How Are Cellphones Different From Smartphones?

Young woman browsing smartphones in phone store

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A smartphone is a cellphone with advanced features, so the two terms aren't interchangeable, even if people sometimes use them that way. Technically, a smartphone is a cellphone, but a cellphone is not smart.

Smartphones Are Tiny Computers

Think of a smartphone as a miniature computer that can place and receive calls. Most smartphones connect to a virtual store with thousands of apps that turn the phone into something much smarter than a regular cellphone.

Smartphone apps include games, image editors, navigation maps, budgeting apps, word processors, and multiple web browser options. Some phones provide you with a built-in virtual assistant, such as Apple iPhone's Siri, that responds to your verbal instructions.

Cellphones place and receive voice calls and send text messages. Smartphones do those things and much, much more. How much more depends on the smartphone's operating system.

Mobile Operating Systems

A mobile operating system is much like the software that powers your personal computer at home or work, except that it's built for mobile devices. Both cellphones and smartphones have mobile operating systems.

Your computer is most likely running a Windows, macOS, or Linux operating system, but your smartphone's mobile operating system might be iOS, Android, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry OS, or WebOS, among others.

Mobile platforms work entirely differently from desktop ones because they are built with the intention that the menus and buttons be touched instead of clicked. They're also built for speed and ease of use. 

A cellphone's operating system is usually bland and straightforward with minimum menus and few if any ways to customize things like the virtual keyboard. Smartphone operating systems are much more sophisticated. With the addition of apps, there is almost no limit to what you can do with a smartphone including check your email, get turn-by-turn navigation instructions, make reservations at a nearby restaurant, do your Christmas shopping on the internet and many, more things. Smartphones are easy to customize and include accessibility features so even people with physical limitations can use the phones.

Why the Differences Matter

If you only want to make and receive calls, either cell phones or smartphones can handle that function. The price on cellphones is much lower than for smartphones, which have vanquished most of the nonsmart cellphones on the market. The introduction of the first commercial smartphone — the Apple iPhone — in 2007 changed the way people communicate, and the public has embraced those changes.