Smartphones 360° @ Work, Rest & Play
For starters, a quick rant. Is it just me or does everybody and their dog have a smartphone nowadays. It is frightening just how viral this trend has become. I see people of all ages glued to their devices; mesmerised and oblivious to their surroundings…no wonder there are a lot more accidents than before. Incredulous, I read just a few days ago that by the end of 2012 mobile devices could outnumber the world population…I did say everybody and their dog!
I grew up in an age when there were no cellphones so I find these little gems of technology to be utterly fascinating. Luckily, I’m a bit of a technophile so I naturally adopted this new technology and have adapted it to meet my needs.
For this reason I want to share what I’ve learnt and help others who may be struggling up the steep learning curve needed to get the best from their smartphones. From what I’ve observed it is not a question of age; I see both young and old struggling with their devices and I know it can be frustrating. Therefore, with this guide I’m targeting past, present and future owners so that everyone can learn something new.
Alright, let me put down the foundations for this guide. Firstly, I’ll do my best not to mention any brands and remain as neutral as possible. I’m not trying to sell anything or advertise for anyone and I don’t wish to sway potential buyers one way or another. Secondly, we are about to enter into a labyrinth of features and options so I apologise in advance if I’ve missed anything. Thirdly, the marketplace for smartphones is constantly evolving so some technical aspects may have changed if you are reading this months after the publishing date. I’ll try to update this article as and when the technology changes significantly.
Please beware, these mini marvels of engineering are more powerful than your average computer of a decade ago. If you think that smartphones are just glorified cellphones then you are living in the Dark Ages and you need to find the light switch, quick.
If you are in a managerial role then you are in even bigger trouble if you don’t get up to speed on this subject. Read on and perhaps I can shed some light on all the acronyms and technical jargon. Be warned, once you find out the true potential of a smartphone it will be difficult to leave it alone and I will not be held responsible for failed eyesight, loss of sleep/vacation/partner or any other health or mental problems deriving from the use of said devices.
It is important to remember that in order to use a smartphone anywhere near its full potential it must be able to constantly connect to the various mobile data networks. Just having an older, plain wrapper, cellphone plan won’t be enough. You have to consider a dedicated smartphone data plan that suits how intensely you use the phone’s various features. Nowadays it is normal to have some kind of data plan included with a mobile subscription so you don’t really need to be savvy on the subject but it is good to be aware of it’s importance in the general day-to-day use of your smartphone. Finally, if you are fortunate enough to have a wireless always-on internet connection at home then you can add a smartphone to your home network. Being a dedicated and faster internet connection means that you can work faster and save your mobile data plan usage. For those times that you aren’t at home look out for Wifi Hotspots around town that can also be used to the same effect and they should be free to use once everything is set-up (some kind of simple registration is always required).
If you find this boring or you already know the basics then skip directly to the next section and simply refer back here as required.
Cpu: Just like a computer there is a Central Processing Unit (Microprocessor) of varying processing speeds measured in Mhz (Megahertz); the higher the number the better.
Ram: This is Random Access Memory; a very fast but volatile (temporary) storage area where computing instructions and data are kept alive for quicker processing by the Cpu. The bigger the value the faster the device will respond and the more fluid multi-tasking will be.
Memory: The permanent storage capacity of a smartphone. More space equals more data that can be kept on the device. Obviously, more is always better though some devices allow you to expand the memory via little removable Secure Digital or SD cards that fit into designated slots. For even more storage options there is now Cloud technology that allows you to archive and retrieve your data, via an internet connection, to and from personal offsite data-storage accounts.
Touchscreen: You control the smartphone by directly touching, tapping and swiping the screen with your fingers or a stylus pen.
Qwerty: A physical keyboard much like the classic layout of a Computer keyboard. Opposed to the touchscreen technique, you have to physical press down on the keys.
Hybrid Touch/Qwerty: Some smartphones have both of the above mentioned input methods…not bad if you’re not sure what method you prefer.
Connectivity: The various technologies that the smartphone uses to connect to the outside world. The most popular methods are to be found in practically all the latest models.
– GPRS, EDGE, 2G, 3G, 4G, etc., for voice and intern connectivity;
– WIFI or WLAN – Wireless Data Connections for fast data transfer;
– BLUETOOTH for pairing of the unit with peripheral hardware and other smartphones in order to allow data transfer;
– GPS or Global Positioning System for navigation and geolocation;
– NFC or Near Field Communications, for now it is used for making payments but may have other uses in the future.
Camera: You guessed it, a fully featured digital camera is normally incorporated, ranging anything from 5 to 12 Megapixels in resolution that can also record video, even in HD or High Definition. Sometimes there are two cameras, one on the front and t’other on the back of the phone with the former being much less powerful as it basically acts as a Webcam.
HDMI or High-Definition Multimedia Interface: This is a way of transferring audio and video from one device to another compatible device. For example, you could connect the smartphone to a HD television and stream a video directly from the device to the TV. It is a little rare to find this feature on smartphones but you may come across it on top-of-the-range devices.
Sensors: There are a host of sensors on any smartphone, some visible on the exterior casing and some hidden within the device. The typical sensors are: Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Magnetometer, Barometer, Proximity and Light. If you would like to know more I suggest a quick search of the term will give a more detailed explanation than I can provide here.
Battery: Self explanatory really; capacity is measured in MhA or milli-ampere-hours. The higher the value the longer you can use your smartphone between recharges. The amount of energy a device needs is dictated by various factors including the screen size and luminosity, cpu use, frequency of data connections, etc. etc.. At the end of the day, literally, you need to recharge a smartphone. It may last a couple of days if you don’t use any data connections but then what’s the point of having this kind of device in the first place.
OS or Operating System: Just like on any personal computer, there must be some kind of base operating system that runs the show and onto which other software is installed. There are numerous systems available, each with good and bad qualities. I won’t go into detail otherwise I have to start mentioning brands; suffice to say that each provides a unique experience so you really need to go to a shop and try them out for yourself to see which one suits you best.
APPS or Applications or Utilities or Widgets: This is the best bit and what I will discuss for the rest of this article. The smartphone’s hardware and operating system alone are useless without programs (software) to abuse and amuse. A smartphone is no different and to get anything done with it you must have Apps. Many are already included (bundled) with the device so you should be good to go straight out-of-the-box. Others can be downloaded directly from the manufacturer’s dedicated online store or from third-party vendors in some cases. Fortunately many Apps are free of charge whilst others have to be bought even if costs, compared to computer software, are much lower. Most major developers usually offer both a free and paid version of their Apps so that you can try first and pay later to upgrade to the fully functional App.
The Subject in Hand
Finally, I will now list all the ways you can use a smartphone in order to allow you to Work, Rest and Play. If you would like to have a visual aid whilst reading the rest of this post then please download my accompanying futuristic artwork by clicking on the thumbnail just below. Basically it is a Mind Map-come-Infographic representing the major functions of a smartphone. If your head is spinning maybe take a break before reading on…the ride gets a bit bumpy from here on.
Links to hi res poster at end of article
In many jobs the most important thing is to communicate, be it verbal or written. In today’s frenetic world it’s all about staying in contact and being able to work even when you’re not in front of your computer. So, please, let’s wave goodbye to pen and paper and give Earth’s forests a breather. With modern smartphones you have a myriad of communication Apps and Utilities. Let’s look at all the ways you can keep in contact with colleagues and clients and also how you can be productive when away from your desk.
– Phone: The basic of basics but with a kick. The telephony applications have numerous switchboard options much like a fully featured office phone. Also, your address book comes to life with the ability to store not only names and numbers but a multitude of other useful information too like adding a picture to easily identify a contact or aggregating a person’s personal info into their vCard (electronic business card).
– Email: You can have multiple email accounts that synchronise with your computer/office based accounts. With certain email protocols you can receive your emails in real-time as they arrives in the server’s inbox (push email). In other cases you decide the frequency with which the phone will check for new mail. There are really no limits to the functionality of these mini email clients eg: create new, forward, reply, add vCards and attachments, etc., etc..
– Short Message Service / Instant Messaging: Even without a smartphone I hope everyone knows what SMS and IM is used for. There are some pretty clever messaging apps available that increase the usefulness of this form of communications. I know it is mostly used for private conversations but it can also be handy in an office environment too and even more so for people who are always on the move and need to remain in constant contact with office bound colleagues. The economic benefits of free Instant Messaging are an added bonus as well.
– Calendar / Diary / Agenda: No more missed meetings, appointments, birthdays and anniversaries. Again, the calendar apps can be kept synchronised with your home computer and/or office agenda. It’s not just for reference either; you can enter new appointments and reminders that will sync in the opposite direction so that you will then see them also at work/home.
– Office Documents: If you work with industry standard digital files and documents eg: text, spreadsheets, presentations, pdf’s, etc., you don’t have to wait until you can use a computer to read them; there are document readers/editors for every need. In conjunction with the device’s email client or cloud archiving you really have all the tools to work and participate in joint projects wherever you happen to be.
– News/RSS Feed Readers: There are more apps than you can shake a stick at that allow you to aggregate and read online/offline news/RSS feeds. If you prefer audio over visual then there are apps that can play your favourite podcast broadcasts.
– Blogs: In some jobs you may have to admin/moderate blogs for your company. With dedicated apps you can publish, edit or moderate the contents from anywhere. To show that it is actually possible, I started the outline for this article using a dedicated application from WordPress. http://en.support.wordpress.com/apps/
– Calculator/Converters: These are fairly essential tools that are present as standard on nearly every device. If you need more sophistication then there are specialised apps to satisfy even the Einstein’s amongst you.
– GPS or Global Positioning System Navigation: Some apps can be placed in more than one category. If you are normally desk-bound then a GPS navigator is of little use in your job. To a travelling salesperson or representative it is an essential tool so I listed it under work as it is too important for some people.
– Maps: Even if you don’t need a navigator, I’m sure that everyone needs to look at a map from time to time. No need to spend hours trying to find a street anymore or trying to refold a map the size of your duvet cover. Just use a Map application and lookup any address anywhere in the world.
Right, our work day is over and now all we want to do is go home and rest a while. To help you relax your trusty smartphone comes into its own once again. Here is a list of what you can use to amuse yourself.
– Internet: You’ve probably used the internet all day at work but in your spare time you probably want to do some browsing for pleasure rather than business. Internet browsers on smartphones are as powerful as the ones on your normal computer. To make your life simpler you can even sync your bookmarks with your office or home computer so that browsing becomes seamless between work<>home<>smartphone.
– Camera: As I mentioned in the terminology section, these are proper digital cameras with all the bells and whistles you can imagine. Once you’ve taken that shot of a lifetime you can share or send it however you like directly from the device. Also, with some clever editing applications you can manipulate the pictures to your heart’s content. If the device has a front facing camera then you have even more options. The most popular uses for it are for live video chatting or for taking a quick snapshot of yourself.
– Entertainment: Whatever your poison, entertainment-wise, I can guarantee that there is an application somewhere that will satisfy you. Listen to your music collection through headphones or pump the tunes through to your home stereo. Streaming music, videos, films or TV broadcasts directly from internet are not a problem and the only limitation can be exhausting your mobile data plan. If you are connected to a wireless home network then the limitation doesn’t exist. Finally, for the traditionalists who can’t let go of certain habits most devices include an FM Radio receiver (and some can even transmit, but this is rare).
– Ebooks: Just like with the news/RSS readers I mentioned in the work category, ebooks, in all their various formats, can be read on a smartphone. Most apps even go a step further and have features like realistic page turning, bookmarking, highlighting/copying/ pasting/sharing sections of text.
– Utilities: I won’t start listing all the various utilities available otherwise this article will go on forever. The important thing to remember is that if there is a function you would like your smartphone to perform then you have a 99% chance of finding an app that will do it. For instance, I used to carry around a small flashlight for emergencies, an mp3 player, a business card holder and I always wanted a compass for my car. With my smartphone I have all these utilities in one device. Suffice to say, I no longer have my pockets full of bits of paper and different gadgets.
– Social Networks / Media: I’ve left all the social stuff for last in this category because in a way it overlaps with the play category (and the work category for some jobs). Social Media and networking are now big business and if you’re not part of it then perhaps you are missing out on something that will surely keep on evolving and growing in the future. It may change course but I can’t see an abrupt end to this trend. Even news agencies, governments, social services and diplomacy have now entered the social media arena and so we are slowly reaching a point where our business needs merge with our private lives into a cauldron of daily information…perhaps a case of information overload but at least we can still control how much info we intake everyday.
After that little rant let’s get back to our smartphone and how it helps us in the social activities arena. Needless to say that most smartphone owners use there devices for keeping up with their social connections. Some, I would say, use their devices almost exclusively for this purpose. It just goes to shows how well geared these smartphones are for this purpose. If you noticed I often use the word share in this article. In the majority of applications you have the option to share what-not and what-have-you across the most popular social media platforms. It all boils down to making immediately available, to your circle-of-trust, anything you consider beneficial or informative. If used properly it can actually be a great time saver. Without this technology your only options would be to phone or email everyone, leave post-it notes everywhere, rely on word-of-mouth or worst of all, resort to snail-mail for the long distance acquaintances…all, might I add, with additional costs too.
As I already stated, some rest and play activities overlap so I’ll try to concentrate on what I think is more recreational rather than relaxing.
– Games: There is really everything and anything you can think of for all ages. The main groupings I can think of are: mind, card and board games; there are puzzles of all types, adventure and role-playing games (RPG). The true aficionados of video games are kept happy as well with most of the latest and greatest titles available for smartphones. The only thing about the newer games is that they require the latest hardware to run properly. This is not a shortcoming of smartphones but the general trend in anything related to hardcore video gaming.
– Fitness: For the more physically active amongst you, don’t worry, you are not forgotten. There are many applications that can help in your keep fit regime. There are fitness diaries and monitors like, cardiometers, pedometers, calorie counters, diet guides, so on and so forth. Many applications are bright and breezy but others can be very serious, to the point that, for example, health authorities are now looking to mobile devices to help monitor convalescent cardiac and diabetic patients.
– Great Outdoors: If the great outdoors is your gig then a smartphone can be really useful. With GPS technology you shouldn’t get lost. If you prefer not to rely too much on technology perhaps you can get by with a compass, altimeter and weather forecasting app. No matter what you need your smartphone will be an ideal companion in your adventures.
– Extreme Sports: If you are intent on doing some really extreme sports then I would suggest looking at dedicated smartphones specially built to be abused. They are water and dust proof and have reinforced shells to withstand shocks, knocks and falls. Also, they normally have all the best applications you need for these extreme conditions pre-installed.
– Guides, Maps and Sundry: Ok, you’ve scaled Mt. Everest and now you would kill for a quiet steak dinner. No worries, just use an app that shows you on a map what restaurants are closest to you. Then fire up that restaurant/tourist guide app to compare their star ratings. If you already know where to get some great grub but can’t remember the name of the restaurant why not try a classic telephone directory application instead of phoning an operator…the smartphone has your back covered every time.
Buying Tips and Conclusions
Who’s still with me? I’m sure not everyone has kept up and some have probably given up on the whole smartphone scene…oh well, their loss.
For the marathoner still reading and genuinely interested in investing in a smartphone then I’ll conclude this guide with some personal buying tips.
It’s a jungle out there. Before looking at any models make a list of what you want to do with the smartphone. Are you more likely to use it for work, rest or play. If you’re an all rounder then most devices will be able to do a bit of everything. However, if you want to take lot of quality photos and video then you need to start with the camera power and lens quality, cpu speed, ram and the amount of storage space available. Should you be more inclined to playing video games then your priorities will be screen size and quality, frame rate speed, ram and the most up-to-date operating system. As you can see, the use you intend to make of the device will dictate what will be required, hardware and software wise.
Once you have a shortlist then you can start comparing makes and models. Use the internet to search the models of interest and read trustworthy reviews. Take note of a model’s failings rather than its good points. Every smartphone will be technically competent but some have a reputation for being particularly incompetent.
Once you’ve narrowed down the list to just a few models then you can think about going shopping. Decide whether you need a new mobile plan with the device included or if you just need a new device to fit your current plan. For device only purchase it may be worthwhile ordering from online stores that provide additional discounts or seasonal offers.
New models come out everyday and others are reported to be in the pipeline for future release. If you are on a tight budget then play the waiting game. Identify the model you want and wait a few months, as a replacement, upgraded model comes on the market the “older” one will go on sale at a much lower price. There are hardly any disadvantages because the differences between the old and new are barely noticeable. In some cases, the older model will be tried and tested whereas the new one could actually be much worse. The only age limit I would suggest when buying an older model is no more than 6 months old from its public release. This way the model will still be considered worth keeping updated, software and accessory wise, by the manufacturer.
I won’t go into anymore buying tips because I don’t want to be responsible for your purchase. Ultimately, the choice is yours and I’ve often seen people not listen to logic and make their purchase purely on the aesthetic qualities of the device. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder so I can’t argue with those buying decisions.
I hope everyone has enjoyed this 360° guide as much as I’ve enjoyed making it. If you have any questions, need advice about the technical aspects of smartphones or you simply want to show me your shortlist of a future purchase you’re still unsure about then feel free to comment below. I’m more than happy to help. 🙂
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