When writing a "legal" document in English which term is more appropriate (between Handphone, Smartphone, Cell Phone, Mobile Phone, Cellular phone, cell, etc) and can be safely (& correctly) used to address the mayority of today's "mobile phones" generation considering the legal aspects of things?

Some of the issue I have is for example the "smart" phone yesterday may not be considered to be a "smart" phone tommorow. In which case for a document to address it as such would be inconvinient.

  • Which country are you in? In Australia we say "mobile phone", not "cell phone". Mobile describes what it can do; cell describes how it does it. – nnnnnn Aug 15 '19 at 5:09
  • Assume I'm US..but I don't mind knowing the difference between US and the rest of English speaking countries in this context – Tomsofty33 Aug 15 '19 at 8:23
  • 1
    Not all mobile phones are cell phones, and if you're worried about pedantic arguments it may be better to go with the more general term. – user339660 Aug 15 '19 at 9:36
  • Which..........? – Tomsofty33 Aug 15 '19 at 10:11
  • I’ve never even heard of handphone before. Apparently (according to Wiktionary) it’s primarily, Indonesian, Malaysian, Philippine, Korean, and Singaporean, which I would guess makes it primarily non-native. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 15 '19 at 13:59

This really depends on what you're trying to define, permit or prohibit, and why.

For example, the law in the UK relating to using a mobile phone whilst driving is:

  • a hand-held mobile telephone, or
  • a hand-held device (other than a two-way radio) which performs an interactive communication function by transmitting and receiving data.


if the driver is in such a position as to be able to see, directly or by reflection, a television screen or similar apparatus except one showing information:

  • about the state of the vehicle or its equipment e.g. screen warning lights;
  • about the location of the vehicle and the road on which it is located e.g. some GPS tracking devices;
  • to assist the driver to see the road adjacent to the vehicle e.g. reversing cameras; or
  • to assist the driver to reach their destination e.g. sat navs .


That page also notes that situations such as wearable devices or using a phone to scan/pay for goods are unclear and would have to be decided by the courts. They were not envisaged when the primary legislation was enacted in 1988.

The actual wording of the legislation is

using a hand-held mobile telephone or other hand-held interactive communication device

41D, Road Traffic Act 1988 and

A device referred to in paragraphs (1)(b), (2)(b) and (3)(b) is a device, other than a two-way radio, which performs an interactive communication function by transmitting and receiving data.

(a)a mobile telephone or other device is to be treated as hand-held if it is, or must be, held at some point during the course of making or receiving a call or performing any other interactive communication function;

(c)“interactive communication function” includes the following: (i)sending or receiving oral or written messages; (ii)sending or receiving facsimile documents; (iii)sending or receiving still or moving images; and (iv)providing access to the internet;

The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) (Amendment) (No. 4) Regulations 2003

This is why judges are sometimes reported as asking odd questions in court such as "what is a BlackBerry?". The answer in this case would be "an interactive communication device" and it would therefore be established that a BlackBerry would be a mobile phone within the meaning of the Act. A BlackBerry might not be a "mobile phone" within the meaning of different legislation, such as trade tariffs where it might be classed as a computer or a PDA or something different.

If you're trying to prevent people using devices for information security reasons your definition is likely to be quite different from a definition stopping people phoning/texting while driving.

  • CMIIW in the context above, would "tablet" be categorized as a hand-held mobile telephone?Most tablets nowadays can be used for telephone too rite. But lets just say, for example, for a "Nntendo 3DS" (or a PS Vta or any other hand held gaming device that would not be use for telephoning somebody), would these be considered as doing an "interactive communication function" or not, IF it were just used for gaming? – Tomsofty33 Aug 15 '19 at 23:06
  • Interesing point. A hand-held game might fall under the 'television or similar device'. This illustrates the problem with drafting legislation. Anyway, a driver using a hand-held game could fall under the general 'driving without due care and attention' provisions (like eating, drinking or reading) even if they did not come under the specific legislation relating to mobile phones. – Owain Aug 16 '19 at 9:04

"Hand Held" Phone should cover it but I doubt it will because someone will say you can have a Hand held phone with a base station and a landline. Also Beware of the pit falls of US and UK English in this case.

Therefore if it is a legal document you will have to do, what legal documents do! That is consider all the possible names, used past and present and try to cover all possible technology that may arise in the future. Then build this into the "small print".

  • What pit fall....? – Tomsofty33 Aug 15 '19 at 8:23
  • Have a look in a dictionary or on the net. – Brad Aug 15 '19 at 8:29

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