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Cell phones & services Buying Guides

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Getting started

Cell phones are evolving to allow easier texting, Web surfing, GPS navigation, and social networking while keeping up with their day job--voice calling. Smart phones such as the iPhone and Android-based models are leading the charge. Thanks to their computer-like operating systems, they can run all types of applications, from Twitter to games, restaurant guides, shopping assistants, and more. Conventional cell phones aren't gathering dust, though. Many of the newest models have large displays, keyboards, and Internet capabilities. Their e-mail and applications aren't as robust as a smart phone's, but they're less complicated to use. And there still are phones with fewer bells and whistles for users with more straightforward needs.

Before you set out to buy a phone, though, consider the service provider. Service providers determine which phone models work on their networks. So when you're replacing your phone, use this cell phone guide to help you decide whether you'll stay with your current cellular service carrier or switch to a new one. Major carriers rely heavily on two incompatible digital networks. Sprint and Verizon networks use mainly Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) technology, while AT&T and T-Mobile use Global System for Mobile communication (GSM) technology. All of those carriers also support high-speed data networks. The network plays a big part in the capabilities your phone will have and, to some extent, its performance.

When you're ready to buy a phone, you'll first have to decide which of the two types, conventional cell or smart, meets your needs and budget. Choose a conventional model if you mainly need voice and text-messaging capability, and perhaps a music player and camera. Smart phones, with their advanced operating systems, larger displays, QWERTY keyboards, and other computer-like features, are a better choice for people who need frequent access to multiple e-mail accounts, a sophisticated organizer for appointments and contacts, the ability to open Office documents, and Internet-based services. One compelling advantage of most smart phones is their ability to access a host of applications consisting of productivity tools, shopping, multimedia, games, travel, news, weather, social, finance, references, etc.

Useful features such as support for wireless Bluetooth headsets, GPS navigation, and high-speed data access can greatly enhance user satisfaction.

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