WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A
It's very difficult to make an intelligent and informed choice
when purchasing a smartphone or tablet, especially if you've never
owned one before. The following is a list of features to
look for, each with a discussion of why they're important.
Tablets and smartphones are both "portable devices" and operate
similarly using the same operating systems and apps, with two
distinctions: First, anything with a 6" screen or smaller is
a smartphone, while anything with a 7" screen or larger is a
tablet. The more puzzling distinction, though, is that you
cannot use a tablet as a phone. It may or may not have 3G or
4G/LTE data service, which means it's getting data via a cellphone
service, and it has speakers and a microphone, but it cannot be
used as a phone.
OPERATING SYSTEM: Arguably the most important
decision, as it forever locks in your selection of apps. In
general, there are four popular operating systems: Apple,
Android, Kindle, and Windows.
Android is an "open-source" operating system, meaning that
although Google maintains the license and the database, it's free
for anyone to use, and anyone can write apps for use with
it. This leads to a bit of "wild west" in the market for
apps, with an overwhelming array of titles to choose from.
Some apps are free, some cost a few bucks -- often after a free
trial period -- and some are supported by advertisements. It
can be startling to see an advertisement come up on your
phone. Many of the advertiser-supported ones offer an option
that you can pay a few bucks to make the ads go away. Even
when you pay for your apps, you'll find them far more
reasonably-priced than software for your PC ever was.
The other three operating systems are proprietary, meaning you
have to deal with the organizations involved for apps. The
Apple is immensely popular, and the public can submit apps, but
all apps must be tested and approved by Apple. This is what
many people like about Apple; you're not likely to get
buggy or virus-infested apps from them. Still, many Apple
device owners speak of "jailbreaking" their phones so they can
load non-Apple-approved apps.
Kindle uses a "forked" version of Android. To be
clear: IT IS NOT ANDROID. Because Android is
open-source, Kindle freely copied its structure and modified it
for its own use. And that modification means you cannot load
Android apps; you must get your apps from Kindle. Kindle
sells its tablets at a loss and then charges enough for its apps
to make up for it. Do you think this is an acceptable
Windows is a whole 'nuther idea in operating systems: Rather
than creating a clean sheet operating system designed from the
ground up for portable devices, MicroSoft devised its tablets and
its operating system to interact and coexist with its PC operating
system. Many commercial users find this ideal. First
off, they don't need to retrain their employees on a new system,
and second their files can be opened and worked with on either
type device. MicroSoft promotes its tablets as being capable
of doing real work. All of this is valuable, but note that
these benefits will diminish with time as Android and Apple
systems develop further and apps are introduced that facilitate
translations from PC's to portable devices.
OPERATING SYSTEM UPDATES: The apps you install will
update automatically, but the operating system may not -- at
least, not with an Android device. Usually, the Android
version your device comes with is the one you'll be stuck with
until you buy a newer device. The only way to update to a
later release is if the device manufacturer issues an
update. At least one manufacturer claims that every time a
new release of Android comes out, they will publish an update so
owners of their products can always be using the latest operating
system. Shame on all the manufacturers who are not
making this promise.
CAMERA: All of these devices have cameras these days;
most of them have two, one facing the user and a better one facing
away from the user. While most features on a portable device
are either-you-have-it-or-you-don't, the camera is where you
really need to be concerned about the quality of the
feature. Allow me to illustrate the importance: In
five or ten years, you'll probably move on to a new smartphone,
but you'll probably want to keep some of the pictures you've taken
with it forever. Pictures of people who have since
died, places you'll never go again, the hair you once had -- these
memories are likely to be of great importance to you
someday. If you've taken all those photos with a lousy
camera, you'll regret it for the rest of your life. You
could carry around a good digital camera separate from your phone,
but nobody actually does. When something happens, especially
something unexpected, it's your smartphone you're going to whip
out to capture it for posterity. You want the best camera
you can get, period.
The first indication of quality in a camera is the number of
megapixels. Your HDTV is 1920x1080 resolution, meaning
2,073,600 pixels or 2 megapixels. Any decent smartphone
camera will be 5 megapixels or more. Sometimes when you take
a picture, what you really wanted was just in the center of the
image, so you crop away 3/4 of the image -- and your 5 megapixel
image just became a 1.25 megapixel image. You can't have too
many megapixels, but remember that more megapixels means the photo
takes up more data storage space. You can reduce the
resolution later to reduce the data storage requirements, although
most find it easier and better to just buy more data storage
space! It seems to get cheaper every day.
Note: The default resolution that the camera uses may not
be its maximum resolution. Often, the maximum resolution may
be a nearly square image while the default is an image the same
shape as the smartphone's screen. That means that the
default is cropping off part of the image to fit your smartphone
screen. You might as well change the default to take the
entire image; you can crop it later if you wish.
There are other things to look for in the camera, though.
One is a flash. This author has a Moto e 4G/LTE smartphone
that does not have a flash. Not only can you not
take pix in the dark, you also don't have the "flashlight" app
that holds the flash continuously on to help you find your way
around. The only thing it can do is turn on the screen
bright white, which isn't nearly as good. Most devices seem
to have a flash for the camera looking away from the user but not
one facing the user.
There's also zoom. A mechanical zoom would be great, but
apparently they don't fit in the narrow thickness of a
tablet. One company compensates by offering a 41 megapixel
camera (!) which means you can crop 90% of the photo away and
still have a 4 megapixel image. Theoretically at least, this
is the same thing as a 4 megapixel camera with a 3X zoom.
And, to be clear, this is exactly the same thing a digital zoom
does; it just crops part of the image before you even take the
picture. You can also buy, for a few bucks, a little 2X
telephoto lens that you can stick over your device lens, held
either by magnet or by a big spring clip; these work OK but
they're not convenient to carry around with you, and they're not
convenient to get out of your pocket and affix to your device
while an airplane is crashing or whatever.
There's even focus. Most of these cameras don't even have
any sort of mechanical focus. Apple has reportedly come out
with one with a real mechanical focus using a nearly microscopic
motor. Hopefully others will follow suit.
When shopping for a device, nothing beats just taking some
pictures and seeing how they come out. You can usually do
this in the store. Don't just look at the screen, though;
they'll always look good that way. Rather, find the zoom
function and zoom in on the picture you just took and see how the
details look when blown up to fill the screen. Take pix of
something close up, and take pics of things moving (like ceiling
fan blades), as these present specific challenges to cameras.
These cameras can also be used to record video, again with varying
levels of quality. A good baseline would be HDTV quality,
which is 2 megapixels recording at 60 frames per second.
That's hard, though; it takes premium processing power to get that
many frames per second, so some compromise at half that, 30 frames
per second. You'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference,
since the human eye only sees about 16 frames per second.
Still, if you try to play that video back in slow motion, the
lower frame rate will become apparent. Better systems should
be able to record video at the new 4K resolution, which is 8
megapixels. All of this will make your videos look really
good on America's Funniest -- or when you're showing them to your
grandchildren 40 years from now.
GPS: GPS stands for Global Positioning System.
It's a system of satellites in low Earth orbit with atomic clocks
on board that emit signals that can be picked up by a handheld
device and used to determine your location to an accuracy of
roughly 30 feet. Good enough for targeting missiles and
bombs, which is what it was originally intended for. Since
inception it's been supplemented with WAAS, an on-the-ground local
correction, which improves the accuracy to about 10 feet depending
how close you are to the WAAS station. Good enough for
landing airplanes. The next generation of satellites is
already planned, and accuracy will be within millimeters, good
enough for tracking plate tectonics.
Many people believe a "GPS" is a device that sits on the dashboard
of your car and presents a map and has
a voice that tells you when to turn. That's a
navigation system and it's one application of a GPS, but not the
only one. Some GPS devices have no maps at all and merely
provide an arrow and a distance to a set destination; you have to
figure out for yourself how to get there. This latter type
is more appropriate in the woods than on the highway.
If you buy a smartphone in the US, it has GPS. It's required
by law so that a 911 operator can pinpoint your location in the
event of an emergency. You can turn off the "location
services" so your apps don't have access to the GPS, which some
people do because they're convinced that Big Brother is tracking
them, but you cannot turn off the GPS itself; if you call 911 with
that smartphone, the operator will know where you are.
The same is not true for a tablet. Since a tablet cannot be
used as a phone, whether or not it has a GPS is optional, and if
it has GPS you can turn it off to save battery life. Many
Kindles do not have GPS; they try to fake it using the location
data of wi-fi servers in the vicinity. This works OK in the
big city but not so well in the woods where you really need it.
As long as your device has GPS, you don't need to buy that
navigation system for your car. Your smartphone or tablet
will do the job, including providing voice commands. Just
download the appropriate app and set the device on the
dashboard. You can also download maps for it and update them
as required, often for free. There are even versions that
will operate as a "heads-up display": set the tablet on top
of the dashboard and look at the reflection of the display in the
windshield as you drive.
You don't need a speedometer either, actually. Your device
can tell you how fast you're going, and more accurately than the
speedometer in your car.
MEMORY CARD PORT: The Android operating system takes
about 3-4 GB of data storage space on your device. If the
device came with 8GB built in, you have 4-5GB of available space
to store your stuff. If it came with 16GB, you have 12-13GB
of space to play with.
That internal data storage space is a good place to store your
apps. It is not a good place to store your photos or
other items of personal importance to you. If your device
gets smashed or stolen, it's gone. Buy a new device and you
can just install all your apps again in a matter of minutes, but
you'll never get those photos back.
A better idea is to buy a 16GB microSD memory card and plug it
into a memory card port on your device. It won't help if
it's stolen, but it will help if it's broken; you can just unplug
the memory card from a broken device and plug it into a new device
and you're good to go. Within the Settings menu you can find
options to select what gets stored in the internal memory and what
goes on the card; if the internal memory gets full, just move some
stuff to the card. That memory card port actually gives you
infinite data space; if you ever fill up that 16GB card you can
just buy more 16GB cards and swap them in and out. A microSD
card is about the size of your pinky fingernail, so the toughest
thing about swapping them in and out is not losing them in the
Note: MicroSD cards are available up to at least
256GB. However, your device may not be able to make use of
that much capacity. Check the specs on your device; if it
says something like "16GB expandable to 32GB", it's trying to tell
you that anything larger than a 16GB memory card won't work in it.
The other idea is to use "the cloud", basically using an online
storage provider as your personal storage space. Snap a pic
and it automagically uploads to this site, and you can retrieve it
to look at it just as easily. Even if your device gets
stolen, your photos are safe. Online
presents its own issues, though; make very sure to use a
password that nobody would guess in a million years if you
don't want your bank account information to end up in the
hands of the Chinese. Note:
If you're having to pay by the byte for your data plan, you
definitely do not want to use cloud storage as it will run
up data charges moving your files in both directions.
Key point: Some smartphones and tablets don't have a memory
card port! Google's own Nexus tablets don't, for example,
because they expect you to utilize their cloud. For me, the
lack of a memory card port is a deal breaker, but you can decide
Anything really important you should be backing up
anyway, either to some storage device at home or someplace
online. For just a couple of bucks you can buy a USB OTG
cable (see below) or adapter that plugs into your device's
charging/data port and enables you to plug in a USB thumb
drive or any of several other types of data storage systems,
so backing up your important stuff shouldn't be
difficult. Just remember to do it every now and then.
DATA/CHARGING PORT: Smartphones have a small
data/charging port that's actually a standard, you can buy cords
to fit it anywhere. Large tablets go a different route,
though, and have a broad, flat plug. The reason is that the
standard plug is rated to handle only 0.5 amps charging current,
but large tablets will draw 2.1 amps. Apple tablets use one
of these broad connectors, and their products are common enough
you can buy suitable cords in Walmart. Samsung Galaxy
tablets use a broad plug that looks exactly like the Apple
connector, but it's not; neither one can be used with the other
manufacturer's device. If you have a Samsung tablet, don't
just buy a cord with a connector that looks right; make sure it's
actually intended for a Samsung rather than an Apple.
CHARGER: All of these devices charge at 5VDC because
that's the standard power supply in a USB port. Smartphones
typically charge at 0.5 amps, and such chargers have become
ubiquitous -- you can buy one from a bin in the checkout line at
the Dollar store. Some smartphones don't even come with a
charger to save money, presuming you already have one!
Remember, though, that you probably want two -- one that
plugs into a wall outlet in your house and one that plugs into the
cigarette lighter in your car. You may also need a suitable
cable to connect the charger to the smartphone; such cables are
also easy to find in a Dollar store.
If you have a tablet, things get trickier. A tablet draws
more current -- 2.1 amps seems pretty standard -- which is more
than the cheapo Dollar store chargers can provide. Worse,
though, is the fact that a couple of those cheap chargers have
caught fire or melted down when overloaded and damaged somebody's
car or something, and the tablet company got sued for it! So
now both a Samsung and an Apple tablet will detect whether your
charger is up to the task, and if not they will only draw
0.5 amps from them. That big screen alone draws more than
0.5 amps, so if the tablet is powered up it will gradually be
draining the battery even though it's plugged in. The tiny
battery symbol in the corner on the screen on a Samsung tablet
will have a red X in it to indicate the charger isn't keeping
up. If the tablet is turned off it will charge the battery
eventually, it'll just take a long time to do it. What you
really want is a charger rated at 2.1 amps. They're not too
difficult to find, but note that some of them still don't really
charge too well. You want to look for a quality product
USB PORT: The USB connector is a really handy
standard, allowing one to connect your keyboard, mouse, printer,
whatnot to your PC all with the same connector. Then Apple
and Android portable devices appeared without such
ports! Almost inexcusable, but it's probably because they
wanted the devices to be thin and the standard USB port is too
thick and bulky. You can buy a jumper that you can plug into
your data/charging port that will allow you to plug in a USB
device or thumb drive. It's called a "USB OTG cable", OTG
standing for "on the go".
You'll also have to download an app to make it usable, as the
device probably doesn't come with the capability of recognizing
USB devices. MicroSoft, meanwhile, does include USB ports in
their Windows tablets -- a valuable selling point.
WI-FI: Wi-Fi is a standard for short-range wireless
communication, typically good for 100 feet or so. It can be
used to connect computers within an office, or to connect a
computer to a printer in the next room. It can be used to
connect portable devices to one another, including transferring
files from an Apple device to an Android device when there are no
cords that could connect the two.
When most people use the term "wi-fi", though, they're referring
to one particular application of this wireless standard: The
use of a "router" hard-wired into the internet to provide wireless
internet connectivity to devices within range. You can walk
into your local Burger King, grocery store, or library and there's
a good chance they provide free wi-fi service, just log in and
agree to their terms. Wi-fi is so common you can typically
just drive down the street and several will appear on your device
as being within range. It is very, very easy to find free
wi-fi service in most urban areas. What's more, nobody
bothers to turn their wi-fi off when they close for the evening,
so you can often park outside a business at 3 in the morning and
make use of their wi-fi.
Many wi-fi systems are password protected, though; you can't
connect to them without knowing the password. It'll tell you
when you look at the list of wi-fi's within range which ones are
secured. If you are the owner of the router, you may
choose to password protect it to prevent strangers from using it
and running up your data bill or from simply tying up the system
so it runs slower for you. Many people have internet service
that doesn't keep track of how much data is used, so they'll just
leave the wi-fi open deliberately so anyone within range can use
it. Finally, there are organizations that offer wi-fi
connectivity for a fee; you'll see that when you try to log on,
and if you're not interested you can tell your device to forget
There are actually two standards for wi-fi: IEEE 802.11(a)
and 802.11(b/g). These operate on different
frequencies. Most routers provide both, and when you connect
your device will connect to whichever at random, or sometimes
both. This author owns a Moto e 4G/LTE that has only
802.11(a) capability. Normally one wouldn't notice, but I
happened to be in a Hardee's where everyone else was using the
wi-fi with no problem but I couldn't connect. It turned out
the 802.11(a) portion of their router was malfunctioning, and I
was the first customer who noticed.
Beware of "spoof" wi-fi providers. A wi-fi connection in
itself is secure, nobody can hack into the communication between
you and the wi-fi router. But crooks get around that by
providing their own wi-fi router and making it look like
something trustworthy. Like, they'll give it the name of a
motel nearby so you think you're connecting to the motel's
wi-fi. But when you connect, they can monitor everything you
do. If you log into your bank account using your password,
they now know your bank account number and your password.
Not good. They can even wander around in the files on your
device, so it's good to have the really important ones password
CELLULAR DATA: When you sign up
for a cell phone service, your contract will usually include
terms for talk, text, and data. Data is what you need to
use the internet. You can get data either via your cell
phone service or via wi-fi, but the wi-fi is only usable
within 100 feet or so of a wi-fi router whereas the cellular
data is usable anywhere with cell phone service. Wi-fi
is often free while cellular data usually has costs associated
with it, so your device may be capable of automatically
choosing to use wi-fi when it's available.
Obviously, all smartphones will have cellular capability, and
hence can utilize a cellular data plan. Tablets might
not have cellular data capability at all, however; in fact,
it's sometimes a rather expensive option. It's possible
to buy a device to add cellular data capability to your
tablet; the "hotspot" discussed below is one such option.
The speed of the cellular data capability is indicated by the
"generation": 2G, 3G, or 4G/LTE. 2G is basically
dial-up speed, it's painfully slow but better than
nothing. 3G is an order of magnitude faster than 2G, and
4G/LTE is an order of magnitude faster than 3G. It's
called 4G/LTE because it really doesn't meet the requirements
originally set out as being "4G", but nothing does yet, LTE is
the best we've got. In this day and age, there's no
excuse for buying a smartphone that doesn't have 4G/LTE
HOTSPOT: A hotspot is wi-fi turned
around, where your device becomes the source of the
internet connectivity rather than the user. Your device is
connected via its cellular data connection, and then makes that
data available via wi-fi so that other devices can log
on. This is really slick, and can provide wi-fi service in a
moving car or waaay out in the woods. Some cars now come
with a hotspot built in at the factory, and spend millions of
dollars in advertising proudly telling you you're buying a car
with a feature you already have in your shirt pocket. Of
course, you have to pay for the cellular data service. You
probably want a secure password on your hotspot so strangers
cannot use your data.
The original idea for hotspots was a specialized device, something
you set up in your home or car and permanently wire in. But
it was quickly realized that a smartphone could do the job since
it has wi-fi and cellular data capabilities. On early
smartphones you'd download a hotspot app, but on later models the
feature comes built-in.
I'm pretty sure that any smartphone can be used as a
hotspot. The data plan is another story. Many cellular
service providers want to make money providing hotspots and
deliberately prevent you from using your smartphone as a
hotspot; when you try to turn the hotspot on, it goes through a
verification step to check if your cellular provider permits that,
and if it doesn't you're outta luck. You either have to pay
extra, or worse you may have to purchase a separate device.
If you intend to use your smartphone to provide a hotspot, make
very sure your service provider permits this before signing
up. As an example, as of this writing SmartTalk Wireless
does not permit their data to be used to run a hotspot,
while Verizon Prepaid does. This is interesting, as
both operate on the same network, Verizon's. SmartTalk
charges the same monthly fee but provides 5GB of data rather than
2GB, and slows down when you exceed that limit rather than shuts
it off altogether as Verizon does. All that sounds like
SmartTalk is a much better deal -- until you realize that to use
SmartTalk as a hotspot you'll need to pay another monthly fee,
whereas you can just go ahead and use the Verizon Prepaid service
for a hotspot.
This author uses his Moto e 4G/LTE as a hotspot, and it's worth
noting that the range of that wi-fi hotspot is considerably less
than that of a typical wi-fi router -- only perhaps 15-20
feet. Since the hotspot is a cell phone, that's not really
an issue; just move the phone closer to the computer or whatever
that you're connecting to the hotspot. If, however, you
intend to provide internet connectivity all over a house so that
everyone can log in in their bedrooms, be aware that a single
smartphone hotspot probably won't work very well. You'll
either need multiple smartphones or a different scheme.
Note: When a call comes in, the hotspot shuts off as soon as
it starts ringing. Whatever is happening on your wi-fi comes
to a stop, and you'll start getting connection errors if you try
to open new pages or download files. As soon as the phone
call is disconnected, the hotspot resumes operation.
By the way, when using your smartphone as a hotspot, it doesn't
have to be wi-fi. It can also provide internet connectivity
via Bluetooth (see below) or by being connected to your computer
via a USB cable.
BLUETOOTH: Bluetooth is another standard for
short-range wireless communication, even shorter range than
wi-fi: around 20 feet or less. Its intention was to
eliminate the need for wires connecting your keyboard, mouse, and
headphones to your computer. Since bluetooth accessories are
typically battery powered, the standard is deliberately designed
to maximize battery life. The batteries in the accessories
will typically last a year or more.
If you own a laptop computer, you know there are ports and sockets
all over the thing for plugging in various accessories.
Smartphones and tablets are the opposite; they may have only one
data/charging port and one headphone connection. Anything
else you wish to connect will probably need to be either a wi-fi
device or a bluetooth device. This author has a bluetooth
keyboard and a bluetooth mouse that work wonderfully with his
smartphone and tablet. The only trick is convincing the
device to not bring up that onscreen keyboard when using the
bluetooth keyboard; there's an app for that. And it should
be noted that the mouse is faking some of its functions, since an
Android device doesn't even have some of the same functions that
were on the PC that the mouse was intended for.
Bluetooth accessories tend to be rather tricky to set up.
The instructions often involve something that sounds nutty, like
pressing and holding all three buttons on the mouse at the same
time. Once set up, though, you never need to fiddle with it
again; your device and your accessory will remember each
other. You should change the name on the accessory to
something personal like "Joe's mouse" just in case you're ever in
a room where others are using similar accessories; don't just use
the default name.
Note that there are a lot of "wireless" mice on the market that
are not Bluetooth. They use a "dongle", a tiny
receiver that plugs into a USB port on your computer and
communicates wirelessly with the mouse. Those won't work on
a smartphone or tablet because there's no USB port to plug the
dongle into. You need to find true Bluetooth accessories.
Bluetooth can also be used to connect one handheld device to
another, to transfer files back and forth or the like.
MOTION SENSORS: Smartphones and tablets have motion
sensors built in so they can tell when you're moving them.
Those same sensors have long been used in video game
controllers. When they first hit the market, it was
surprising just how accurate they are, and it still can be amazing
to watch them work. The sensors in your smartphone, for
example, are so accurate that you can install an app, set the
phone on the passenger's seat in your car, and then floor the gas
pedal and it'll tell you how many horsepower your engine has by
sensing its acceleration! There's even an app called MyShake
that uses people's smartphones the world over to help track
MAGNETIC FIELD SENSOR: Better portable devices have a
built-in magnetic field sensor. You can download a compass
app that turns your device into a compass. That sounds
simple until you try it; it's a really amazing compass, much
better than that plastic thing you had in your Boy Scout days.
Note, however, that many of the cases you can buy to protect your
smartphone or tablet come with magnets built in to hold the case
closed! Those magnets render the built-in magnetic field
sensor useless. You'll need to either take the device out of
the case or cut the magnets out to use the magnetic field sensor
There are also telephoto lenses for use with the camera that
attach to the device with a magnet. There may be nothing on
the device for a magnet to stick to, but the lens comes with a
little peel-and-stick metal ring to attach permanently around the
camera on the device so you can stick the lens on when you need
it. The metal ring isn't a problem for the magnetic field
sensor, but the lens itself certainly is. You'll have to
leave that lens in the car or otherwise a good ways away if you
want your magnetic field sensor to work properly.
This author's Moto e 4G/LTE does not have a magnetic field
sensor. If you try to load a compass app, it tells you right
away that the app won't work on this device. There are
compass apps that will fake it using the GPS sensors; when you
move, the GPS knows which way you moved, and the app tells you
which way is north accordingly. It's far less accurate or
useful than the real compass app, though.
MICROPHONE: A microphone is cheap, so all devices
should have one. It looks like a pin hole in the case.
Be sure not to cover it with a screen protector or whatnot.
There might be two microphones, one on the front and one
on the back, with the one on the back side used for recording
video with sound.
SPEAKERS: A smartphone has a speaker that you put up
against your ear when talking, and it can work loudly enough to
put your phone in speakerphone mode. Tablets often have two
speakers for stereo sound. If you listen on headphones or
earbuds, though, I believe you'll get stereo from any device.
INFRARED EMITTER: The author's Samsung Galaxy Note 10
has an infrared emitter. This enables the tablet to be used
as a remote control for a TV, DVR, etc. Of course, you don't
need another remote, but what this thing can do goes far beyond
that. You can program it to turn the TV on and off, change
channels, record programs on the DVR, whatever, all while you're
not there. Just leave the tablet on and laying on the table
with the infrared emitter pointing towards the TV. And if
the internet is available, the tablet can search online listings
for shows you want to see and record them for you. Yet
another feature you never knew you needed!
STYLUS: The difference between a Samsung Galaxy Tab
and a Samsung Galaxy Note is that the Note comes with a stylus, a
pen-looking thing that stores away in a little slot in the
tablet. It's got a really weird point on it that the screen
can sense without even touching it! It only needs to be
within a millimeter or so. It supposedly can be used for all
sorts of features, including detailed drawing and writing (far
less clumsy than trying to draw or write with your finger).
Note that you can buy a "stylus" for use with a smartphone or
tablet in any Dollar store, sometimes with a pen on the other
end. These are not the same thing; they are merely a
simulated finger, a little black rubber dome on the tip that
conducts electricity as well as a fingertip so the screen can
detect its touch. It helps a little, but it doesn't even
keep fingerprints off the screen; the little black rubber dome
leaves marks, too! The stylus that comes with the Samsung
Galaxy Note is completely different and provides a much more
accurate pointing capability.
NFC CHIP: NFC stands for "Near Field Communication",
and it's yet another short-range wireless communication standard
-- this one is really short range, on the order of a few
inches! It's this function that enables you to transfer
pictures from one smartphone to another by basically bumping them
REPLACEABLE BATTERY: Back in the day, anything that
used batteries could have the batteries replaced -- even things
that used rechargeable NiCad batteries since they were forever
going bad. With modern lithium batteries, however, many
devices come with the battery built in and inaccessable.
This is an indication of how reliable lithium batteries are.
Still, being able to replace the battery is a good thing just so
you can have two or more batteries and swap them out when one
needs charging. If your battery is inaccessable, it's still
possible to work with a dying smartphone by carrying a spare
battery pack that plugs into the phone's data/charging port.
It's just not as convenient as swapping out batteries.
WIRELESS CHARGER: Because it's just too tedious
to have to plug your device into its charger, you can now get
devices that you merely set on top of a charger and the battery is
charged via induction. Probably wastes energy, perhaps a
nickel's worth of electricity a year. Some owners have found
the induction coil wrapped around the battery and concluded it was
an antenna that the NSA was using to spy on them, which led to all
sorts of idiotic conspiracy theories on Facebook.
THUMBPRINT SENSOR: Supposedly the ultimate in
security, some devices now have a thumbprint scanner. Do you
really need it? Perhaps not, but it might be easier and
quicker to press your thumb against the scanner than to type in a
lengthy and secure password when opening up your phone.
One other thing to remember: If you're relying on passwords
for security, you have to be careful where you're standing when
you type in that password. Closed-circuit video cameras are
everywhere these days, and you never know who's on the
other end watching you. They can just jot down your password
for later after they steal you phone. With a thumbprint
sensor, you don't care who's watching.
PAYMENTS: Apple Pay and Google Pay are schemes by
which you can use your device as a credit card. Just wave it
near the credit card reader at a checkout and it magically makes a
payment for you. As of this writing this is just getting off
the ground here in the US, but it's certain to catch on; one less
thing to carry. Many people in Africa already rely upon
smartphones for all their banking and money transfer needs.
WATERPROOF: There are only a couple of handheld
devices that even claim to be waterproof, and of course they're
making the most of it in their advertisements. As well they
should; the notion that any such devices were ever made that were
not waterproof is shameful. One's smartphone becomes
part of one's life, you carry it around whereever you go and
whatever you do. It needs to be durable and sturdy, and that
includes being waterproof. Many of us put cases around our
devices to help protect them, but that usually won't help if you
drop them into the swimming pool.
If you know there's a risk of your device getting wet, the thing
to do is put it in a baggie -- a tough, reliable freezer bag type.
ROUNDED EDGE: The Samsung Edge comes with a glass
screen that curls around the edge of the device. Perhaps the
single most pointless feature ever conceived. Not cheap,
either. What you really want in a handheld device is
a raised bezel around the glass screen so that you can set it face
down on a flat surface without scratching the glass. That
won't help when setting it on nonflat surfaces, but there are so
many flat surfaces in this world that such a bezel will
dramatically reduce the amount of damage your screen suffers.
HANDLE: One really nice feature on a smartphone or
tablet is a convenient handle or grip to hold it by. Aren't
those wonderful? Can't answer that, because none of them
have one! Smartphones typically have a touch-sensitive
screen all over the front and buttons down one or both sides so
it's simply not possible to hold the %$^&^% thing without
buttdialing somebody! Tablets are even worse, having the
same touchscreen and buttons but too large to easily grip between
your thumb and fingers. Hopefully, somebody will figure this
out soon and start designing handheld devices to be handheld.