Smart Phone, Tablet, or Both – Advantages & Disadvantages.

If you are in the market for a smart phone but considering a tablet, How do you choose?  What are the advantages and disadvantages?

Upfront I’m going to tell you – I have both, an Android (Galaxy III) Smart Phone, and a Nexus 7 tablet (that’s also Android OS).  Both have their advantages and disadvantages.

Smart phone

The biggest advantage of a smart phone is portability.  Even a largish one (my Galaxy III is 5 1/2 inches by 3 inches) is easy to carry in a purse, pocket, or cell phone purse or holster.  They don’t feel heavy or bulky to carry every day, all the time.  The biggest disadvantage of smart phones is cost – not simply the initial cost, but the monthly service plan can be a bit steep.

The biggest advantage of a tablet – the large clear screen – is also it’s disadvantage – tablets are heavy and bulky.  I find it nearly impossible to carry mine everywhere.  Though the fact that I have a smart phone that duplicates most of the apps on the tablet means I don’t need to carry the tablet daily.  And it’s still small and light enough to take with you when travelling.  Tablets are much smaller than laptops.  Another big advantage of tablets is price — tablets are much, much cheaper than smart phones, and since most only have a wireless connection, there is no pricey monthly contract.  Pay your $150 – $300 and you are done.

I’ve discussed choosing a smart phone, so now I will discuss choosing a tablet.  For specifics on choosing a smart phone, kindly see this post:

Like smart phones, the most important choice when choosing a tablet is OS.  However, the OS choices are a bit more complicated.  Today’s color tablets arose out of the E-reader market, with computer and cell phone manufacturers following after.  Therefore, the choices are more complex.


Kindle – by Amazon.  At first simply a black-and-white e-reader only, Amazon now not only sells the “Paperwhite” for books only, but a full HD-capable “Fire” tablet.  They sell two sizes, 7” and 8.9”.  Amazon is also the only tablet company to support textbooks (that I know of), so if you are buying a tablet for a high school or college student, check with your student’s school, but Kindle may be your only choice. Amazon uses it’s own proprietary format for e-books.  However, their store is huge and also includes rentals.


Nook – by Barnes and Noble.  Running a close second to Amazon, Barnes and Noble has also been in the e-reader business for a long time, starting with black and white e-readers only.  The newest Nooks are color, with HD screens and Wi-Fi.  The Nook also comes in 7 and 9 inch sizes. Barnes and Noble uses the EPUB format for books, however it includes proprietary DRM.  Still, if you primarily want to read books, and download free ones from publishers or websites like Project Gutenberg, the Nook supports the common EPUB format, while Kindle does not.

The new Kindle and Nook tablets have some support for apps, such as Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail — but they do not have access to all Android applications.


Ipad by Apple was the first tablet by a computer maker.  The larger iPad has a nearly 10” display, while the iPad mini has a 7” display.  The apps for IPad came from the iTunes store and everything is Apple Proprietary formats.  Also, as with everything from Apple – Ipads are much more expensive than other tablets.

Android Tablets

Google, as they do for smart phones, allows several companies to make Android OS-compatible tablets. Therefore, specs change based on the specific tablet.  Samsung, for example makes both 10” and 7” Android tablets.  I have a Google Nexus 7 (7” inch) Android tablet, and I’m very happy with it.  About a year after buying one for myself, I bought my mother one for Christmas to replace the black and white Nook I’d bought her a few years ago.  She uses it constantly.

Windows Surface

Microsoft’s Windows surface is brand new to the tablet market.  To me it seems more like a thin laptop with a detachable keyboard, and a touch screen, rather than a true tablet. Surface also uses the Windows 8 operating system.  I know very little about it – sorry.

Specifics for Tablets

First – consider how will you use it?  Do you primarily want a e-reader?  Will you play games? Watch TV shows and movies? Use it as a portable computer? Give some serious thought as to why you want a tablet.

For me, personally – I wanted an e-reader upgrade and a portable social networking tool.  The idea of blogging anywhere, anytime, appeals to me.  My previous e-reader was a Sony black and white reader.  I choose to go with Android – and then after looking at Samsung tablets at Best Buy I got the Nexus from Staples.  That was purely based on price and my deciding I wanted a 7 inch not a 9 or 10 inch tablet.  I went with Nexus because it is a full Android OS, which means I could download any app from the “Google Play” store I wanted, and any Android App from websites I frequent. Because I went with Google – I was able to download the Kindle App, the Nook app, the Sony app (recently replaced with Kobo), and it came with Google Books – all for reading e-books.  I also, after a few false starts found a great general EPUB reader for non-DRM locked e-books, called Aldiko.  Aldiko also supports reading Adobe .pdfs and allows you to create “collections” (categories) of books, though they must be created in the app.  And I have Adobe Reader too.

The second category of apps I have are social networking and blogging apps – I have Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google Blogger, Live-Journal (third party app), Linked-IN, Google Plus, Flipboard, WordPress, and GoodReads.  I do like blogging and using Social Network platforms.

The third category of apps I have I loosely call, “utilities” – but that covers a wide range of really useful things.  I will list below with brief comments.  I’ll try to keep this alphabetical.

Calculator – Basic one that came with the Nexus.

Cool Tip Calculator – Figures out tips.

Color Note – Post-It and List app

Evernote – Awesome sync note-taking app.  I have it on my phone, tablet, and the PC version (which is FREE if you download the free app first.  If you buy the PC version first – you have to pay for it).  I’m not a fan of daily To Do lists – but I do like making lists and notes of things to organize my life.  With Evernote – I can make a note wherever I want, on any device, and it syncs them automatically.  It’s also handy, tho’ limited, for keeping track of appointments.

Comixology/DC Comics – e-comic readers.

Dictionary – Exactly what it sounds like, this one is from Dictionary.Com and works both on and off line.

Fandango – Although you can use it to buy movie tickets, I primarily use it to get the times for showings at my local theaters – and to find theaters when travelling.

IMDB – The Internet Movie Database app.  I have a movie review blog and a keen interest in film.  I’m on the IMDB website constantly at home.  The app, slims down the site into a mobile-friendly version.

WPS Office (was Kingsoft Office) – a free app that’s AWESOME – you can import, read, and edit Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and read only .pdf documents using it. Totally awesome, and free (and no ads).  Don’t pay lots of money for a mobile version of Microsoft Office – get this.  Kingsoft office also does an excellent job of interpreting the directory structure of the Nexus – I never have trouble finding files I’ve dropped into my Nexus folders using the USB direct method OR documents I’ve uploaded via “the cloud” using Google Drive.

NOAA Weather Free – Full weather stats (temp, humidity, wind speed, wind chill, dew point, etc) and weather warnings.  Everything is direct from NOAA.

One Note – Microsoft’s notebook software.  I bought it because I use One Note on my PC, then discovered I had to use Microsoft Sky Drive to upload files.  Side loading not allowed.  When, I later discovered Evernote, I found it to be much better.

World Clock (app and widget) – to be honest, I’m still looking for a good one of these, the two I have are clunky.  I want I nice, programmable world clock where I can choose 4-5 cities, and even have digital time strips on my home page.  Is that so hard?  Still the app I have works, it’s just annoying to have to open it to get the time.

Yelp – Find it app. – Type what you are looking for into Yelp (restaurant, coffee shop, gas station, Starbucks, etc.) and Yelp will list the nearest options.  Works with both general terms and name brands.  If you can get a good enough signal to use it while travelling – it’s invaluable.

Milk (Samsung only) and Pandora – Streaming music apps.  Type in a few suggestions (musicians or tracks) and these create a personal “station” for you.

Nexus being directly from Google – I have various the Google apps, some of which I use and some I don’t.  I also have some games on my tablet, which I use – though I do tend to get bored eventually.

The thing is with tablets – you can personalize to your hearts content.  Love music?  I’m sure there are plenty of music apps.  Into art, drawing and photo manip?  I’m sure there are apps for those too.

Once you purchase a tablet, reading a few “best app” columns in magazines, websites, or blogs can point you towards new things.

Accessories for your tablet

1.  Bluetooth keyboard. — If you plan to do a lot of typing, such as writing a blog or even heavy social networking, an external keyboard is a must.

2. Stylus – makes tapping the on-screen keyboard easier and more precise, especially if you have arthritis.

3. Case(s) – A slip-on case to protect the tablet and screen, and/or a carrying case that not only holds the tablet but all your accessories is important.

In the end, I found I like having both a smart phone and a tablet.  The phone is portable and has a 3G/4G connection that always works.  The tablet has a large screen, is a great reader, and works as a portable mini-computer (tho’ it needs Wi-Fi to be useful).

How to Choose a Smart Phone

Step 1 – Choose your Operating System (OS).

The OS is the most important decision you need to make when buying a smartphone.  Just like the OS for a PC (Windows, Mac, or Linux) – the OS for a cell phone determines what you can do with the phone.  The OS determines what programs (called “apps” short for applications) you can buy or download for free.  And it’s the OS that determines what models of phone you can actually buy.  Also, even when you decide to replace an old phone, your initial choice of OS is important, because chances are you will want to stay with that OS, even though the model of phone you buy might change.

The four cell phone OS’s are:

  • Android (Google)
  • iPhone (Apple)
  • Blackberry
  • Windows Phone (Microsoft)

Android and iPhone are considered primarily consumer phones, while Blackberry and Windows Phone are aimed at “business people”.  However, you can buy whatever system you want.

I personally have an Android phone, and I would recommend it.  There are thousands, perhaps millions, of apps available for Android, and the vast majority of them are free.  From what I understand, iPhone apps are only available from the iTunes Store, suggesting that you have to pay for them.  And most popular apps (such as Facebook and Twitter) come in both Android and iPhone versions.  Also, as far as I know, all smartphones, regardless of OS can be integrated with your PC.  An iPhone syncs with iTunes.  My Android, plugs in to my computer’s USB port and I can drag and drop files (music, pictures, e-books, etc) in either direction.

Step 2 – Choose your provider

The second major choice you have when purchasing a smartphone is provider.  You want to go with a national provider – this will allow you to use your phone anywhere in the US and to call any number while staying within your plan.  It used to be that cell phones were tied to a particular provider (if you wanted an iPhone, you were stuck with ATT for example).  Now, however, most major providers carry a wide variety of Android, iPhone phones and other phones such as the newer Windows Phone or various Blackberry models.

The best thing to do is to research providers on-line.  Don’t be swayed by the pretty pictures of new cell phones – remember, whoever you choose you can probably get the same or similar models of phones.

Do consider actual service (the ability to use your phone) when choosing a provider.  If you live in a major metropolitan area and plan to only use your phone in major cities – any provider will do.  However, if you live in a rural area, travel a lot, or own vacation property, be sure to run some tests.  Find out what providers your friends and family have and what they do and do not like about their service.

When you do go in to purchase your phone and sign your service plan contract, find out what the return policy is – you should be able to return the phone and cut your contract within 30 days without any financial penalty.  If you live in a rural area – ask about coverage.

Step 3 – Choose your Plan – Items to Consider

When comparing providers, compare plans carefully, and be wary of hidden charges.  Read the fine print.

Smart phones tend to have a hefty monthly bill attached.  Be sure you understand one time fees (purchase of the phone, perhaps an initial sign-up fee), and monthly reoccurring charges.  Ask about additional data charges.  Ask about text message charges.  Make sure you know what is, and is not, covered.  Most US national plans, are just that – US plans, if you travel internationally (even to Canada or Mexico) you may need to purchase an international plan, or additional coverage.  Check on the cost.

That said, there are some “pay as you go” smart phones.  And there are some bargain and lower-rate carriers.  Be sure you known what you are and are not getting.

Overall, smart phones are fun, and useful.  I’m on my second.  My first was a Palm Pre, and my current is a Samsung Galaxy III Android phone.  Once you discover the convenience of having the Internet in your pocket, you won’t go back.