A note for those thinking about switching
If you are considering switching to a smartphone, I implore you to buy the best and latest available option. If you are purchasing a phone on contract, this is the most important thing to take into account. The fact of the matter is you will likely be paying more than $1000 over the course of a two-year contract. Saving $50 to get a phone that is already a year old will just cause headaches six months (or less) down the road. At best, you can expect updates to your smartphone’s software for 18 months after it’s released. As a rule of thumb, try not to purchase a phone more than six months after its initial release.
You are now fully connected – but don’t set the expectation of availability. Your new device provides access to the entire world at your fingertips – don’t let others think it means they have full access to your time and attention. Set that expectation early and firmly. But there is more to owning a smartphone than an all-access pass to the information super highway. Follow the guide below to get the most out of your new device.
Battery life is going to be one of the biggest changes. Even with light use, the best you should expect from a smartphone today is two days of battery on a full charge. Modern smartphones are able to manage their power fairly well, so don’t worry too much about leaving Wi-Fi, GPS, or Bluetooth on. However, if you do not use these features (I suggest always leaving Wi-Fi and GPS on for the best balance of features and convenience), you may want to turn them off, or see how they affect your battery life. Each phone, carrier, and coverage area is different, so your mileage may vary. However, the (likely) big screen is the biggest battery hog. It goes without saying, the longer your screen is on (i.e., being used), the less your battery will last. Try using a lower brightness setting, or better yet, set it to Auto. Don’t ever install a “task killer.” There was a time for those several years ago, but they are completely unnecessary today.
Data data data
You never had to keep tabs on data before – it’s a lot like keeping track of text messages. Set warnings on the built-in data manager on your phone and regularly check your carrier’s information (the carrier’s number is the most important, as it is the one charging you for use). 2 GB is more than enough for 95% of people. We live in a world where Wi-Fi is around us for the majority of our days. Leave Wi-Fi on and connected to trusted networks (work, home, friend’s house). It will not only help conserve your data allotment, but will also save on battery life. The 4G radios in today’s smartphones drain the phone’s power very quickly, so staying on Wi-Fi can make a significant improvement. Don’t worry about missing calls – it’s still listening for those.
Your new device is a computer. In fact, the current iPhone has thousands of times more processing power than the Apollo 11. This means you need to treat it as such. First: update your apps. Always keep your apps up to date. On Android, you can set automatic updates on an all or per-app basis in the Play store, and you can even tell it to only do automatically updates over Wi-Fi (to conserve data). Apps are getting bigger and bigger, with many popular games clocking in at over 100 MB. The iPhone will receive automatic updating with iOS 7. If you download just 10 of these large apps after getting your first smartphone (and let’s be honest, the apps are the whole point!), you will already be halfway through your 2 GB data plan. Also make sure to apply any system updates that show up on your phone. Typically these will apply themselves after so much time, but go ahead to get all the benefits of the latest firmware version.
Turn on the lock screen with a security PIN or pattern lock on your phone the moment you get it. Your smartphone will contain far more personal data on it than any feature phone ever could, whether you are expressly aware of it or not. This may come in the form of photos, contact information, text messages, e-mails, passwords, calendar appointments, etc. If you choose to use banking apps, make sure to not allow them to save your passwords. Make sure your social networking apps are not set to save or broadcast your locations when you post status updates, as this could easily lead robbers to your house if they know you are out. This especially includes photo-sharing apps like Instagram and Flickr. Wait to get home to post vacation photos. To be doubly careful, make sure to turn off “location data” on the phone’s camera. Nate provided a great look into removing location data from your photos.
Buy a case
Smartphones are not built like feature phones. They tend to contain a lot of glass, and as such, are very breakable. One drop could shatter the entire screen. Save yourself a headache and buy a case. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, even the $4 cheap-o cases on Amazon work well. A screen protector may be a good idea as well, if you are the type to keep your phone in a purse, bag, or pocket with keys and other items. Personally, my front-right pocket is reserved only for my phone, so I prefer to live a little dangerously.
Syncing and the cloud
One of the best features of iPhones and Android smartphones is their deep integration with the cloud. Make sure to use services like iCloud, Google+, or Dropbox to automatically backup your photos and videos to the cloud. Don’t worry, they are private until you choose to share them. Because smartphones are always connected, there is zero excuse to lose your data if the phone is lost, stolen, or broken. Sync your e-mail and contacts with a service like Gmail, and your music with iTunes and Google Music. Or use a streaming service like Spotify or Rdio – just mind your data cap. Sync notes and to-do lists with services like Google Keep, Evernote, and Springpad.
Consider ditching your texting plan
If you aren’t on an “unlimited everything” plan, consider getting rid of your text messaging plan. Smartphones allow you to use messaging services like iMessage and Google Hangouts, which are free and add more features, such as emojis, read receipts, and the ability to see when someone is typing. Picture and video messaging is free too, but of course, you could always send those over e-mail. Still need texting? Google Voice allows you to send SMS text messages to phones for free, but with a few snags. If your friends use other messaging services like WhatsApp, Kik, Facebook Messenger, Viber, or Skype, use those. Speaking of texting, now you can enjoy full keyboards with extremely smart text prediction. You’ll never go back to T9.
Curious about something? Just ask your phone
Despite living in the ever-connected smartphone world, people still ask the simplest and most mundane questions. Don’t forget you have “Google” in your pocket. Who played that news anchor character in Bruce Almighty? When did Buffy the Vampire Slayer stop airing? Is it OK to compost coffee grounds? How many cups are in a liter? What color is a giraffe’s tongue? You can literally ask your phone these questions with Google Now and Siri, though you may want to think about your surroundings if you pose them out loud.
Modern smartphones are graphical powerhouses. Enjoy visually rich content on Netflix, Hulu+, and HBO, directly from your phone – just make sure to be on Wi-Fi. On middle quality, Netflix will use up to 0.7 GB per hour. That’s just under three hours (just shy of one typical full-length movie) to use your entire 2 GB data allotment for the month. Gaming on the go can be one of the best parts of having a smartphone. Angry Birds, Words With Friends, Candy Crush Saga, and more, provide solo and multiplayer gaming experiences. Mobile games aren’t just for casual gamers anymore. There is literally something for everyone.
A new way to be connected
Owning a smartphone can be an extremely rewarding and productive experience. You now have the power of the Internet, the cloud, a point-and-shoot camera, a GPS, a hand-held gaming console, a voice recorder, a personal assistant, and more in your pocket. Enjoy your new super device.