Feature or Candy Bar Phones Are Cheap Ways To Make Calls

Some phone terms are so specific that they are easily understood, for example, if someone refers to Android phones you know they are talking about mobiles that use Google’s operating system. In contrast, the feature phone term is open to a number of interpretations. The experts differ over which functionalities place a phone into this group. They also argue over where the boundary lies between feature phones and smartphones. To get a good understanding of the subject we need to summarize and synthesize various information sources to detect the common threads.

When did Feature Phones first appear?

The term is most commonly applied to the mobile phones that became popular in the first decade of the 21st century when the 3G cellular networks were being established. Nokia and Motorola were probably the best known feature phone manufacturers in this period.

In addition to the traditional functions of making and receiving voice calls, these new mobile devices included value-added features such as text messaging, access to email, and web browsing capabilities. The feature phone title came into use as a simple way to distinguish them from older devices with just the basic phone functions.

Contemporary feature phones have touch screens, access to social media, cameras and other modifications to the old feature phone looks and capabilities. Nevertheless, they do not offer the same range of options available to smartphone owners.

Because feature phone functionalities are comparatively limited writers sometimes call them “dumb phones,” However, if you compare them with the phones of thirty years ago their advanced nature becomes strikingly apparent.

Advantages of feature phones over smartphones:

  • They cost significantly less. This is very important for people in underdeveloped countries and low income groups in general.
  • Their simple to use nature is appreciated by people put off by more complex devices.
  • They are more durable and hence suitable for taking on trips, or for a child to use.
  • More secure – since they contain less sensitive information loss or theft concerns are reduced.
  • Low power demands mean that their batteries have a long life.

What are Smartphones?

As the name suggests, the smartphone provides you with advanced phone options. In essence it is a mobile phone with computer capabilities. It gives you all the standard feature phone options plus many extra functions shared with personal computers, for example, viewing and editing documents, and downloading applications. The exact functions supported vary between different kinds of smartphone. As you might expect, the general rule is that the more you pay the greater your range of options.

Smartphones came onto the mass market about five or six years ago, and within a few years they became the dominant mobile phone offering. The fact that phone companies make can make higher profits on smartphone sales certainly plays a role here.

The typical smartphone includes:

  • A software operating system that enables running various applications. In addition to the in-built apps, you can usually download third party apps, for instance, mapping, money management, or gaming apps. Google’s Android and Apple’s iPhone OIS are the most popular smartphone operating systems.
  • Fast web browsing capabilities. All the latest smartphones are configured to give you the speed advantages that 4G networks offer.
  • Access to emails received at your home or office computer.
  • Instant messaging through Google, Yahoo, and similar online messaging services.
  • Multitasking capabilities, for example, you can call or send an email while downloading an app.
  • A physical or virtual keyboard arranged like your computer keyboard – ideal for touch typing emails and messages. This key arrangement is called QWERTY because the first row of letters is set out in this order.

The Key Difference is the data they’ll use

The amount of mobile data required is a key difference between feature phones and smartphones. Feature phone owners have more limited options for using mobile data—100 MB of mobile data should certainly meet monthly needs. Contrast this with the 2GB of mobile data the average smartphone user needs according to the Australian Communication and Media Authority’s (ACMA) research.

While many mobile phone users want to regularly get email updates, browse the web, and stay connected to social media, a significant minority prefer to manage with a minimum of mobile data. For this latter group the feature phone is still an attractive as well as more economic option. In the first quarter of 2014 almost one in eight phones sold in Australia were feature phones. Even if you take one of the cheap phone plans promoted by mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs),  a suitable smartphone plan is still going to cost more than a feature phone plan.

Plans for Feature Phones (PAYG)

PAYG (Pay as You Go) SIM-only plans are particularly well suited to phone users who use little data and don’t make so many calls. Most feature phone owners fit into this user group.

  • You can find PAYG with monthly charges for as low as $10.
  • You only pay for the data and calls used.
  • Low data allowances still meet your feature phone needs.
  • Monthly contracts allow you to easily leave the plan if you find a better deal, or are dissatisfied with the service.
  • You can receive as many calls as you want without incurring charges.

A good example of the kind of bargain you can find is the Cmobile Red $9.90 plan on Vodafone’s 3G network. For this low monthly fee you get:

  • 100MB of mobile data
  • One free call per day
  • 15 cents per minute for Standard National Calls
  • Unlimited calls to anyone on Cmobile Red plans
  • SMS for 15 cents each


Plans for Smartphones with Data Included

To get the full value out of your smartphone you require a much higher data allowance than the feature phone owner. However, you don’t need to go overboard and get a much bigger allowance than you are likely to use.

You should also look for a plan that allows you to take advantage of the faster browsing and download speeds 4G supports. Once again, an MVNO plan is likely to give you the best value.

We recommend the Amaysim Unlimited plan. For $29.90 you get:

  • 2GB of mobile data
  • 3G/4G over the Optus network
  • 500 call minutes + Unlimited SMS
  • The advantages of a monthly plan
  • Free SIM delivery



Neil Aitken

Having worked in 3 countries for 4 telcos on both voice and data products, Neil is in a position to give you the inside track. Get beyond the marketing messages to the best plan for you.