Buying a Cell Phone – Complete Shopping Guide For Plans and Phones

Nothing in the history of human technology has gained as much popularity or necessity as the cell phone other than maybe the personal computer. They allow you to be in contact all of the time anywhere in the world (providing you have reception). You can do more than just talk these days. These phones let you surf the web, play games, text, and even send and read email. Digging through the many service plans and accessories can be a very difficult task for even most veteran users. Read on to learn how to get the perfect service plan and phone for your wireless needs.

Choosing to buy a cell phone and a service plan to match is going to take some research and some work, so do not expect to find your perfect match overnight. Cell phones are no longer just a convenient way to keep in touch audibly, they are a lot more since their first appearance in high tech culture. These days you may find yourself checking your e-mails, sending pictures and text messages, keeping track of your stocks or world news, editing and reading business documents, listening to your favorite MP3 songs, or adding new personal and business contacts via your laptop computer.

When shopping for a phone, your choice of wireless service can alter which type and model you will be using. A wise plan of action is to shop for your carrier first. Finding out the best coverage and monthly pricing plans for your area will make your experience with your phone more enjoyable. Remember, even the best phone will be worth squat to you if you do not have a good carrier. While some accessories will work with many models, most phones will work only with one mobile carrier due to the exclusivity of their networks. Most providers lock their phones so you are less likely to leave their wireless network so remember that the wireless network is your phone’s life support.

Smartphones

What is a smartphone? Basically it is a cell phone but with the added capability of running document type applications and comes with a alphabet keyboard style pad, usually it is the Qwerty. Aside from that, the smartphone has more memory and a larger screen for browsing the Internet and sending emails. As far as media goes, a smartphone is also a perfect way to watch movies, video, and listen to MP3s. Most smartphones are now also 3G phones.

3G Phones

3G cellular phones are basically third generation mobile technology phones that allow you to transmit data (Internet) in larger amounts at a much faster rate, 2 megabits to be exact. This is far faster than the original speeds previously available (19 kilobits per second). So if you have documents you need to send to your boss or associates, a large amount of email messages to send, need to surf the web for research, or need to send video or images often then this is the generation of phone you will be wanting to acquire.

While a 3G phone is a great technological advancement, a third generation phone is only going to be as good as the network it is on. As a matter of fact, some areas may not carry 3G services at all, so make sure to ask your dealer if your area can even take advantage of the data speeds.

Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon all claim to carry the same data rates for their select 3G phones. The keyword spoken is “select”. Make sure you understand which phones will actually be compatible with the 3G networks and what speeds your actual phone can handle as well. You will want to ask if your phone is compatible with either the EvDO or HSDPA networks, if not, then you may want to seek out another phone that is.

GSM Phones

While there is a wireless standard for the United States, many countries will use additional wireless standards that can cause many problems for any US citizen traveling abroad with their US bought phone. GSM stands for the Global System for Mobile communications. If you plan to travel outside of the United States then you will want to entertain the possibility of owning a Quadband phone. Quadband means your phone runs off of four world frequencies being USA (850 Mhz and 1900 Mhz), Europe, and Asia.

If you plan to travel to rural areas within your own backyard (United States) then look into purchasing a tri-mode phone which can run off of an analog channel and two digital frequencies for additional coverage in in those low coverage areas.

Phone Body Styles

It is becoming where no one person has the same style of phone these days. They have different names such as the candy bar (phones that slide open from either the side, top, or bottom), the swivel (phones that twist to expose the phone functions), and the ever so common clamshell (flip phone). A quick tip to remember when choosing your phone style is that if your phone comes equipped with the keypad exposed on the outside, make sure it has a key lock. You do not want to be calling everyone under the sun while walking with your phone in your pocket.

Style vs. Function

Regardless of the newest trend or fad, make sure the style you choose is one that works for you. Testing the comfort of the phone against your ear is not commonly practiced, but you will find quickly you will have wished you had tested it once your ear gets sore and raw from your various hour long conversations. Also practice answering the phone to see how easy it is for you to operate and see the caller ID, having an easily accessible phone can help reduce unnecessary last minute stress when finding your phone in the first place. Although smartphones will add some bulkiness for talking, their keyboards are necessary for ease of many functions such as typing and web browsing. You may have to sacrifice some talking comfort. If you can find a medium between function and comfort, you may have found your match.

Batteries

Newer phones can give you a lot of talk time compared to the cellular devices of the past. These days a phone can give you up to 4 hours of talk time and up to 14 days if used with a standby function. Remember, not all phones will have this lasting power but more and more are getting this power efficiency added to their battery life. It is important to remember though, that the higher the bandwidth your phone uses, the more battery life can be drained from your phone. Also remember that the more functions you use on your phone, the more battery life you can expect to use as well. Some phones have additional options such as larger capacity batteries for an additional charge, this may be an option you will need.

Phone Screens

Now if you plan to use your phone almost exclusively for phone calls then your screen shouldn’t be too much an issue. As long as you can see outgoing and incoming calls, you should be okay. If you plan on utilizing a 3G or higher device a larger screen will be necessary to properly view the web, emails, etc. Make sure you are able to tweak with the back light settings of your phone before you buy it to check it’s visibility under different lighting situations.

Touch Screens

While the concept of the touchscreen phone is relatively the same, not all touchscreens function the same. Some screens can register more than one touch activation at one time. This kind of screen is called a multi-touch. A multi-touch screen will let you manipulate an object while it is being touched such as swivel, twist, zoom, drag, etc. Single touch screens register one touch at a time with your finger and while it may seem less zesty, it can also help save you from accidentally doing more than you intended to. A good touchscreen phone should allow you to adjust sensitivity settings that work better with your own personal style, or should we say, personal touch.

Keypads

If you are purchasing a smartphone then you will be running into what is called a Qwerty keyboard. These keyboards have the alphabet on them as well as punctuations to help type out emails and texts more efficiently. Qwerty usually comes as an addition to the dialing pad. Aside from smartphone keypads, make sure your numeric dialing pad is just as easy to use. Smaller buttons can tend to get in the way of each other causing miss dials. If you must sacrifice your dial pad for convenience of size, make sure your phone comes equipped with voice activated dialing. Obviously this will help you make calls easier, not to mention help you comply with local cell phone laws.

Operating Systems

If you are purchasing a smartphone then you will want to understand a little about the operating systems available. Just like your computer has an operating system, so does your phone. Here are the current operating systems: Windows Mobile OS, Palm OS, Symbian OS, Mac OS, Google Android

Palm OS: Good Productivity Software and Easy Learning Curve

Microsoft OS: Microsoft Office and Great Phone Compatibility

Symbian OS: Good Productivity Software but LessUser Friendly

Mac OS: Optional Paid Download Applications

Google Android: Optional Download Applications

Common Cellular Phone Features

Mobile phones come with all types of internal management features such as phone book, calendar, speed dial, call history, voice activated dialing, photo albums, dial pad lock, and more. As well, many phones come equipped with hardwired features such as speaker phone, cameras, and even walkie talkie features. As you can imagine, there are many additional options that you may want or need so pay close attention to features available with the phone you would like to buy and make sure it is going to perform all the tasks you require .

Headsets

If you drive while using your phone or just prefer to not have your phone pressed up against your face throughout the day, a headset will be an accessory you will be wanting to have with yours. In many cases it will come with a headset, but if not you can pick up one for a fair price. Typical headsets are attached to a wire and in the case you don’t want wires make sure you get a bluetooth equipped phone for wireless conversations. Most smartphones come bluetooth equipped.

Choosing Your Cell Phone Provider

While many wireless carriers will boast in their commercials of their network reliability, only usage will tell. Ask friends and co-workers which networks they use for their phones and if you still are not sure go with a carrier that gives you a 30 day trial basis. The major carriers with the most vast networks are Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, Nextel, and T-Mobile. It is suggested you go with one of these carriers for the best chance at getting reliable coverage.

Choosing Your Calling Plan

National calling plans are usually the best packaged deal, even if you use your phone locally. Always try to find a plan that offers free roaming, roaming charges can soar if you ever leave your network and many people don’t even know when they have so controlling roaming costs can be difficult. If you travel outside the country, international roaming is a package add-on must.

Choosing Your Data Plan

If you plan on using your phone for email and the web then a data plan is something you will want either bundled or added on to your monthly bill. Accessing the Internet without such a plan can run into the hundreds when charged by the minute and at a higher price.

Choosing Your Minutes

Free nights and weekends may have you thinking you need less minutes, but be warned, each carrier has their own definition of what “night time” is. Make sure you know when your calls are free and what time their weekends start and end. Pick a minute plan that goes over what you think you’ll use to spare yourself the bill of going over. Minutes go up in price once you max your limit. If the minute plans look to complex because of the amount of minutes, divide them by 60 to get the numerical equal in hours.

Your Contract

The best deals always come with the lengthier contract. 2-3 year contracts usually allow you to get the best calling plan as well as the best phones for less or free. While this may be the route you wish to go, remember that leaving earlier can be very costly when it comes to cancellation fees. If your phone is expensive, make sure to get a warranty and insurance plan for your phone so if anything happens to it, it can be replaced.

Replacing Your Home Phone?

If replacing your home phone then making sure your service will include E911 is going to be vital for obvious safety reasons. Ask your provider and inform them you are replacing you home phone.