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How to Choose a Cell Phone

Learn how to choose a cell phone based on your needs.

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1. Identify your needs.

  • Will you use your phone when you travel?
  • Will you spend a lot of time on your cell phone?
  • Do you need features such as Caller ID, voice messaging, etc.?

2. Consider analog, digital, or dual-mode phones.

Where you use your phone determine the type of service you need.

  • Analog
    • Transmits calls across the air in a continuous, fluctuating electrical signal
    • Has the greatest choice in phones
    • Is offered in wearable phones weighing just over 3 ounces, handheld phones, and heavy-duty phones for construction sites
    Note: Most older cell phones are analog-only phones.
  • Digital
    • Prevents eavesdropping and number-stealing by using encryption
    • Allows clearer voice transmission and less congestion
    • Provides clearer sound
    • Provides useful features like caller ID, paging, and voice-messaging services
    • Allows for up to four times longer battery life
    • Has limited use when traveling
    Note: Digital phones that are called PCS (personal communication services) operate in a certain frequency band of the radio spectrum (1800 - 1900 megahertz)
  • Dual-mode
    • Works in both digital- and analog-only areas, offering greater flexibility
    • Operates in digital mode unless the digital signal is very weak or not available, then automatically switches to analog mode
    Note: Newer phones are generally either digital or dual mode.

3. Consider technology options.

The main technology differences are in the methods of transmission:

  • Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM)
    • Uses digital technology to allow for great international roaming capability
    • Operates at 850/900/1800/1900 frequency bands using SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card
    • Allows for worldwide voice calling, wireless internet access, text messaging, and multimedia access
    • Has widespread use in Europe and other countries
    • Has a removable chip that can transfer the user's stored phone numbers, account data, and other personal information from one phone to another
    • Is offered currently by two carriers (AT&T and T-Mobile) in the United States
  • Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA)
    • Has widespread use in Europe and other countries
    • Has a removable chip that can transfer the user's stored phone numbers, account data, and other personal information from one phone to another
  • Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA)
    • Operates in both the 1800 - 1900 megahertz (PCS) and the 800 - 900 megahertz (cellular) ranges
    • Provides the code that helps discriminate your conversation from other conversations
    • Allows each cell site to handle a large number of calls, meaning less congestion on the system
    • Was developed by the San Diego company Qualcomm
  • Cell phone/ two-way radio units
    • Operate as both cell phones and walkie-talkies
    • Function in cellular mode for cellular calls and in radio mode for direct-connect radio talk
    • Save money and time for group communication via direct-connect

4. Consider the type of battery you need.

Your type of battery determines talk time, standby time (the time the phone is on, but you're not talking on it), and frequency of recharge.

  • Nickel cadmium
    • Is offered on analog phones
    • Allows up to two hours of talk time and eight to 14 hours of standby time
    • Is the least expensive
    • Reduces talk time and requires more frequent recharging results if not completely drained each time before recharging
  • Nickel metal hydride
    • Is available for both analog and digital phones
    • Is moderately priced
    • Provides longer talk and standby times
    • Doesn't require complete draining before recharging
  • Lithium ion
    • Is the latest technology
    • Provides up to five hours of talk time and 48 hours of standby time
    • Is rechargable anytime with no adverse effects

5. Choose a provider.

Find out what type of service and technology each provider offers:

6. Order your phone.

Once you have decided on the type of cell phone you need, see How to Order Cell Phones.

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