For most of us, our phones have become a part of us. We would no more leave the house without the phone than we would without clothes.
But if you have a gadget you're going to carry around with you everywhere, you really should get the most out of it. If you upgrade from a standard phone to a smartphone, there's a whole world of new things you can do.
Web Access Everywhere
Picture this: you're at dinner with some friends, and you decide to go to a movie. Unless you've planned ahead for this, how are you going to know what's playing where? Well, you could go to the nearest theater and hope there's something you like starting soon... but if you had a smartphone you could look up the movie times and locations while you're still sitting at the table.
That's because smartphones have web browsers on them, and if there's something you want to know, odds are you can look it up immediately wherever you are, and not have to wait until you can find a computer.
Mobile access to the Web is constantly coming in handy for me. I'm not talking about just helping me find a good restaurant around the corner, but in winning arguments like proving Kirby Puckett had a higher lifetime batting average than Mickey Mantle without a two-hour debate spoiling the beer.
If you looked at a phone's web browser a few years ago, when the carriers first started pushing the mobile web, you're probably feeling pretty suspicious right about now. But believe me, the browsers on smartphones have improved dramatically, and wireless access is much, much faster.
Email Not Texting
If you're a hard-core phone user below about 30, you probably love texting. Odds are you regularly send heaps of SMS messages to your friends, and many of you probably spend more time sending and reading texts than you do actually talking on your phone.
But have you ever really thought about how very restrictive texting is? You have only 160 characters to work with, or about 25 words. You can only send these to people's phones, not their computers. And your wireless carrier makes you pay through the nose for the privilege of sending those brief thoughts.
Picture Messaging is even worse. Sure, you can send teeny-tiny images to people, but each message is wildly expensive to let someone look at a very low-res image.
Smartphones offer email. Real, honest-to-goodness email. There's no real limit on how long a message can be, so you actually have space to express yourself. Plus, you can add attachments to them, and send people images that are large enough that they can actually see what's happening.
I know, some of you are thinking that texting is good enough for you, because most of your messages are just single thoughts, part of a back-and-forth conversation. What's happening is you're using texting as an instant messaging app. That's something carriers love, because it's how people can burn through hundreds of messages shockingly quickly, and end up with huge phone bills.
A smartphone will let you run an Instant Messaging app, like AIM or Yahoo or Gtalk. If you're doing that, it doesn't matter how many messages you send. And, like email, you can chat with people who are on their PC, not just on their phone.
iPod Not Necessary
I know, money's probably tight right now, but if you're thinking about buying a dedicated MP3 player, a smartphone might actually save you some cash. You see, most high-end phones can be your portable MP3 player.
Combining your phone and your music player not only saves you some cash, it's less hassle because there's one less thing to carry around.
There's a limitation, though. The storage in phones tops out at about 16 GB now. That might seem small next to a 60 GB iPod, but it's enough room for 3,000 songs. That's almost a week of constant music before you repeat a song.
You can also sign up for services that will stream commercial-free music to your smartphone, many for free.
Finding Your Way
There's another popular gadget the right smartphone can replace: a GPS. Plenty of high-end phones have navigation capabilities these days, and they can give you turn-by-turn, spoken directions.
Your phone can tell you exactly where you are, and show you your location on a map. It can also show you the locations of every Chinese restaurant in a 5-mile radius, or give you the fastest route to the meeting that starts in 15 minutes.
By now, you're probably asking yourself "If smartphones are so great, why doesn't everyone have one?" The reason's obvious: they aren't cheap. Not only do they come with an up-front cost, but just about every service I've talked about here requires an unlimited data plan to go with your voice service plan.
But now is the best time ever to buy a smartphone. The wireless carriers have really dropped the prices on the latest models, to the point whee you can get a really good device for $200 or less. And most carriers have improved the speed of their wireless data networks to where they are a pleasure to use, so at least you're getting your money's worth.
The Intelligent Choice
I'll be honest with you, my word for devices that can just make calls, take pictures, and send texts is "dumb phone". You have to admit, it's not a very advanced piece of technology.
The latest smartphones, on the other hand, have more capabilities than laptops made a few years ago. If you spend more time with your phone than you do with your PC, maybe it's time for an upgrade.
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