To compare non smartphones versus smartphones, you need to answer two key questions:
1) What do you need your phone to do? and
2) How much are you willing to pay?
Actually, you get what you pay for, and more capability will cost you more money. For some users, it may be a black-and-white decision with no shades of gray: they either want plain telephone service, or they want a phone that will do it all.
There are non smartphones that do a great job of just making calls.
For example, the Samsung m370 does only one thing, but it does it well. This is a basic phone that delivers great voice capabilities, has an over-sized keypad, and carries the familiar clamshell design that makes using it very comfortable. Call quality is excellent, and it can help you keep your monthly bills low since calling is all it does.
However, the phone has no extra features. There is no expandable memory slot for music storage. If you need any capability at all other than calling, you won't find it in this phone.
There are some non smartphones that do have extra capability such as e-mail, texting and some other functions such as a camera. These devices usually are designed to run on proprietary firmware which is tied to the phone itself.
The main factor that differentiates non smartphones from smartphones, is that they generally can't run third-party applications. This is significant, because unless the phone manufacturer decides at a later time to include an additional function in a "firmware upgrade", you can't add additional functions to the phone. You have no way to add new capability to a non smartphone.
Now let's consider the cost of the devices.
The purchase price of a phone depends on whether it is purchased with or without a service contract. Phone service without a contract is generally on a month-to-month basis, and can be cancelled by the user with no penalty.
Smartphones without a contract are generally priced in the range of $400 - $750, depending on memory capacity and features. Refurbished earlier-generation smartphones can be bought for significantly less.Non smartphones without a contract are usually priced in the range of $50 - $150, but some can be higher.
Most service contracts run for a 2-year period and almost always have a penalty for early termination. Since the phone is sold to the user at a discount, the carrier absorbs the cost of the discount and recovers it over the life of the contract. For that reason, the carrier charges a penalty for early termination.
Non smartphones with a 2-year contract are generally priced in the range of "free" (no out-of-pocket cost) to $50-$75, some higher. Smartphones with a 2-year contract are priced in the range of $100 - $300, depending on memory capacity and features for the latest model. Refurbished prior models are available for considerably less.
After the contract has been in force for a period of time, most carriers will allow customers to upgrade to a newer model (usually at a substantially reduced price) if the customer agrees to extend the service contract for an additional two years following the upgrade.
Phone service costs
The cost for basic phone service is about the same for non smartphones and smartphones. Competition is fierce among the carriers, so the primary differences among carriers is in the quality of coverage in the user's area, rather than the service charges.
Most carriers offer combined "family" plans with a basic charge for the first phone and then a discounted additional rate for additional phones. There are various tiered plans, generally based on the amount of maximum usage in minutes per month, with additional charges applying if the maximum is exceeded. In addition, there may or may not be additional costs for long distance, and there may or may not be a difference in charges for nights and weekends versus daytime usage. Today, many carriers offer plans with unlimited calls and text messages and no charges for long distance.
The plans can be complicated, so it is well worth the effort to compare the details of the cost structure. For example, one of the carriers allows unused minutes to "roll over" from one month to the next month.
Data and internet
These costs apply only to smartphone contracts, and can be in the range of $30 - $100 per month or more, depending on the amount of data used. As in the case of the calling packages, the data plans are tiered, with a basic cost for a maximum amount of data usage and additional charges if the minimum is exceeded.
For "family plans", under which two or more smartphones are covered, carriers have begun to allow members in the plan to share a pool of data usage. This usually will reduce the family's cost, since not all family members use the same amount of data.
These costs apply only to smartphones, and are associated with third-party apps that run on the phone. Some are free, but most do require some sort of charge to be paid to access the features. Most apps cost between $0.99 and $9.99, although there are apps which are highly specialized that are much more expensive. Most apps have a one-time fee when they are downloaded and activated. Some apps require a monthly subscription fee in order to continue to use the app, or to continue to be able to access the data which is stored in the app or on the internet.
George Matthew is a writer who specializes electronics and communications. You can check out his latest website at Straight Talk Smartphones, where he provides unbiased reviews and buying advice for smartphones. There is a discussion of smartphone accessories at Smartphone Gloves and Other Accessories, and much more.