My wife decided she wanted to upgrade her dinosaur cell phone (festooned with an exterior antenna) to a "smartphone" and enlisted my help. Initially, we ran into the brick wall of decisions smartphone shoppers frequently face: How to choose among the hundreds of available phones, pick the right service provider and predict which calling and data plan and other available options would best fit her needs without breaking the bank?
Here are a few things we learned on our journey:
What's a smartphone? These all-in-one devices generally let you: send and receive phone calls and text, email and instant messages; surf the Internet; shoot photos and video; manage and synch-up your calendar; run applications such as weather and traffic conditions, games, social networking (e.g., Facebook), and maps; play music and video files and much more. It's almost like having a 5-inch computer in your pocket.
Reception. Reception in your home, commute and work is a critical component when choosing a service provider. Unfortunately, signal strength, data download speed and other factors can vary significantly from block to block.
Ask friends and neighbors how pleased they are with their service. Also, remember carriers offer a grace period (generally 30 days) before an early plan termination fee kicks in, so try out all features extensively wherever you plan to use the phone.
No apples to apples. Many variables complicate the selection process, including:
Cost considerations. Although smartphones can be pricey -- often several hundred dollars, depending on model and memory capacity -- to determine the true cost of ownership you must factor in how much you'll pay over time for a standard two-year carrier contract. Depending on whether you opt for limited or unlimited plans for voice minutes, text messaging and Internet data transfer, you could rack up $80 to $150 a month or more in operating costs.
Other expenses to consider include: accessories (vehicle charger, wireless Bluetooth earpiece, home charging dock and external memory card); various monthly plan taxes and fees; software applications such as ring tones, games, on-demand TV or radio, GPS navigation; additional fees for international calls; and replacement insurance.
Here are a few more online resources that may help you decide:
As for my wife, in the end a friend let her borrow an LG Ally and now she's hooked. The Ally is sleek, powerful and runs Google's Android. Now I've got phone envy.
This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a legal, tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to you and about your individual financial situation.
To Follow Jason Alderman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney
Follow Jason Alderman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney