TechKnow: Mobility jargon explained
You've waited the three years, your contract is up, and you can't wait to get your hands on the latest phone and chuck that old digital dinosaur in recycle bin, donate it to charity
or toss it in the toy box for the kids play with.
But there's one problem: you're trying to read up on the latest mobile trends and determine which phone is right for you, but the language bandied about like so much common knowledge makes about as much sense as a toaster in a fish tank. Fear not! We've deciphered the 9 most important terms you'll need to understand when shopping for a new mobile phone.
For a mobile phone to work, it needs to be able to send and receive signals to a cellular network. A vast number of cellular networks exist around the world, many utilizing different technologies. Depending on your service provider, your phone may be operating on any one of these networks.
3G - While it may sound technical, all this really means is the third generation of cellular networking technology. Unlike previous generations (2G and 1G), 3G networks allow for simultaneous transmission of voice and data services. This means that, unlike previous phones, the user of a "3G-enabled" phone can talk to friends while doing data-based activities like checking email, browsing the web, or downloading new apps. Various other acronyms get tossed around such as CDMA, HSPA, and EV-DO - but these are just different standards employed by the different 3G networks. Other common terms, like GSM, apply to the earlier 2G networks. From a consumer standpoint, there's little reason to know anything deeper than which generation of network your phone can access, with 3G being top of the pops at the moment.
4G - The fourth generation of cellular technology, 4G is a term that's thrown around all too often - especially since it doesn't exist yet! Some companies use term around quite liberally, even using it in their marketing and promotion for certain phones and networks, yet as of this writing no cellular network has yet met the 4G requirements of the International Telecommunication Union. Networks will need to offer data rates of 1 gigabit per second to earn the 4G designation. If you happen to see phone or a carrier making a claim to "4G," be wary.
Roaming - The act of using your cellular device on a network other than the one provided by your carrier, roaming allows users to use their phones even when they're away from home. Roaming is only possible in areas where your service provider has a roaming arrangement with a service provider outside of their coverage area, and usually comes with a hefty fee which will appear on your next bill. Often times users can make arrangements to purchase a temporary roaming package by calling their provider directly. Services like this are essential when travelling abroad while retaining the convenience of cellular service. When initially choosing a network, this is why it's important to choose one the covers the areas you're most likely to frequent.
Being able to talk on the phone is nice, but sometimes we want to be able to communicate without the hassle of a conversation. Thanks to the advent of text messages, voicemail, email, and social networks like Facebook and Twitter, it's never been easier to get your point across without being drug into a 20 minute phone call about somebody's cat.
SMS - The communication protocol that allows for texting, SMS (or Short Message Service) might just be the most commonly used service on mobile phones today. More than 4.1 trillion texts were sent in 2008 alone. The act of texting is a little like passing notes in class. Rather than leaning over and talking to your friend (or making a phone call), you can instead type a message and send it to them over the cellular network. It will appear on their phone and allow them to reply back in kind. SMS messages are limited to 160 characters.
MMS - An evolution of the SMS protocol, MMS (or Multimedia Messaging Service) allows users to add pictures, sounds, and even video to their text messages. On the upside, this means you can take a photo of the cat medicine you just found and send it to your Aunt Gertie to make sure you're buying the right thing. On the downside, MMS is largely responsible for the spread of sexting amongst teens.
Push Notification - While most phones are more than happy to notify you of a text or a phone call when it arrives, there are other services that you might want a little nudge about too. If you happen to check email on your phone, for example, wouldn't you like to be notified when you receive a new message? Push notifications allow applications such as email clients, social networks, and even games to make a noise and send you a message to let you know something is happening that could use your attention. Whether you need to harvest your grapes in FarmVille or simply want to know when someone's replied to your latest tweet, push notifications bring the information to you rather than waiting for you to come to it.
In order to compete, every phone tries to be a little bit different than the competition. Sometimes this means offering a better battery life. Sometimes this means a faster processor. Most of the time, it means things you'll actually notice.
OS - Short for "operating system," this is often the most important factor a power user will make when purchasing a new phone. If you're just looking for "the phone that does text messages," they all do that. But most notable in smartphones that allow users to do much more than make calls and text, operating systems are what drive the software on the phone and generally determine the aesthetic and capabilities each phone has to offer. For analogy, if a phone were a restaurant (or restaurant chain) the OS would be the kitchen. The quality of dishes to come out of that mysterious place is entirely dependent on the chefs and their tools residing back there. Needless to say, chefs from different restaurants don't get along. The most popular operating systems today include iOS (which powers the iPhone), Android, Blackberry OS, and Windows Phone 7. Other notable operating systems include Nokia's Maemo, Samsung's Bada, and Symbian. See more Evergeek TechKnow features at www.evergeek.com/TechKnow.
Touch Screen - While phones previous to the current generation all featured keypads as their main method of data entry, more and more handsets feature a flat surface with no (or few) buttons. You interface with such devices simply by pressing whatever appears on the screen, from a virtual number pad for dialing, keyboard for typing, angry bird for gaming and a wealth of other touch, swipe and pinch possibilities.
Bluetooth - A wireless technology standard, Bluetooth-enabled phones allows the device to communicate wirelessly to other devices, such as a headset or a computer. It's like Wi-fi, or wireless internet, but with a limited range of about 30 feet. If you're looking for a hands-free solution while driving, Bluetooth headsets are one of the most popular choices on the market. Likewise, some phones allow for users to complete simple tasks with computers (which need Bluetooth as well), such as transfering photos and video.