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Features, Tips 'n' Guides
March 14, 2011 by Dan Nixon
The mobile phone industry is full of complex-sounding terms that often go over the heads of the less technological of us. If you’re having problems knowing your 3G from your 4G, or don’t know the difference between a smartphone or a tablet then you’ve come to the right place. Here’s a breakdown of all the mobile phone jargon flying about these days in plain and simple English.
3G refers to the third generation of mobile standards as determined by a body called the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). It offers broadband-like speeds to mobile phones users so you can check your emails on the go, surf the web, make video calls and download music in no time, even when you’re not at home.
3G is made possible by two technologies known as HSDPA and HSUPA which work together to help mobile users access these high download speeds. Many mobile phones have built-in 3G capabilities these days and you’ll need to get a data plan within your contract in order to use it.
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4G is basically the next step-up from 3G and offers even faster internet access speeds than before. The UK is a little way off from getting 4G connectivity (2013 is the earliest date) as we haven’t quite got round to rolling out 3G to every corner of the country just yet. In order to get this even faster network up and running, we need open up the spectrum to give 4G the virtual space it needs to be super-speedy, and the government isn’t planning to do that for a little while yet.
The US has already got 4G in the bag with each mobile phone carrier having its own 4G network. They all offer the same high-speed connections but have different names. AT&T and Verizon recently launched LTE (Long Term Evolution), Sprint uses WiMAX and T-Mobile is pushing HSPA+ (High Speed Packet Access Evolved).
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This stands for Assisted Global Positioning System and uses satellites and phone network base stations (these are the little boxes attached to those massive mast thingys that you see in random fields across the country) to find your exact location on your phone’s map, in the same way as a Sat Nav does when you’re in the car. You may have also heard of GPS before and the difference between the two is that A-GPS finds your location quicker than the bog-standard GPS service can, even if you’re surrounded by tall buildings.
An accelerometer is a common feature found both on tablets and smartphones. It’s a clever bit of kit built into devices that detects your movement and automatically adjusts the screen to portrait or landscape mode when you turn your phone 90 degrees. This can be particularly handy when you want to watch a video or look at some pictures in full screen mode.
AMOLED (Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode) is a type of display technology that produces super crisp and sharp pictures with a deeper colour saturation than an LCD display. A fairly new technology first showcased on the Samsung Wave, it is reportedly lighter than an LCD screen and uses less power, so your phone’s battery won’t run out as quickly.
Android is the name of an operating system created by Google. It first appeared in 2008 when it launched in the US on a smartphone called the T-Mobile G1, and has since gone on to become one of the most popular operating systems in the world. Most manufacturers use Android as their primary operating system because it is easy to use and can be customised easily, allowing manufacturers to put their own features onto it. Google regularly releases updates for Android so users can take advantage of the latest features it has to offer. Each update is named after a sweet dessert in alphabetical order alongside the version number. It all started with Cupcake and so far, Donut version 1.6, Éclair version 2.0/2.1, Froyo version 2.2, Gingerbread version 2.3/2.4 and Honeycomb 3.0 have all been released with Ice Cream rumoured to be next in line.
Apps was voted Word of the Year in 2010 and with good reason! An app is downloaded from an App Store onto your smartphone and can be almost anything from a game or a travel guide, to a personal trainer or something to simply tell you what the weather is going to be like. They’re created by either the manufacturer of an operating system or approved third-party developers and are then featured on that operating system’s particular App Store, either for free or at a set price.
An App Store is an online shop that sells apps. Each operating system has its own version of an App Store (some examples include the Apple App Store, the Android Market and BlackBerry App World), which can be accessed directly from your smartphone or via the web. Every app is designed specifically for the smartphone platform it will run on so you won’t be able to download an Android app to use on an iPhone. Each App Store has a different amount of apps but generally speaking, the quality of an app is a lot more important to users than just how many are available on an App Store.
Bluetooth has been around for quite a while so you may have used it before. It’s a short range wireless technology that allows you to send and receive messages, pictures and videos from other Bluetooth-enabled devices without needing to connect the two together with any wires.
Browser refers to the application on your phone that lets you access the internet. Most operating systems have their own versions (Android uses WebKit and iPhones come with a Safari web browser for example) and most tend to be HTML based which means that the phone will load up websites in the same way as your home computer does. Not all web browsers have plug-ins like Flash which you may have to install onto your device in order to see websites in all their glory.
DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) is a wireless technology that allows you to play music, and view videos and pictures stored on your smartphone, on your TV or media player without needing to connect the two up with a wire. Both of your devices need to be DLNA Certified and connected to a wireless network in your house (broadband for example) in order for the whole thing to work.
A dual-core processor improves the overall performance of a smartphone or tablet and is made up of two separate computer chips combined together. Because the device comes with two chips instead of one, it can handle more tasks that are thrown its way as they work side by side to get multiple things done at once. So, say you’re playing a game of Angry Birds and want to check some cheats online while you’re at it. Instead of one chip trying to juggle running the game and the web browser at the same time, a dual-core chip will share the load and makes the phone run much faster because it doesn’t have as much to think about at once.
EDGE (Enhanced Data GSM Environment) is a complex name for 2G technology. It can still be used to surf the web and transfer data such as pictures and videos between two EDGE enabled devices without needing a wire, but isn’t quite as speedy as 3G.
Exmor R Sensor
This is a type of camera technology developed by Sony and features on some of its newest Xperia handsets – the Sony Ericsson neo, Sony Ericsson arc and the Sony Ericsson pro. It’s a high-resolution sensor, as the name suggests, and uses a “groundbreaking” ‘back illuminated’ design which means it can take in more light than the average camera lens. As a result, the pictures it takes are a lot crisper and clearer than what other snappers can manage, even if it’s being used in low-light conditions such as at dusk or in a club.
Sometimes we talk about phones and tablets having Flash support. What this means is that the device comes with some ‘flashy’ software by a company called Adobe that allows you to be able to see animations and videos on your phone’s internet browser. Not all devices come with Abode Flash software as it’s a complex little thing and needs quite a bit of power from a big processor to fire it up, but most smartphones and tablets don’t have a problem with it.
Most phones come with a camera these days but some go one step further and can tag the exact location that a picture was taken. This is called geotagging and it uses the built-in GPS to find out where you are when you take a photo. Obviously, your phone needs to have GPS or A-GPS to be able to geotag a picture and you’ll need to head into your phone’s camera menu to switch this function on.
A gigabyte (GB for short) is a measurement of memory storage. Gigabytes are particularly important for mobile phones and tablets because you need enough room on there to store things like contacts, text messages, pictures, videos and music. For some weird reason, most manufacturers only put a couple of GB worth of storage onto their devices, but this can often be boosted by a removable microSD card. To put things in perspective, the average MP3 takes up around 4MB (megabytes) of memory so 1GB can hold around 250 MP3 tracks.
Mobile phones, as we know full well, are prone to being dropped and scratched. Gorilla Glass makes a phone’s display a little tougher than your average screen and is built to laugh in the face of danger. Essentially, it’s an extra layer of indestructible glass that goes on top of a phone’s display to protect it from being damaged without needing a case or screen protector. Unfortunately, you can’t buy this for your handset as Gorilla Glass is put on in the factories when the handset is being made. The Motorola Defy and Samsung Galaxy Tab are just a couple of examples of phones which have this toughnut technology.
Before 3G came about, mobile phones used 2G to get onto the internet when out and about. GPRS, which is short for General Packet Radio Service, was created to speed things up so users could do things like send emails, download videos and browse the web at a faster rate than before. Most mobile phones and tablets come with 3G connectivity on board these days, but there are still some handsets out there that use 2G and GPRS.
The Global Positioning System uses a network of Earth orbiting satellites that can pinpoint your exact location. GPS-enabled devices are set up to ‘talk’ to some of these satellites to determine where you are as soon as you fire up the GPS transmitter.
This is short for the Global System for Mobile communications. All phones in the UK are connected to this digital mobile standard and are charged for the duration of the calls made. This is how your mobile phone network knows when you’ve gone over your monthly allowance of minutes! It’s the most popular standard in the world and is used almost everywhere, which is why you can still make calls when you go abroad.
High-definition (HD) has been around for a couple of years but only found its way onto smartphones quite recently. It produces a higher quality, crisper image than standard definition (SD) for both videos and pictures. In the case of smartphones, you can find out if it has HD capabilities by looking at the multimedia specs. Some high-end smartphones have cameras capable of shooting video and playing back footage and movies in either 720p or 1080p.
Both of these numbers refer to the resolution of a phone’s display and the amount of pixels it is able to produce. The resolution of 720p is 1280 x 720, while 1080p is 1920 x 1080. The more pixels produced and the higher the resolution, the better the final picture/video quality will be. So, 1080p offers a better picture quality than 720p.
HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) allows HD-enabled devices to play HD quality video and audio on a TV or media player via a specially designed cable, without losing any of the quality in the process. Some smartphones and tablets come with a HDMI port so you can connect your device directly to a HD ready TV and play media straight off your handset on your TV.
iOS is the name of the operating system that iPhones, iPod Touches and iPads run on. It was created by Apple exclusively for its products and so the only way you can use it is to get yourself one of these fruity gadgets. iOS is another huge operating system because so many people have iDevices, although it doesn’t offer anything radically different to other operating systems. Apple doesn’t tend to update iOS as often as Google does with Android, but when the latest iOS software is released, it can be installed straight onto your device via iTunes.
Liquid crystal displays (LCD for short) are found on loads of phones. Manufacturers use them because they are light, cheap, and reliable and need less battery power to run. They produce clear and colourful pictures making them a good all-round option.
An LED (which stands for light emitting diode) flash allows you to take decent quality pictures in low light conditions. Most good camera phones come kitted out with one of these, but if you’re a real photography buff, a Xenon flash may be a better option.
A manufacturer creates a range of mobile phones. They’re based all over the world with most being in Asia or the USA. Well-known manufacturers include Apple, Samsung, LG, HTC, Sony Ericsson and RIM (the brains behind BlackBerry).
A megapixel (MP for short) is used to describe how capable a digital camera is of taking a good photo. One megapixel is one million pixels and so the more megapixels a phone camera has, the better quality pictures it can take.
A microSD card is a type of removable storage device. You may have come across one before as loads of different devices use them, including digital cameras and music players. A lot of smartphones and tablets come with microSD card slots that you can put a microSD card into to boost the amount of storage that’s available on your device. They’re particularly handy if you want your phone to double up as a music player or if you like taking lots of photos. MicroSD cards are available in different sizes, so make sure you check what size microSD card your phone can support before buying one. You can get them from most tech shops, either online, or on the high street.
Mobile Bravia Engine
The Mobile Bravia Engine is a type of screen technology from Sony that has just started appearing on its mobile phones. It’s actually used on its Bravia TV’s so you might have seen the technology in action before and it’s designed to produce a crisper and more detailed picture than usual in HD quality at 1080p. The Sony Ericsson arc, neo and pro all come with this fancy feature.
Some smartphones and tablets now have the ability to do more than one thing at once thanks to fancy processors and complex operating system technology. This is known as multitasking. In a nutshell, a device can ‘multitask’ because these two pieces of tech give it enough power and brains to be able to run a web browser, apps and other stuff, all at the same time. Make sure you close any apps you’re not using as this drain your battery life.
Near-field communication is a type of short-range wireless technology that works in a similar way to Bluetooth. It is most commonly used for making payments using a mobile phone and more smartphones are starting to surface with a built-in NFC chip. To pay for something, the device is scanned over a specially designed ‘station’ which makes a charge to your bank account. Essentially, NFC can turn your phone into a credit card, but without the chip and pin bit.
The technology can be used in other ways than for just paying for things; two devices kitted out with NFC chips will be able to wirelessly transfer documents and other information between each other. The technology could become the new way to pay for things in the future and may see us sack the credit card off altogether. Watch this space.
An operating system (we sometimes refer to it as an ‘OS’) is found on smartphones and tablets and is the software platform that manages everything that the device can do. It deals with all the day-to-day stuff from running apps and browsers to noticing any errors that occur. Think of it as being the same kind of software that your computer runs on, but in a phone instead.
The operating systems around right now are:
If you hadn’t noticed before, Q W E R T Y are the first six letters on the top line of your computer keyboard. Smartphones often come with a smaller version of this keyboard, known as a QWERTY. You may have seen the term ‘virtual QWERTY’ thrown about before and this means that instead of the handset having physical buttons to press, the QWERTY keyboard appears on your phone’s screen instead. BlackBerrys are renowned for their QWERTY keyboards.
RAM (random access memory) is the place in a smartphone or tablet where the operating system, apps and data that are in use is stored to allow the processor to find it quickly. RAM isn’t very big, both in size (it’s a really small chip) and the amount of information it can hold, and in non-techie terms, is compared to our own short-term memory. Essentially, it focuses on what’s going on right now rather than storing data for later. However, as it gets more and more information thrown its way, it tends to work at a slower pace.
A Reality Display is a type of screen that Sony Ericsson has packed onto some of its newest smartphones. It’s powered by the firm’s Mobile Bravia Engine and together, they work to produce one of the clearest pictures possible on a mobile phone screen. A Reality Display also sets out to show off photos and videos on the screen that are as close to reality as possible, so the general quality of a photo or video will look more ‘real life’ in comparison to what other mobile phone displays can come up with.
Unlike RAM, ROM (read only memory) is a chip that holds data forever and ever. While RAM memory gets refreshed with the latest information, which is then lost once you turn off your phone, ROM keeps data safe as it cannot be deleted or replaced with something new.
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The term ‘smartphone’ is being tossed about quite a bit these days but what it actually refers to is sometimes lost on a few people. Smartphones are mobile phones that have a few key features to mark it out from your bog standard handset. While they still handle all the basics (making calls and sending texts), they’re actually a lot more like computers as they can access the internet on the go and send emails. All smartphones run on an operating system which helps them manage the different tasks thrown their way.
When we talk about shoot modes, we’re referring to the different types of modes that you can take pictures and videos with on your phone’s camera. Some mobiles come with more shoot options than others and that normally depends on whether they’re meant to be big on photography, like the Nokia N8 and Sony Ericsson neo. You can access your phone’s shoot modes from the main camera menu. Here’s a run-down of all the key ones:
A social network is a website where you can create a profile for yourself, talk to people online, tell people what you’re doing in a status update and join virtual communities. The most popular social networks are Facebook, Twitter and MySpace and most have been transformed into apps so users can still log-into their profiles on their phones.
Think of a tablet as being halfway between a smartphone and a laptop. They’re similar in the technology department to a laptop but tend to have a touchscreen rather than a physical QWERTY keyboard. One of the most well known tablets is the iPad although before they hit the big time, tablets were mainly used by business folk who didn’t want to lug their laptops around. Tablets still do all the same things as smartphones like playing videos, taking pictures, surfing the web and sending emails, but are a little too big to fit into your pocket.
TFT (thin-film transistor) is a type of LCD display. You’ll find it on all types of tech including TV’s, computer screens and of course, mobile phones and it produces one of the clearest pictures possible on a flat screen. They’re a popular choice with mobile manufacturers because they don’t use a lot of electricity, which is always good for battery life, and are thin and light too.
A touchscreen is pretty much what the name suggests – it’s a type of screen that lets you control your phone by pressing the screen. The technology features on both smartphones and tablets and can sometimes come with a specially designed stylus rather than a trackpad or D-Pad. There are two types of touchscreen technology out there:
Resistive – A resistive touchscreen is somewhat of a technology sandwich. It consists of two different layers; the top is made out of scratch resistant flexible plastic and the bottom is often made out of glass or hard plastic. Both of these are lined on the inside with a thin film of material called Indium Tin Oxide (ITO for short). Inbetween the layers are lots of tiny bumps that are evenly spread apart. When the screen is pressed, the two layers of ITO touch and through the power of electricity pin-point the exact place that the user’s finger is touching.
Capacitive – A capacitive touchscreen is also made up like an electronic sandwich except both outer layers are made of glass. Each are also coated with IFO on the inside but the two layers have insulating material squeezed in between them (air for example). Because us humans are electricity conductors, when we touch a capacitive screen, the electrostatic thingymabobs can instantly determine the exact spot that we’ve pressed. Very clever stuff.
Tethering is when a phone helps another device connect to t’interweb using a USB cable or Bluetooth. This is done in the same kind of way as your broadband hub at home allows you to connect your computer or smartphone to the net. Some networks let you use your mobile phone’s data plan to get on the net on another device, but make sure you check out your plan before you give it a go as you might be left to foot a rather hefty bill.
Some manufacturers have created their own user interfaces which are layered on top of an operating system. With so many handsets running on the sme platform, manufacturers use the user interface or UI to put their own stamp on a phone, like making pretty illustrations for menus and backgrounds or to change functionality like adding news feeds and weather updates to the homepage. HTC likes to put its ‘Sense’ user interface onto smartphones, Motorola has MotoBlur, whilst Sony Ericsson have one called Xperia.
VGA (Video Graphics Array) is a type of old-school video camera that was the precursor to the megapixel cameras. It is still found in quite a lot of mobile phones these days, although it’s often used as a secondary snapper for making video calls or taking portrait pictures as it’s cheap for manufacturers to make and the photos it takes don’t use a lot of storage space on the phone. The quality of the pictures isn’t great though which is why very few handsets come with just a VGA camera.
A video call allows both callers to see a live video of each other and speak to one another as if they were in a normal phone call. Lots of tablets and smartphones are being kitted out with front-facing cameras to make video calling easier, although you’ll need to have an internet connection to make or receive one.
A widget is a button on your phone’s homescreen that you can use to access whatever function is assigned to it (a social network for example). The word ‘widget’ combines the words window and gadget. Fact.
Wi-Fi stands for ‘wireless fidelity’ and is a wireless technology that devices use to connect to the internet without the need for those troublesome cables.
WVGA (Wide Video Graphics Array) is a type of screen that is a little wider than your average phone display and is normally found on handsets that have multimedia as their main focus. You may have heard of FWVGA as well, which stands for Full Wide Video Graphics Array. The difference between the two is that the resolution of a FWVGA display (854 x 480) is approximately the ratio of 16:9, letting you watch films in wide screen.
A Xenon flash produces an intense white light for a short period of time. It’s popular with photographers as it doesn’t tend to wash photo subjects out as much as an LED flash can, but high-end camera phones are also getting them on board.
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