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Selecting a Cell Phone

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The Bottom Line

Finding the cell phone that's best for you is a balancing act between price and features. Consider which features you want, and then look for the phone that best matches your list, yet still falls within your budget.

While choosing a carrier based on coverage is an important first step, the cell phone is what you will use to interact with the carrier's network, whether to make a call, browse the web, or send a text message. As a result, choosing the right phone for your specific needs is critical.

Cell phones continue to evolve rapidly; most now offer far more than the ability to make and receive calls. In fact, they are morphing into full communications devices capable of taking digital photos, capturing video, managing business communications, and even handling streaming TV. Given the ever-improving quality of these and other features in new models, the day is coming when some people may decide that there is no longer a need to have multiple communication/entertainment products, when their phone can fulfill all those needs — and fulfill them well.

Cell phone prices for new accounts are usually heavily discounted, and this makes it fairly expensive for carriers to get new customers. That is one reason why most phones are “locked” to work only on the selling carrier's network. It also explains why carriers require a contract. Prepaid, no-contract options are available, but you'll find that the phones (and rates) are more expensive.

Say Cheese!

One of the most popular features of a phone is an integrated camera. While quality has been improving, phone camera resolution has remained far behind that of stand-alone cameras. But that may be changing. The first 3+ megapixel camera (Samsung A990) was introduced by Verizon in July 2006 and more are on the way. This amount of resolution is equal to that of the best digital cameras a couple years back, and is good enough for taking sharp pictures. As a result, we may be on the cusp of a convergence between phone and camera, enabling many people to do away with a stand-alone camera.