What is a mobile device?

A mobile device is basically any handheld computer. It is designed to be extremely portable, often fitting in the palm of your hand or in your pocket. Some mobile devices are more powerful, and they allow you to do many of the same things you can do with a desktop or laptop computer. These include tablet computers, e-readers, and smartphones.

Tablet computers

about mobile device
about mobile device

Like laptops, tablet computers are designed to be portable. However, they provide a different computing experience. The most obvious difference is that tablet computers don’t have keyboards or touchpads. Instead, the entire screen is touch-sensitive, allowing you to type on a virtual keyboard and use your finger as a mouse pointer.

Tablet computers can’t necessarily do everything traditional computers can do. For many people, a traditional computer like a desktop or laptop is still needed in order to use some programs. However, the convenience of a tablet computer means it may be ideal as a second computer. Below are some of the main features you can expect with a tablet computer.

  • Mobile OS: Different types of tablets use different operating systems. Examples include Android and iOS. You’ll usually be able to download free updates to your OS as they become available.
  • Solid-state drives: Tablet computers usually use solid-state drives, which allow the computer to boot up and open programs more quickly. They are also more durable than hard disk drives.
  • Wi-Fi and 3G/4G: Because they are optimized for Internet use, tablet computers have built-in Wi-Fi. For a monthly fee, you can also purchase a 3G or 4G data plan, allowing you to access the Internet from almost anywhere.
  • Bluetooth: In order to save space, tablet computers have very few ports. If you want to use an external keyboard or other peripherals, they will often use a wireless Bluetooth connection. 


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  • E-Book readers

    E-book readers—also called e-readers—are similar to tablet computers, except they are mainly designed for reading e-books (digital, downloadable books). Examples include the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook.

    E-book readers have either an e-paper display or an LCD display.

    • E-Paper: Short for electronic paper, this type of display can usually only display black and white. It is designed to look a lot like an actual page in a book. Unlike an LCD display, it is not backlit, so the text stays readable even if you’re outdoors in full sun. Many people consider e-paper to be more pleasant to read because it causes less eye strain. However, it generally can’t be used for videos or other applications because the refresh rate is too low.
      A Kindle e-reader with an e-paper display
    • LCD: This is the same type of screen found on tablet computers and laptops. It’s more versatile than e-paper, but it’s often more difficult to view in bright sunlight because the image becomes washed out. Because an LCD screen can display colors, this type of e-reader is better for viewing magazines and books with photos. Many LCD e-readers (such as the Nook Color) are basically tablet computers because they can perform many different tasks in addition to displaying e-books.
      A Nook Color with an LCD display

    You don’t need an e-reader to read an e-book. E-books can usually be read on tablet computers, smartphones, laptops, and desktops.

  • Smartphones

    Image of Android phone

    A smartphone is a powerful mobile phone that is designed to run a variety of applications in addition to providing phone service. Smartphones are basically small tablet computers, and they can be used for web browsing, watching videos, reading e-books, and playing games.

    Smartphones use touchscreens and operating systems similar to those used by tablet computers. Many of them use a virtual keyboard, but others have a physical keyboard, which allows the entire screen to be used for display purposes.

    Internet access is an important feature of smartphones. Generally, you will need to purchase a 3G, 4G, or LTE data plan in addition to normal cell service. Smartphones can also connect to Wi-Fi when it is available; this allows you to use the Internet without using up your monthly data allotment.

    3G, 4G, and LTE—sometimes called 4G LTE—are different types of networks for cell phones. 3G is the slowest of the three networks, but it is also the most widely used. 4G has the potential to be much faster than 3G, but most phones are not yet equipped to use it. 4G networks are also not available everywhere—you’re more likely to be able to use one if you live in a big city. LTE is the most recent version of 4G. As more phones become 4G compatible, the number of people who use 4G and LTE networks will likely grow.

  • Challenge!

    • Think about how a tablet computer is different from a laptop. What are some advantages and disadvantages to using a tablet?
    • If you’re thinking about buying an e-reader, think about what types of things you like to read. Do you mostly read books or magazines? What type of screen do you think would be best?
    • Smartphones can have virtual keyboards or physical keyboards. What are some advantages and disadvantages to each one?