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Oh My Tech!: Ready for a smartphone? Here's a basic guide

Published September 20, 2012 8:10 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

I am about to move to a smartphone. Have you done a column for "newbies," as in what features to look for or what I need for starters? — Ralph Paisley, Salt Lake City.

Today, the iPhone 5 goes on sale, further pushing Apple's smartphone into the public consciousness. It seems like almost everyone has an iPhone or an Android phone.

But it's easy to forget that, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 41 percent of Americans still own a basic featureless cell phone. So Ralph is asking a question that a lot of people may be considering. Here's a basic guide for the uninitiated.

Let's assume you already have a preferred carrier. Most likely, you may already know if that carrier is worth keeping.

Platform • The first choice to make is which mobile platform to go with. There are several — iPhone, Android, Blackberry and Microsoft's Windows Phone. But as Jim Barry of the Consumer Electronics Association rightfully said to me recently, "Right now, it's a two-team race between Android and the iPhone."

Blackberry is dying as a platform and a company, and the Windows Phone just doesn't have enough apps to make it worthwhile (although it's a very nice mobile operating system).

Now, if you're an Apple customer anyway and you own a Macbook Pro laptop, iMac or iPad, go with an iPhone. The user interfaces are similar and you can stay within the same ecosystem of apps, songs and videos. They also connect with each other well.

If you're a Windows user at home, you can go with either platform. But let's look deeper into some of the advantages and disadvantages between Android and the iPhone.

Interface • Both have a graphical user interface that's easy to use. The benefit with Android's GUI is that it can be more easily customized. You can set up home pages, move icons around to your liking, and set up widgets (apps such as weather or stocks that you want to instantly access).

Hardware • Here is where some of the biggest differences lie. There is only one iPhone, and it's made by Apple. It's beautiful, sleek and powerful. But there's only one design — take it or leave it.

There are dozens of Android handsets available from different manufacturers, including Samsung, Motorola and HTC. They range in all kinds of shapes and sizes. If you go with Android, it might be good to visit a local store and see what feels best in your hand and what suits your style.

Also, if you want a larger screen, go with Android. Their screens have gotten much bigger — such as the Samsung Note's 5.3-inch screen — while Apple's has remained a puny 3.5-inches. Only with the iPhone 5 did Apple grow the screen to 4 inches, but that's still small, compared with most Android phones.

Performance • This is where I think the iPhone has the edge. The device is snappy, smooth and responsive in large part because Apple makes both the operating system and the hardware, and it designs them to work efficiently with one another. The Android operating system is made by Google, while the handsets are made by different hardware manufacturers, so the OS has a "one-size-fits-all" philosophy in which it's not tailor-made for each phone. Android phones perform much better now than they used to but they still feel a little more clunky than an iPhone.

App store • It used to be that Apple's iTune's App Store was the clear winner here, with hundreds of thousands of apps from which to choose. Not anymore. The Google Play store for Android phones also has a huge catalog and mostly can match app-for-app what's in the iTunes App Store. There are still a few games that are specifically available for the iPhone, but other than that, the most important apps are available for both phones.

Setting up • In order to have a smartphone, it's also advisable that you own a desktop or laptop computer. That's because you'll probably want to port music, movies, documents and other media back and forth between the computer and the phone.

It's also good to have a computer to make sure the contents of your phone are backed up. Should your phone die, be lost or stolen, you'll want to make sure all of your media is stored to not just a cloud service such as Apple's iCloud, but also to a computer with a hard drive. Don't worry about buying a cord to connect the phone to the computer, because one comes with the new phone.

Finally, when you purchase the phone, ask the clerk to transfer all your contacts to the new phone. They do that for free.

Then, consider purchasing a plastic screen protector such as the invisibleSHIELD by a local company, ZAGG, even if you also get a case to protect the rest of the phone. The plastic protects the screen from scratches and nicks.

If you have a tech question for Vince, email him at ohmytech@sltrib.com, and he'll try to answer it for his column in The Salt Lake Tribune or on its website. For an archive of past columns, go to http://www.sltrib.com/topics/ohmytech.