Likely if you are visiting this site and don't own a cellular phone yet, you are investigating what facts that you should know before making a purchase:
In most cases, you cannot just buy a cell phone -- you need to buy the phone with some sort of service package from a service provider.
Cell phone service packages come in two different forms: Pre-paid and Post-paid. Pre-paid is a more expensive service, but there is no monthly bill and is offered more as a convenience service. Post-paid or Monthly service has a monthly bill, but the rates and services are generally less expensive than pre-paid.
Many providers like you to sign contracts or term rate plans of 1-3 years in duration. You generally are tied to that contract period and not allowed to cancel or downgrade.
There are two different major technologies that cell phones use. GSM is a European standard that is found all over the world. CDMA is a North American standard that is found in North and South America, Asia, and Australia. Phones on one technology are incompatible with the other. (There are also iDEN, tdMA, AMPS, and other technologies available, but these are either more specialized or being phased out).
Most phones are locked to their service provider. This means that if you are unhappy with your service provider and want to switch to another service provider then you will need to purchase a new phone.
Which Wireless Service Provider?
If you live in a large urban area, then wireless services may be available from one of several service providers whereas in smaller areas, choice of providers might be limited to only a few. Personally I think that one should choose the service provider first and then the phone second -- not the other way around. When shopping for a service provider, consider asking the following questions:
What sort of areas does their service cover? Will you be inside their service coverage area for all of the time you plan to use your cell phone?
When you leave your provider's service area you likely will be able to use your phone on a different network (this is referred to as Roaming). What types of charges are there for roaming?
What sort of contract or agreement is needed when purchasing a cell phone with a particular provider? What contracts are available? What are their limitations?
What are the prices for different plans? What optional add-ons are available and how much do they cost?
Are there any other fees involved with the purchase of a phone, such as an activation fee.
And finally, make sure to ask about the return policy on the phone if you do purchase it. This policy may even vary between stores that sell phones for the same provider.
Never make a purchase on your first visit to any store. A typical purchase of a cell phone with a two year contract could easily cost you close to $1000 over the contract period plus the initial price of the phone and all the accessories to go with it.
One of the best and unbiased resources of service providers (besides this site) is people that you know with cell phones. Talk to them and find out who their service provider is and if they are happy with them. Ask if they are on a post-paid or pre-paid plan and if it suits their present needs. Have they ever had any problems with their service provider, and if so, what were they and how were they resolved?
Now that you've narrowed down your choices of service providers, next it is time to select a phone. Each service provider has particular models of phones that are sold through dealers to be used on their network. There are lots of choices to make and prices vary, so consider the following when selecting a phone:
Brand name: Several different manufactures make cell phones, but well-known brand names are easier to service or replace if necessary.
Technology and frequency: The phone will likely be either CDMA or GSM, but each of these technologies have several different frequencies. Multi-frequency phones will work in more places and may even allow overseas roaming.
Overall size and feel: Find a phone that is comfortable in your hand or pocket. Try out the keypad and buttons. Check out the menu system. See what the screen is like.
Battery Life: How long can you expect the battery to last under normal conditions?
Sound Quality: Make a phone call and listen through the earpiece. Does the person on the other end sound 'normal'? Change the volume and listen again. Put the phone in your pocket or where ever you plan to carry it. Can you hear it ring? If it comes with a vibrate option then can you feel it.
Your needs: Do you need a hands-free phone? Lots of games? Customizable covers? etc.
Also consider visiting the service providers' web site to learn more about a particular phone model plus read any reviews of the phones you have in mind.
Now that you have done your research into which phone and service provider is best suited for your needs, go ahead and buy that cell phone. You'll feel a lot more confident about your purchase since you did your research beforehand.
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