Cell Phone Buying Guide

by techtiptom

Originally posted on WIBC.com on 06/15/2009:

Cellphones come in many shapes and sizes today and many are feature packed with all kinds of goodies like mp3 players, video players, cameras, integrated GPS systems and much more, but which of these phones is the right one for you? And do you really need all of those features? Do you really need the latest, greatest phone on the market today?

Cellphones have become sort of a status symbol in our society, akin to the bigger is better mentality, but with phones it’s the more features the better, and of course the smaller the better with cellphones. It seems that when a new phone is launched everyone rushes to grab one even though they really have no need for it, think iPhone here folks, did those millions of people really need the new iPhone? Most likely not, they just wanted the latest and greatest gadget on the market today so they could say that they have one.

There are those of us who take a different approach to these things though, the approach is getting something that we actually need and are going to use, not getting something to make a statement about our how materialistic we are.

So in this guide I’m going to give you some pointers on how to pick the right phone for you, and I’m going to go into brief detail about the types of phones that are available on the market today. Of course some phones are carrier specific, but if you look hard enough you can always find an unlocked version of a phone somewhere at least for some carriers that allow that…..

*Here’s a fun fact for you, the idea of the wireless phone has been around since 1915, but it wasn’t until 1978 that the first commercial service was launched in Japan.

Types of Phones:

There are many types of cellphones on the market today and they can be broken down into several categories, when you shop for phones you can usually browse several different styles with many options included, but for generalization purposes they can really be broken down into four major categories.

Flip Phones are exactly what they sound like, a phone that flips open to become usually twice the size, the idea behind these phones is the overall compact size, but yet when flipped open it becomes large enough to be used easily.

Candy Bar style phones are phones that usually do not have moving parts, the display is on one side with the numbers and keys directly beneath it, while the back is usually blank or might have a camera built in. There are exceptions though, some candy bar style phones are sliders as well where the keypad is protected by a sliding cover, or a secondary control system in under the sliding section.

PDAs Personal Data Assistants or Personal Digital Assistants are more business oriented and normally do not have numbered buttons as you would see on a regular phone. These normally have a large screen that is touch enabled with the use of your finger or included stylus to input data, make phone calls or even take hand written notes.

PPCs, Smartphones and Blackberries, the abbreviation PPC stands for Pocket PC, these are often times confused with PDAs, or can be cross categorized with them by some companies. While Blackberries are a part of this style, they are usually found in their own category as they offer services that are specific to the Blackberry company. These types of phones are normally larger than other phones, and while these too are business oriented devices more and more people are choosing them for their functionality and the features they can offer the average person.

PPCs or Smartphones can offer a true portable multi-media experience with the ability to play mp3s, movies and games. Many of these styles of phones also offer touch screen capabilities and some include a full qwerty keyboard as well to make text input much easier. I’ve personally always had either a Smartphone or PPC as my main cellphone, I happen to like the full qwerty style keyboard and the additional functionality offered by these types of phones, my current PPC has even replaced my mp3 player.

All of these types of phones can offer many other useful features as well, such a Bluetooth connectivity, WiFi, expandable storage with memory cards, and high quality built in cameras.

When choosing a phone you’ll need to decide what features you need the most, or those that you feel you’ll have a use for. Many features like Bluetooth, mp3 player capabilities and built in cameras are becoming standard on cellphones today, but features like wifi or higher end cameras can only be found on much more expensive phones, so if you desire those features you will be paying a premium for them.

Notes on Carriers and Fees:

Choosing the right carrier is about getting the service you need, and one that’s not only right for you but works for you, and ‘works’ is the key word here. I personally am on my third cellphone service carrier or provider, on my third try I’ve finally found one where I can get a call while I’m in my house. So it’s really trial and error as to coverage of cellphone providers, unless of course you wish to pay roaming fees. Companies do offer coverage maps to indicate coverage area of their service but these aren’t exactly accurate, and honestly it’s just a marketing ploy, providers are not going to tell you that you might not have great service in your area, they’re basically just saying that there is service there, be it good or bad.

Companies today usually lock you into a contract for a certain amount of time, be it one year or two, yes there are some that allow month to month service but in the long run they are usually more expensive overall. The problem with these contracts is the early termination fees, most companies charge you a fee plus a certain percentage of your contract if you wish to leave them before your contract expires.

From experience I also have found that cellphone providers will not tell you when your contract has expired so you can find another provider if you wish or need to, they’ll just let you go on paying for service on a month to month basis after your contract has expired.

There are exceptions to these things though, most companies do offer 15 day or even 30 day ‘trial’ periods so you can see if the service and the phone you selected is right for you. There is also a trend where the FCC is stepping in to help consumers fight the early termination fees that companies have set forth, and as of now some companies have even waived or drastically lowered their termination fees.

When you Decide to Make the Purchase:

The first thing you’ll need to do when purchasing a phone, or actually before deciding on the phone, is decide on a provider that’s right for you. All cellphone providers offer different phones, but some allow you to bring your own phone as well, these companies use a sim card system where you get a tiny memory card that fits into the phone of your choice. The best part about the sim card system is that you can switch phones easily, just take the card out and pop it in a new phone. I personally have two phones that I use often, one is a rather expensive PPC, the other is an inexpensive flip phone. If I know I’m going to be doing something where I might damage my phone, and won’t be using the features of my PPC I’ll switch phones, I’d rather break my inexpensive phone than my PPC. It’s nice to have the choices the sim card system offers.

Most areas offer several choices of cellphone providers, and sometimes it can be hard to decide which on is right for you. My advice about this is not to believe the company, after all all they really want your money, the best thing to do is talk to people and look around for other customer experiences with the providers in your area to see who may have the best coverage that’s right for you.

Next up is choosing the plan, after you finally wade throw the plethora of choices regarding the phones that are available, the next choice you need to make is the actual service plan, here again you’re going to have several choices and several optional add-on features like text messaging, data plans, or tethering.

When you choose a provider it’s best to shop around for the actual phone you decide on, I’ve found that you might not get the best deal from the actual provider company, many third party companies offer deals that you can’t get through the provider, such as Amazon.com, they’ve got many deals on phones and services, and normally after rebate you pay little or no money.

As with any product you should always do research before making the final purchase, since some cellphones can easily cost hundreds of dollars it well worth the time it takes to look around and learn more about the phone you are thinking of buying.

Sites like Testfreaks can be very valuable in making a purchase like this, they offer expert and user reviews of products where you’ll oftentimes get unbiased opinions about products that can help you make an informed buying decision.

A final note about cellphones would be that due to their popularity you see them everywhere, and that includes people using them while driving. Use your phone responsibly, do not allow your call to distract you, and always use a hands-free device while driving, you don’t want to be in an accident. In some states it is actually illegal to drive while talking on the phone, you must have a hands-free device in these states or face fines and possibly other penalties. Use your phone responsibly, if possibly wait to make that call, or even pull over and talk if need be, arriving where you’re going a little later is better than not getting there at all.