Your old cell phone looks like it was made in the ‘90s and everybody you know has a new smart phone with all the bells and whistles. And now you want one, too?

Gone are the days when you could buy a phone that only does one thing: make and receive phone calls. Nowadays, you can run an entire business on the phone—and some people do.

First, a few basics. An ‘app’ is a buzz word you can no longer avoid. Short for ‘application,’ it is something you can use to do something—and that is almost anything. Of course, you can check your email, check weather, sports scores, the stock market, as well as Skype, post, tweet, and take and send photos. But what about those more unusual apps that you may or may not have thought you could use your cell phone for? Need a flashlight? There is an app for that! I use it all the time and it is terrific—and free.

But before you select your apps (many are free, others cost between $0.99 to $5.99), you need to choose a phone. And even before that, you need to select an operating system.

An operating system (or OS, as the tech nerds say) is what runs your phone; and just like your computer, there are Windows, Apple and others. The popular iPhone, for instance, is an Apple product and runs on Apple’s OS. There are Windows phones that run Microsoft Windows and appear familiar to the many who use Windows on their computer. What’s different with phones is a third—and very popular OS—called Android.

Android is Google’s OS. It was initially created by a company called Android that was bought by Google in 2005. About two years ago, this became the most used mobile OS in the world. It is considered to be more stable and less prone to errors than the other two. The intention is to use touch and mimic real-world movements like swiping, tapping and pinching objects on the screen. The popularity of the Android devices is partly due to the ease of use and the reliability.

Once you’ve selected an OS, then you may want to look at screen sizes: The large ones are greater than 4.7 inches, and include Samsung Galaxy, LG and Nokia Lumia. The medium screens range between 4 and 4.7 inches; examples are iPhone 5 and Motorola Moto X. Finally, the small screens are less than 4 inches and includes the likes of Blackberry.

Although screen size is important, maybe even more so is the brightness, the color and the viewing angles. Don’t just look at the resolution specs, look at the actual phone. I would not recommend buying a smart phone online: It has to feel right, look right and be part of you, You have to see it, hold it and use it in person. So ask the salesclerk to show you various phones with different brightness and resolutions. The Galaxy Note 3, Moto X and the iPhone 5 have been top-rated in this respect.

If the Camera functionality is important to you, you should know that the cameras that are built in to the phones are of varying quality. The iPhone that I have doesn’t take good photos; and no, it’s not the photographer. For a high-quality camera, you need to look at HTC or Nokia.

Next to ask about is the battery. It doesn’t matter what or how many fancy features your phone has if you are out ‘juice.’ Battery-makers list performance in terms of talk time, standby time, or how many hours you can expect a device to perform tasks such as playing video and music. Make sure that the person selling you the phone explains the performance of the battery of that particular phone. T-Mobile’s LG G2 has the best battery life of all that were tested in January this year by an independent reviewer.

Then, there is the question of provider: the company that you will bill you monthly. There is AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile and many more.

Ask yourself, Why am I buying a smart phone? Is it for the phone functionality and that alone? If that is the case, why not just get an inexpensive phone that allows you thousands of minutes per month—or better still, unlimited talk?

Is it the Internet browser and download capability (the amount of data you can download—and how fast) or is it texting? Many plans come with ‘unlimited talk and text’—and that may be for you.

Is the phone and Internet coverage important to you? For instance, if you travel to parts of the country (or the world) where you can reasonably expect limited coverage, then limited coverage plans may fit you.

If you always remain in a large city like St. Louis, then the coverage your plan offers better cover St. Louis and the entire metropolitan area. Make sure that you ask those questions.

How much money are you willing to spend? Are you personally paying for this or will your company pick up the tab? Smart-phone plans vary from $50 per month to up to 10 times that amount, depending on phone, options, minutes, data, coverage and other factors.

These are monthly plans. You also need to purchase the actual phone; and of course, the cost varies, from $99 up to more than $700. That’s a one-time fee, but don’t forget to ask about warranties.

There are plenty more features we cannot cover in this limited space. Do you have a question about your phone or buying a new one? Your question could be featured in an upcoming column. Email me at

Longtime computer trainer and editor Richard Gavatin can be reached at

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