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Choosing a Cell Phone and Rate Plan

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Need help picking a cell phone and rate plan?

Computertim Technologies' Founder and President, Tim Rooney, explains what to look for in a cell phone, and how to choose a service plan.

Choosing a Cell Phone and Rate Plan

Choose a service provider.

The first step in purchasing a cell phone is to choose a provider. Cell service providers are constantly in a pricing and feature war with competitors, so you can usually find a quality rate plan for under $30. Be sure to look at the major U.S. cell phone service providers' web sites:

1. Cingular Wireless

2. Verizon Wireless

3. Sprint PCS

4. AT&T Wireless

5. Voicestream

The service provider's web site is a great place to start shopping for a rate plan. In addition, the web site is usually always updated with the current special offers.

When choosing a service provider, consider the following factors:

-Will the phone have service where I need to use it? (Check the provider's coverage map.)

-How much do extra minutes cost when you go over the allotted amount? How much does it cost per minute for roaming?

-What features does the plan provide standard? A rate plan should provide you with call waiting, voicemail, 3-way calling, and call forwarding at the very minimum. Are there any extra fees for using any special services?

-Can I easily change my rate plan (with the same provider) without being charged any fees before my contract is up?

-What type of guarantees does the provider have for cell phones?

-When will you be using your cell phone? If you are planning on using it during off-peak hours (nights and weekends), a plan with unlimited nights and weekends will help you get the most out of your cell phone. If you're going to use it mostly during the business day, make sure you have enough peak minutes.

Picking a cell phone

There are literally dozens of cell phones to choose from, with different features, looks, and capabilities. If you're planning on using your cell phone frequently, you should probably look to purchase a higher-end phone. If you aren't going to use your phone too often, you might consider a lower-priced phone.

Be careful with choosing one of the "free" cell phones a provider is giving away. While this may seem to be an attractive option, these phones usually are very low on features, and aren't always the best option for the power-user.

Also be sure to look at the phone's size and weight. Personally, I use the Motorola v60t, which is one of the smallest, lightest, and most stylish phones on the market. Think about where you're going to keep your phone all day. Even though a phone weighing 6 ounces might not seem that much, it can be uncomfortable to keep in a pocket all day.

Be sure to consider battery life. If you're going to be a frequent cell phone user, make sure the phone has a high battery life. Take note that you can usually buy a higher-capacity battery for your phone, but it does add some extra weight. When looking at battery life, there are two different values that you'll see: standby time, and talk time. Standby time is the amount of time you can keep your cell phone idle on one charge, waiting for a phone call. Talk time is the amount of time that you can talk on the phone on one battery charge.

Making the purchase

If you take a look at service providers' web sites, you'll notice that generally, you can purchase the cell phone and plan over the Internet. I don't usually recommend this. It's often easier to go directly to a service provider's store and make the purchase. It's easier to get answers to questions at the store than on the site. In addition, the employees at the store can usually help you learn how to use your phone.

Have comments on this article? Send them directly to Tim Rooney

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