Buying Guide to Cell Phones

So your old cell phone from the Zach Morris era finally pooped out, and it’s time to buy a new one, eh? Well, the good news is, your phone doesn’t have to look (or act, for that matter) like a painted brick anymore. The bad news is, well, that you have a ton of choices to make now. The fact is cell phone technology has sped ahead in the last decade to the point where it’s hard to keep up with the newest mobile technology. With services and phones now commonly taking pictures and playing music, not to mention a few that can play live TV, mobile tech is continuously surprising the public in terms of capabilities.

With such overwhelming choices to make, it’s easy to get lost in the sea of features, styles, and prices, not to mention the plans that service providers throw at you. While this guide won’t be able to help you with service plans, going through the points below can help you narrow the field and figure out what you really want out of your next cellular phone.

Identify what kind of user you are. Knowing how you’re going to use your phone will help give you a better idea of what kind of style and features you’ll look for in a handset. For example, if you’re primarily interested in making phone calls, a simple candy bar style phone with minimal features will likely be the perfect phone for you. In a similar vein, businessmen will likely have different habits and needs than students, and students will likely use their phones differently than their grandparents. Knowing thyself and thy phone habits will go a long way in helping you make the right decision when the time comes to hunt for a new phone.

Choose a style. The options in terms of the type of phone you choose aren’t vast, but they are different enough that it is important to give consideration to each when getting ready to purchase a new handset. The most common phone styles are the “candy bar” phone and the flip phone. Generally, the flip design is good for those who keep their phones in their pockets because the screen is protected, but is often considered a little flimsy in comparison to the one-piece candy bar style. Variations include the swivel phone and the slide phone, which are something like hybrids of the candy bar and flip phone designs.

A design that is especially popular with business people is the Smart Phone. Smart Phones are hybrids between cell phones and Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs). Smart Phones usually have wider bodies, QWERTY keyboards, a ton of features including office software and internet connectivity, and a high price tag. In fact, good Smart Phones can often cost upwards of $600, but they allow for increased productivity and are less cumbersome than carrying multiple devices on your person. For most users, however, a simple flip or candy bar phone will generally do the trick.

Consider the features. This is where things get both tricky and fun. The bevy of features to be found on phones these days is mind boggling, with constant changes in media features, physical gadgets, and cool software making the combination of features almost infinite. And while there are those among us who wouldn’t mind having every one of those features on our handset, such niceties can be cumbersome, excessive, and expensive, especially for new users or those looking for simplicity.

The most common “wow factor” features on phones today are media players, internet capabilities, and cameras. While it is becoming almost expected that new phones have cameras on them, such features still don’t rival the picture quality of even the most inexpensive digital cameras. Still, phones are a nice touch, and are especially popular with the younger crowd, who like the freedom of being able to have a camera on hand without having to carry a bulkier one around.

The use of the internet is also becoming more common and more efficient on phones, and while it has not yet reached the level of penetration that some industry executives would like, such capabilities are big hits in the traveler and business community where staying connected is an absolute must.

Probably the biggest push being made by cell phone companies right now is towards phones that can play digital media. A number of phones and services have arisen that allow for MP3s to be played on phones, and video on demand is growing in popularity. While they are still novelties, the services and products associated with mobile music and video are growing at a steady pace, and it may not be long before the capability to enjoy both are standard features on most phones.

Despite the sea of features available and in the works, the major point when considering features on phones is to get what you need, and maybe a little of what you want. Try not to get caught up in the newest trends if you’re not looking for them. If you do, you’ll likely end up with more than you ever needed on your phone, and most likely a lighter pocketbook because of it.

Keep an eye on performance. Despite the blinding varieties and sheer numbers of features that can be found on phones these days, remember that you still need to make calls on these things. Presumably you’re looking for a phone that can maintain clear service and has a strong battery life (think three hours of talk time or more). It’s easy to get caught up in all of the cool things that come on the handset and lose sight of what they phone is really for, so try not to forget why you’re there in the first place.

Look for a good price. Price should always be a consideration, especially for those of us who can’t throw around a lot of dough. The nice thing about cell phones, however, is that if you’re resigning a contract, you can likely find a discount on phones that meet your needs. Some service providers even go so far as to give free phones to family members when you sign a family plan, so if you happen to be looking for a deal on your handset, make sure you find out what kind of discounts are available in store.

Deals can also be found online. While Ebay might be somewhat out of the question on this one, manufacturer websites will often offer rebates on hot phones or phones that might not be the newest in their line. There are also plenty of third party websites that offer discounted prices on many of their phones. This is often a great way to go, but you have to make sure that the phone you choose is supported by your service provider, as not every phone will work with every service. Wherever you find your new phone, though, remember that in many cases you will be able to get your phone at a discount, and in some cases, it might even be free.

With cell phone technology changing so quickly, it’s almost impossible to keep up with everything that they can now do. But with an industry developing quickly to serve gaming and live video on mobile phones, it’s a safe bet that phone tech will continue to amaze and move along at a scorching pace, creating what many believe will eventually be a truly mobile society.

Despite that swift development, however, it’s important to keep in mind what’s right for your needs when in the market for a phone. After all, the phone is there to make your life easier, and that convenience should include your shopping experience, as well.

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