Cellphones vs. Smartphones

Learn the difference before you buy

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 always smart. We compared smartphones and cellphones to help you decide which device best suits your phone needs.

Cellphone vs Smartphone

Overall Findings

Cellphones
  • Make calls, send texts, take photos, and access the internet.

  • Cheaper alternative to a smartphone.

  • Straightforward, simple interface.

Smartphones
  • Make calls, send texts, take photos, access the internet, play games, and use apps.

  • May include a digital assistant like Siri or Google Now.

  • Sophisticated operating system with customization options.

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 a built-in virtual assistant, such as Apple iPhone's Siri, that responds to verbal instructions.

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

Mobile Operating Systems: Smartphones Provide More Options

Cellphones
  • Simple and basic.

Smartphones
  • Robust and customizable.

  • Support for apps, reminders, and more functionality.

  • Accessibility options.

Both cellphones and smartphones have mobile operating systems, which is the software that runs their interfaces.

A cellphone's operating system is usually bland and straightforward with minimum menus and few ways to customize things like the virtual keyboard. Smartphone operating systems are more sophisticated.

With the addition of apps, there's almost no limit to what you can do with a smartphone, including check email, get turn-by-turn navigation instructions, make reservations at a nearby restaurant, and do Christmas shopping on the internet. Smartphones are easy to customize and include accessibility features so that people with physical limitations can use the phone.

Availability: Smartphones Dominate the Market

Cellphones
  • Cost less than smartphones.

Smartphones
  • Almost every phone on the market is a smartphone.

  • More design and form options.

Cellphones are still available from a variety of providers. They are, however, harder to find. Smartphones have almost completely replaced cellphones, so your search for a simple, budget device may take more time.

Some carriers may not support non-smart phones. Research and look for a device and then see where you can get one instead of going to a store and looking for the cellphones. That's not to say it's impossible to find a non-smartphone. But some companies' basic devices are still smartphones.

Currently, if you're looking at a cellphone, odds are it comes in one style: a two-part handset in which the screen flips up from the keypad. You may also see other types, but flip phones are the most common form factor.

Smartphones are available in more sizes and shapes. Although most use the same basic design: a large screen in a rectangular case. But even with that look, you have choices in screen size and resolution, camera quality, and more.

Plans: Cellphones May Trap You

Cellphones
  • Models are usually carrier-specific.

  • Usually available via prepaid plans.

Smartphones
  • Same models are available from a variety of carriers.

  • Monthly payment plans.

Once you decide on a phone, the offered service and plan options vary. Typically, cellphones are provided as part of a prepaid (or pay as you go) plan where you buy calling time or data usage in chunks that you replace as you use them. This system may be less convenient than more common plans, which provide set talk, text, and data pools per month with a regular bill.

Another consideration related to availability is the companies you can use with your device. While businesses like AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon offer an Apple iPhone, for example, cellphone models tend to be locked to one provider. After you find a device you like, you may have to work with a company you don't.

Final Verdict

If you only want to make and receive calls, either cellphones or smartphones can handle that function. If you want to access a store to play games and use other apps, choose a smartphone. Smartphones have more customization options and functionality, including reminders, alarms, and security features to keep data and the device safe.

The price of cellphones is lower than for smartphones, which have vanquished most of the nonsmart cellphones on the market. You'll have an easier time finding a smartphone than a basic cellphone, but it's still possible.