Smartphones: More Useful Than You Think

Smartphones: More Useful Than You Think
By Sarvjit Rangra / August 14, 2019

When you stop to think about it, smartphones are exactly what we thought they could be, and you have more potential at your fingertips than you may realize.

We don't need to tell you that it was only a few decades ago when the Internet was inaccessible to the common individual. Then, you had these clunky, vanilla boxes that crackled and hummed loudly with these massive CRT screens that were prone to induce headaches and blurry vision, issues that have largely been solved by the more compact LCD and LED variants that we now have. These were supposed to get you on the Internet "fast" with 56k dial-up, and if you're old enough, you certainly remember what it was like tapping your phone line for that series of hums and buzzes that apparently meant you were connecting with the rest of the world.

There really wasn't much you could do with the Internet back then, not compared to now anyway. It wasn't just connection speeds; it was your CPU and RAM, all 8 MHz and 256 kB. Your CPU busses were discrete entities on the logic board, and wireless anything was mostly a Jetson fantasy back then.

The first smartphone was launched in 1994 by IBM: the Simon. It could do most of the basic tasks that a contemporary smartphone could such as download apps, connect to the Internet, send emails, play games, run a calculator and more. It also had a relatively large touchscreen and ran on a portable battery. This brick of a beauty represented our first steps into what we take for granted now: Wireless devices that draw content from thin air and telepathically derive messages from people who are halfway across the planet. Back then, people thought to themselves, "If I only had one of these insanely expensive devices, I could get everything done more efficiently!"

These days, smartphones are often associated with the opposite: distractions, laziness and faux-productivity. To be fair, many of us actively rely on our smartphones for our jobs and multiple forms of communication, but you can't help but see people on the sidewalk with their heads in their phones and think that they're just oblivious. On the other hand, to show how far we've come since 1994, you're pretty much expected to have a smartphone now. It's hard to make excuses when the prices have come down so much for both the phones and the plans; anything that requires a basic smartphone can be had for as cheaply as the phone itself plus internet service.

Think about it.

Apps like Udemy have made it possible to download free college-level courses on a wide spectrum of subjects. Depending on where you are in the world, the topic of affording an education is touchy and flammable. It's unfortunately true that studying how to build websites off your phone won't necessarily lead to college certification since you're still required to spend money on the courses themselves regardless of whether you have the knowledge already. However, companies tend to think more pragmatically than that.

Did you know that with Google, YouTube and Udemy-like apps, you could effectively learn the skills that are necessary to work a college-level position and either start your own business or get noticed by an employer who will pay to get you certified? It's what people do all over the world when they refuse to be held down by the status quo. The means to reach that goal lies in owning a smartphone. You could do this with a PC, too, but that would mean being anchored to your desk all day, and we're trying to think practically in a mobile-first, fast-paced world now. We'll give you a real-life example of what I personally do with my smartphone:

1. Write

I have a Galaxy Note 8. There are two options for recording my notes: the keyboard or the S Pen. The former is more practical for recording most of my notes when I study free courses online, polish my writing or develop concepts for digital art, song lyrics and photography projects. Recorded text is the backbone of almost everything I do in my daily life; for example, I might have a legal run-in with my landlord, or I might need to tabulate options for a financially tight situation.

What's better is that I can use the stylus to write out my thoughts, which is shown to actually improve memory retention. This can be taken a step further in a format that's known as "bullet journaling", which is basically writing notes with pictures and icons to accompany them as a way of improving the precision of the ideas recorded as well as the writer's ability to remember it afterwards. You don't need an expensive Galaxy Note to do this; the LG Stylo and other budget stylus-bound options exist, and they work just fine.

2. Draw

I create digital art. It's not just a passion but a source of income. Granted, the screen is small, but I've been able to eke out works that are qualitatively indistinguishable from what you'd create on a PC with one of those illustrator pads. I'd recommend using a Galaxy Note tablet for this, but the smartphone variant — annoyingly small as the screen may be — will do the job. I may not be going to college for the degree that will get me into a formal position as a graphical artist, but I am getting recognition for my work, and people are willing to pay for what I can do.

I owe that to my take-anywhere smartphone.

3. Snap

I take RAW photos with my device and edit them later into works that are sell-worthy. I know, I know — "smartphone photographers aren't real photographers". I'd like to argue that everyone has to start somewhere, and high-end smartphones usually come with cameras that are designed to give user control over every little metric behind the perfect shot, at least in a digital sense. In recent years, comparisons between DSLRs and smartphones have shown that the quality gap is narrowing at a frightening rate, so much so that the results are often indistinguishable if taken under the right conditions and especially when edited properly.

What this effectively amounts to is the ability to supplement my writing and art with photography that was believably shot and edited by a professional. I owe it to Google and YouTube for showing me what aperture, ISO and other camera metrics do, and I owe it to my device for taking and editing the shots that demonstrate my knowledge in the field. I've already been noticed for my work, and in the coming months, I might have a steady stream of commissions for my pieces. Don't let "it's just a smartphone" be an excuse; you have more potential in your hands than you realize.

4. Study

In writing for a cell phone website, I know a few things about computer technology. I had to study that somewhere whether it was through free college course apps or just Googling the topic and listening to those who know the subject better than I. I build and repair computers on the side for extra income, can disassemble your handset and repair delicate issues, and I'm generally just qualified to work with computer technology in many forms because of what the Internet has to offer. The convenience of smartphones made it possible to study up in my free time wherever I was: car, coffee shop, at work, wherever. I also used this time to study up on writing, digital art and photography, which in turn supplemented my skill in these fields.

What are we driving at here? Smartphones have incredible potential to shape your future if you apply yourself to all they have to offer. I have multiple skills, talents and knowledge sets that are accessible to me and have been developed thanks to that little device in my pocket — the same one you're probably reading this on. The next time you find yourself feeling as though opportunities are inaccessible to you, remember that there are already many doors out there that have been unlocked just by having access to the Internet.

It's simply up to you to open them.

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