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Here’s what you need to know to get the cell phone and service plan that are right for you.

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  1. 1. 20/12/2011 05:01 How to Buy a Cell Phone , Choose a Service Plan That are Right for You Here’s what you need to know to get the cell phone Features to Consider and service plan that are right for you. When you’re shopping for a phone, you can do some Few tools of modern simple hands-on tests in the store to make sure that technology have be- the handset has everything you need. come as prevalent as the cell phone, which al- Call quality: What good lows you to be in touch is a phone if it can’t (almost) all the time, (al- make calls? Some of the most) anywhere. And most simple, bare-bones you can do more than “feature” phones offer just talk–today’s phones let you send and receive the best call quality–and email and text messages, surf the Web, and play on the flip side, some music and videos. Sifting through the sea of service fancy smartphones offer plans and handsets can be difficult, but we’ll walk dismal calling. When you through what you need to know to get the phone evaluating phones, be and service plan that are right for you. sure to make a few test calls. In PCWorld’s hands-on tests, we generally make some calls in a quiet room If you don’t have to own the latest and greatest smart- and several calls in a noisy environment. You might phone, there’s no time like the present to buy a new not be able to replicate such tests indoors, but try one. From the newest iPhone to an Android super- your best. Take note of static, tinny voices, or any phone to a business-friendly Windows Phone, you interference. Ask the person on the other end of can find the right phone for you. Before you hit the the line if they can hear a disruptive amount of stores, however, do a bit of research and read our background noise. guide so that you’ll know exactly what to look for. Design: Your choices range from phones with large Features to Consider: What should you look for touchscreens to slider-style handsets with full- when you’re shopping for a new phone? QWERTY keyboards. Whichever type of phone you select, check its ergonomics. Is it comfortable to hold Picking the Right Plan and Choosing the Right against your ear, and can you hear callers without Carrier: Deciding on a plan and carrier is a daunting constant adjustment? Can you use the phone with process, but we have some useful tips. one hand? Consider hands-free use: Can you com- fortably hold the phone to your ear by scrunching Shopping Tips: Arm yourself with knowledge be- your neck and shoulder? Can it fit comfortably in fore checking stores. your pocket or bag? You also want to make sure the phone is durable enough to handle some roughing up. A solidly built phone should be able to withstand getting banged around in a handbag or pocket, as Love this PDF? Add it to your Reading List! 4 Page 1
  2. 2. 20/12/2011 05:01 How to Buy a Cell Phone , Choose a Service Plan That are Right for You well as a bit of moisture and a short-range drop. You more easily viewable in well-lit places, and you can should think about investing in a case or display pro- also save battery life in a pinch. tector, as well–especially if you’re accident-prone. 4G support and availability: After a lot of buzz, the Operating system: If you’re looking to do more next generation of wireless networks, 4G, has arri- than make calls and send text messages with your ved. The two main technologies are WiMax and Long phone, consider the platform on which it runs. The Term Evolution. Though Sprint’s network currently mobile operating system you choose will greatly af- uses WiMax, the carrier will begin deployment of an fect the capabilities of your phone. The most popular LTE network at the end of 2011 and will release LTE platforms are Google’sAndroid (found on multiple devices in mid-2012. 4G’s faster download speeds devices), iOS (found only on iPhone models), Black- significantly improve streaming video, and allow Berry OS (found on BlackBerrys of various designs), features such as videoconferencing and network and Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7. Each has its ad- gaming. vantages and disadvantages; you should definitely familiarize yourself with all of the platforms before If you decide to buy a 4G phone, first confirm that settling on one. your area has coverage. Verizon currently offers 4G coverage in 175 U.S. cities (check the carrier’s cove- Display: If you intend do a lot of Web browsing or rage map). Sprint has a complete coverage map of its movie streaming, make sure that the screen is up WiMax network, too. AT&T has launched 4G LTE in to snuff. Is it big enough for you to take full advan- 15 cities, and plans to reach 70 million people by tage of the phone’s features? If you’re going to surf the end of 2011. the Web or edit office documents on your phone, a screen that measures less than 3 inches diagonally Currently AT&T and T-Mobile are promoting their will feel cramped. HSPA+ networks–which essentially use a more ad- vanced version of 3G protocols–as being capable Consider the screen’s resolution: The higher the re- of achieving 4G-like speeds. If you’re looking into solution, the better the screen will look–an impor- buying a 4G phone on AT&T, confirm whether it tant factor if you plan to use your phone to watch supports an LTE network or an HSPA+ network. Ge- videos or view photos. nerally a 4G LTE phone will have faster data speeds, but it may also have limited coverage. We have seen AMOLED displays perform well in sunlight, but “4G-like” speeds on HSPA+ phones. many people think they make colors look oversatu- rated. qHD displays (whose resolution is one-quarter Cameras: If you intend of a full-HD 1080p frame and three-quarters of a to take a lot of photos 720p frame) generally look the best in video play- with your phone, you’ll back and games. definitely want to pay attention to the camera Being able to take control of the screen’s contrast and specs. For mid- to high- backlight settings can also be important, as phones level smartphones, 5 have noticeable differences in their default display megapixels is now pret- settings. If your phone allows you to adjust contrast ty much the standard. and brightness, you can make text and graphics Some phones ship with 8- or 12-megapixel ca- Love this PDF? Add it to your Reading List! 4 Page 2
  3. 3. 20/12/2011 05:01 How to Buy a Cell Phone , Choose a Service Plan That are Right for You meras, but a higher megapixel count doesn’t neces- to extending your phone’s battery life, check out sarily mean a better camera. Verify that the phone our “How to Boost Your Smartphone Battery Life” camera you’re interested in has a flash–dual-LED article package. or Xenon flashes work the best–or else any pictures you attempt to take indoors or at night will come Picking the Right Plan out looking like blurry messes. Try to take a few pictures in the store to get a good idea of the came- While shopping for a new plan, be completely realis- ra’s photo quality. tic about how you will use your phone. The national phone plans that the major carriers offer will let you Most cell phone cameras also have video-capture send and receive calls anywhere in the United States capabilities; some high-end phones can even cap- (and even in parts of Canada) at no extra charge. You ture high-definition 1080p video. If video is your may be able to sign up for a local or regional plan thing, make sure that the OS provides an easy way that limits the areas where you can originate a call to upload your videos to services such as Facebook and still pull from your monthly pool of minutes; or YouTube. this option might be worth considering if you use your phone for local calls exclusively. If you have a Many modern smartphones have front-facing came- world phone and plan to use it in other countries, ras. These are mostly good for making video calls; choose service with international roaming. but some camera apps, such as photo-booth apps, use the front-facing camera too. As you’re selecting a plan, it’s best to overestimate the number of minutes you’ll be using for every sent Processor speed: We’ve heard a lot of buzz about and received call. Because one carrier’s definition phones that use dual-core processors, but such of off-peak may be different from another’s, ask the power is really not necessary for the average user. carrier to specify the times for its peak, off-peak, Unless you’re doing a lot of app multitasking or and weekend hours. playing games with 3D graphics, you’ll probably be fine with a 1GHz processor. Aside from the pro- You should also take into account your data usage cessor speed, other factors–such as the version of (for email, video, connected apps, and Web brow- software your phone is running (Android 2.3 is fas- sing) when picking your cell phone plan. Most car- ter than Android 2.2, for instance) and the speed riers bundle voice and data plans together. Custo- of your network–contribute to speedy, fluid phone mers on AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon are capped at performance. how much data they can use before extra charges kick in. Sprint is the last U.S. wireless network to Battery life: There’s no easy way to predict how long offer new customers an unlimited data plan. a phone’s battery will last. In our PCWorld Labs tests and our hands-on evaluations, we’ve found Choosing the Right Carrier that 4G phones have a shorter battery life than 3G phones do. Ultimately, however, it depends on how Tired of your current much you use your phone. You can download task carrier, or shopping for killers or battery-management apps that may alle- your first smartphone viate some of the drainage. You can also buy a case ever? Choosing a carrier with a built-in wireless charger, or carry around an is a daunting task. Most extra battery for your phone. For a complete guide likely you’ve heard of Love this PDF? Add it to your Reading List! 4 Page 3
  4. 4. 20/12/2011 05:01 How to Buy a Cell Phone , Choose a Service Plan That are Right for You the Big Four: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Shopping Tips You’ll also encounter smaller, regional carriers such as Cellular One and U.S. Cellular, as well as prepaid You can purchase a new phone directly from a car- carriers like Boost Mobile, Cricket Wireless, and rier store; if you’re not sure what to buy, however, we MetroPCS. recommend going to a third-party retailer. Best Buy, RadioShack, Target, and even Walmart sell phones, Before you start examining plans, find out whether as well as carrier plans. A big advantage of buying you can get solid coverage in your city, town, or a phone or a tablet from a third-party seller is that area. Ask your neighbors about the carrier they you have dozens of phones from multiple carriers use, and whether they have reliable service. If you at your disposal. If your contract is up and you’re don’t have good coverage in your home, you’ll be in trying to choose between the iPhone 4 (AT&T) and for a frustrating two years. You should also check the T-Mobile MyTouch 4G, for instance, you can the coverage for any other areas where you spend compare the two phones side by side in the store. a lot of time, such as your office or a friend’s or You can’t do the same at a carrier store, because relative’s house. those phones are on different networks. Customer service is another factor to consider. Every If you’re considering buying a phone as a gift, de- year, PCWorld polls readers on carrier service and finitely consult with the recipient before you go support. In last year’s Reliability and Service survey, shopping–and although it will ruin the surprise, T-Mobile excelled in phone support. According to you’ll probably want to bring them along on your the survey, T-Mobile’s average hold time was 4.6 shopping trip. We recommend getting as much minutes–significantly lower than the others, which hands-on time as possible with multiple phones had times ranging from 5.2 minutes (AT&T) to 6.1 before settling on one. minutes (Verizon). When dealing with store representatives, ask them And 84 percent of T-Mobile customers reported that to be as straightforward as possible. Tell them exact- they were satisfied with the voice-call reliability ly what you’re looking for, and what kind of phone or of the carrier’s network, second only to Verizon’s plan will fit your requirements. If you’re completely 86.7 percent. unsure, ask the representatives what phone they use, or which phones impressed them this year. Don’t If you’re not into the idea of signing up for a two-year let them jump into a sales spiel, or else you’ll end contract with a carrier, try a prepaid plan. These up spending way too much time in the store. And days you can find full-featured Android or Black- remember, they’re human beings too, and they’re Berry smartphones with prepaid plans that offer working during the holiday rush–be courteous, and unlimited minutes, text messages, and data, plans you’ll receive the same treatment in return. that cost less than half of what the equivalent ones would cost with AT&T or Verizon. For more infor- Related Articles: mation, check out our comparison of prepaid plans, as well as some reviews of smartphones available for a prepaid plan. Love this PDF? Add it to your Reading List! 4 Page 4