How to Buy a Cell Phone
A cell phone is a must have item. From kids in high school whose parents need a way to stay in constant contact all the way up to senior citizens who need the flexibility of a cell phone plan, everyone needs to know how to buy a cell phone. If you break down the cell phone process into three steps — picking a provider, picking a phone, and adjusting your service, understanding how to buy a cell phone is an easy task.
Cell phones are everywhere — they allow you to be in touch with anyone, anywhere by phone. Modern cell phones allow you to send and receive e-mail and text messages, access the Internet, even play games, music, and videos. Knowing how to buy a cell phone means figuring out what kind of phone you want, digging through the mountain of cell phone providers, and picking out the best physical phone for your needs. Here’s what you need to know to find the right cell phone and service plan.
Picking A Cell Phone Service Provider
- Coverage: This refers to the service area of your cell phone. Not all providers cover all areas of the country. The largest American cell phone providers are AT&T, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. Just because they are the biggest doesn’t mean they’re the best — but if a large coverage area is your main concern, one of those four companies should do the trick. A reputable nationwide cell phone provider will offer you a trial period (somewhere from a week to a month) where you pay for only the minutes you use in case you hate the service and want to switch companies.
- Plan type: Your “plan type” is only important if you plan on calling people outside of the United States. Most people will get by without international coverage, though if you travel outside the country very often, you might want to consider an international plan.
- Data plan: Since cell phones are more than just telephones, how much “data” your cell phone service allows you to use is really important. If you don’t plan on using your phone for e-mail, pictures, messaging, Internet access or the like, you don’t need any kind of “data plan” at all. If, on the other hand, you plan on using all your cell phone has to offer, buy the biggest data plan you can afford. Be careful when buying a phone plan, because some cell phone providers “bundle” your voice plan (minutes of talk time) together with your data plan. If you don’t need a data plan, you could be wasting money.
- Minutes: One of the more crucial aspects of picking a cell phone provider is how many minutes you’ll need. There’s no good way of “guesstimating” the number of minutes you need, unless you have an accurate and recent phone bill to help you make an average. Even then, you might want to over-estimate because it is cheaper to pay for a few extra minutes than to pay “overuse” penalties. Depending on the service you buy, you may need to be careful of when you use your minutes — some plans give you certain minutes for night time, weekend, or daytime use. Learning how to buy a cell phone is really a matter of learning how to use your minutes.
- Hidden fees: If you come right out and ask a provider about hidden fees, don’t expect a straightforward answer. Just plan on paying a little extra if you make changes to your service or even for activating a cell phone. You can study the fine print of a phone contract and look for keywords like “phone-replacement fees” or “extended warranties”, but when you’re dealing with cell phone providers, expect the unexpected.
One last note on picking a provider — I have recently switched to a “budget minded” national cell phone plan. These providers (names like Cricket and Boost) have the budget-conscious consumer in mind, and offer limited call areas at extremely cheap prices. Though I don’t have coverage if I travel too far outside an urban area, I pay 1/3 of what I used to pay and enjoy Internet access and all kinds of other cool features on my new phone. You don’t have to choose one of the “big name” cell service providers. Be sure and check out the services offered by the little guys, too.
Picking A Cell Phone
So you’ve got cell phone service — now you need to pick a phone. The only two factors that go into your phone choice are how much you’ll use the phone and where you plan to use it. Since you’ve already decided on the features you need when you picked a service provider, pick your phone based on how much use it will get and how far you’ll travel from your hometown. Sure, looks are a factor, so buy a phone that looks cool.
You may be forced to buy a phone from your service provider — in this case, you usually get big discounts, so don’t think of this as a hassle. Usually you get a cool new phone for a cut rate.
If you are looking for a cheaper phone, you’re in luck. Depending on your provider, you can get a phone for as little as nothing. Ask your provider if they offer a free phone — you may not get many features and it may not be the prettiest thing on the block, but free is a price everyone can agree on.
As far as how much you’ll use your new cell phone, the life of the battery is the main concern. Different phones have different battery strengths, ranging from an hour or so to well over 12 hours. Fancy phones with tons of features probably need to be charged more often than cheaper ones, and the vendor that sells you the phone ought to be able to give you the estimated “talk time” — the battery life of the phone while in use.
If you plan on travelling the country, picking a “high band” phone is crucial. Phones come in one of four categories — single, dual, tri, or quad-band. Basically, the more bands a phone uses, the more cellular frequencies it can pick up. Quad-band phones provide better coverage than any other, but if you aren’t travelling much, you can stick with a single band phone.
Where cell phones were once playthings for the rich or expensive tools for businessmen and celebrities on the go, cell phones are now a standard piece of technology that everyone needs. Once you learn how to buy a cell phone the first time, changing your provider or buying a new phone will be like falling off a bicycle — no one ever needs a second lesson. Cell phones are the most convenient way, if not always the cheapest, to keep in touch with your loved ones, play around on the Internet, and feel safe and secure on the road or on vacation.
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