YAKIMA -- For Karina Martinez, a busy life of working and going to school leaves her with little time at home to access the internet.
So these days, a Blackberry smartphone serves as her main link to the internet and her friends via Facebook.
"I can pull it out and check it real quick," said the 21-year-old Yakima resident.
Martinez is an example of the rapid growth of smartphone ownership among Latinos.
According to a recent Nielsen survey, 45 percent of Latino mobile phone users nationwide as of December owned a smartphone, devices with application-based and Web-enabled operating systems. That's well above the 31 percent of all mobile users with a smartphone and 27 percent among white users.
And 56 percent of Latinos who purchased a mobile phone in the past six months chose a smartphone compared with just 42 percent of white consumers, according to the same study.
Local trends mirror the pattern.
Jose Cabrera, director of sales for U.S. Cellular in Oregon and Washington, said 45 percent of U.S. Cellular's Yakima Valley customers own a smartphone compared with 34 percent overall.
"They want to come in and be able to have a phone that has it all," he said.
Home access lacking
Mobility, affordability and population growth appear to be fueling the smart-phone trend among Latinos.
In the Yakima Valley, many Latinos live in the more rural areas that might lack high-speed home internet options, said Monica Babine, a senior associate for digital inclusion at Washington State University's Division of Governmental Studies and Services in Pullman, a joint venture between the College of Liberal Arts and the Extension Service. Babine focuses on digital technology initiatives, including increasing broadband access in rural communities.
But even when home-based broadband is an option, a smartphone often is more appealing.
"The more mobile you are in your everyday activities, the more difficult it is to rely on a home computer as your primary access to the internet," Babine said.
Anna Flores still uses a home internet connection so her children can study and print out homework assignments. But just about everything else the 34-year-old Wapato resident does on the internet -- emailing her family, shopping and watching YouTube videos -- is courtesy of her Samsung Mesmerize smartphone.
"I feel like I'm more in the know," Flores said about her smartphone.
A recent study from the Pew Hispanic Center shows that about 55 percent of Latinos surveyed have a home-based internet connection, well below the 75 percent among white respondents.
The same study found that 6 percent of Latinos use a cellphone as their sole source of internet access compared with 1 percent of whites, an indication that mobile phones may help fill an internet connectivity gap between Latinos and the general population.
"It is a (more) affordable way to access the internet," said Carlos Alcazar, president and CEO of the Hispanic Communications Network, a Washington, D.C.-based firm that designs and executes marketing campaigns for organizations targeting Latinos in the United States.
Cabrera, of U.S. Cellular, said his company has offered many promotions, such as a rebate for several free smartphones with the purchase of a single one, that make it affordable for local consumers.
"We see the price coming down because it's becoming so competitive," he said.
And affordability is a factor. According to the Pew Hispanic Center study, about 10 percent of Latinos with an annual household income of less than $30,000 depend on a cellphone for internet access.
Age is another factor. About 11 percent of Latinos between ages 18 and 29 depend solely on a mobile phone for internet access.
"We're definitely disproportionately younger," Alcazar said, noting that the median age of Latinos nationally is in the mid-20s. "That means we're more likely to download music, more likely to play games and access social networks."
And it's usually Latino youth who will introduce new products, like smartphones, to their older family members, Babine said.
Nayeli Herrera, a 12-year-old seventh-grader at Granger Middle School, estimates that she sends 1,000 text messages a week from her cellphone.
She hopes her next device will be a smartphone. Some of her friends have one, and she has used her uncle's to check her email and research topics for school.
But she will have to wait -- her mother said she's too young. She will get a laptop instead.
But Herrera still wants a smartphone someday.
"It (will be) easier to carry around," she said.