Cell phones seem to evolve by the day with manufacturers and service providers competing to produce the next consumer craze. While smartphones have emerged as the market leader, conventional cell phones, prepaid phones and unlocked phones offer viable alternatives. Knowing the difference between the various cell phone types will help you find the best choice for your specific needs.
Practically mini-computers, smartphones possess advanced operating systems that support far more than making phone calls. The typical smartphone features a large touch-screen display, Wi-Fi connectivity, fast wireless speeds for data streaming and Web browsing, superior cameras and access to applications that effectively mimic regular computer programs. The ability to run apps allows smartphones to handle email, social networking and office tasks such as editing documents and creating spreadsheets. Popular brands such as the Apple iPhone, the Motorola Droid and the Samsung Galaxy retail from between $100 and $500 depending on the precise model and features, and they also require monthly data plans as part of the regular two-year service contracts.
Conventional cell phones lack the advanced operating systems found in smartphones and can't run apps or other flashy features. Standard conventional phones are usually compact with smaller displays, which must usually be navigated via the keypad. In way of features, conventional phones typically offer a basic camera, simple video capturing, wireless Bluetooth capability and text messaging, with more advanced features including a QWERTY keyboard, memory card storage and simple Web browsing and email support through high-speed data networks. All the major service providers offer their own take on conventional cell phones, usually offering them for free with the purchase of a two-year service contract. Higher-end conventional phones may cost anywhere from $20 to $150 before the price of the monthly service package.
If you don't rely on your cell phone and only use it to make occasional calls or to send limited texts, prepaid phones may be the way to go. Companies such as Net10 and Tracfone don't require two-year service contracts or even monthly usage plans. Instead, you purchase a phone from the respective provider and then buy blocks of minutes. Each call or text costs a certain amount of money and subtracts from the prepaid balance. When the balance hits zero, you must purchase more minutes to continue service. Prepaid plans can provide substantial savings for those who don't use their cell phone every day.
Traditional cell phones are locked, meaning they're tied to a specific service provider and will only work on that carrier's network. Unlocked phones have no such limitations and can operate on multiple networks, requiring only a swap of SIM cards loaded with prepaid minutes to change carriers. Unlocked phones are typically more expensive than network phones and are also more difficult to set up and to maintain with current software due to the lack of specific network support.
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