Separates Vs Smartphone? What’s best?

Separates vs Smartphones

Growing up, I was hugely envious of my parent’s music system at home. It was made up of stackable separates, which were upgraded or added to as time went by. They had a turntable with decks for tapes, a radio and CDs as well as the amp. The speakers were upgraded from small units to a pair of floor standing monsters. I couldn’t wait to build my own when I was older. But when I was older, the smartphone came along.

Now I’ve got all my music on my mobile phone which I listen to in the car on the way to work, through earphones at the gym and then via a dock when I get home. No need for separates anymore. Although after receiving a telling off from a musical buff friend of mine that I should have better speakers and a dedicated home music player, it got me thinking about whether my all-in-one smartphone does just as good a job as separates?

Is the camera on my Samsung Galaxy SIII as good as a separate 8MP point and shoot? Does it play music as well as an iPod or music station? It’s road test time…


Since the Walkman was invented, music is portable, so I can test the phone against my static CD player at home (after giving it a good dusting) as well as an iPod.  

I expected this to be close. After all, smartphones have had integrated music players since day one and the technology in MP3 players is easily replicated within a mobile phone. And so it proved. With earphones in, it was very difficult to spot any difference between the iPod and the phone. And surprisingly, when docked, the sound was just as good as the static CD player.

In reality, this probably had as much to do with the quality of the speakers and earphones as much as it did the device that was playing the music. Either way, the opportunity to have portable music that plays just as well when docked in a room makes the phone the winner for me.

Winner: Phone!

What are the best music smartphones? We recommend the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5, the Sony Xperia T and HTC One X.


Smartphone cameras have come on leaps and bounds in recent years. Flagship handsets, such as my Samsung Galaxy SIII are kitted out with an 8MP camera, and are ideal for whipping out to take snaps on the go. But are they as good, or better, than having an 8MP point and shoot camera?

One difference between your smartphone’s camera and that of a point and shoot is that it has a wider depth of field. This means close-up shots are easy to take, capturing detail particularly well. However I think this is the only advantage a smartphone has over a standard camera.

Standard cameras do a much better job of locking on to your intended object, ensuring that you come away with a crisp photo, whereas most smartphones will struggle with a moving image.

The other weakness with smartphones is its zoom. You may have heard of point and shoot cameras having optical zoom, which means that the glass elements in the camera’s lens move to enlarge the view of the object you’re focusing on without affecting the size of the image. Smartphones, on the other hand, utilise digital zoom, which crops the section of the image that you want and then enlarges it. This is to the detriment of the quality of the image, which is grainier and loses clarity.

Ultimately, while smartphone cameras are great to have on you for opportune photography, they’ll never replace a purpose-built camera.

Winner: Separate!

What’s the smartphone with best camera? We recommend the Samsung Galaxy SIII, HTC One X, Sony Xperia T and Nokia Lumia 920 as smartphones with top quality cameras.


This is a tough contest because the DAB digital radio that sits proudly in my kitchen uses an aerial to pick up a signal while my smartphone connects to stations over the internet. If I’m not connected to wifi, this immediately places the separate radio in a stronger position as it’s not eating away at my data plan.

The TuneIn digital radio app that I have is actually pretty easy to use and once I’m past the initial buffering stage the connection is true and signal quality good. In fact, it was easier and quicker for me to find stations on my TuneIn app than from my digital radio.

Unfortunately, as listening to an hour can use around 30MB of data, you will be restricted to the amount you can listen on your phone while out and about and for this reason, I’m out. It’s the digital radio in my kitchen that wins for me.

Winner: Separate!

Email and Internet

Email and internet access are the key reason why smartphone growth has been so strong. However with tablets becoming ubiquitous, wifi access improving and dongles giving laptops even more portability, smartphones are by no means the only way to access email and internet on the go. So what’s best?

If your favourite website isn’t already available as an app, the chances are it’s got a mobile optimised website. This makes viewing on your smaller handset screen easier, with navigation and reading pages a breeze. Therefore, the experience of browsing the Internet on a smartphone is actually quite good nowadays.

I think where tablets and particularly laptops come into their own is when you need to type out a lengthy email. If you’ve ever been on the train replying to an email you’ll know the frustration of missing the tiny spacebar or re-reading through your text to see ‘so’ written as ‘do’ or plenty of ‘ans’ instead of ‘and’.

Therefore it’s for this reason that I have to declare the email and internet round a draw.

Winner: It’s a draw!

Overall, separates win by 2 to 1.

So there you have it, separates are better than having an all-in-one smartphone. However looking at how close the scores were in the end reveals how far smartphones pushed separates and how advanced they’ve become.

Our recommendations for the best all-in-one smartphones are:

Apple iPhone 4S

Apple iPhone 5


Samsung Galaxy SIII

Nokia Lumia 920

Written by Damian Carvill

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