Does your cell phone do video? Or instant messaging? Is it capable of taking mega-pixel quality photos and video? What about watching TV? Will it retrieve your e-mail? Let you send all kinds of text messages? Does it let you dial just by speaking into it? Remind you of your appointments? Will it ring overseas?
Which of these features do you really want or need for the cell phone that you carry with you everywhere? And what is all this complexity worth to you?
Cell phone manufacturers are betting the bank that it’s worth a lot. Which is why you’re seeing so many ads plugging all the different features inside your phone — instead of highlighting your chances of finding and maintaining a signal.
I love to play with all the new phones on the market — and some about to come out. But, after playing with these new super devices for awhile I always come back to the same question — do they work where I need them to work?
It doesn’t matter what cell phone you buy or how many features they’ve crammed inside — if it doesn’t receive a signal where you live or work it’s not worth what you paid for it. It’s not even worth a dime.
So, the most important part of buying any cell phone — especially as a gift — is to make sure it will work where you need it to work. If it doesn't, it’s probably not the phone. Try similar models from other cellular carriers. In the long run, you’ll be glad you did.
That said, there are some really terrific phones out there and any one of them would make a terrific holiday gift.
Near the top of everyone’s cellular wish list is the Motorola RAZR. It’s slim, sleek and just plain pretty. It also has a wonderful hand feel. Everyone who tries it wants one. And they should — it’s a great phone. On a recent trip to Europe, my wife and I took two RAZRs along and they did yeoman’s work.
When GSM/GPRS RAZRs first hit the market they were sold by one cellular provider for the outrageous price of $500. Luckily, as RAZRs became available from other providers the prices became much more reasonable.
Cingular offers a quad-band world RAZR phone for $199.99 in silver and black, with a magenta (looks more like pink) version coming soon for $249.99. Verizon Wireless also soon will be offering its own version of the RAZR, called the V3c.
Another popular big seller is Palm’s second generation all-in-one device, the Treo 650. Available from a number of U.S. cellular providers, the 650 is a nearly perfect smart phone device —allowing you to browse the Web, send and receive e-mail, take pictures, play music and do nearly anything you can think of on a phone.
Verizon and Sprint sell CDMA versions of the 650 phone, while Cingular is marketing a GSM/GPRS model. Prices start at $299. Just a warning, because of its e-mail capabilities service plans will be higher than for cell phones without e-mail.
I was on a New York City bus at 3 p.m. on a recent school day. It was me and about 1,000 ’tweens and teens — all trying to use their cell phones at the same time. I was amused to see that a large number of kids were using Sidekick IIs.
The Sidekick is a sophisticated tri-band world phone but is best used as an instant messaging device. You should have seen all those young fingers flying. The device has a unique slide open case which reveals a beautiful color screen and a terrific little keyboard. Inside are AOL Instant Messaging software, a real Web browser, a speakerphone and an integrated camera. All this in a package shaped liked a bar of soap (subliminal message for kids?) and sells for the remarkable price of $199.99 from T-Mobile.
To run the Sidekick you need a monthly minutes plan in addition to the $29.99 Sidekick data plan which includes unlimited data transfers and test messaging. If what I saw on that bus was any indication, T-Mobile loses money on that unlimited data stuff.
There are also two new special edition Sidekick models — Juicy Couture (pink) and Mister Cartoon (black) — which sell for $399.99.
Any discussion of mobile e-mail devices must include a discussion of BlackBerries. Nearly every cellular carrier sells them in one form or another. Some have older clunkier models, while others offer the newer, smaller and sleeker handsets. In the long run it doesn’t matter which one you choose depending on which cellular service works best for you (see above).
The main difference is that the 7100 series is small and neat, and has an unusual keyboard layout in which each key represents two letters. The software inside figures out what word you meant to type or prompts you if there are a few good choices.
Then there’s the brand new 8700c world phone discussed in detail a few weeks ago. It’s smaller, and more importantly faster, with blazing Web browsing and e-mailing speed. It should be arriving in Cingular stores right about now. Expect to pay $299.99 and shell out for Cingular’s Blackberry monthly data plan.
Finally, there are two special phones that would make great gifts:
Cingular markets the Firefly cellular phone for young kids. I know that sounds odd, but the limited-use phone is meant for young children. There’s a mommy key and a daddy key, plus space for 20 programmed numbers. All other incoming and outgoing calls are restricted. The phone is currently $49.99 on Cingular’s Web site.
My current favorite phone isn't available from any U.S. carrier, but you can buy one on the Web. The Nokia 7280 tri-band, GSM world phone ($449.99) has no keypad, just a rotating dial and a bunch of buttons. The idea is to have your numbers programmed inside or to use the voice programming and dialing features.
It worked flawlessly in Europe recently and can be highly recommended. There’s also an upgraded model on the way (the 7380) with new features and an upgraded (2 megapixel) digital camera inside.