Monday 26 December 2011

How to Buy a Cell Phone.

Few tools of modern technology have become as prevalent as the cell phone, which allows you to be in touch all the time, anywhere. And you can do more than just talk--today's phones let you send and receive email and text messages, surf the Web, and play music and videos. Sifting through the sea of service plans and handsets can be difficult, but we'll walk you through what you need to know to get the phone and service plan that are right for you.

If you don't have to own the latest and greatest smartphone, there’s no time like the present to buy a new one. From the newest iPhone to an Android superphone to a business-friendly Windows Phone, you can find the right phone for you. Before you hit the stores, however, do a bit of research and read our guide so that you'll know exactly what to look for.

Features to Consider:

When you're shopping for a phone, you can do some simple hands-on tests in the store to make sure that the handset has everything you need.

Call quality:

What good is a phone if it can't make calls? Some of the most simple, bare-bones "feature" phones offer the best call quality--and on the flip side, some fancy smartphones offer dismal calling. When evaluating phones, be sure to make a few test calls. In test we generally make some calls in a quiet room and several calls in a noisy environment. You might not be able to replicate such tests indoors, but try your best. Take note of static, tinny voices, or any interference. Ask the person on the other end of the line if they can hear a disruptive amount of background noise.


Your choices range from phones with large touchscreens to slider-style handsets with full-QWERTY keyboards. Whichever type of phone you select, check its ergonomics. Is it comfortable to hold against your ear, and can you hear callers without constant adjustment? Can you use the phone with one hand? Consider hands-free use: Can you comfortably hold the phone to your ear by scrunching your neck and shoulder? Can it fit comfortably in 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 well as a bit of moisture and a short-range drop. You should think about investing in a case or display protector, as well--especially if you’re accident-prone.

Operating system:

If you're looking to do more than make calls and send text messages with your phone, consider the platform on which it runs. The mobile operating system you choose will greatly affect the capabilities of your phone. The most popular platforms are Google's Android (found on multiple devices), iOS (found only on iPhone models), BlackBerry OS (found on BlackBerrys of various designs), and Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7. Each has its advantages and disadvantages; you should definitely familiarize yourself with all of the platforms before settling on one.


If you intend do a lot of Web browsing or movie streaming, make sure that the screen is up to snuff. Is it big enough for you to take full advantage of the phone's features? If you're going to surf the Web or edit office documents on your phone, a screen that measures less than 3 inches diagonally will feel cramped.

Consider the screen's resolution: The higher the resolution, the better the screen will look--an important factor if you plan to use your phone to watch videos or view photos.

AMOLED displays perform well in sunlight, but many people think they make colors look oversaturated. qHD displays (whose resolution is one-quarter of a full-HD 1080p frame and three-quarters of a 720p frame) generally look the best in video playback and games.

Being able to take control of the screen's contrast and backlight settings can also be important, as phones have noticeable differences in their default display settings. If your phone allows you to adjust contrast and brightness, you can make text and graphics more easily viewable in well-lit places, and you can also save battery life in a pinch.

3G/ 4G support and availability:

A lot of buzz is there for the next generation of wireless networks, 4G. The two main technologies are WiMax and Long Term Evolution. 4G's faster download speeds significantly improve streaming video, and allow features such as videoconferencing and network gaming compered to 3G.


If you intend to take a lot of photos with your phone, you'll definitely want to pay attention to the camera specs. For mid- to high-level smartphones, 5 megapixels is now pretty much the standard. Some phones ship with 8- or 12-megapixel cameras, but a higher megapixel count doesn't necessarily mean a better camera. Verify that the phone camera you're interested in has a flash--dual-LED or Xenon flashes work the best--or else any pictures you attempt to take indoors or at night will come out looking like blurry messes. Try to take a few pictures in the store to get a good idea of the camera's photo quality.

Most cell phone cameras also have video-capture capabilities; some high-end phones can even capture high-definition 1080p video. If video is your thing, make sure that the OS provides an easy way to upload your videos to services such as Facebook or YouTube.

Many modern smartphones have front-facing cameras. These are mostly good for making video calls; but some camera apps, such as photo-booth apps, use the front-facing camera too.

Processor speed:

We’ve heard a lot of buzz about phones that use dual-core processors, but such power is really not necessary for the average user. Unless you’re doing a lot of app multitasking or playing games with 3D graphics, you’ll probably be fine with a 1GHz processor. Aside from the processor speed, other factors--such as the version of software your phone is running (Android 2.3 is faster than Android 2.2, for instance) and the speed of your network--contribute to speedy, fluid phone performance.

Battery life:

There’s no easy way to predict how long a phone’s battery will last. In tests and our hands-on evaluations, we’ve found that 4G phones have a shorter battery life than 3G phones do. Ultimately, however, it depends on how much you use your phone. You can download task killers or battery-management apps that may alleviate some of the drainage. You can also buy a case with a built-in wireless charger, or carry around an extra battery for your phone. For a complete guide to extending your phone’s battery life.

If you're considering buying a phone as a gift, definitely consult with the recipient before you go shopping--and although it will ruin the surprise, you'll probably want to bring them along on your shopping trip. We recommend getting as much hands-on time as possible with multiple phones before settling on one.

When dealing with store representatives, ask them to be as straightforward as possible. Tell them exactly what you're looking for, and what kind of phone will fit your requirements. If you're completely unsure, ask the representatives what phone they use, or which phones impressed them this year. Don't let them jump into a sales spiel, or else you'll end up spending way too much time in the store. And remember, they're human beings too.

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