TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Moving Up the Phone Chain

Moving Up the Phone Chain

Dan Tynan (
Tue, 22 Nov 2005 23:02:49 -0600

By Dan Tynan

Once upon a time, you carried a cell phone because you wanted to talk
to other people without being tethered to a land line. Now the notion
of merely talking while you're walking seems almost quaint. Today's
top cell phones are more like pocket-size computers -- you can send
e-mail, surf the Web, manage your schedule, snap photos, play games,
and a whole lot more for just a few pennies a minute.

As a result, cell phones are no longer one-size-fits-all. They vary
widely in features, functionality, and cost. So if you're thinking of
swapping out your tired old mobile phone for a slick new cell, you've
got to figure out exactly what type of phone user you really are.

To help you choose, we've divided the world into five types of mobile
mavens, each of whom needs a slightly different kind of phone. But
before you dive in, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Nearly all phones are exclusive to a particular carrier. For example,
if you want the Blackberry 7520, you'll have to be a Nextel
subscriber; Motorola Razr fans need to sign up with Cingular. (Notable
exceptions: Aficionados of the Palm Treo 650 and Nokia N-Gage can
order them from multiple carriers.)

In addition, prices for the same phone can vary wildly depending on
where you buy it and what kind of plan you get, says Allan Keiter,
president of Getting a phone with a two-year plan can
knock 50 percent or more off the unit's retail price, but also locks
you into technology that will quickly feel outdated. On the other
hand, if you're upgrading your phone without also upgrading your plan,
don't expect any discounts.

Prices for the same phone also vary depending on whether you buy
directly from the wireless carrier, an independent dealer, or an
online retailer. Sites like, Phone Scoop, and Wirefly
offer interactive guides that let you sort phones by features and find
the cheapest sources for them.

Keiter advises consumers to find a carrier that offers good coverage
in the areas where they're likely to use the phone, pick the phone
they want, and then choose from the plans available for each phone.

Now, on to a healthy dose of self-reflection. What kind of phone user
are you?

The Family Guy (or Gal)

Profile: You don't travel much, but you need to be reachable when
you're away from the house. More important, you want to keep track of
other family members -- like your spouse, kids, or aging parents -- so
you will probably want multiple phones. In short, you're looking for a
model that's like you: maybe not the most stylish or hippest thing on
the block, but rock-solid, dependable, and affordable.

The features you want: You probably don't need a Web-enabled phone or
one that checks e-mail, but if you've got teenage kids you'll want one
that at least offers text messaging (virtually all phones do these
days). A press-to-talk (walkie-talkie) feature comes in handy if you
need to reach the kids when they're playing down the street or you
want to find them in a crowded mall without using up your minutes.

If you're buying a phone for your parents -- or you're getting on in
years yourself -- you may actually want a bigger model like the Nokia
6019i (through U.S. Cellular) or Audiovox SMT5600 (Cingular) with a
screen that's easier to read and buttons that are easier to push. That
argues against the more-expensive, though sexier, flip and slider
models. Larger phones also tend to have slightly better reception,
though your mileage may vary.

Price range: $50 to $150

The plan for you: Look for a mobile-to-mobile plan that lets you call
others on the same network for free. If you just want to use the phone
in town, a local calling plan will probably give you more minutes for
your money, but you can really rack up the charges if you use it on
the road.

The Restless Commuter

Profile: You spend big chunks of each day waiting--for buses, cabs,
trains; in grocery stores, hair salons, traffic. You're easily bored,
but you don't want to carry six different devices in your pocket. What
you want is a phone that doubles as an entertainment device.

The features you want: The kind of phone you get depends on how you
like to waste -- er, spend -- your free time. If you want to surf
while you wait, a full Web browser is essential--and fairly easy to
find on most phones. Java-based phones typically come with a handful
of games and the ability to download more, but serious players will
want to take a gander at Nokia's N-Gage (Cingular, T-Mobile), which is
essentially a handheld game machine with a phone inside. You can even
play against other nearby N-Gage users via a Bluetooth connection.

Like to rock out? Motoro

Cingular, comes with a miniature IPod able to store 100 tunes. Generic
MP3 players and FM radios are starting to show up in a wide range of
mobile phones, and there's a slew of cells such as the LG Electronics
VX9800 and Audiovox 8940 (both from Verizon) coming down the pike that
feature multiple channels of TV content (see "Moving Pictures").

Price range: $150 and up

The plan for you: Look for a high-speed data plan for downloading
games and Web surfing. Adding TV will generally run you another $10 a

The Raving Fashionista

Your profile: For you, style is substance. It doesn't matter what you
say, as long as you look good saying it. And not only does your phone need
to be sleek, small, and able to enhance your outfit, it also has to be fun
to use. So when you're out at a rave, you want a phone that lets you send a
text message, snap a picture, then e-mail it to a friend or post it to your
mobile blog.

The features you want: There's probably no cooler gadget anywhere than
the Motorola Razr V3 (Cingular). Just a half-inch thick, the Razr's
top flips up to reveal a crisp, 2.2-inch color screen and a flat
keypad outlined in neon blue. With LG's MM535 multimedia phone,
available from Sprint, the screen slides up to reveal the keypad,
while the Sony Ericsson S710a (Cingular) offers a unique swivel
design. All offer relatively high-res 1.3-megapixel cameras that can
capture still images or video, as well as messaging and e-mail

Price range: $200 and up

The plan for you: Look for a low-cost media plan that lets you send a
fixed number of text and picture messages for a flat monthly rate.

The Road Warrior

Your profile: You're a busy executive who needs to stay in constant
touch. You spend your life going from meeting to meeting and airport
to airport, but the world will stop turning if you're away from your
cell phone or e-mail for more than half an hour. You need a phone that
lets you be all thumbs -- but in a good way.

The features you want: For you, e-mail and messaging are more
important than voice, so you've got to have a QWERTY keypad. This
phone will do double duty as your personal data assistant, which means
you'll need a sophisticated scheduler, a copious address book, a to-do
list manager, full browser capabilities, and the ability to view and
edit documents.

You won't need a camera, but you will need to sync with your PC via a
USB or Bluetooth connection, and because such phones are awkward to
talk into, you'll probably want a wireless Bluetooth headset. Style?
Forget about it. These devices are really more like laptop
substitutes. In short, you're looking for units like the Treo 650
(available from Cingular, Sprint, or Verizon), Audiovox 6600 (Sprint
or Verizon), BlackBerry 7100g (Cingular), Samsung i730 (Verizon), or
the T-Mobile Sidekick II.

Price range: $200 to $600

The plan for you: In addition to voice minutes, you'll want a
heavy-duty high-speed data plan. They generally start at around $40 a

Your profile: You don't just go on trips, you go on expeditions. For
you, "crossing the pond" is like taking a puddle jumper. Even if you
remain largely in the continental United States, you spend more time
in hotels than your average bellhop. You need a phone designed for the
long haul.

The features you want: If you travel outside the United States, look
for a GSM phone that switches between multiple frequencies, such as
the 850-MHz band used in the United States and Canada, and the 900-,
1800-, and 1900-MHz bands used virtually everywhere else. T-Mobile's
Motorola V330 and Cingular's HP iPaq 6510 both operate on all four

You'll likely go a long time before seeing an AC outlet, so you'll
want a phone with longer battery life; for example, the Sony Ericsson
S710a (Cingular) is rated at 420 minutes of talk time and 300 hours of
standby. If you're constantly visiting new cities, or want people to
be able to find you easily, consider a unit with a Global Positioning
System transponder built in, such as the BlackBerry 7520 (Nextel),
which can pinpoint your location on a map and provide driving

Price range: $200 to $600

The plan for you: GPS services generally add $10 to $15 to your
monthly bill. And take a good long look at those overseas
long-distance charges -- you could end up paying more than a buck a
minute in some places.

Award-winning journalist Dan Tynan writes the Gadget Freak column for
PC World and TechSmart for Attache magazine. His new book,Computer
Privacy Annoyances(O'Reilly Media 2005), may someday be available on
your cell phone (but probably not).

Copyright 2005 Yahoo Tech Tuesday

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