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Cell phone buying guide

How to choose the right cell phone

Shop online, download music, organize your day and plan your grocery list, all from your cell phone. But with so many options, it can be challenging to decide which cell phone is right for you. Follow these three steps to decide which carrier, plan and phone is right for you.

Woman looking at pink cell phone

Choose a carrier

Even though it's tempting to just buy the coolest phone, it's more important to start with choosing a carrier. Each cell phone carrier and service provider offers a different suite of technologies. Do you need international calling? That will eliminate several carriers. Are you looking for an unlimited plan? That will narrow the field further.

When you select a carrier, you will be expected to commit to a one- or two-year contract that details the service they will provide to your phone at the rate plan that you choose. Make sure you read the fine print; once you sign the contract, there are usually hefty fees for canceling it early. Along with the contract, the carrier will provide your initial phone purchase. Many providers sell phones at a discounted rate or offer some models free with a new contract. Watch for sales and promotions, which often occur when a new model is released. While many carriers offer pre-paid services, in the long run you'll end up paying much more for your phone and your service than you would with a monthly plan.

Choose a plan

The rate plan you choose will determine how many minutes you receive each month for text and talking, additional charges for extra minutes, cost of service features and data usage and more. Each carrier offers several rate plan packages, including individual and family plans. It's important to note that, regardless of which carrier or plan you choose, your first monthly bill will be much higher than subsequent months because you pay a number of enrollment and setup fees up-front. After that first month, though, keep an eye on your bill and how many minutes you and your family are using. Your carrier should allow you to adjust your plan up or down once you get a feel for what you really need.

Choose a technology

Cell phones come in two basic types: conventional and smart. Conventional cell phones often come free with a new contract. Typically, conventional phones are smaller than smart phones and are available at lower price points. While they include the basics — calling and texting — many come with add-ons like a camera, games or an internet connection. Smart phones build on those basics with applications like email, calendar, games and more. Some smart phones support Office documents, allowing you to work in programs like Word and Excel right from your phone. In general, smart phones browse the web faster than conventional phones and can be connected to several email accounts, including your business account. With a smart phone, you can also choose from thousands of downloadable applications that include everything from card games to productivity suites.

Choose extra features

After you've narrowed down the type of technology you're searching for, you need to make sure you choose a phone with features suited to your needs. For instance, if you're going to be using the phone for texting and emails, a full QWERTY keyboard might make typing easier. Similarly, if you want to use your phone for video chats, a phone with a front- and back-facing camera will be necessary.

If you're shopping for several people, it might be easiest to look for a family of phones with variable features that will meet everyone's needs. The T-Mobile myTouch smartphones by LG are the perfect example - one phone has a slideout QWERTY keyboard while another version is fully touchscreen. You can choose different phones for different family members based on their style of phone use.

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