What to Consider when Buying a Cell Phone

It must be that time of year, because I’ve been getting a lot of questions from people about what cell phone they should upgrade to. This is likely because I switch phones entirely often, so I’ve seen my fair share. I will generally ask whoever is asking me to consider the following (after the jump of course).

Your Provider

Your phone choice may be seriously limited by your cell phone provider. We will look at three today: at&t, Verzion Wireless (VZW), and Sprint. In my opinion, VZW probably has the best variety of phones, offering a bunch of different Blackberries, Android powered phones, and the new Microsoft Kin. Sprint has a nice set of exclusive phones, such as the HTC Evo (Android powered), the Palm Pixi & Pre, and the Samsung Moment, which looks pretty cool. I actually feel at&t has the worst selection of phones; however, they are the only provider offering the coveted iPhone. If you want the iPhone, and you know you want the iPhone- stop reading right now. There are people I’ve tried to steer away from the iPhone, but it’s like Poison Ivy’s kiss. Once you try it you are a slave to its power. If you’re not on at&t, you’ll need to switch. Hold out until June 24th so  you can get your hands on the shiny new iPhone 4. If the iPhone has lost its luster, you’re not on at&t and don’t watch to switch, or you want to know what else is out there, keep reading.

Your Preference

Back in the day, choosing a cell phone was pretty cut and dry. Most were the same, just shaped slightly differently. Then the biggest choice was whether or not you wanted a flip phone (you totally did). Now it’s regular phone or smartphone, touch screen or not, physical keyboard or on screen keyboard. Do I want apps? Which phone looks the coolest?

What it really comes down to is what you want to use it for. Then you can decide the rest. If you want email/internet, you need a smartphone. There are extra costs (we’ll get to that next). If you’re just using it for calling and texting, no smartphone required. Then you decide on the other stuff. Some people don’t like on screen keyboards. You will probably like most Blackberries (I’d say the Tour is the best one out now) or the Moto Droid if you’re on VZW. If touch screens are the way you want to go (generally touch screen phones are thinner and lighter than their keyboarded counterparts), you might consider the HTC Incredible (VZW, Android powered) or the iPhone. If you know you will love tons of apps at your disposal, the iPhone or any Android powered phone is the way you should go. While RIM (makers of Blackberry) has made strides in advancing their own app world experience, it’s not up to snuff with iPhone or Android.

Cost

Cost is always a factor.  First figure out if your eligible for an upgrade. That will likely save you a cool $300 on a smartphone. It’s also worth checking out what kind of deals your provider has at the time your ready to upgrade. VZW often offers buy one droid phone get one free or something similar. I’m sure Sprint and at&t offer the same. If you’re just looking for a cheapie, providers generally offer some phone for free (with an upgrade). But that’s not the only cost to consider.

If you’re taking the smartphone plunge, you will need to  get a data package. That means the iPhone, all Android phones, all Blackberries, and the Kin will require you to shell out more monthly to own the phone. Generally, it’s $30/month (though at&t is adding some ridiculous new pricing scheme) for unlimited data transfer. Data is considered anything that isn’t phone or text related. MMS and SMS messages are not included in that price. You need to ask yourself if it’s worth it. I think it is, but I’m a huge nerd. Also, keep in mind that if you get the data plan you probably won’t be able to go without it when your next upgrade comes around. I have a full blown addiction.

What’s my Recommendation?

Well generally, my feelings about smart phones go like this: Android > iPhone > Blackberry. This is the convention I give everyone who is considering an upgrade. That said, below are a few of the best phones on the market right now. The best one, in my opinion, is the HTC Incredible, powered by Android and offered by Verizon. Slim, light, sleek, a crystal clear screen, Android’s awesome OS, and an 8MP camera to boot.

*Note: I haven’t played with the Kin yet. If you have, let us know what you think in the comments!

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Finally, I will leave you with Lifehacker’s iPhone vs. Android Showdown.