,073,600 pixels. This has long been the standard for full HD televisions, but its not unusual to see this resolution (or higher) on a smartphone as well.

Screens are backlit by lights. You can turn these lights up or down to make the screen brighter or dimmer.

Wireless connectivity
Smartphones have a few different types of technology which allow for wireless communication such as:

  • network or cellular data – allows you to make phone calls, send SMS messages and access the internet
  • wifi – allows you to connect to the internet wirelessly
  • Bluetooth – allows for short range connectivity – often used for connecting to a car audio system or wireless headphones
  • Near Field Communication (NFC) – included in some recent smartphones, NFC allows for very close range data transfer and is similar to the technology used for contactless payments.


Related articles:

Smartphone symbols explained

Six little-known iPhone tips and tricks





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