Choosing a New Phone

Ok, so your long awaited trek to be free from the bounds of your last contractual obligation with your current cell phone provider is over (or nearly so), and you’re licking your chops at running out and buying a new, modern, updated phone.  The thing is, there’s much more to buying a phone than meets the eye.  First, there are several things to consider when choosing a new phone, beginning with not the phone itself, but the service provider.  That’s where one should start.  Despite the fact that most carriers claim to cover 95 percent of the country, the stark reality is that they don’t even come close.  They cover 95 percent of the population (or where most people live), but when considering square mileage, all carriers cover far less than that.  So, the first thing you need to do is head for a prospective carrier’s website, bring up their personal coverage map, input your address, and see what sort of coverage they offer in your area.  Most carriers will show the coverage in the area around where you live, and you can get a good idea of what sort of coverage you should expect to get in the place where you live, work, and generally find yourself in your day to day routine.   This is the first step you should take when looking to buy a new phone.

Do you travel?  If you find yourself traveling abroad, you might want to consider going with AT&T or T-Mobile since these companies operate GSM networks.  Outside the US, you’ll find there’s no CMDA networks operating, and that the rest of the world uses GSM.  Over time, Verizon and Sprint will be changing over to LTE which is the next generation of GSM (which will be backward compatible with today’s current flavor of GSM), and CMDA phones are pretty useless outside the US.  If you never find yourself traveling internationally, you can safely buy from companies like Verizon or Sprint without worrying.  Another thing to consider is getting your phone unlocked if you travel abroad.  With an unlocked phone, you can buy a local SIM card from a local carrier and make/receive local phone calls at the same rates everyone else there does instead of paying outrageous international long distance rates that the carriers charge.

Ok, so you’ve done your carrier homework and you’re pretty sure who you want to go with, so now it’s time to go shopping for a phone.  So what do you buy?  One of these fancy new smart phones, a messaging/social network phone, or a vanilla handset that takes pictures and makes phone calls?  Well, it all depends.  Take a hard look at what your needs are and ignore your wants.  I deal with people on a daily basis who have nothing but problems with their phone, and it’s not the phone or the carrier’s fault… it’s their fault.  Why?  Because they ran out and bought a phone because it was one of those cool smart phones, or because it had a physical keyboard, or they liked the color.  These are all wrong reasons that most people use when making the decision, and it’s the heart of the ‘issues’ that people with phone issues have.

Consider your situation.  Do you need your phone for business?  Do you message alot?  Are you a social networking freak? Are you OK with paying $10-$30 bucks a month more for internet access?  These are the things you want to consider when buying a phone.  You’ll get much more from a phone that’s right fitted to your needs rather than how cool you look holding it or how well it matches your favorite purse or shoes.  If you’re a businessman who sends/receives alot of email, needs alot of business features like high end security, enterprise level email and applications and need to store alot of information locally in your phone, you’re probably a good candidate for a Blackberry or iPhone.  Also, if you just love having the internet in your pocket, like to play games, or have other needs for running applications on your phone, then again, the smartphone is for you.  When it comes to smartphones, most people are going to want either an iPhone, Blackberry, or Android device, and each phone has it pluses and minuses.  The iPhone is by far the App Champ, with over 250,000 apps in the app store, and it also offers the best web browsing experience of any handset.  If security and speed of the network and security of the data on the phone is your paramount issue (business or government), then maybe a blackberry with it’s extremely fast and secure blackberry network and super secure data features of the phone might be for you.  If accessing porn and getting locked out of your phone to the point where you can’t even make a phone call let alone access your porn-on-the-go because you’re too stupid to remember you Gmail account and password is your gig, then by all means, Android is the way to go… I recommend a Motorola phone like the cliq or charm with Motoblur to  really seal your fate, or perhaps one of the Galaxy S phones by Samsung (Vibrant, Captivate, Fascinate or Epic) if waiting on that handset exchanges because you stupidly master reset the device thinking that would get you back into your phone because you forgot your username/password is that extra kick in what you’re looking for, again, Android has that corner of the market locked up.

Messaging/Social networking.  Alot of people are message freaks, especially the younger generation.  I called a young guy I know and he didn’t answer the phone, so I sent an SMS to him and he responded immediately (go figure).  For whatever reason, the younger crowd, and some of the older ones are addicted to this ridiculously archaic, even more ridiculously overpriced, let’s piggy back data on unused signalling channels limited way of communicating and charge monstrous fees for the service.  Given that, if SMS is you OMG, but accessing the internet, or sending emails (ick, no 140 character limitation? what fun is that?) or running games and applications is not high on your list, just text messages and the occasional phone call to one of those old people who actually use the voice function of the phone, then you’re in the market for a messaging phone.  A few short years ago, Blackberries were the king of the messaging phone market, but that was before the industry realized there was a messaging market.  So, a huge number of Blackberry owners out there have no clue what enterprise email is, but they own a Blackberry because it’s “just such a great messaging phone”.   However, the market has finally realized that just overcharging for text messaging isn’t going to drive sales anymore, that a bigger selection of phones designed specifically for text messaging is needed, and there’s a number of phones out there.  Phones like the Pantech Impact or the Samsung Gravity are a couple of examples of phones out there designed specifically for messaging over other functions and this sort of phone is what you’re looking for if you don’t need all the fancy data features a smartphone offers.  Also there’s a new crop of messaging phones out there now that are incorporating social networking apps into the phone.  These are not true smart phones, but they are starting to sort of look like one, and even have some, but not nearly all, of the features that a true smartphone has.  The LG Sentio is a good example of this new wave of messaging/social networking phones out there.

I don’t text, I don’t social network, I don’t app, I don’t surf, I don’t anything but make phone calls… I just want a phone, and maybe a camera so I can snap pics of my beloved grandchild, or just need a phone for emergencies and nothing else.  Well, there’s a phone for you too.   Nokia and Samsung both have phones like the Samsung T139, T239, T249, etc or the Nokia 2720 or 1661 are just a couple of examples of phones that fit this (fast becoming) niche market.  If you’re not quite a grandma yet, but this is what you need, then this is what you should get.  Sure, you want to look all hip and cool like your buddies with the fashionable smartphones or even the messaging phones are trying to look like smartphones, but if your needs are simple, then your phone should be as well.  You’ll get far more satisfaction of not only the fairly simple to use nature of these phones, but the rock solid stability that these more simplistic phones enjoy.  Complex smartphones are prone to heavy maintenance and if you don’t need one, don’t get it.  You’ll still like your phone, and get get away with getting it for free if you sign a contract, or skating out the door for well under $150 bucks with full ownership and no contracts.

Ok, You’ve chosen the carrier and the type of phone that fits your needs, so now it’s time to buy a phone…right? WRONG.  Your next step is to consider rate plans.  Do I sign a contract or not?  How many minutes do I need?  Should I go prepaid, postpaid?  There’s a ton of plans out there and there’s alot to consider.  Your primary consideration is of course minutes.  Should I get 500, 1000, unlimited?  Should I get a a family plan and share minutes across the account or have separate plans?  These are things I can’t help you with, but it’s instead up to you to do your due diligence before deciding which route to go.  There are plans out there for everyone, but different account types have different features.  Most prepaid accounts shave off features that post paid accounts offer like caller id and call forwarding, so it’s up to you to consider all of the features you want the service end of your phone to have (or not) based again upon your needs.  One of the exceptions is T-Mobile’s Flexpay accounts which are best described as a prepaid account with most of the features you find on a post paid account.  These accounts are nice because you’re entirely prepaid, so there’s no big ‘deposit’, and since all services are prepaid, there’s never a huge bill because you let the bill go.  (Service halts if you haven’t prepaid the next month).  So it’s up to you to explore all the major types of accounts, and choose the one most appropriate to your needs, then choose the plan that best fits your needs, and then, and only then, will you be ready to buy your new phone.

Some do’s and don’ts when you’re looking into buying a new phone:
1. Do alot of thinking about what your needs are, write them down as you think of them and group them into phone type, service type, and plan type, and compare with what you see on the carrier’s website.

2. Don’t listen to the sales representative.  Sales reps are interested in driving their numbers up.  Carriers press them to hit lofty sales goals, so if they can push you out the door with a $100 a month unlimited talk/text/web plan when you just need a simple phone to meet your needs, they will.  They’ll even neglect to check the coverage map to see if you’re getting signal where your house is, and direct you to another carrier (as they should).  Sales reps are looking out for #1, and not you, so don’t trust a word they say.  The idea is to show up in the store knowing what carrier, what phone, what rate plan type, and what rate plan, and what features you want to add to that plan (messaging, web, etc).

3. Do: research, research, and more research.  Read reviews about the phone.  Don’t necessarily listen to a friend who has the same phone who says it sucks, because he or she may not have done their homework and got stuck with a phone that’s not for them.  So, the phone might be just what you’re looking for, but perhaps not your friend who wandered into the store, and teeth of a seedy rep looking to make his paycheck.

4.Do buy what you need, not what you ‘want’.  This is by far the biggest reason people are not happy with their phone.  They bought a fancy smartphone but have no idea how to use it or maintain it, and they do nothing but bitch about how they got ripped off paying hundreds of dollars for a phone that costs them an outrageous amount of money each month for a required data feature that they never or hardly ever use.

5. Don’t buy a smartphone if you don’t own a computer, don’t like the idea of $30 bucks a month for data, and don’t like the idea of the steep learning curve to learn the maintenance the phone is going to require.  I hear complaints constantly from people who bitch “why do I need to own a computer to own a phone?”.   My response is that you don’t, but if you own a smartphone, you do.  It’s just how it is.  If the phone software gets corrupted (and it does…) you’re going to need a computer to fix it, and a smartphone is not a computer, it’s a smartphone.  I hear alot of people say “my phone is my computer”.  Well, a computer can self install an operating system by booting from a CD, partitioning a hard drive, installing an OS and then rebooting using the just self installed OS.  Phones CANNOT do this, and you’re going to need a computer to do it.  Not to mention, if you own a smartphone, then you have a need for data storage, and you need to back up that storage onto a computer.  Most smartphones have complex contact information and can’t even effectively put all the contact information on a sim card.   Sim cards were developed to store 250 contacts of one name/number combination where modern smartphones store multiple numbers, email addresses, physical addresses, etc in the phone’s contact area.  Therefore, even backing up contacts is something that a computer is an expected accessory if you own a smartphone.

At the end of the day, if you take all of these things into consideration, you’ll figure out that cell phone companies are not the evil corporate empires laughing at the small guy, but rather highly competitive, and therefore affordable services that provide both a good product and service.  All too often people think about things after the fact, and blame the cell phone company when things don’t go there way, whereas if they made the right decisions ahead of time, then they’d not have the issues that seem to plague so many cell phone users.