Cell Phones Buying Guide

Cell Phones Buying Guide
How To Choose Your Cell Phone

It's largely a matter of personal taste and budget; the latter depends on what promotions are being offered, which tend to fluctuate almost weekly. Size and battery life are the most important factors.

Your choice of phone depends on your choice of carrier. All carriers have their own mutually incompatible digital networks. This means that a Sprint PCS phone, for example, won't be compatible with VoiceStream Wireless or AT&T Wireless service. Most cell phones look like smaller versions of your phone at home, with the addition of a screen and a few extra buttons. Flip phones fold in half and open to reveal the screen and keypad. Web sites offer phone ratings and reviews that can help you make your choice. You might also want to go into a store and see how a phone looks and feels. Above all, make sure the phone you pick has the features you need, or think you might soon need. Dual mode phones are essential for anyone who travels between the city and the country, because they shift to analog coverage when digital isn't available. To take advantage of special discounted phones (some are offered free), a customer may need to sign up for at least one-year's service. If you desire certain features, ensure the phone is equipped. For example, hands-free microphone so you can talk and drive, memory dialing to pre-program numbers; radio mute will automatically turn down the volume when you make a call; auto answer will pick up the phone for you after two rings; voice mail, etc. Top Selling Wireless

What to Consider

The things you'll probably care most about are size, looks, ergonomics, robustness, screen size, Web features, and how long the battery lasts between charges.

  • Price
  • Functions
  • Transmission Technology
  • Battery Type
  • Talk Time
  • Standby Time
  • Hands Free Option
  • Weight
  • Internet Capability
  • Phone Book Storage Capacity

  • Price

    Analog phones tend to be less expensive than digital phones. However, the rules of cell phone pricing are changing because cell phones are purchased mostly with an accompanying service plan. Through various licensing and marketing agreements, cellular service providers can often offer phones at a discounted price or even gratuitously to their customers when they order a phone activated with one of their plans. As cellular companies expand their digital service, digital phone prices will continue to drop, adding new options for the price-conscious wireless phone shopper. Top Selling Wireless


    Functions seem to be one of the most important thing to consider when people choose a cell phone. Besides calling and receiving calls, people are demanding more out of their mobile phones.To keep themselves amused while waiting for anything, they expect a phone to come with more computer games. For those who drive, phones that come with voice dialing and voice answering seem to be popular as they can keep their hands off the cell phone while driving but still be in touch.

    Transmission Technology

    Analog Cellular: This is the oldest technology of the three, where signals are identical to those sent and received by an ordinary radio. The sound quality is generally inferior to digital cellular and PCS, and phone conversations using this technology are easily intercepted by electronic scanning devices. It does, however, have the greatest coverage, especially in rural areas.

    Digital Cellular: Software inside phones using digital cellular technology convert and reconstruct digitized messages for sending and listening. The sound quality as well as the privacy of your conversations is superior to analog cellular, and digital phones have extended data capability features including voice mail and caller ID. They are also lighter and have a longer battery life then analog phones.

    Digital PCS: Personal Communications Service (PCS) differs from traditional digital cellular service because it operates on the 1.9Ghz frequency band. This allows greater network capacity and data capability then a standard digital phone. The different PCS technologies include CDMA, TDMA, and GSM.

    Call management features

    Common call management features include phone books, call histories, call timers, and priority dialing, but these are merely the basics.

    Several phones support voice command, where the phone responds to spoken commands. This feature may be implemented in the phone hardware itself, or the phone may provide convenient controls to let you access your carrier's network-based voice command system. The former is somewhat less flexible, but it won't cost you anything to use.

    If you use your phone in the car a lot, look for an auto answer mode, so you don't have to fumble for a button every time it rings. Some phones let you quick-dial with one, two, or three keystrokes, or by entering any combination of letters or digits that identifies a given entry.

    Some phones and carriers support three-way or five-way conference calling. Other common calling features, such as caller ID, call waiting, and call forwarding, are similar to landline phone options. All of these depend on your rate plan, but require a compatible phone. Multiple ringer tones and programmable ringer melodies are fun but also useful if you assign different ringer tones to different callers or groups of callers. A built-in vibration ring mode is vital since you don't have to bother other people in restaurants, meetings, and public places.

    Finally, most wireless phones provide a variety of security features to restrict outgoing and incoming calls, lock the keypad, and protect or mass-delete phone book information. Some phones will let you lock most of the phone book while providing a few hidden numbers that are still easily accessible. Top Selling Wireless

    Advanced communications features

    Many of today's wireless phones provide Web access, one- or two-way text messaging, and can also act as pagers, PDAs, and voice memo recorders. Web-enabled phones have a built-in minibrowser that can show a basic text display from many popular Web sites. One-way and two-way text messaging, based on a standard called SMS (Short Message Service), is often available to users within the same phone network. Most phones can also receive e-mail and personalized alerts such as news, weather, sports, and financial updates. See our Guide to Wireless Internet Access for details.

    Plenty of phones have built-in personal information management (PIM) functions that allow you to schedule appointments, write to-do lists, and set reminders for yourself.

    Some phone models are specifically designed to be used all over the globe. These phones use the GSM system, supported by VoiceStream in the U.S., but used as a standard in about 140 countries. World phones support multiple frequency bands (dual- or multiband phones) or can take tiny Smart Interface Module (SIM) cards that enable the phones to work on different frequencies both here and abroad. While obviously not for everyone, these phones will definitely be of interest to international business travelers.

    Battery life

    Cell phone battery life has improved tremendously over the past year or two, which is remarkable when you consider that size and weight have also fallen dramatically. Phones that provide three hours of talk time and can stay on standby for five or six days are not at all unusual, and anything less than two hours of talk time and four days standby is subpar.