So, what is a smartphone?


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So, what is a smartphone?

A couple out and about taking a selfie

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In this activity, we're going to look at the basic features of a smartphone. You'll learn what a smartphone can do, how all the parts work, and how to make a call.

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What a smartphone looks like

Most smartphones look like a tablet, only small enough to fit in your pocket.

A smartphone has a large, glass screen which, like a tablet, is a touchscreen. You can tap and swipe your fingers across the screen to control a range of things on a smartphone.

There are two main types of smartphone: Android and Apple's iPhone. They look similar and do the same things … just a bit differently.

An example of a typical smartphone
An example of a typical smartphone

Parts of a smartphone

Let's take a tour of a smartphone and learn about the main parts.

The main part of the phone is the touchscreen, which takes up most of the front of the phone. It looks and feels like glass, and is sensitive to your touch.

A close up of someone using their smartphone to surf the internet

Using the touchscreen

The touchscreen on a smartphone (just like on a tablet) is very sensitive and can be used with basic gentle touches of your fingertips, known as gestures.

The next few panels have short demonstration videos of key gestures including how to tap, swipe and scroll. These videos demonstrate gestures on a tablet, but they are exactly the same as you would use on a smartphone.

A touchscreen being operated using a single tap

How to tap

The tap is one of the most common finger movements you can use on a touchscreen. Tapping on the screen with any finger can open an application, photo or website.

On the next panel is a short demonstration of tapping on a touchscreen. Click Continue below and then click anywhere on the video to start watching.

How to tap on a touchscreen - video demonstration

A touchscreen being operated using a swipe

How to swipe

Another common touchscreen gesture is the swipe.

To turn a page, you might swipe with one finger across the screen in the direction to want to turn the page. You can think of it like turning the page in a book.

The swipe can also be used to browse through a gallery of photos or images.

On the next panel is a short demonstration of swiping on a touchscreen. Click Continue below and then click anywhere on the video to start watching.

How to swipe on a touchscreen - video demonstration

A touchscreen being operated using a scroll gesture

How to scroll

Just like on a laptop and desktop computer, sometimes a document or web page is too tall to fit on the screen. This is where you can use a finger to scroll the page up or down.

To scroll a page, gently place your finger on the screen and slide it up and down to scroll.

On the next panel is a short demonstration of scrolling on a touchscreen. Click Continue below and then click anywhere on the video to start watching.

How to scroll on a touchscreen - video demonstration

Other smartphone controls

Buttons and sockets around the edge of a smartphone are used to turn the phone on and off, to control the volume, and to charge the phone's battery.

A smarthphone with the location of buttons and plugs highlighted with arrows
The back of a smartphone with the location of the camera highlighted

A smartphone is a camera, too

At the very top of the touchscreen is a tiny camera lens used for video chatting.

Depending on what type of smartphone you have, the camera can be in the top left-hand corner, at the top in the middle, or in the top right-hand corner of the screen.

Another camera on the back of the phone can be used for taking photos, just like a digital camera.

The built-in battery

Inside the smartphone is a battery, which can last several hours before running out of power. Connecting the smartphone to mains power can recharge the battery.

A smartphone with the battery low symbol highlighted
A smartphone with the power button location indicated by an arrow

Turning a smartphone on and off

To turn a smartphone on, you press the power button. This is usually located on the side of the phone.

The screen turns off if you don't use the smartphone for a while, but it's only sleeping, so is still using battery power.

How you turn the phone off completely depends on what type of phone you have. On some models, you press and hold the power button until you see the prompts to switch the phone off. For other types of phones, you press the power button in combination with the volume down button to see and follow the prompts.

Unlocking a smartphone

To stop your smartphone accidentally activating when in your bag or pocket, and also to protect your information, smartphones should be set up to automatically lock the screen when not in use.

To use the phone again, you will first need to enter your secure code into the phone's lock screen. Some smartphones can also be unlocked using fingerprint or facial recognition technology.

A typical lock screen on a smartphone
A smartphone with a web page displayed

What can a smartphone do?

The modern smartphone can do nearly as many things as a full-sized computer. Programs, called applications, or apps, allow it to do specific tasks, such as make calls or send text messages. Other things you might do with a smartphone include:

  • video chat with friends
  • listen to music or play games
  • browse the internet
  • send and receive emails
  • navigate with maps
  • social networking
  • make lists and calendar appointments.

Mobile phone plans

To use a smartphone, you need to have a mobile phone plan from a provider, such as Telstra, Optus or Vodaphone. These plans have a monthly cost and allow you to make calls and access, or browse, the internet. Some mobile phone plans can include the cost of the phone handset in the monthly price.

There is usually a limit on how much calling and internet browsing you can do per month, depending on your mobile phone plan's data allowance. You can find out more about mobile phone plans and data in our All about data courses.

A smartphone showing a monthly telephone plan and how much it costs

How to make a call

To make a call with a smartphone, you tap the phone icon on the screen. You can then make a call by either:

  • Typing a number into the onscreen keypad.
  • Choosing someone from your contacts list.

Let's see how you might make a phone call on a smartphone. Click on the Continue button and press play to watch the short video on making a call.

A smartphone onscreen keypad ready to enter a phone number

Making a call

This demonstration video is approximately 59 seconds in duration. It demonstrates how to return to use the touchscreen to make a call on a smartphone.

Once the video starts, the intro panel fades and we see the screen is split into two parts. On the left-hand side is an animation of a typical smartphone, such as an iPhone or Android phone. On the right-hand side, there is text displayed, which is the script for the voiceover track.

Voiceover: "To make a call using the keypad, tap on the Phone icon."

The left-hand panel updates to zoom in to the bottom half of the smartphone to show the green Phone icon being tapped. The smartphone screen updates to show the activated Phone app.

Voiceover: "Then, tap on the Keypad button to bring up the Keypad on the screen."

The left-hand panel updates to show the Keypad screen displayed.

Voiceover: "You can dial by tapping the numbers on the Keypad."

The left-hand panel updates to show numbers being tapped to make up a phone number.

Voiceover: "When you're ready, tap on the green Call button to make the call."

The left-hand panel updates to show the green Call button being tapped, and a phone call being made to Mary.

Voiceover: "To call a contact from your Contact list, tap the Contacts button."

The left-hand panel updates to show the Contacts button being tapped and the Contacts list appearing on the screen.

Voiceover: "Then, tap on the name of the person you want to call. Their contact details will appear."

The left-hand panel updates to show Mary's name being tapped, and Mary's contact details appear.

Voiceover: "You can tap on the Call button to call that person using the stored phone number."

The left-hand panel updates to show the Call button being tapped, and

Video ends.


You've completed the What is a smartphone? activity.

As you have seen, smartphones are much more than just a device for talking. The modern smartphone is really a complete little computer, capable of doing just about anything a computer can do.

Next up, we're going to look at How to charge a smartphone.

A close up of a login screen on a smartphone