What Is a Mobile Device?

Smartphones, tablets and e-readers are all mobile devices

Girl using Smartphone on the sofa

 Yagi Studio / Getty Images

Mobile device is a general term for any handheld computer or smartphone. The term is interchangeable with 'handheld,' 'handheld device,' and 'handheld computer.' Tablets, e-readers, smartphones, PDAs and portable music players with smart capabilities are all mobile devices.

Characteristics of Mobile Devices

Mobile devices have similar characteristics. Among them are:

  • Wi-Fi or cellular access to the internet
  • A battery that powers the device for several hours
  • A physical or onscreen keyboard for entering information
  • Size and weight that allows it to be carried in one hand and manipulated with the other hand
  • Touch-screen interface in almost all cases
  • A virtual assistant, like Siri, Cortana or Google Assistant 
  • The ability to download data from the internet, including apps and books
  • Wireless operation

Smartphones Are Everywhere

Smartphones have taken our society by storm. If you don't already have one, you want one. Examples include the iPhone and Android phones, including the Google Pixel line.

Hand holding an iPhone

Smartphones are advanced versions of traditional cell phones in that they have the same features as cell phones — such as the ability to make and receive phone calls, text messages and voicemail — but they can also be used to browse the internet, send and receive email, participate in social media and shop online. 

They also can download apps from the internet using a cellular or Wi-Fi connection to expand the smartphone capabilities in a vast number of ways.


Tablets are portable, like laptops, but they provide a different experience. Instead of running a traditional laptop and desktop computer applications, they run apps designed specifically for tablets. The experience is similar, but not the same as using a laptop computer. Tablets come in all sizes, from slightly larger than a smartphone to the size of a small laptop.

Man scrolling on tablet.

Although you can buy a separate keyboard accessory, tablets come with virtual onscreen keyboards for typing and inputting information. They use touch-screen interfaces, and the familiar mouse is replaced with a tap from a finger. There are many tablet manufacturers of tablets, but among the best-reviewed are Google Pixel, Samsung Galaxy Tab, Nexus, and Apple iPad.


Amazon Kindle eReader

E-readers are specialized tablets that are designed for reading digital books. Those digital books can be purchased or downloaded free from online sources. Well-known e-reader lines include Barnes & Noble Nook, Amazon Kindle and Kobo, all of which are available in several models. You can also read digital books on tablets that have an ebook app installed. For example, Apple's iPad ships with iBooks and supports downloadable apps to read Nook, Kindle and Kobo digital books. 

Other Mobile Devices

Some portable music players have access to the internet and can download apps to enhance their value to their owners. Apple's iPod touch is an iPhone without the phone. In all other respects, it offers the same experience. Sony's high-end Walkman is a luxurious audio player with Android streaming apps.

PDAs, the business person's best friend for years, fell out of favor with the introduction of smartphones, but some are being reimagined with Wi-Fi access and with rugged designs that make them useful to the military and people who work outdoors.

Smart watch

Wearables, like smartwatches and fitness trackers, are among the newest additions to the mobile device landscape. Many are powered by the same mobile operating systems as phones and tablets, and they're capable of running their own apps. Most wearable devices are made to pair with another mobile device, like a smartphone to share data and create an altogether more convenient experience.

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