What Is a Mobile Device?

Smartphones, tablets, and e-readers are all mobile devices

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

Child using a smartphone while on a sofa

Yagi Studio / Digital Vision / Getty Images

Characteristics of Mobile Devices

Mobile devices have similar characteristics. Among them are:

  • Wi-Fi or cellular access to the internet or a Bluetooth connection to another device.
  • A battery that powers the device for several hours.
  • A physical or on-screen keyboard for entering information.
  • The size and weight allow it to be carried in one hand and manipulated with the other hand.
  • Touchscreen interface in almost all cases.
  • A virtual assistant, such as Siri, Cortana, or Google Assistant.
  • The ability to download data, such as apps or books, from the internet or another device.
  • Wireless operation.

Smartphones Are Everywhere

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

Hand holding an iPhone

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

Most mobile devices can also download apps from the internet using a cellular or Wi-Fi connection to expand their capabilities in a number of ways.


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

Person scrolling on a tablet.


Although you can buy a separate keyboard accessory, tablets come with virtual on-screen keyboards for typing and inputting information. They use touchscreen interfaces, and the familiar mouse is replaced with a tap from a finger or stylus.

There are many tablet manufacturers. Popular tablets include Microsoft Surface Go, Samsung Galaxy Tablet, Fire HD 10, Lenovo Tab M10, and Apple iPad.


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. 

Amazon Kindle eReader



Smartwatches and fitness trackers are among the newest additions to the mobile device landscape. Many of these wearables are powered by the same or similar mobile operating systems as phones and tablets, and they're capable of running their own apps.

Smart watch


Most wearable devices are made to pair with another mobile device, such as a smartphone, to share data and create a more convenient experience. Popular smartwatches include the Apple Watch, Samsung Galaxy Watch3, and Fitbit Sense. Fitness trackers include Fitbit Charge 3, Garmin Forerunner 3, and Amazon Halo.

Other Mobile Devices

Some portable music players have access to the internet and can download apps to enhance their value to their owners. For example, the Apple 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 rugged designs that make them useful to the military and people who work outdoors.

  • What is a mobile hotspot?

    A mobile hotspot is a local Wi-Fi network created by ​a mobile device. You can make a mobile hotspot with your phone using your Android or iPhone's cellular data.

  • What is the purpose of a digitizer in a mobile device?

    The digitizer is a layer of glass above the LCD that converts analog signals (your touch commands) into digital signals the device can understand. If your touch screen isn't working, it could be due to a broken digitizer.

  • How do mobile devices identify my geographical location?

    Mobile apps like Google Maps and Tinder rely on your device's built-in GPS to keep track of your location. Some apps, like Pokémon GO, use geolocation as well.

  • What is mobile device management?

    Mobile device management, or MDM, is business jargon for the various strategies companies use to manage mobile devices used by employees. MDM is essential when employees use their personal devices to conduct official company business.

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