Even though so far smartphones, mobiles par excellance, are leading, it’s better to get ready for Android tablets and netbooks too. This will then be out “zero” distinction.

The first thing you might be interested in is display size. Generally, these are between 2.8 and 4 inches (~7-10 cm). This characteristic affects multimedia mobile phones capabilities, that is displaying photos, videos and above all websites that are not optimized for small screens (this is quite important: in past years mobile industry tried to impose a standard to web designers, but in the end its phone browsers that had to find ways to solve the problem).

Display size is also important if we’re going to use apps that will take this characteristic in account in order to get the best out of it: if we have a 4 inch display but we see an app as if it was on a zoomed 2.8 inch, is it worth? Complain with who developed that app!

Another display characteristic is the definition or resolution or dpi (dots per inch). Here too it’s obvious how this affects device’s multimedia capabilities.

Let’s move to input devices. A touchscreen is a must by now, particularly comfortable on larger displays. There are resistive and capacitive touchscreens: without dipping into details, the former might be more delicate but are more precise and you have a feedback of your pressure (the screen surface bends under pressure); the latter are harder (the best in glass), might be less precise but last longer. Usually only the resistive ones can be used with a stylus (uncommon on cell phones) e only the capacitive ones so far support multitouch (do you like iPhone’s pinch zoom…?). In short… probably better a capacitive screen, as our little fingers eat precision at breakfast.

Due to touchscreen’s intrinsic lack of precision, there are often alternatives: trackball (a “reversed” mouse with an optical ball that you “spin” with your finger), directional pad (typical 4-way button plus center click), and physical keyboard, that even if it often has smaller keys than soft or “virtual” keyboards, offers a better feeling and key recognition at touch (and higher risk that the mechanism of keyboard extraction will get damaged).

Let’s get to networking. By now, technology in this field has come to the phase where you can give it for granted. Almost every phone supports the major cellular technologies (GSM, EDGE, HSDPA) together with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

Today’s smartphones distinguish themselves for particular environmental sensors, such as accelerometers and gyroscopes (giving info about device’s movement and orientation – mostly used to change display’s orientation and as a control in some games), magnetic compasses, thermometers, and proximity sensors (that switch off the display during calls, when your ear is close to the phone).

Let’s get to the battery too, that decides how long we can use our phone during the day before it gives up. This characteristic is usually tested in reviews we find on the Net or in magazines.

If at this point you have chosen the features you need, you can go try out those phones that have them and verify if they seem to be smooth enough in the operations (the heavier are for example watching a video, device’s boot, or opening various apps in rapid succession). This characteristic depends on computing components, basically CPU and RAM. For the record, right now a decent smartphone has a 600MHz processor but they can get to 1GHz too, and dual core CPU are coming, granting smoothness of user interfaces and response times of a higher level.

But then again, these are things that you have to try yourself, don’t trust the numbers because there are many factors that affect smoothness: display resolution (not its size, but the number of points the phone must draw at every refresh), mass storage and RAM employment, the quality of the apps you’re going to use, and also the quality of the customizations that the manufacturer or the carrier have preinstalled on the device (you can’t always remove those components).

Good luck with your choice!