At the top of your phone’s screen you might have seen letters and numbers like G, H+ and 4G. These tell you the speed of internet connection your phone is currently receiving. Don’t confuse them with Wi-Fi though, which you'll normally find in offices, cafes and your home.
Here’s a little summary to get you up to speed. Or, if you’re not getting any of these symbols, take a look at our guide to fixing mobile internet to get your phone back online.
Two horizontal arrows pointing in opposite directions
You’ll see this symbol if your mobile network has launched, or is testing, Voice over LTE (VoLTE) services. The new technology uses your 4G signal to make voice calls – until now only internet data has been handled by 4G – giving you better coverage, especially indoors, and better call quality. 3 is the first UK network to launch the service (although it’s bizarrely called 4G Super-Voice), while Vodafone and EE are both testing ‘Voice over 4G’.
The small radar symbol means you’re connected to Wi-Fi. This is normally found in your house, at work or in coffee shops. It’s very fast and great for all types of internet activities, but only works when you’re in range of a Wi-Fi connection.
Exclamation mark on the Wi-Fi symbol
If your phone’s running Android 5.0 Lollipop or later, you might see this new symbol. It shows that your phone’s using the new Smart Network Switching feature to give you the best possible internet connection. If you connect to a Wi-Fi network that’s not working, Smart Network Switching will automatically put your phone back on the mobile network so you get a stable internet connection.
G is the slowest and oldest internet connection speed. It stands for GPRS (General Packet Radio Service), and because of the slow data rate it’s only useful for sending a few messages on WhatsApp, for example.
E is a little faster than G, but still too slow to look at websites or stream music effectively. It stands for EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution).
With 3G, internet becomes more practical. Web browsers load up fairly quickly and music streaming is possible, although it’s not really fast enough for video streaming or downloading.
H is a faster form of 3G. Speeds make music streaming more reliable, but you’ll need lots of patience if you want to download a movie. Streaming anything longer than a few minutes might also take a lot of time. H is short for HSDPA, which stands for High-Speed Downlink Packet Access.
H+ is the next step up from H, but still not as fast as a 4G connection by quite a way. Downloads are more practical and video streaming is much more reliable. Reception for H+ is more widely spread than 4G right now. H+ is short for HSDPA+.
4G, or Long Term Evolution, is by far the fastest connection, and is almost as fast as the Wi-Fi connection at your home or office. It’s suitable for all internet activities like video streaming and movie downloading, video calls and so on. But remember that downloading things over 4G will be quick, but will use up your data quicker.
Arrows next to or under internet symbols
On a lot of phones, you’ll now see two arrows next to or underneath the internet symbol on your phone (like in the images above). These flash when your phone’s using its internet connection and are a handy indicator that the connection is working properly (both arrows should flash in that case). The arrows will also let you know if an apps using the internet in the background, as they’ll flash when you’re not trying to get online.
R next to signal bars
The capital ‘R’ that appears next to the signal bars on phones is the data roaming symbol. When you see it, it means your phone’s connected to a network that isn’t its regular one. Using the internet when you see that symbol could generate big bills, but without roaming you won’t be able to use mobile internet while out of the country. It can be turned on an off in your phone’s network settings.
Triangle next to signal bars
On older Android phones, you might see a triangle next to your signal bars. This shows that your phone’s roaming, like the ‘R’ symbol above does.
Phone with Wi-Fi symbol coming out of it
This symbol shows that your phone’s set up for Wi-Fi calling. It’s a new feature brought in by the UK’s biggest networks to help give you the best call quality. If your phone doesn’t have good reception, like when you’re indoors, it’ll make phone calls using an available Wi-Fi network instead.
Still not found what you're looking for?
Not all the symbols on your phone’s screen are related to its internet connections. Here’s a quick overview of what the other symbols on your screen mean. If you can’t find the one you’re looking for, drop us a comment below and we’ll let you know what it means.
The star symbol is new to Android Lollipop. It shows that Priority Mode is active. With Priority Mode turned on, you won’t get any notifications unless you’ve added select contacts to your priority list in the settings.
It’s a great mode if you want to get a good night’s rest, but annoying if you accidentally turned it on while at work. You can switch it off by pressing the volume rocker and unselecting it from the menu at the top.
Curvy capital N
No, your phone hasn’t teamed up with Nescafe to start making you coffee, this symbol actually shows that you have NFC, or Near Field Communication, turned on. NFC lets you tap your phone to another device to instantly connect to it or transfer data. If you want to get rid of the symbol, you need to go to your phone’s wireless or connectivity settings.
Two rectangles with arrows in them
This symbol shows that Android Beam is turned on. This works with NFC to transfer files from one Android phone to another wirelessly and quickly. It can be turned off in the ‘Wireless & Networks’ settings menu.
Upside down teardrop
An upside down teardrop at the top of your phone’s screen show’s that your GPS/location services are turned on. You only need this on if you want to use the phone for navigation, otherwise it’s just a drain on your battery.
Square with two vertical lines either side
This symbol will appear if you’re using a Sony smartphone, and you have the vibrate function turned on. To turn it off, simply alter the volume using the volume rocker on the side of the phone next to the power button.
No entry sign
A symbol that looks like a no entry sign tells you that you don’t have a data or cellular connection, preventing you from sending messages or making phone calls. You might see this if you’re on an underground train or if you're out in the wilderness away from civilisation.
Rectangle with curved lines in the corner
This is the Google Cast symbol. You’ll see this if you’re using a Chromecast, which plugs into your TV, letting you beam videos and photos from your Android smartphone to the big screen. It may also appear if you’re using a smart TV to do the same thing.
Satellite with lines coming off it
This kind of semi-circle with curved lines coming off it is supposed to look like a satellite, meaning you GPS, or global positioning system, is turned on. It’s called Location services on some phones, and can appear as an upside down tear drop (see above).
Square with mountains inside
This image tells you that you’ve taken a screenshot on an Android smartphone. It’s supposed to be a small landscape shot of some mountains. If you’ve taken a shot of your screen by accident, you’ll find the image in your gallery, which can easily be deleted.
To take a screen shot, you generally have to hold the power button and home button at the same time. Once the screen flashes, or makes a camera’s shutter noise, you know it’s been successful. This method can differ slightly depended on which smartphone you’re using. Sometimes you’re to use the volume button, too.
If you’re using a Samsung smartphone, you might have seen this eye symbol. It’s for a function called Smart Stay. If you have Smart Stay turned on, the screen will not automatically power off while you’re looking at it. If you don’t want this feature, you can disable it by going to your settings menu.
Telephone with keyboard
The telephone with a keyboard or buttons underneath it means you’ve got a TTY accessibility feature turned on. TTY stands for teletypewriter - for people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have trouble speaking. It means you can type messages instead of saying them, making general communication easier.
Is there a symbol on your phone that we haven't got on our list? Drop us a comment below with a screenshot and which smartphone you're using, and we'll tell you what it is.