Device Selection

Choose a tablet or phone

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Everyone has different needs so when choosing a device it is important to make sure you consider everything that is important to yourself.
Tablets and mobile phones have a range of prices that to some degree reflect their performance. (iPad is the brand name for Apple tablets. The generic term 'tablet' is used here to include all brands of devices)
Devices with a premium price will have lots of features, but will you use them to advantage?

Similarly, budget pricing may be attractive but a device that has frustrating features will not always offset the savings made.
While many mobile phones and tablets use Android as their operating system, the manufacturers can customise it and it may include many apps that you do not need.

It is also possible that cheaper mobile phones or tablets will have:

  • slower performance of apps because of cheaper computing chip
  • poor touch response on their cheaper screens
  • average reception performance in difficult areas or average WiFi performancee
  • less memory making it harder to add extra apps and little space for your own photos
  • an older version of the operating system which cannot be updated and which will prevent some newer apps from being used

Preferably try before you buy so that you know if the device performance suits you as some cheaper phones or tablets do perform well.

It is even more difficult if the device you are choosing is the first one you have owned as you are not sure of your needs!
In this case it may be better to purchase a good quality used device, try using one that a friend owns, or see if you can get a 'hand me down' from family or friend to learn how the devices behave.

Technology as Fashion

The mobile phone in popular culture has become a status indicator. Surveys have shown that many consider the mobile phone to be the most important status item that they own. For further reading click here or here

This just means that suppliers will charge much higher prices for a perceived status value, especially now that overall mobile phone sales are declining. Be aware of this issue to avoid salespeople attempting to up-sell a more expensive device that does not provide for your personal needs.
It may in fact be easier to negotiate a discount on a mid-range device to your own advantage, but it still may be a better deal to source a handset as part of a plan. (see discussion below)

Technical Details

RAM and Storage Memory (Mobile Phones)

A critical choice is for the working memory (RAM) and the storage memory size of the mobile phone.
Once chosen, the working memory or RAM is fixed. Bigger is better here as this affects speed of the phone.

Some cheaper models come with 1GB of RAM. It is suggested that 3-4GB is preferable for speed and flexibility.

Phone manufacturers also have fixed storage memory with no expansion possible. This means that once full, you have to off-load photos or apps to get the space back to keep working. Larger memory phones can be purchased so you have to know in advance how much you might use. Here are some suggestions:

  • For general use with social media and photos, 8 GB of storage will be tight, but OK if you mainly just want to make phone calls.
  • Memory of 16GB should be adequate for most senior use, provided you manage photos, removing old ones to storage periodically.
  • For social media with lots of use for family and friends and lots of camera or video use, 32 GB would be preferred.
  • Above 32 GB would be for heavy users and business users.

For many new mobile phones today, 32GB is the norm so mostly seniors should have adequate capacity with this size or above.

A number of manufacturers of Android phones do provide expansion slots for 'micro SD' memory cards.
These are a relatively low cost way of expanding the capacity of the phone.
A 32 GB phone could have an extra 32GB for under $30 and an extra 64GB for about $40.
The micro SD memory card slides into a slot at the side of the phone sometimes requiring removal of the back cover.

RAM and Storage Memory (Tablets)

RAM size is important, as for mobile phones, but here 2-3 GB is satisfactory, but more is useful but not essential.
Storage memory of 16-32 GB is suggested, depending on usage.

For tablets, storage may be more heavily used than mobile phones if used for magazines, e-readers, photo storage or general computing needs.

Cellular or WiFi?

A mobile phone will not be a phone without a cellular connection so it will always have SIM card provision.
Mobile phones always have WiFi fitted as standard.

Tablets have WiFi as standard and can have a SIM card provision but this is at extra cost, often substantial. The SIM card in this case provides data from the cellular phone network. A tablet can be connected to the cellular network via a mobile phone so it is questionable whether the extra cost of a SIM provision is justified. Unless the tablet is used instead of a home computer and there is no NBN connection, the SIM is hard to justify.

IT Terms

What does all this Megabyte (MB) and Gigabyte (GB) stuff mean? Click here to find out!
What about Megapixels and cameras? Click here to find out!
Other IT words? Click here to find out!

Which Brand?

There are many brands of mobile phone, over 120 as of 2019, from Acer to ZTE. Note that many brands share parts suppliers and manufacturing facilities so there may not be a lot of difference between many models of differing brands.


Tablets have less variations but still there are still over 60 brands as of 2019.

No one brand of mobile phone or tablet can be recommended here as every person has differing needs. Note that there is very little functional difference between Apple and Android phones but a substantial difference between the 'cheap' and the 'premium' products of all brands.

Consider the comments above about performance and choose something that suits your needs and budget. Keep in mind especially the comments about the cheaper end of the ranges as many of these devices may disappoint in terms of performance, reliability and battery life.

Choose a phone or data plan

It is tempting to choose a non-contract, pay-as-you-use plan (often labelled 'Pre-paid) and these can often provide good options.
You will usually need your own mobile phone handset to use a Pre-paid plan and the cost of such a handset must be considered in the overall cost comparison.

It is possible however, that you may be able to purchase a handset within a contracted plan with the same or more benefits as the pre-paid.
This is done to encourage commitment to a provider for at least 24 months.

Note though, that the phone handset purchased under such a contract will be locked to the contracted provider for the contract period.

The reality is that it is not very clear which options will give the best value for money and it really requires some careful research.

There are three main things you are concerned with on a mobile phone plan:

  • How many calls and length of calls will you make; because not all plans allow unlimited calls and mobile call costs are significant.
  • How much data do you need; because it may be that a modest plan will be enough if you use little data for internet.
  • How much data can you access from home wifi or on business free-wifi to avoid large data usage as you will need some data to update apps.

Mobile phone data usage must be provided as part of the provider service so that you can determine how much you are using before you overrun your monthly limit. Be aware that many apps are using data even when you are not accessing them. This is because the apps are checking if they need updating, sending user information and other actions that may be necessary for their functioning. This means that there will be some data use no matter how frugal you try to be.

Consider also if you intend to use your mobile phone to provide cellular data to a tablet that you may need to purchase extra data for this purpose.

Can a tablet or smartphone replace a desktop or laptop computer?

The answer to this question is both Yes and No! It really depends what you want to do that will determine if a tablet or smartphone is adequate for your technology needs or if you need a computer. Certainly both tablets and smartphones are as powerful as desktop computers were some years ago.

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If you only need to do the things listed below, then a smartphone or tablet should be adequate:

  • Basic wordprocessor
  • Very basic spreadsheets
  • Internet browsing
  • Email
  • Social Media

A tablet or smartphone is rather limited for these things:

  • Ease of keyboarding, mouse, graphics tablets - can be linked to smartphones or tablets but rather defeats the purpose of a compact device
  • Large screen, multi-screen - a larger display or multiple monitors usually require higher performance graphics
  • Large storage capacity - cloud computing can extend storage, but a larger computer can run multiple large hard drives with rapid access
  • Powerful computing - when the task is computing intensive the tablet or smartphone will struggle
  • Complex wordprocessor, spreadsheet, presentations - eg Books, finance, statistics/analytics; being able to see what you are doing and edit and save rapidly
  • Database - database management usually requires power and visual space to see data linkages
  • Desktop publishing - graphics management and page layout make demands on graphics computing
  • Graphic arts - digital illustration and the like generally requires computing power and larger screen size
  • Photo or video editing - large photo-image adjustment or video rendering requires high performance graphics, fast computing, screen colour accuracy and large storage
  • Gaming - probably the most demanding computing task is high performance games
  • Multiple peripherals - it may be much easier to access a range of external devices using a computer: printers, scanners, USB devices, cameras and so on, may not have software to link to smartphones or tablets or if available it may be quite limited in function.

For a more detailed comparison click here.

To go to the next basic skill click here

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