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What to know before buying a cell phone

It seems like these days, there are a million and one different cellular phones and service plans on the market all claiming to be the BEST. How in world do you decide on which one to signup with?

What is right for you?
Many people sign up for a $60 a month service plan, but only end up using about 20 percent of the allocated minutes! Others, sign up for "across the country" plans costing $150 a month, but rarely travel outside their own state!

Today, you can typically find quite a number of local providers offering a wide variety of services to both individuals and businesses alike. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your cellular phone experience.

Talk to your friends and neighbors
The most valuable advice mostly everyone forgets to take into consideration is the "friend factor."

More than likely, you have a few friends, family members, neighbors who own cellular phones. The best way to learn about their particular phone and provider is to simply ask them. Within minutes, you can find out how well they like their phone, service provider, and most importantly -- the reception and clarity of calls.

Reception is THE MOST IMPORTANT factor to consider. For those of you familiar with cell phone static, garbled noise, echoing voices, and dropped calls, I think you'll agree these annoyances will make your cell phone experience miserable.

Even if you have the best phone, with the most minutes, for the cheapest price, if you are NOT with a company that provides a solid clear reception for both incoming and outgoing calls, you will be VERY disappointed and angry since you probably signed a one- to two- year contract.

Take my word for it. I have been with four different service providers over the past five years and the ONLY reason I kept switching was due to my unsatisfaction with the reception. It wasn't due to a lack of phone features, or even minutes provided, that can always be adjusted later or solved with the purchase of a higher end, more expensive phone. It ALL came down to the clarity of my cell phone calls, both incoming and outgoing.

Trust me, the first time you can't understand, or unexpectedly lose an important phone call, you'll remember this article and say "That guy from SavingSecrets.com told me about this!"

What can you do to educate yourself about cellular service? Talk to anyone you know who owns a cell phone. This is my best advice. Simply approach this topic by saying:

"Hey, I'm planning on getting a cell phone soon, but I'm a little unsure of which service provider to sign up with. There are so many options out there, I want to make sure I do my research before signing a lengthy contract. Could you tell me a little about your phone and service provider, and please be brutally honest."

Then, just make sure you ask these type of questions:

  • How do you like your particular phone?
  • What are the costs/plan/minutes provided?
  • Who is your service provider?
  • Do you have clarity issues ie: a lot of static, echoing noise, call drops?
  • What are the pros and cons, in your opinion?

Personally, I recommend speaking to at least 10 to 15 different people so you not only hear different opinions, but you can compare notes and see if you can find any consistencies amongst phones/providers.

Also, I found these Internet links to sites that provide various comparisons that you might find helpful. Check out:

Cell Phone Comparisons: www.1st-in-cell-phones.com/cell-phone-comparison.html

Point.com allows you to actually input your information and will find other providers and price options in your area. (have your bill handy for exact specific information): www.imglmb1.com/comparison_shopping/cell_phone_comparisons.html

Choosing service
Before you decide on a company/policy that best suits your needs, you MUST determine what type of cell phone "user" you'll be. This will save you money month after month.

Take a moment to reflect on when you will be using your phone the most. Is your cell phone for business purposes? For personal use? Just on the weekends? What time of the day will you use the phone most?

Know the answers to these questions before signing any type of cellular phone service agreement. It will help guarantee you get the best deal for your money.

Other important information to know:

  • Monthly service charge
  • Number of minutes included in plan
  • Type of "free" minutes -- weekend or anytime
  • Per minute charge: Peek, off peak, weekend
  • Local coverage area
  • Long distance charges
  • Roaming charges (when out of your designated calling area)

What phone to get
This question can only be answered by you. Do you really NEED a cell phone that can play games, store thousands of names and numbers, and get the latest sports scores?

If you just want a cell phone to make occasional phone calls, you can probably settle for a $30 to $50 phone. Better yet, most carriers offer FREE phones with the signing of a service agreement (generally one to two years).

IMPORTANT -- Make sure you try out the phone before you buy it. This is your chance to test the product. Is it too small? Are the buttons a good size for you fingers? How's the clarity? etc. . .

Every service provider will let you make a call on the phone you're interested in buying. Try before you buy! And don't just stand in the storeroom. Make sure you ask first, but walk around outside, go into a neighboring store, get in your car. Did the signal stay strong?

Also, have a friend call you on the phone so you can check how an incoming call sounds. If possible, have a friend call you from a cell phone to check what a cell-to-cell call sounds like.

Already have a cell phone?
Analyze the bill over the past two or three months. Do you see a calling pattern? When do you call more during the week or on weekends?

Write down an estimate of the hours you spend during peek (7 am to 7 pm), off peak (7 pm to 7 am) and weekend hours (Fridays midnight through Sundays 11:59 pm). Once you have an idea of when you spend the most time on your phone, you can then speak with a service representative about changing to a plan that might better fit your needs.

If you did happen to sign a one- to two- year contract, ask what type of switching/changing options you have. Remember to be courteous and nice. It will not help to start shouting and screaming because then the representative will not be inclined to help you. They'll simply say "YOU signed the contract."

Just politely state: "I am happy with your service and would like to remain your faithful customer, but I need have something adjusted that will better suit my calling habits."

The best advice to give to cell phone users is to educate yourself as much as possible. Find out what services are offered in your area. TALK TO people you know who have cell phones and ASK them what they think of their service. You'll be able to tell right away if they are happy or frustrated with their cellular service.

*NOTE* Just BE SURE you do NOT sign any contract until you have carefully thought and read through everything.

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