What's that type of phone called that you don't need a cable for and you can use everywhere in the world (provided there's coverage ;-))?

And what differences are there between the regions? USA/UK/AUS etc... and even within, say, the US (or even UK). I've even read rumors that in parts of the east of the US, people use the term "handy" (which is a really crazy German "Americanism").

EDIT: Clarification: The colloquial usage is more interesting (to me) than the "correct" official terminology (though that's of interest, too).

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    What is this "correct" of which you speak?
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jan 26, 2011 at 13:55
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    I remember being taught (though I can't really vouch for the accuracy of the lesson) that 'cell' phones were so named because they'd only function in a particular 'cell,' or 'limited-area-of-coverage-offered-by-a-particular-company-because-American-phone-companies-are-reluctant-to-share-infrastructure-unlike-Australian-ones.' For all I know, that's just folk etymology, but since you've asked specifically for colloquial usage I thought it might be interesting.
    – user867
    Commented Mar 27, 2013 at 6:50
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    No, 'cell' has a technical meaning - see Elijah's answer (or Wikipedia).
    – hunter2
    Commented Apr 18, 2013 at 9:45

6 Answers 6


In the UK, we use mobile and/or phone, and perhaps even mobi/moby (though I've never seen it written that way outside text messages.

In the US, I've heard of cellular phone/cell phone/cell, and in Germany they call them handies (which still makes me chuckle for no good reason).

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    In UK usage I've seen "mobe" but not "mobi" or "moby". Commented Jan 26, 2011 at 14:10
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    only my grandma calls it her 'mobi' and she keeps it turned off.
    – Sam Holder
    Commented Jan 26, 2011 at 17:13
  • @Sam: Yeah, Grandma's often do that. Interestingly, I also have a txt from the Mrs where she refers to it as a 'mob'.
    – CJM
    Commented Jan 26, 2011 at 17:23
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    @jae - ...or perhaps just incredibly space efficient - a trait I hypocritically cherish since I joined twitter.
    – CJM
    Commented Jan 26, 2011 at 23:18
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    At least in the US, if you ask someone to 'give you a handy', you're not asking for a phone. Chuckle indeed.
    – hunter2
    Commented Apr 18, 2013 at 9:46

In Australia, it has traditionally been a "mobile" - never a "cell" (unless you are deliberately trying to sound American!).

However, it is increasingly becoming just a "phone", as landlines continue to disappear from households. The one clarifying term might be "my phone" - this would guarantee it to be a mobile phone, rather than a landline.


Speaking from the technology perspective, naming is specific depending on the device characteristics, two main categories being landline and mobile.

Landline is a device receiving signal through a fixed phone line (which is not always a circuit; sometimes the device is a pretty large phone with a SIM making it quite mobile, sometimes handheld, still it's considered a landline phone).
Mobile phones have a couple different technology-dependent types:

  • cellular (or cell for short) are called the devices utilizing signal received through a "cellular network"
  • satellite devices are powered by the satellite network

These terms describe your device in respect to differences implied by phone networks, but the total of non-landline phones are mobile.

Also there are smartphones. This term distinguishes the device in a bit different dimension; it describes the capabilities as opposed to older handheld devices (smartphones are the devices that combine a microcomputer and a telephone).

So, strictly speaking, if you want to be specific to different types of devies you should use different terms in different cases. That would make a lot of difference if you wanted, per se, sell software for a particular kind of devices.

  • Do you mean "distinguishes" rather than "distincts"?
    – psmears
    Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 13:39
  • Probably yes, that's exactly what I meant. Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 13:41

In Canada the words I hear most often are "cell" or "cell phone", almost nobody says "cellular" anymore. The cell phone providers usually call them "mobile" phones which is more precise since "cell" refers to a kind of technology.

In Chinese one of the common words for it is 手机, (shǒujī) which literally means "hand machine".

Also among younger people non-mobile-phones are becoming less-used and lots of people don't even have land-lines anymore, and those people, not needing the distinction between mobile and non-mobile phones, simply call it a "phone". (Note: I almost never hear people say telephone anymore either).


Strictly speaking, a cell (cellular) phone is a mobile phone, but a mobile phone may not necessarily be a cell phone. "Cellular" refers to the network technology. A satellite phone is also mobile, but there are so few of them in use nowadays compared to cell phones that for most practical purposes (in urban areas for sure) they can be ignored. I believe that when they first appeared in North America cellular phones were typically referred to as "Mobile" since that was the novel aspect, but over the years and they have become more commonly referred to as simply cell phones, and "mobile" is heard relatively rarely. Either term will almost always be understood to mean "cell phone", and that is almost always what you really do mean. But if you want "correct", make sure that it isn't really a satellite phone before you speak up.


In the UK "mobile" or "mobile phone" were the main terms but I think that is being replaced now by just "phone" - which is strange in that that is the one thing they are least used as.

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