What is a Smartphone?

Modern smartphones can do a whole lot more than ordinary mobiles – but did you know that they can also help you manage your personal finances?

HTC Tattoo Android SmartphoneIf you’re not already familiar with smartphones, the easiest way to think of one is as a handheld computer integrated with a mobile phone.

Not only do smartphones allow you to make calls and send texts, they allow you to send and receive emails, browse the web and run a dazzling array of programs called ‘apps’ (or applications).

These apps allow you to do so much more with your phone, ranging from checking the weather forecast and share prices, right through to playing games like Scrabble or checking how many minutes late your train is.

Smartphones also differ from traditional PCs and mobile phones because you operate them using a touchscreen rather than a traditional keyboard.

But in the same way that you compare PCs before deciding which one to buy, it’s a good idea to explore the different features and prices smartphones can offer you.

That way you’re more likely to choose a smartphone that not only suits your budget, but gives you the functionality you need.

But with such a bewildering array of smartphones on the market, where do you start? And what should you look for when evaluating the best deals?

How much can I expect to pay for a smartphone?

Smartphones occupy the pricier end of the mobile phone market, but they’re getting cheaper all the time as the technology improves.

Apple’s iPhone 4 is famously at the top end of the smartphone price range – and Apple’s superb publicity machine has made its iPhone model synonymous with the smartphone in many consumers’ minds.

But there are other options. Google has notably given away its Android operating system free to mobile phone manufacturers such as HTC, Samsung and LG. This allows them to add it to any phone they make – giving you more choice and a greater variety of price points. Some Android phones are now even available on pre-paid tariffs.

BlackBerry maker RIM has a more limited range of phones, while Microsoft has licensed its Windows Phone 7 operating system to a variety of manufacturers, but with tighter restrictions than Google.

Whichever phone you choose, expect to pay between £20 and £50 per month for a contract that lasts between 12 and 24 months. Most of these tariffs will include a free phone, but if you plump for a brand new or high end model, expect to pay between £100 and £200 upfront for the handset – or pay a high monthly rate instead.

Buying an unlocked smartphone – a phone that isn’t tied to a specific network tariff – can set you back anywhere between £200 and £500.

Smartphone functionality

All modern smartphones from iPhones and HTC models downwards have the same basic connectivity, including 3G internet access, WiFi, GPS and Bluetooth. But much of what they can do is determined by the software you can add to them – the apps.

Apple’s App Store currently leads the market with 350,000 free and paid apps. They are followed by the Android Marketplace which is fast approaching 200,000. BlackBerry’s AppWorld and Microsoft’s Marketplace trail the pack.

Many of the most common apps are available across all these platforms, so for the average user, the deciding factor is more likely to be price, design or battery life.

How can a smartphone help me manage my personal finances?

Thanks to the explosion of apps available, more and more of them are available to help you with your personal finances.

We’ll be covering a wider selection in future articles, but to give you a taster we’ve listed some of the most popular below.

Banking apps
Many high street banks now offer their own apps to help people keep track of their personal finances. Apps for Natwest, RBS, Barclays and HSBC all allow you to check your balances, review statements and keep track of your finances.

Expense tracker apps
A range of popular apps such as MoneyBook allow you to keep track of you expenses, creating graphs to show you how your spending has changed month by month. Others can scan receipts, read them and automatically track your spending that way.

Spread betting apps
Financial services companies are also entering the market with spread betting apps, which are now available for both iPhone and Android devices. These allow people to make trades on the move and always stay on top of their portfolio.

Shopping apps
Smartphones are also changing the way we shop. Amazon, Tesco, Ocado and many other retailers are allowing customers to compare products and make purchases via their phones.

All of these apps have the potential to help you manage your money and your time better, bringing more services to the palm of your hand.

And with soaring popularity, the smartphone is here to stay. But if you are thinking of buying a smartphone to use a specific app, do your research beforehand to see which platforms it’s available on.

In the meantime, keep an eye out for more articles in this series – we’ll be going into much more detail on the latest and best personal finance apps available.

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