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Features & Functions
Understanding the numbers, jargon and acronyms on a mobile phone spec sheet is not always an easy thing to do. But it makes a big difference to how a phone functions and what you can do with it.
Design - Mobile phones typically come in a candy bar, clamshell or slider form factor. The candy bar phones are the most common; they are narrow and long, slip easily into a case and most can be operated with one-hand. However, their size and shape can limit screen and keypad size. The clamshell or flip-phone has the advantage of a small size that opens up to a keypad and screen. Some high-end models even swivel for taking photos at different angles. However, most need to be open to be used and therefore can't easily be slipped into a protective case. The slider phone, where the keypad slips out underneath the screen, offer space for a screen on one side and keypad on the other, while keeping a neat, small shape. Some models even feature a swivel keypad that is used horizontally for two-handed operation.
Screen - Colour screens are standard in almost all models, but size, resolution and colours vary. A Thin Film Transistor (TFT) screen gives better resolution and brightness because each pixel is lit individually. Resolution ranges between 101x80 pixels and 353x288 pixels with between 4000 and 16 million colours. Screen size varies with the shape and size of the handset. Good screen resolutions also allow images to be displayed as backgrounds or linked to contacts as a graphical identifier to give your phone a personal look.
Memory - Standard internal memory ranges between 10MB and 96MB, unless it's a dedicated gaming or MP3 phone, in which case it may have up to 500MB of internal memory with a separate memory card slot adding an additional 2GB of storage space. (See the buyers guide on memory cards for more on storage.) A model with a card slot is preferable for storing a decent number of MP3 files and digital photos.
Battery - The most common battery type is Li-Ion, short for Lithium-Ion, which has greater energy storage capacity than standard batteries. Models with 700 or 800mAh are common, with a few hitting 1600mAh with the higher number indicating longer battery life. Standby times ranges between 10 days and 14 days, with 11 days about the average. Talk time ranges between two hours and eight hours, but depends on features and use.
Camera - Even the most basic mobiles phone now comes with a digital camera. A 1 megapixel or higher resolution camera is preferable. Many models now have flash, auto-focus, continuous shooting, macro mode and self-timer. Video recording is available on most models as well, although resolutions are usually of low-grade-VGA quality. It is also possible to receive streaming video and to use video conferencing on more advanced phones. These usually come at an extra expense though.
Multimedia & Gaming - Mobile phones that play MP3 music tracks are almost standard nowadays, and give the phone another facet of functionality. Storage capacity is important so consider 64MB the minimum, but look for a model with a memory storage card slot. Models with an FM tuner will provide music without the need to fill the phone with files or worry about storage capacity. Some handsets are designed as dedicated MP3 players and others are designed for gaming. Most handsets come with Java games and as sound and graphics have improved, so too have the games. Phones with internet access can be used to download more games from the Web. A Java-enabled phone usually means it can be used for downloading games and Web browsing.
Connectivity - A mobile phone with USB connectivity can be used to connect to a desktop to synchronise and transfer files using a standard cable that is sometimes included in the sales package. Bluetooth and infrared provide wireless connectivity for synchronising with a PC or transferring files, such as music, video or images, between other mobiles or devices such as PDAs. Bluetooth also allows wireless headphones and headsets to be used for hands-free communication. Some newer music handsets include the A2DP Bluetooth profile that allows the wireless streaming of music to a pair of compatible Bluetooth headphones.
MMS/Email/Internet - A GSM/GPRS phone can be used to send and receive MMS messages, such as photos, music, voice and video files. It's also possible to send MMS files to an email address using GPRS. In phones with a Web browser, it's possible to access the internet and send and receive Web mail through Yahoo! Gmail and Hotmail as well as ISP mail that has a POP3/Web function, such as BigPond, OptusNet, TPG and iPrimus among others. A phone with an inbox can send and receive email directly through accounts with POP3/IMAP support. Most phones also feature Wireless Access Protocol (WAP) browsers that allow users to browse internet sites configured specifically for mobile phones. However, this technology can be painfully slow and not all sites are compatible. Some newer handsets, particularly those at the top end of the price spectrum, support push email; whenever new e-mail arrives it is instantly and actively transferred ("pushed") to the handset.
Extras - Voice-activated dialling can be used to record a word that will activate a call to that number when the word is spoken. Voice recording can also be used to record audio memos and send voice MMS. A speaker phone allows the phone to be used hands-free away from the ear. Mobile phones that play polyphonic and MP3 ringtones have the ability to play more than one note in an audio file at a time and produce a better sound. They're usually downloaded from the Internet for a charge.