What is the Difference Between a Cell Phone & a Smartphone?

By J.T. Barett

Technology for mobile devices is one of the most rapidly-changing areas in consumer electronics, making terms such as *cell phone* and *smartphone* difficult to pin down. However, most people use cell phones primarily for phone calls, whereas smart phones, according to Techradar, are treated as Internet appliances, with voice calls being almost incidental. Choosing between a standard cell phone or smartphone comes down to whether calls are more important to you or if handy Internet access is worth the extra money.

Microprocessor and Storage

Although both cellphones and smartphones possess computing power undreamt-of a few decades ago, the latter typically has faster, more capable microprocessors and more memory. Demanding applications such as photography, video and games have made faster processors essential. Some models have dozens of gigabytes of memory to save large music and video libraries as well as databases and apps. On the other hand, the processor for a cell phone is simpler and suited to the lesser demands of phone calls and basic apps.


Cell phones and smartphones both have apps -- programs that make the phone more useful. Cell phone apps include games, contact managers and text messaging programs. The apps on smartphones are much more elaborate, as they take advantage of the phone’s faster processor, greater memory and Internet connection. Over a million smartphone apps cater to needs both basic and advanced. In addition to more sophisticated versions of the apps seen on standard cell phones, they have apps for musical performance, photo editing, finance, social media and other uses too numerous to mention.

Display Size and Type

Smartphones typically have larger displays than their more utilitarian cousins. The bigger screen gives apps more visual space for graphics and lets you enjoy movies, video and other media. The display doubles as a touch-sensitive screen for interface controls such as sliders and buttons. The screen on a cell phone is used primarily to view phone numbers and text messages, although many can handle simple games, appointment calendars and contact lists.

Network Connections

A cell phone’s main network connection is for voice calls, although many have a Bluetooth short-range data link to support hands-free calling. A smartphone has these network connections, plus *3G/4G* data and *Wi-Fi*. Some have a technology called *Near-Field Communications*, letting you use a phone as an intelligent credit card. Cellular service providers combine voice and data plans for smartphone users; going over your monthly data allowance can add significantly to your bill. Internet access is available using cellular data wherever a cell tower is in range. Accessing the Internet via Wi-Fi, on the other hand, is usually free, although the range of the service is confined to homes and businesses that provide it.