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Smartphones for the novice

17: Community Champion

Social experiments are in the news at the moment, but this was done with the subject’s full knowledge and co-operation.


The idea was to see whether it was possible to learn smartphones from scratch using just the manual, online help and a person who knows about these things (ie: me).  It became immediately apparent that there are some things that have to be explained before you start, like getting the SIM in correctly, turning on, logging in to Google and simply knowing what the bright blue blazes it is you’re looking at.  I tell you, Mars rover had an easy job of it!


The fact is that the learning curve is so steep, it’s vertical.  I’ve likened it to learning to drive – you can’t do the accelerator one day, steering the next and brakes the day after.  You might manage to hold off changing gear until the second lesson, but it wouldn’t be pretty!


I’ve tried to sit on my hands as much as possible and have also been reminded to.  I’m an inveterate manual reader (yes, I know …  a bloke who reads manuals!) and recommended this as an initial approach.   “Don’t worry if you don’t understand it, the idea is just that you know what’s there so that you can go back to it later”.   That lasted all of five minutes because the truth is that even the best manuals aren’t written in a language that the average crumbly-in-the-street would recognise as English. [Wife wishes it to be noted that she isn’t very crumbly and the remark is not intended as an insult!   Hrym concurs.]  It’s all Geek to them.  This isn’t the manuals’ fault, the fact is that Smartphone is a completely different language.   Mrs hrym has given some examples.  I came to Android from Symbian and it was a bit like going from DesqView to Windows 3 (for all you vintage computing enthusiasts out there).   It did the same things, but just MUCH more simply.  Yes, I’ll say it proudly: I am a Geek!


My wife is nervous of technology, but gets on with it very well if there’s something she wants to do, and there have been examples of her doing just fine on her own.  I haven’t been able to help with Facebook, for instance, but she knows the web interface and adapted to the mobile one quite happily.  It’s very much a confidence thing and what’s impressed me most is that she’s gone from regarding my phones as the spawn of the devil (due to the problem of only ever using them in a moving car with the screen jumping about and causing all sorts of mis-taps) to happily emailing, texting and updating Facebook on the go.   And all this in just a month.   There are still things I have to help with and introduce her to and I’m trying to keep them to, “did you know you can…?”, leaving her to find out how, but it’s still quite tricky.


To clarify the use of “crumbly”: I meant that we are looking at this from the point of an older person who hasn’t grown up with technology from birth and is, not entirely unjustifiably, a bit nervous about it.   It’s better than those horrible words “senior” and “elder”, which just strike me as patronising.

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17: Community Champion

Although  surrounded by a smartphone-obsessed family, I only ever had an ordinary mobile and mastered the art of texting and (shock horror!) making phone calls. I had some idea of what can be done with a smartphone, but never saw the need  to have one myself.  I only ever had to operate my husband’s phone in a moving car and it was guaranteed to be a disaster.   I was convinced that his phone(s) hated me. Our grown-up children did not believe that I would cope with a smartphone and are consequently amazed that I turned into something of an addict within a fortnight.


My attempt to be a novice with a Sony Xperia Z1 Compact by using just the manual and Vodafone YouTube videos  cannot be counted as a total success.    There is no substitute for having a person who knows what they are doing on hand!   Of course if I went into a Vodafone shop and said that I wanted  my first smartphone, I would get advice and lots of basic instructions and perhaps some setting up.   It soon became apparent that there is a very steep learning curve for the non-technical - I needed to learn a whole new language:  what Android means (it’s the operating system that makes it a smartphone and not a useless box of electronic gubbins), basic phrases such as “launch an app”, “EDGE is available” and “you do realise that if you tap and hold, you will get a context menu if there is one”!  And the vital role played by the Notification Panel, which was a mystery at first.


Although many things seemed complicated, I grasped others without difficulty, such as going into the App drawer, once I knew that was its name..   There are advantages to being a qualified librarian: drilling down is second nature to me.   I was using Gmail and Facebook on my laptop and have been able to manage them quite happily on the phone – along with texts and eventually Whatsapp.     And the very occasional phone call, after initially trying to tap rather than slide the green button to answer!


I have never been good with touch pads/screens and this has been another learning curve which doesn’t always trouble others.    I am now quite competent at swiping etc on the phone, but  have to use a stylus for typing messages and prefer it for tapping icons if it is at hand.   I can even type on the move with a stylus.  The problem has been diagnosed as slightly flat finger pads and long nails! I tend to pinch zoom using two hands, and this does work perfectly well.   (All of these gestures have to be learned by the novice unless they have used a touchpad on a laptop or have already mastered a tablet.)


It’s important that anyone helping a smartphone novice realises that they need to demonstrate everything very slowly and probably say it three times.     “You click on this button over here, then that over there and finally do this”, they say, and the pupil is still trying to focus on what the first thing was and cannot grasp the sequence.  [I’m the guilty party on this one, even when I slow r i g h t down – hrym]   Older non-teccy people need very basic stuff  including the putative Status Bars for Dummies, what the Notification Panel and Playstore are and even how to expand the charger plug (a lot of chargers now seem to have slide-out earth pins)….      Not to mention what all the icons about LTE, GPRS, EDGE and H (which turned out to be 3G) and data up/down arrows mean.    As we travelled up the country and back on holiday, I did get to grips with all of this because, after  the explanations, I actually experienced most of them first-hand. This means that I understand when not to use the whole battery and my data allowance on downloads.  And someone should possibly mention that the screen should not be cleaned/polished lightly while it is on – it gets confused and freezes solid!  I learnt about restarts that day.  There has been another need for a soft reset when the battery went berserk, and I learnt about volume up + power key, the least destructive way of doing it – good job the helper was on hand!  (The actual cause of this was an attempt to start the phone with too little battery and was solved by simultaneously pressing the volume up and power keys.  No settings or data were lost in the process.  There is a different method in the manual, if you can find the relevant section, but I was in panic mode.)


Three months on, I can’t bear to be without a smartphone. I love effectively having my own mini laptop to hand. And further apps/features keep being added: I am quite unnecessarily excited about saying “OK Google, find…” and getting an answer.  Dropbox is great for things like photo backups, and I wouldn’t be without the Guardian or Wimbledon apps (at the time). I am very impressed with Android predictive text and voice recognition.   Having just sync’d my Firefox bookmarks, I can also now access BBC Travel quickly, one of my other obsessions. [We shouldn’t forget the very useful screenshot, now available easily, rather than via a complex three-button push – H.]  I am still on a learning curve: the most important thing is to train myself to think “Settings” before anything else – even my husband/advisor had to learn this initially.  It is not necessarily a good thing socially to be able to check for messages and browse in front of the TV like everyone else, but I am pleased to be joining the 21st century.

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16: Advanced member

I thought i wrote alot but very good read tho

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Community Champion (Retired)

I read Mrs hrym’s report with great interest, as it is now just over 2 years since I lowered myself cautiously into the smartphone experience, and went through many of the same adventures.


I should say that I suffer from/exult in a similar degree of "crumbliness", although I start with the theoretical advantage of a degree in Mathematics. As the degree was very much of the “Here’s to Pure Mathematics, may she never be of any use to anyone” school of thought, any advantage was strictly theoretical.


I have also had the benefit of an administrative career spent largely in the company of scientists, and a personal life spent almost entirely in the company of scientists. One might suppose that this would have resulted in my being educated in the advantages to be gained from the use of computers, but the reality was rather the other way around; the self-taught administrator attempting to educate the scientists on the potential of modern equipment to streamline their work.


In July 2012, following a major communications failure on a trip to the US, resulting in some eye-watering telephone bills, I decided that the time had come to acquire a smartphone. I did some reading around the matter, and felt that my skewbald background as outlined above, plus basic familiarity with how to get the SIM cards in and out of various family mobiles, should see me through. Little did I know! I hit the vertical learning curve with a manual which bears only a casual relationship to the phone in question, online help of which I could understand virtually nothing, no children (grown-up or otherwise) who might have contributed to my education, and no-one that I knew who had ventured into these murky waters ahead of me.


I floundered around pretty ineffectively for a while, discovering that, by turning lots of things off, I could use it as a phone. I then cautiously turned things on, and gradually got the hang of various bits of Android world. I might have just about been ready in time for our next trip to the US, when disaster struck. I was familiar with the endless updates to Windows and Office, so didn’t hesitate when I received an OTA invitation to update Gingerbread to Ice Cream Sandwich; it was only when the phone was reduced to an electronic wreck that I realised that there was no easy “rollback” to my starting point. Strangely enough, that was when my real education began. I found the G300 section of the Vodafone Forum, quickly became impatient with the unrealistic expectations of many of the posters there, but discovered the threads on which I could explain that “I know nothing”, and ask them to say it again in simple language. I pay particular tribute to Craig, a Liverpool supporter whose username now escapes me; he pointed me in the direction of Huawei’s VF-specific downgrade download, and offered to help me install it. Remote help was of course impossible, but I read the instruction sheet several times, then one afternoon I plucked up courage, set the downgrade running – and after a sickening wait a healthy phone eventually emerged from the wreckage. The rest, as they say, is history.


So take encouragement from our example. Mrs hrym from novice to enthusiast in 3 months, me from novice to Community Expert (now Community Champion) in 17 months. My thanks to my fellow-CCs, who are very helpful with their “Did you know you can....?” and the occasional “Didn’t you know....?” You don’t have to be under 20 and wear a hoodie to learn to use a smartphone. You can be more than 3 times that age, and still find it very rewarding; the learning curve levels off after a while, though the gradient remains upward. And, living on the North Sea coast, I’d be lost without my hoodie.

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Moderator (Retired)

Hi hrym and Annie_N,


These are interesting reads, thanks for posting.


I’ll flag for Ellis to have a read upon his return on Tuesday.





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17: Community Champion

@Annie_N wrote:
I floundered around pretty ineffectively for a while, discovering that, by turning lots of things off, I could use it as a phone.

Mrs hrym laughed out loud at that bit.  She also says a degree in German hasn't been much use in this process (though there is someone who reset their device and it now only talks to them in French!)  She adds that you're much braver than she is ( @thesoupdragon would - should -  be proud of you)

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Community Manager (Retired)

Hi all


Thanks for the great post here. I always find it great how a lot of people take to smartphones. I've had a fair few friends and family who had one issue or another with getting a modern phone. Quite often the root of these concerns were always how confusing the new phones would be. Without exception though, when properly introduced to a new device, they have all gotten addicted.


I think it's one of the great things about how the phones and OS are designed. A new user can pick one up and in a short space of time, they can use a lot of it's functions perfectly. The fact that they can continue to use it at this level or dig deeper and start using it for... well anything really.

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17: Community Champion

Three years later . . .

Initially, Mrs H rather liked the small dimensions of the Z1 Compact, having found my (only slightly) larger devices a little difficult to handle.   However, with experience, she has found that the Sony XA she's upgraded to much easier to use with its larger screen and therefore icons and keyboard.   It's an indication of how familiarity shapes usage.

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Community Champion (Retired)

I also upgraded from the Z1C to the XA, and I entirely agree with Mrs H on those points. However, only one pair of jeans has a pocket that is really the right size, and the phone has hit the floor slightly too often as a result. However, it seems to be surviving the treatment.

I don't much like the battery life, and have to carry a back-up battery for long days out - but that can be carried in the depths of my rucksack. So all-in-all I'm enjoying the upgrade.

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17: Community Champion

We're not having too much trouble with battery life, but a lot will depend on signal strength where you are.   A day's usage is normal, even when we don't have the car (and therefore a mobile charging point).   You've remarked on battery life before, @Annie_N so I wonder whether you use the phone more or signal-boost is the problem?   Mrs H has a case and that's showing signs of a few drops , but the phone itself is OK.   Ours is VF-branded and has just got the Nougat update, btw.

The only problem has been with the camera freezing and overheating, but we think that may happen with intensive use rather than being a firmware issue.

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Community Champion (Retired)

It could well be a signal boost problem. I'll be in Edinburgh for a while in early December, and it will be interesting to see how it gets on with the better signal there.

Mine isn't branded, and got Nougat relatively recently - it's even more security conscious, and I spent a while figuring out how to get the phone to talk to the SD card that has been in it from the start. Limited use having documents you can't get at, but I managed it in the end.

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17: Community Champion

4G's pretty universal in Edinburgh and generall strong signals (ironically, not so much around Holyrood!)

I haven't tried using the Sony file manager since the update - maybe I should.  We really only use it for photos, so it takes care of itself.  I don't have any problems on the HTC, but have to use the system file manager to manage files on the card (reading's OK on a 3rd party one, but not writing, but that's been the case since, I think, Lollipop).   M says the notifications are easier to read.

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