Buying a cell phone used to be simple. You paid a fortune for a phone the size of a brick that had no range, sounded terrible and constantly dropped calls.
It's much more complicated today. Modern cell phones have more extras than a crowd scene in "Gone With the Wind." So how do you decide which phone is right for you? Coupon Sherpa takes a look at the most important things you should consider before buying a cell phone.
1. Shop Service Plans: Before you start looking at jazzy phones with all the bells and whistles, decide on a service plan that will work for you. Most cell phone models work only with a specific carrier (AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, etc.), so you'll want to decide on a plan before selecting a phone.
Begin by considering how and where you'll use your phone each month and ask about the coverage offered by each service. Coverage is the geographical area within which a cell phone can be used to make and receive calls.
Check to make sure the provider covers areas in which you frequently travel. Check with friends who have a certain service in which you're interested. Do they like their network or do they lose calls frequently?
Next consider the size of plan you'll need. Will you use the phone constantly for work/play and need a lot of minutes with Internet access? Do you just occasionally call family and friends and need a minimal plan? Make sure you understand all terms of the plan and carefully read the contract before signing.
2. Consider Cost: Cell phones can range in price from $1400 to $30. Is your priority to be hip or have a basically functional phone? Many phones are available for free or at greatly reduced prices when you sign a service contract for a pre-determined period.
3. Digital or Analog Phone: There are two primary technologies available to wireless users: analog and digital. Digital service is clearer and more secure than analog and is necessary for features like wireless access and e-mail, but coverage can be spotty. The older analog network transmits sounds like radio waves and has the most extensive coverage, particularly in rural areas.
4. Size, Weight and Design: Will you carry the phone in your purse or pocket? How well does it fit? Does it feel too heavy or bulky? Cells also come in a variety of designs, including flip, slide, etc. Do you have any difficulty maneuvering such phones or would you prefer a phone with large buttons and all controls on the face?
5. Ease of Use: Gadgets and doodads are useless if you can't figure out how to use the danged phone. Are features buried in menus and lists that make it difficult to use? Would you actually bother with them?
6. Screen Size and Color: The contrast between the background and screen color should make the screen easy to read. The fonts should be large enough to read. Make sure shortcut keys are easy to use.
7. Battery: Most batteries last up to a week with moderate phone use. Consider how long you'll use the phone between charges to decide what kind of battery would be best for your needs.
8. Standard Services: Most phones now include voice messaging, calendars, alarms, calculators and basic games. Many can take basic photos but the quality will vary, depending on the phone. Different ring tones are included with each phone, which you can easily adjust. You shouldn't have to pay extra for these services.
9. Accessories: If you want to send a lot of text messages, opt for a phone with a QWERTY keypad that looks like a standard keyboard. Many phones now are capable of taking videos. Smartphones provide database capability, similar to a Personal Digital Assistant. If you want hands-free use, you'll need a phone with Bluetooth service. Of course, wireless and email access are available on the more expensive phones, which can do everything but take out the garbage.
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