PARENTS

Smartphones Put To The Test

18/10/2012 16:28 | Updated 22 May 2015
Smartphones on testGetty

From emailing the birth announcement to friends and family - before you've even left the hospital - through to returning to work and beyond, a smartphone is essential modern mum kit.

Here, we test five and look at tips on what to look for when choosing - whether it's your first smartphone or you're upgrading to a newer model.

I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say I'd have been lost without my smartphone from the day of my son's arrival. First it was put to good use emailing our proud news, complete with snaps of our little addition (taken on the phone of course)!

Then as the weeks passed, this gadget became the quickest, easiest way to search online for information on those niggly baby care worries in the middle of the night. It was also my social lifeline for keeping in touch with my friends even if I was pinned down on the sofa what felt like 22 hours a day by a feeding baby. It was my tool for sharing all those photos of milestones, from first solids to first steps with the grandparents and my Facebook mates (I probably bored them rigid all with the number of snaps I sent them and posted - sorry!)

Later on, when I started working again part-time, it helped me keep on top of emails from colleagues and bosses even if I wasn't at my desk. With my smartphone literally in hand, I could send quick replies at opportune moments instead of going home at the end of a morning out at a playgroup or playground, and facing a mountain of emails to get through, when actually, my little boy needed his lunch.

Now, he's at school, if I'm a bit early for picking up time or I have five minutes to kill before collecting him from an activity, I can deal with some emails or check what's going on among work contacts (and I confess friends and a few celebs too!) on Twitter.

And of course my seven-year-old has something to entertain him if we're stuck in an unexpectedly long traffic jam, or is bored in the waiting room at the doctors or dentist. It's the way I take photos at sports days and nativity plays – no need for my mum-addled mind (I never did recover from 'baby brain') to even try and remember to bring the camera. There are even mapping apps which are handy for finding our way about on family days out - see, I'd quite literally be lost without my smartphone.

So if it's time for you to switch to a smarter phone from an ordinary handset, or you're looking to upgrade to a newer model, we've put a range of [mid-price] smartphones through their paces to see which one fares best with parents' needs in mind.

"We picked out a range of tasks which we think represent the way families use smartphones in order to test them. "

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These included:

Looking up a recipe online

Taking photos

Searching for train times for an outing

Emailing a work colleague

Making a voice call to grandma (our tester's granny doesn't have the best hearing so needs a clear line!)

Using a map app to find a local attraction

Taking a short video of the children (and watching it afterwards)

Viewing a Word document attached to an email

Other factors we looked at included:

Battery life

The overall look and feel of each phone, including its dimensions and weight.

Child-friendliness - did each phone seem sturdy enough to survive at the hands of a small child (within reason - we didn't test what would happen if the handsets were dropped in the loo bowl by a toddler...).

We also assessed whether older children are able to operate some of the basic functions themselves.

"THE TEST RESULTS"

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£129.95 on pay as you go or free with contracts from £13.

Since having its market share eaten away at by Apple and a host of Android-based competitors, poor old Nokia had fallen out of favour somewhat in recent years. But now they're battling to win back customers and this Windows Phone is part of their armoury.

This new model is the lowest priced handset using this operating system and we were keen to see how it coped with our test tasks.

Having never seen a Windows Phone based model before, we were impressed that it was stlll extremely easy to use from the moment we switched it on - the operating system is very intuitive.

We liked the ability to 'pin a contact' to your home screen – you could have your partner, best friends and close family on there so you can contact them super-quickly, via text, voice call or even Facebook.

Windows Phone does lack the choice of apps that Android has though and although more are being developed all the time, it's questionable whether the numbers could catch up.

A big bonus for us was the Nokia Drive app - whilst most smartphones have free mapping software, this one adds in voice-guided navigation too at no extra cost - perfect to double as a satnav (as long as you can hear it over the din of the kids chattering or squabbling in the back seat).

Pros:

This has a sturdy, quality feel which belies its relatively low cost.

The operating system is well-designed and intuitive to use and the phone comes pre-loaded with Nokia Drive satnav and Microsoft Office Mobile (a scaled down version of MS Office for editing and viewing documents and spreadsheets on the go).

Cons:

Lacks a Micro SD card or the ability to add one for extra storage of photos, videos etc.

There's 8MB of space though, which should be enough unless you'll store a lot of video.

The phone isn't powerful enough to run some of the processor hungry apps out there so watch out if you (or your kids) want to be able to play complicated games on it.

Best for:

Those after a fully functional smartphone which doesn't cost a fortune.

Impressive value for money.

£119.95 on pay as you go or free with contracts from £10.

Bearing more than a passing resemblance to an iPhone, this stylish smartphone certainly looks much more expensive than it is, as it's actually the cheapest of our test phones. Ticks all the basic boxes and at a pleasingly low cost.

Pros:

Combines stylish looks with ease of use right from the start.

Decent keyboard for a touch screen one – it's fairly easy to type on in landscape mode.

We liked the screen orientation sensor.

Comes with a free Office app pre-installed so you can view MS Office work documents.

Cons:

The web browser took a while to get the hang of; moving around the page without clicking on a link.

All of the touch screen phones suffered at the grubby hands of a small child and quickly got covered in fingerprints but this was one of the worst culprits for that.

Best for:

Parents watching the pennies. It's a close call between this and the Nokia.

The Samsung wins for apps but the Nokia pips this at the post for the Windows Phone system and its free satnav and better Office app.

Blackberry Curve 9360, £199.99 on pay as you go or free with contracts from £13.50 per month.

Pleasingly sleek, the slimline Curve has a proper QWERTY keyboard and is easy to hook up to corporate email systems, making keeping in touch with work a breeze.

The compromise to this is that the physical keyboard means a much smaller screen than the other phones tested. What's more, the Curve doesn't have a touch screen, so you'll have to rely on the sometimes temperamental trackpad device to navigate.

Blackberry's Messenger programme is fantastic if your partner, close friends or family have Blackberries too – letting you send instant messages, photos and short video for free even if they're abroad (although there are alternatives for non-Blackberry phones, such as WhatsApp).

Pros:

What sets Blackberry's handsets apart is their physical, as against touch screen, keyboards which do make writing longer emails or notes easier.

We love Blackberry Messenger too – almost worth having a Blackberry just for this (provided your contacts have Blackberries though).

Reasonably-priced for a business savvy phone with a sturdy, quality feel.

Cons:

The range of apps is limited compared to Android and iPhone and the 'non-touch' screen is a good deal smaller than most.

Best for:

Working mums and dads who are more interested in emailing efficiently than apps.

HTC Desire C, £149.95 on pay as you go or free with contracts from £13.50.

A compact and lightweight (it weighs in at just 100g) touchscreen handset, the HTC runs a new version of the popular Android operating system. This leaves you with thousands of apps a click away.

Pros:

So light it won't add to the weight of your changing bag or handbag.

Unusually clear and helpful instructions combine with clever on screen tips when you first go into any function, to help you hit the ground running as soon as the phone's out of the box.

It's also comfortable to hold in your hand and offers decent quality sound from the in-built 'Beats Audio' speaker. Android means apps galore, including plenty for kids. Fares well for battery life.

Cons:

This one has a flimsier feel than others tested and noticeably poorer screen resolution - photos and websites lacked sharpness.

The camera isn't too bad, as long as you've got daylight - there's no flash.

The processor is slow too making it feel significantly more sluggish than the others – it felt like it couldn't keep up with what we wanted to do with it and flipping the screen from portrait to landscape took too long.

Best for:

Working parents who want an easy-to-use, affordable smartphone might still appreciate this but it was the first to get powered down and returned to its box.

For a similar amount or less, we think other options fare better.

Blackberry Bold 9900, £449.95 on pay as you go or free with contracts from £25.

A very smart business-like handset – you'd look the part if you whipped this out of your pocket and onto the boardroom table at a high level meeting. It seems a bit too swanky to be handing over to a greasy-handed toddler though...

Pros:

The best of both worlds – a larger touch screen than other Blackberries yet still with their trademark proper QWERTY keyboard. Good camera for a Blackberry? See above re Blackberry Messenger.

Cons:

This one really struggled with battery life even during relatively light use. The phone is also too wide for smaller hands (we're talking grown-ups here not even kids) - maybe it was made with (business) men in mind but our tester found it couldn't be held comfortably in her palm. And watch out for breaking a nail trying to get the back cover off!

No screen orientation sensor.

Apps are more limited than on Android. Expensive.

Best for:

Users after a compromise between touch screen models and that handy Blackberry keyboard, but you need to be happy with its width and might need to fiddle around with a few settings to optimise battery life, or you could buy a second battery, but this will of course add to the cost.

We're not sure it's worth the extra money over the Blackberry Curve.

(Prices quoted are from Carphone Warehouse)

"Tips for working parents shopping for a smartphone:"

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Keyboard: Ensure this is easy to type on to reply to emails - test it out in the store.

WiFi Hotspot: Use your phone as an internet connection when away from wifi or other connection, allow your laptop to be online to do full emails/work.

Look for phones with cloud backup to ensure important information such as contacts/documents are kept safe (iCloud, Microsoft SkyDrive, google sync etc).

Phones with NFC (this stands for Near Field Communication) allow quick payment at many stores, saving time.

Ensure your phone is insured, especially if your children are going to be using it!

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