October 19


We put the call out for your most pressing smartphone questions and you answered. Actually, Jon Phillips, editor-in-chief of PCWorld, MacWorld and TechHive answered the excellent questions you sent. His insights will help anyone understand their phone better.

@APSocial: Living in our area what’s more important for smartphone speed and quality, the technology in the phone or the technology of the wireless carrier?

According to Pew Research, 64% of American adults own smartphones, up from 35% in 2011.

According to Pew Research, 64% of American adults own smartphones, up from 35% in 2011.

Phillips: The four major carriers have been racing toward network parity for many years, and their main differences are now pricing and perks, not network speed or coverage. The bottom line is that if we’re talking about data “speed,” the smartphone’s components make all the difference. Plus, how often do we actually use phones for calling, or depend on LTE data? In 2016, phones are essentially mini computers usually connected to Wi-Fi.

@JenM_Doris: I think the same cell towers are used for every phone and carrier here. How can I be standing right next to my girlfriend, we both have Verizon service and identical (model) phones but one of us has a clearer, faster connection than the other?

Phillips: The speed of the smartphone bears no relation to the cell tower. A phone’s speed is determined by the processor inside, and how that processor interacts with, and is optimized for the operating system (usually iOS or Android) and individual apps.

If two identical phones appear to run at different speeds, then that differential is most likely related to either software issues and apps. In essence, one phone is being asked to do more work than the other in the background, and is running slower as a result. But even more likely, it’s possible the two phones in question are actually connected to different towers. In congested areas like your area there are scads of towers, and you may find a phone hopping from tower to tower as a user moves around their house.

@OGgranny: For someone who doesn’t want the latest and greatest, what’s the smartest smartphone you recommend?

Phillips: Get one of last year’s best flagship phones. So if you’re an Apple fan, get the iPhone 6s or 6s Plus. If you’re an Android fan, perhaps skip the upcoming Pixel and get a sure-to-be discounted Nexus 6P or Nexus 5X. You can also consider a Samsung Galaxy S6.

@a.meghan: Like a vintage car, will cellphones will be collectible in 50 years? If so, which ones?

Phillips: They will never be as collectible as old Corvette or Porsche. There will simply be too many specimens around, and phones don’t degrade physically like old cars. But it’s conceivable that certain phones may be worth, say, $50 instead of their current prices of, well, zero dollars. Just off the top of my head, perhaps the horrible HTC First, the “Facebook phone,” may be collectible. In 50 years, Facebook may be a sovereign nation with its own government, so that crappy HTC First that no one ever bought could have some historical value.

@RuggerNJ: When I tell my grandma to get rid of her flip phone, she says, “Why, it works fine.” What’s the best argument for her to enter the 21st Century?

Phillips: Frankly, if she’s happy with her flip phone, she should probably keep it, as I imagine her battery life is better than yours or mine. But one compelling argument is that, in time, she may enjoy using some smartphone apps. Does she use her computer to look up stuff on the Internet? She can do that on her phone, and she won’t have to turn on her PC. Do you think she’d like to video chat with family members? She can do that easily on her phone. But, hey, my dad has a flip phone, and we’re all better off for it. Seriously, do you want to be grandma’s tech support agent? Think through this carefully.

Follow Phillips on Twitter and check out PCWorld.com, MacWorld.com, and TechHive.

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