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Are computers better than smartphones for web survey responses?

Louisa S. Ha (Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio, USA)
Chenjie Zhang (Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio, USA)

Online Information Review

ISSN: 1468-4527

Article publication date: 16 November 2018

Issue publication date: 17 May 2019




The purpose of this paper is to examine the effect of smartphones and computers as web survey entry response devices on the quality of responses in different question formats and across different survey invitations delivery modes. The respondents’ preference of device and the response immediacy were also compared.


Two field experiments were conducted with a cluster sampling and a census of all students in a public university in the USA.


Device effect on response quality was only found when using computer-aided self-interviews, but not in e-mail delivered web surveys. Even though the computer was the preferred device, but the smartphone’s immediate response was significantly higher than the computer.

Research limitations/implications

The sample was restricted to college students who are more proficient users of smartphones and have high access to computers. But the direct comparison in the two studies using the same population increases the internal validity of the study comparing different web survey delivery modes.

Practical implications

Because of the minor differences in device on response quality, researchers can consider using more smartphones for field work such as computer-aided self-interviews to complement e-mail delivered surveys.


This is the first study that compares the response device effects of computer-aided self-interviews and e-mailed delivered web surveys. Because web surveys are increasingly used and various devices are being used to collect data, how respondents behave in different devices and the strengths and weaknesses of different methods of delivery survey help researchers to improve data quality and develop effective web survey delivery and participant recruitment.



Both authors contributed equally to this paper.


Ha, L.S. and Zhang, C. (2019), "Are computers better than smartphones for web survey responses?", Online Information Review, Vol. 43 No. 3, pp. 350-368.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

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