For years, Nextel alone offered cell phones                   Only one perso...
CR Quick Recommendations
We’ve grouped the tested phones by carri-
er to make it easier for you to find a
phone once you’v...
systems from the older TDMA network to
GSM, the technology widely used in                               SMALL DE...
US 2/1/04 0921-24,99
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US 2/1/04 0921-24,99

  1. 1. ONE GU PH I DE L • CEL • ES YO IC U R O BEST CH BEST PHONES Basic features matter most The newest cell phones can perform compatible digital networks, it can be im- plenty of stunts. You can easily find possible to get service away from your phones with cameras, cutting-edge home calling area without analog. You’ll games, organizers, Web access, a have to hope that your carrier has made walkie-talkie, and more. Given the roaming agreements. wealth of such appealing features, the • Phone numbers are portable but phones ability to make simple phone calls are not. If you want to switch carriers, might seem to be an afterthought. you’ll need to buy a new phone. That’s so, It’s not. That’s why our tests focused we found, even if you switch to a carrier less on the extras and more on the basics that uses the same phones as your old to help you get the most from your cell- one. Case in point:AT&T and Cingular.We phone service—a phone with high voice bought several models through AT&T, quality, decent battery life, and a design serves as a common language and makes then tried to have them switched to that’s easy to use. The major develop- it easier for phones from different carri- Cingular’s service. But AT&T refused to ments in this market include these: ers to use each other’s networks. Digital- change the codes it had locked into the • Most cell phones now rely mainly on only phones work longer on a battery phone. digital technology, although many have charge than digital/analog phones do. On • AT&T and Cingular are converting their analog circuitry as a backup. Analog the downside, because the phones use in- Continued on page 24 First things first. Decide how much phone you need. Unprecedented numbers of rebates and price cuts at the end of the year made even top-line phones look like close-out bargains. But because those deals aren’t likely to last forever, it’s important to understand how the cell-phone market is usually structured. $100 OR LESS: NO FRILLS $100 TO $200: MANY FEATURES $200 AND UP: CUTTING EDGE What’s available Relatively simple phones What’s available A large selection of new What’s available Pull out all the stops. from most major manufacturers, plus phones with many widely advertised These products combine a phone with a phones that have been on the market for features—camera, games, a push-to-talk game console or a personal digital assis- a while. Expect a decent array of phone option, Internet access, and so on. Color tant, low-resolution video capability, and features, including text messaging, but not displays are other extras. However, spending a lot on a a color display or other fancy items. Perfor- common. phone doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get mance is on a par with superior voice quality or longer battery life. Best suited for more expensive anyone who wants Best suited for people phones. to trade up from a who want to be the first Best suited for any- basic phone or with a new piece of one who wants a cell wants certain hardware or want to phone just for phone special features. combine the phone with calls and messaging. another device. F E B R U A RY 2004 &Z C O N S U M E R R E P O RT S 21
  2. 2. closeup PUSH-TO-TALK SERVICES, HEAD TO HEAD For years, Nextel alone offered cell phones Only one person can talk at a time on a analog backup and works in two frequency that also worked like a walkie-talkie. Push- push-to-talk call, as is the case with regular bands, increasing the odds of getting regu- to-talk, as it’s known, is a feature widely walkie-talkies. lar service. But the push-to-talk feature used by businesses as well as individuals The bottom line. Nextel wins on per- works only with Verizon’s newest digital net- who want an alternative to regular calls for formance, mainly because it’s faster. With work. (When “1X” appears in the phone dis- very quick chats. Nextel, we established a call in about 2 sec- play, you know you have the right service.) Last year, Verizon moved in with its onds; it took 7 seconds with Verizon. Talking There’s no clear winner on price. Veri- push-to-talk service. (Sprint announced delay while on the call was one-third second zon’s Motorola V60p phone sells for $200; push-to-talk service, but too late for us to with Nextel, about 11⁄2 seconds with Verizon. Nextel’s phones are generally priced from include here.) Verizon uses the Motorola Voice quality was OK with both, but neither $50 to $250. Both carriers have calling V60p. Nextel offers nine phones, all from was as good as on a regular wireless con- plans that include unlimited push-to-talk Motorola and all with push-to-talk capability. versation. If you’ve never used a Nextel calls; where there is a charge for that call- But you can’t use a Nextel phone with Veri- push-to-talk phone, the Verizon delays ing time, the rate is 15 cents per minute. zon service, and vice versa. The two aren’t might not be objectionable. Nextel users If push-to-talk is a must-have feature for compatible. However, all the push-to-talk might be bothered, though. you, then make Nextel your choice. But services work nationwide. Verizon wins on flexibility. Nextel casual push-to-talk users should consider We tried both services in tests in our employs a technology that’s incompatible Verizon first for its broader coverage. How- laboratories, measuring the time needed to with the others, so Nextel users can’t roam ever, take advantage of the carrier’s trial make a connection and the delay in voice on other networks. The Verizon phone, period so that you can switch if your first transmissions. We also judged voice quality. CDMA-based (see glossary, page 20), has choice isn’t satisfactory. Trouble in the GSM network Cell-phone systems in Europe and Asia generally use the same dig- erage on Cingular’s TDMA and GSM networks. The T62u that we ital network technology: GSM, for Global System for Mobile Com- purchased for testing worked well for a while, then could no longer munications. In the U.S., however, GSM is only one of four digital pick up a GSM signal. Even though we had the help of Cingular technologies in use. T-Mobile uses it exclusively, while AT&T Wire- store clerks and customer-service personnel, exchanged the phone less and Cingular are building a GSM network alongside their older for a new sample, and obtained a new phone number, the T62u one, which uses TDMA technology. Both carriers plan to offer new continued to work erratically. data services only on GSM. But the change is creating problems for What you can do. If you’re planning to switch to AT&T or Cingu- current AT&T and Cingular customers. lar, choose the phone carefully. Some phones, such as the recom- One problem is coverage. The two carriers’ GSM networks don’t mended Siemens (12), also work on the more-extensive TDMA net- appear to provide the same coverage that TDMA customers get. An work, bettering the odds that you’ll get service (see table below). AT&T spokesman told us that the two networks mostly coincide, Four of the tested GSM-only phones have what’s known as but he concedes that “there could still be Bermuda triangles where 850/1900-MHz capability, a feature mentioned in stores and ads, you get coverage on one but not the other.” A look at AT&T’s map that should offer better coverage nationwide as the GSM networks of coverage in North Carolina (see illustrations below) shows how grow. Cingular offers other multinetwork phones, such as the different the two networks can be. With GSM, the home calling area T62u; if you choose one, take advantage of Cingular’s trial period is smaller and thus, the roaming area is larger. so that you can exchange it if it doesn’t meet your expectations. Another problem, which we encountered in our testing, affects If you’re a long-standing AT&T or Cingular customer using the the Sony Ericsson T62u phone sold by Cingular. It uses a multinet- TDMA network, sit tight. You can continue to use the phone you work technology that’s designed to provide the best possible cov- have for the foreseeable future. Backup for GSM North Carolina-TDMA North Carolina-GSM Phone Backup Key number 850/1900 TDMA 12 Siemens S46 • 13 Panasonic GU87 14 Siemens S56 • 15 Nokia 3595 • On the AT&T maps above, orange represents the home calling area—a much larger 16 Nokia 6800 • territory on the TDMA network than on the current GSM system. For AT&T’s or 17 Nokia 3650 Cingular’s coverage in your area, check the carrier’s Web site. 18 Sony Ericsson T616 • 22 C O N S U M E R R E P O RT S &Z F E B R U A RY 2004
  3. 3. CR Quick Recommendations We’ve grouped the tested phones by carri- er to make it easier for you to find a phone once you’ve settled on a carrier. Overall, the phones are closely matched Ratings • Availability Most models at stores at least through June. cell phones Z Excellent Very good X B Good C B V B Fair B Poor in voice quality and sensitivity. We found Within types, in performance order. Blue key numbers indicate Quick Picks; see box at left. larger differences in the amount of talk Brand & model Price Overall Score Performance Features time they offer; the phones for Sprint Similar models, Std. headset connector were the worst in this regard, but still fine Easy-to-mute ringer Vol. control on side in small type, for most users. comparable to Speakerphone We have reservations about the extent Talk time (hr.) Voice quality tested model. Folding case Key number Ease of use of coverage on the AT&T and Cingular Sensitivity Tri-mode Camera GSM networks. That’s why two of the 0 100 phones we recommend below in Quick P F G VG E P F G VG E Picks have a backup system for better coverage. We tested the Sony Ericsson VERIZON CDMA PHONES T62u, a GSM phone from Cingular, but 1 LG VX6000 $200 75 &X &Z 3 1⁄2 &X • • • • • can’t recommend it because it performed 2 Samsung SCH a530 205 74 &X &Z 3 ⁄4 3 &X • • • • erratically. (The T62u is not in the Ratings.) 3 LG VX4400 160 72 &X &Z 3 1⁄2 &X • • • • • The phones weigh between 21⁄2 and 41⁄2 ounces and measure 4x2x1 inches, give or 4 Motorola V60p 200 70 &C &Z 3 1⁄4 &X • • • • • take a fraction. Try phones in the store to 5 Audiovox CDM-8300 70 64 &C &Z 3 &C • • • • find a design that works for you. 6 Motorola T730 165 60 &C &Z 2 3⁄4 &X • • • • • The Ratings rank phones strictly on 7 Motorola V120e 40 60 &C &Z 3 3⁄4 &C • • • performance. The Quick Picks consider SPRINT CDMA PHONES other factors, such as coverage and value. 8 Samsung SPH-A460 100 66 &X &Z 2 &X • • • • SPH-A310 (Verizon) QUICK PICKS 9 Samsung SPH-A600 350 65 &X &Z 2 ⁄2 1 &X • • • • • Best for Verizon: 10 Sanyo SCP-8100 230 62 &C &Z 2 1⁄2 & C • • • • • 1 LG $200 11 Nokia 3585i Ï 3588i, 135 53 &C &Z 2 & C • • 3589i (Verizon) 3 LG $160 4 Motorola $200 AT&T, CINGULAR, AND T-MOBILE GSM PHONES The LG’s (1, 3) are closely matched in per- 12 Siemens S46 (AT&T) 100 74 &C &Z 5 &X • • formance and features. The Motorola (4) 13 Panasonic GU87 (AT&T) 300 73 &X &Z 4 1⁄4 &C • • • • • is Verizon’s only phone with push-to-talk. 14 Siemens S56 A56 150 70 &C &Z 5 &X • • • All three have a folding case. (AT&T, Cingular) Best for Sprint: 15 Nokia 3595 (AT&T, 40 68 &C &Z 6 &C Cingular, T-Mobile) 8 Samsung $100 16 Nokia Cingular) 6800 (AT&T, 220 66 &C &X 6 &C • • 10 Sanyo $230 Nokia 3650 3600 (AT&T, 11 Nokia $135 17 Cingular, T-Mobile) 300 65 &C &Z 5 &C • • • All performed well overall; battery life is their only shortcoming. The Samsung (8) 18 Sony Ericsson T616 180 59 &C &X 4 1⁄2 &C • • • (AT&T, Cingular) and Nokia (11) have a monochrome display AT&T AND CINGULAR TDMA PHONES that’s usable in bright and dim light. The Sanyo (10) has slightly lower voice quality 19 Motorola V120T (AT&T) 50 65 &C &X 4 &C • • • but includes a camera. Its color display 20 Nokia 8265 (AT&T) 150 65 &C &X 4 ⁄2 1 &C • • washes out in bright light, we found. 21 Motorola V60i V60ti 100 63 &X &C 3 1⁄4 &X • • • • (AT&T, Cingular) Best for AT&T, Cingular, and T-Mobile: 22 Nokia 6360 (AT&T) 150 62 &C &C 3 ⁄2 1 & C • • 12 Siemens $100 Ï Discontinued but similar models available. Price is for similar 3588i. 15 Nokia $40 Guide to the Ratings 21 Motorola $100 Overall score is based mainly on voice quality and sensitivity. Voice quality covers perform- All three phones offer long battery life ance in noisy and quiet environments, for talking and listening; testing was done using live and talk time. The Siemens (12) uses GSM phone calls. Sensitivity is a measure of a phone’s voice quality when a call is placed using a technology with TDMA as a backup, to weak signal. The scores are applicable only within a Ratings group, not between groups. Talk help maximize coverage in AT&T’s net- time is the average time we think you should expect, based on our tests with strong and weak works (see box, page 22). The widely signals. Ease of use takes in the design of the display and keypad and the ease with which we available Nokia (15) also has a backup sys- could program and access speed-dial numbers, redial, send or receive text messages, and the like. Features columns show which are tri-mode (able to operate in digital or analog mode in tem. If you’re signing on with AT&T or Cin- two frequency bands) and have a folding case, built-in speakerphone, standard headset con - gular but don’t want a GSM phone, then nector, easy-to-mute ringer (lets you mute the ringer and vibrate with the press of one key), the Motorola (21) is a good choice. volume control on the side, or a built-in camera. Price is the average for a phone purchased from the provider, before rebates or other promotions, in October and November 2003. F E B R U A RY 2004 &Z C O N S U M E R R E P O RT S 23
  4. 4. stylewise systems from the older TDMA network to GSM, the technology widely used in SMALL DETAILS, BIG DIFFERENCES Europe and Asia. If you choose either of Examples from the phones we tested that point to small but critical design details. those carriers, you need to select a phone that will maximize the coverage you get. DOING FLIPS Small bar-style HANDY CONTROLS Many (See “Trouble in the GSM Network,” page phones, such as the Sony Ericsson phones (see Ratings) put 22.) (below left), can be too tiny for volume controls on the • “Push to talk,” which lets a cell phone some fingers. A folding phone, such side, where they’re easiest work like a walkie-talkie even for coast- as the Panasonic (below center and to use without interrupting to-coast conversation, is becoming more right), is small when it needs to be your conversation. and opens up to a handier size. widely available. Nextel, which pioneered push-to-talk, now has competition from Sprint and Verizon. AT&T is expected to introduce a version this year. HOW TO CHOOSE Set your price. You can spend as little as $40 or as much as $600 on a cell phone. You need to begin your selection in the right price tier (see First Things First, page 21). Many of the phones we tested fall into the $100-to-$200 tier. HIDDEN KEYS Millions of text DIAL M FOR … Nokia seems to delight in Look first at folding phones. A fold- messages are sent from cell finding new key arrangements. The phones each day, most laboriously 3650’s rotary design (below left) has ing model—what Motorola dubbed the pecked out on the phone keypad. needlessly small keys. The 3595 (below flip phone—has two important advan- right) puts two numbers on a key; you The Nokia 6800 (below) flips open tages over other designs, we have found. have to mind which side you press. to reveal a full typewriter-style First, the phone is small between calls but keyboard for opens to a handy size when in use. memos, messages, Second, the folding style puts the micro- and entries in the phone close to your mouth for better built-in datebook. voice performance. Be wary of fanciful designs and diminutive keypads. Phones that resem- ble small sculptures may prove difficult to use. (See StyleWise, at right.) Keys that are small, oddly shaped, or arranged in unusual patterns can be a challenge, especially if you’re trying to dial a number in dim light. Our testing includes an eval- uation of ease of use. Before you settle on a phone, try one at the store to get a feel for its handiness. Look for sensible features. Cameras, games, music players, and the like are ap- pealing, fun, even useful for some people. • An easy-to-mute ringer. Etiquette de- parts. Other recycling programs raise Other features, listed in the Ratings, will mands that you keep the phone quiet in funds for charity, resell phones as alterna- prove useful every day.They include: restaurants, movies, and other public tives to new ones, or provide phones to • Volume controls on the side. They let places.The best phones in this regard can the homeless and victims of domestic vio- you change the earpiece volume level be set to vibrate rather than ring with the lence. (As the report beginning on the without moving the phone too far from push of a single key. next page explains, cell phones may not your ear. You can’t do that if the volume Don’t trash your old phone. Phones work reliably to reach 911.The shelters controls are on the keypad. can be recycled (but be sure to erase we contacted said they hadn’t experi- • A standard headset connector. Most names and numbers in the memory). enced problems.) For more information hands-free headsets have a 2.5-mm plug, Staples and other retailers will take used on recycling, go to www.collectivegood which fits many phones. Many new GSM ones. Some are refurbished and sold in .com,, or phones use proprietary connectors. developing countries; others are used for 24 C O N S U M E R R E P O RT S &Z F E B R U A RY 2004