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Cell Phone Buying Guide

A comprehensive guide that will give you all the information you need on how to buy a new cell phone.

Getting Started

Picture this: You are walking down the street wondering what the weather is going to be for tonight, because you are going to a restaurant that you still haven't made reservations for and need to buy those theatre tickets for the after-dinner show. Nothing like last-minute plans. However, all of your problems can be fixed with the push of a few buttons on a cell phone.

The evolution of the personal cellular phone is quite amazing. The technology was created in the late 1970s, and at first it was only accessible by the very wealthy. Years later the first commercial cell phones were released, which were bulky, didn't have a great signal, and were very expensive. At first used primarily by law enforcement and business professionals, cellular phones have since evolved into smaller, easy to use electronic devices, now owned by millions of individuals across the globe.

Cell phones work by sending and receiving radio signals through any number of "cell sites." These sites are usually mounted on a tower, pole, or building located throughout populated areas, then connected to a cabled communications network and switching system. The phones have a low-power transceiver that transmits voice and data to the nearest cell sites, normally not more than 5 to 8 miles away from each other.

When the mobile phone or data device is turned on, it registers with the mobile phone exchange, or switch, with its unique identifiers, and can then be alerted by the mobile switch when there is an incoming telephone call or text message. The handset constantly listens for the strongest signal being received from the surrounding base stations, and is able to switch seamlessly between sites. As the user moves around the network, the "handoffs" are performed to allow the device to switch sites without interrupting the call. The more cell sites, the clearer the call and the less chance of losing the signal.


Since shedding the large, bulky physical appearance, cell phone manufacturers continue to come out with different kinds of phone. All of these, however, follow three basic styles: "candy bar" phones, flip phones, and smart phones.

The candy bar phone looks pretty much as its name implies. It is shaped like a rectangle or a square, and its screen and the majority of its operational keys/digits are located on the face of the phone. Each of these phones provides a locking mechanism to prevent you from accidentally pressing a digit or dialing a number while the phone is bouncing around in your pocket or purse.

Flip phones require you to open the face of the phone to dial and receive calls. These provide the most natural phone experience, mimicking the kind of telephone you would have in your home. The earpiece and mouthpiece are perfectly aligned with your ear and mouth, respectively.

The smart phone is built like a candy bar phone, but instead of simply having a keypad for numbers, they provide a full "QWERTY" keyboard. Installed on each smart phone are computer software products such as Windows OS, Symbian OS, and BlackBerry OS.

Widows OS and Symbian OS are more commercially friendly operating systems, as they allow for simple configurations and web browsing. If you use a computer regularly, these operating systems will make you feel as if your home computer is in your pocket.

BlackBerry OS is used predominantly within a corporate/business atmosphere. E-mail is the biggest factor that makes BlackBerry useful. Its communication is instantaneous, whereas e-mail support from a Windows or Symbian OS will use a different network, creating e-mail delay. On the BlackBerry OS, you can have up to 10 e-mail accounts on one phone, many of which can be aligned directly with your company's network, allowing you to send and receive messages without having to be in your office.


More Than Just Calling Friends and Family
As with all technology, cell phones have evolved greatly and are now multifunctional electronic tools. You can send text messages, pictures, e-mail, and files, or check the weather, show times, and restaurant reviews, all with a device that fits in the palm of your hand.

Each cell phone carrier provides these different services as part of their cell phone packages. Typically, the more features you want, the mores expensive your monthly bill will be. However, carriers are now creating special packages that allow consumers to have the "whole package" for one reasonable, set rate.

Accessing the internet on your cellular phone is a feature that has been getting better and better since its implementation almost 10 years ago. The newer cell phones, the ones with larger screens, allow for full HTML browsing, while the smaller, less expensive phones do not provide that service. What's the difference? The difference is in the quality and speed at which you can surf the web. The phones designed to provide full HTML service allow you to navigate a website like you were sitting at a desktop computer. The cell phones not designed to handle that can either crash, or take an extremely long time to upload a website.

Stay Connected
With the availability of the internet on your cell phone, it has now become easier to keep in touch with your circle of friends. Cell phones now provide applications, which are websites specifically designed to operate with your cellular phone. Social websites, such as Facebook and MySpace, have free applications that allow you to control your Facebook and MySapce page with your cell phone just as you would if you were sitting in front of your computer.

Connecting to other electronic devices has never been easier. Some cellular phones allow wireless connections via Bluetooth. You can operate your phone through Bluetooth and transfer files to other phones, use hands-free mobile headsets, connect to your computer, and communicate with other electronic devices that use the Bluetooth signal.

Besides tapping into the internet, cell phones can become a portable entertainment source. Some phones have built-in memory as well as a slot for a memory card. With these features, you can take pictures, video, and even turn your phone into a full-fledged MP3 player, storing hundreds of songs.

How Does it All Work? 
The internet is available on your phone through several different sources. The basic telephones that can connect to the internet use WAP, also known as Wireless Application Protocol. A WAP browser provides all of the basic services of a computer-based web browser, but in a simplified form to operate within the restrictions of a mobile phone. WAP sites are websites written in, or converted to, WML (Wireless Markup Language) and accessed through the WAP browser.

Before the introduction of WAP, service providers had extremely limited opportunities to offer interactive data services. Interactive data applications are required to support currently commonplace activities such as sending e-mail or searching for sports scores, stock market quotes, or news headlines.

Just like on a computer, different internet speeds and services are provided. The evolution of cellular phone internet access has been: Dual Mode connection, Tri-Mode connection, Edge, 2G and 3G. These provide the full HTML experience on your phone. Currently 3G is the fastest internet access available for cellular phones, but it is not available in all locations. To remedy this situation, some newer cell phones have built-in Wi-Fi, which allows you to connect to the internet through the local wireless router.

Crossing Contract Lines
Let's say you have already decided on the best phone carrier and best plan that fits your needs, but there are no phones provided by that carrier that you like. Well, for a hefty price, you can purchase an "unlocked" phone that will work on any carrier (as long as the phone accepts the SIM card provided by the carrier). The down side of purchasing an unlocked phone is that they are not sold by cell phone carriers, negating any warranty they would have provided. Unlocked phones can be purchased at various retail stores, which is where you would go if the phone ever needed to be serviced.

There are some other warranty risks involved with buying an unlocked phone. Some unlocked phones come with warranties honored by the manufacturers; however some do not come with U.S. warranties. Many unlocked phones have warranties that are only honored overseas. If an issue arises with an unlocked phone that has a warranty honored overseas, it can be 2-3 months or more to get the phone fixed. Therefore, consumers must be careful and understand the risks of buying an unlocked phone and ask the right questions. Most stores that sell unlocked phones offer very limited warranties and often charge restocking fees or have a no-return policy on these. That is why at Abt Electronics, we currently offer a limited selection of unlocked phones.

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