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 computer, 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 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.

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

At the very top of the touchscreen is a tiny camera 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.

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 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, can be obtained to help it do more. Some of the things you might do with a smartphone include:

  • Make phone calls or video chat.
  • Listen to music or play games.
  • Browse the internet.
  • Text and email.
  • Navigate with maps.
  • Social networking.
  • Make lists and calendar appointments.

Phone services

To use a smartphone, you need to have a mobile phone plan. These usually have a monthly cost and allow you to make calls and use, or surf, the internet. Many mobile phone services actually include the cost of the phone in the monthly price.

There is usually a limit on how much calling and surfing you can do per month, depending on your mobile phone plan. Talk to your mobile phone provider to discuss what plan would work best for you.

A smartphone showing a monthly telephone plan and how much it costs
A smartphone with the power button location indicated by an arrow

Turning a smartphone on and off

To turn the smartphone phone on, 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. To turn the phone completely off, press the power button again.

At the Lock screen, you can tap or swipe to unlock the smartphone, ready for use. If the Lock screen uses a security code, however, you will need to enter it to unlock the phone. Some smartphones can also use fingerprint or facial recognition to unlock.

A typical lock screen on a smartphone
A close up of someone using their smartphone to surf the internet

Using the touchscreen

The touchscreen on a smartphone works just like the touchscreen on a tablet. You may have learnt all about how to tap, swipe and scroll with your fingers in the previous What is a tablet? course. You can look at it after this activity to refresh your memory on how to use a touchscreen.

How to make a call

Of course, a smartphone can still make phone calls.

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 laptop 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