A beginner's guide to smartphones

This is not how you use a smartphone.
Image: Business Insider
Yesterday, Google released the new Nexus 7 along with Android 4.3, among other things. But apart from announcing new products, Google also shared some interesting statistics. Among them, the Play Store has now surpassed the 1 million app mark, and has seen 50 billion downloads. Another interesting fact is that in the past year, the number of online videos that have been viewed on a smartphone or tablet have increased by 2.7x. Taken together, these stats suggest that we truly are in a mobile computing era. No longer are we bound to our desktops and laptops. More and more people are buying smartphones, and tablet sales have steadily increased as well. PC sales have dwindled since 2012, and that truly signifies the transition to mobile computing. But between smartphones and tablets, transitioning from an old dumbphone to a smartphone can be a bit more challenging than using a tablet for the first time. Even though modern smartphones have been around since the original iPhone back in 2007, many people are only just getting used to using a phone without a number pad. I've shared with you some tips on choosing a smartphone, now lets move on to the next step, using a smartphone.

The strongest advantage of smartphones over dumbphones is the ability to run apps. Without apps, our smartphones would just be a phone with a large screen. Apps are what make smartphones functional, convenient to use and worth the money we spend on it. Basically, apps are what transform our phones into mobile computers. Apple's App Store and Google's Play Store have a huge selection of apps, and as Apple's old saying goes, no matter what you want to do, there's an app for that. There are a few tips I can share with first time smartphone users when it comes to apps. First would be to just explore the app store. Like Apple said, there's an app for literally everything, especially now when both the App Store and Play Store are at 1 million apps each. Browse the store, search based on categories you are interested in, ask your friends what apps they use, make your phone an app powerhouse. If you find an app you like however, don't be too quick to install it. Read reviews and see if it is really what you are looking for. Look at the screenshots provided, and some developers even embed a video showing what the app does. The most important thing to be careful of when installing apps, is security, which leads to my next point.
Not including games, there are a total of 26
different app categories in the Play Store

Most malware are granted access by
unsuspecting users. Image: Digital Trends
Just like desktops and laptops, our phones are susceptible to security breaches. They are after all, mobile computers. The most common way for our phones to be breached, is by installing a rogue app. Most reports of malware or spyware indicate that these rogue apps come from third-party app stores, not official stores like the App Store or Play Store. So to avoid installing a bad app, always stick to official stores. Sure there have been infiltrations from time to time, but you are much less likely to encounter a rogue app in an official store than you would in a third-party store. Also, always read permissions. Before installing an app, you will be presented with a list of permissions the app will request. These include things like your contacts list, text messages, internal storage, access to your network settings etc. Most apps request these permissions in order to function. An SMS replacement app for example will obviously need access to your text messages. A note taking app will require access to your internal storage so it can store your notes. But if a game is requesting access to your call log, stay away. You don't want the app making calls to some private number and leaving you to pay the bill. If you don't understand the permissions, don't worry. Just read the user reviews like I said earlier. Someone will leave a warning if an app is rogue.

Cloud storage
Now that you have a smartphone, you will be using it for all sorts of things. Taking photos, recording videos, taking notes, editing work-related documents etc. Eventually, the content of your phone will be more valuable to you than the actual device. A phone can be replaced, but your memories, your documents and your contacts can be a bit more difficult to replace, if at all. I've written about cloud storage before and the pros and cons of using such a service, and while there are of course risks to using cloud storage, the benefits far outweigh them. Use services like Google Drive or Dropbox to store files remotely on a server, backup your contacts using iCloud or your Google account, backup your pictures and videos to the cloud as well. You may think that your data is safe on your device, but you never know when your device's memory might suddenly decide to stop working.
It doesn't matter which cloud storage service you use,
as long as you have at least one. Image: Tech to Web

Battery life
A common sight on smartphones. Image: Gizmodo
Say goodbye to week-long battery life. The largest sacrifice you make when switching to a smartphone is battery life. While basic dumbphones could easily last us several days, the typical battery life of a smartphone is one day. There are exceptions like the Note II, Optimus G Pro and Razr Maxx, but the majority of smartphones that come with batteries around 2000-2500mAh will typically last us a day. There are several things you can do to help prolong your phone's battery life. The main one will be to be conservative with the screen. The screen is the largest drainer of our phone's battery. Large displays packed with millions of pixels drain the battery everytime our display is on. You can prolong battery life by reducing the brightness of the screen, setting screen time-out to around 30 seconds and if your phone has an AMOLED display, use wallpapers with black backgrounds, because on an AMOLED screen, the "colour" black is actually just pixels that are off. Another tip would be to turn off any connectivity options you aren't using. Turn off 3G if you are on WiFi, turn off GPS if you aren't driving, turn off bluetooth etc. Also, reduce the frequency of background app updates. The more frequently an app updates in the background (like weather, Facebook or other social networks), the more battery that app will use to send and receive data.

Using a smartphone for the first time can be a little overwhelming; going through all the settings, looking for apps to install, being worried about security threats and so on. But smartphones really are becoming more and more commonplace in our society, and less a luxury item. You can find hundreds of articles and videos online to help you get used to using that powerful mini-computer you keep in your pocket. I actually have more tips to share, but I feel like this is long enough for now. If you have any tips you would like to share with the newcomers to the smartphone world, or if you have any questions to ask, please feel free to do so in the comments.

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