When selecting a smartphone, the most important factors for you to consider are your wireless provider, the available apps, the data plans and model selection. Smartphones, unless they are unlocked, only work with a specific cell phone provider. Also, since each cell phone provider carries its own line of smartphones, they don't all offer the same selection. Therefore you should choose your provider and data plan before you select your phone. Think about the features of the phone and the applications offered, keeping in mind which you think you will use.
Choosing a Provider
Cost and estimated usage are two important considerations for deciding on a cell phone provider. Each carrier has different kinds of usage plans based on data, voice and messaging. It’s a fine line when it comes to selecting a plan; buy too much and you will waste money, but too little and you are hit with large fees if you go over your limit. Coverage is another aspect. Most of the large carriers offer nationwide coverage, although a few of the smaller, less expensive providers have a bit spottier coverage. Many of the phone company websites have a page where you can check coverage. However, even if a company has coverage, the reception can also be poor. Check the Cell Reception website (listed in the Resources section) to see where the towers in your area are located; it also provides user-generated comments about reception.
Kinds of Plans
The top three cell phone carriers, AT&T, Verizon and Sprint offer a potpourri of 4G voice and data plans, each specific to the provider. AT&T has a Mobile Share plan to share data, a family plan to share voice usage and individual data and voice plans as well. All plans include unlimited mobile to mobile and most include unlimited nights and weekends. Although you can purchase unlimited talk and messaging plans, no unlimited data plans are available from AT&T. Verizon’s plans, called Share Everything, apply to individual and family usage. The plans, similarly to AT&T offer unlimited talk and messaging as well as shareable data. However, you can also “tether” your smartphone as a hotspot so you can share data usage with non-cellular tablets and laptops. With Sprint you can choose unlimited data as well as messaging and voice. Tethering is also included on many plans and you can choose individual or family plans.
Choose the model based on the operating system for your smartphone. Apple and Android are the top platforms. You can purchase an Android phone from a variety of manufacturers including Samsung, Motorola and HTC. Each manufacturer sells a smartphone with a variety of features; naturally the more features, the higher the price. Apple only sells the iPhone. Smartphone companies are constantly updating their phones; if you are purchasing a new phone and a new model has recently come onto the market, manufacturers often reduce the price of an older model. Be aware, however, that if you are out of contract with your service provider, you can buy a phone for a substantial discount; if you are still in a contract, you cannot upgrade without paying a substantially higher fee. Look at the phone and try it before you buy. Some feature larger screen size, lighter weight or rounded edges and may fit better in your hand. Screen resolutions vary as well so check the screen image quality.
Features and Apps
Today’s smartphones come loaded with features. Choose your phone by considering which features you will use, but remember you may not know you “need” a feature until you use it. All smartphones now have a camera. If that is important, look at the amount of pixels and how easy the camera is to use. Voice command is a feature that is becoming more common. Use it in the store to see how it works. Keep in mind that apps are an essential feature of smartphones; however both Android and iPhone have thousands for you to choose from.
Smartphone technology and smartphone plans change frequently. This information is up to date as of October 2012.
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