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To Smartphone, or not to Smartphone?


Practical Money Matters
By Jason Alderman

My wife decided to upgrade her dinosaur cell phone to a “smartphone” and enlisted my help. Initially, we ran into the brick wall of decisions smartphone shoppers frequently face: How to choose among hundreds of available phones, pick the right service provider and predict which calling and data plan and other options would best fit her needs without breaking the bank?

Here are a few things we learned:

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 and maps; play music and video, and much more.

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 the smartphone itself is pricey, to determine the true cost of ownership factor in how much you’ll pay 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-plus in monthly operating costs.

Other expenses to consider: accessories (vehicle charger, 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.

These additional more online resources may help you decide:

CNET (www.cnet.com) has a helpful Cell Phone Buying Guide, a Cell Phone Coverage Map tool for comparing cell reception in certain cities, product reviews and other tools.

BillShrink has a cell phone service Price Comparison Tool (www.billshrink.com).

TeleBright has an online tool that compares cellular plans and phones available in the top 70 U.S. markets (https://wireless.telebright.com).

As for my wife, 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.

Jason Alderman directs Visa’s financial education programs. To Follow Jason Alderman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney [2]