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Mid-level mobiles the best phones

07 May 2012, 11:12

Berlin - If you just want a mobile phone for making calls, then you don't really need a touch screen.

Indeed, touch screens are not strictly necessary for a lot of popular activities, whether it be surfing the web, taking pictures or listening to music. What you might want is a multimedia mobile. However, the market for these devices is shrinking fast.

That's because for many people, mobile phones are becoming anything but phones. Ads focus on how quickly they can go online, display high-definition video or let you access graphic-intensive games. Mention of telephone features can almost seem an afterthought.

But, when it comes to multimedia mobiles, making calls and sending text messages remain two of the key functions. Internet access and playing MP3 audio files are also available functions, but are of much lower importance.

The question is whether these mobiles are worth it for a class of customers who simply want to make phone calls. Or should they just join the smartphone bandwagon?

Michael Wolf of Stiftung Warentest, a German consumer products testing organisation, said a mobile needs to fulfil four basic functions to be considered a smartphone.

"For internet surfing, it needs a certain display size and fast internet access via UMTS or wi-fi. Additionally, smartphones have an open operating system that can be expanded with apps," he said.

The last requirement is a keyboard with letters. But that doesn't mean a physical keyboard. The widespread virtual keyboards seen on so many touch screens more than fit the bill.

"The borders between smartphones and multimedia mobiles move a lot," Wolf added.

Less fun

After all, a lot of mobile phones can go online, many even with UMTS.

Of course, it's not as much fun with a smaller display and without a touch screen. Still, a lot of manufacturers offer some programmes and games to download onto older mobiles.

"But there's no comparing that with the offering from Android or Apple devices," Wolf warned.

The wide variety of apps and games is one of the reasons for the widespread success of smartphones, he said.

"In the meantime, even older people and those less open to technology are opting for smartphones, because they want a phone with a good MP3 player or a good camera," Wolf noted.

Plus, anyone who can deactivate the mobile broadcast function and download apps via a wi-fi connection can, theoretically, use them for free.

"Smartphones advanced past regular mobiles a long time ago," said Roland Stehle of the German Society for Entertainment and Communications Technology (gfu). "And, in the coming years, they're only going to build upon their lead."

But mobiles without apps and all the bells and whistles won't die out, he thinks.

"There will always be a certain clientele that prefers these kinds of gadgets," he said.

Better battery life

That wouldn't be a surprise, since multimedia mobiles still maintain a few advantages.

Thanks to the smaller display and the weaker processor, they enjoy longer battery lives. And, once you are used to it, many find typing on a physical keyboard much easier than typing and swiping on a touch screen.

Wolf said a lot depends on the device and the taste of the user.

"Multimedia mobiles are not necessarily new-user friendly. Sometimes the buttons and the controls can be fussy," he said.

There's another advantage with multimedia mobiles. Compared to smartphones, a lot of models are cheaper. But there's not a huge gap in prices, said Rafaela Moehl of the German telecommunications website teltarif.de.

"I can get a sensible, affordable Android smartphone for €100 to €150; for a new mobile with a lot of functions, I pay €80," she noted.

But not a lot of new multimedia models are making it to market.

"Most of the models on sale today are already one or two years old," Moehl said.

Those sometimes sell for only about €50.

Developed technology

In general, those interested should have no problems with multimedia mobiles, according to Stehle.

"The technology is pretty exhausted in these kinds of devices. Classical mobiles won't be making any big technology jumps anymore," he said.

But the new ones being developed are showing some innovation in some areas like design, since manufacturers are often inclined to change the materials for cost or efficiency reasons.

However, customers shouldn't expect the quality levels to remain the same, according to Wolf.

"A look at the comparison tests and product reviews is worth it, as always. There are also quality differences with multimedia mobiles," he said.

You might also want to consider getting a flat rate for data transfers if you opt for multimedia, since a lot of classic mobiles also have internet access, Moehl said.

"Even with a regular mobile, I can call up mails or browse," she said.


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