How to Choose a Smart Phone

Step 1 – Choose your Operating System (OS).

The OS is the most important decision you need to make when buying a smartphone.  Just like the OS for a PC (Windows, Mac, or Linux) – the OS for a cell phone determines what you can do with the phone.  The OS determines what programs (called “apps” short for applications) you can buy or download for free.  And it’s the OS that determines what models of phone you can actually buy.  Also, even when you decide to replace an old phone, your initial choice of OS is important, because chances are you will want to stay with that OS, even though the model of phone you buy might change.

The four cell phone OS’s are:

  • Android (Google)
  • iPhone (Apple)
  • Blackberry
  • Windows Phone (Microsoft)

Android and iPhone are considered primarily consumer phones, while Blackberry and Windows Phone are aimed at “business people”.  However, you can buy whatever system you want.

I personally have an Android phone, and I would recommend it.  There are thousands, perhaps millions, of apps available for Android, and the vast majority of them are free.  From what I understand, iPhone apps are only available from the iTunes Store, suggesting that you have to pay for them.  And most popular apps (such as Facebook and Twitter) come in both Android and iPhone versions.  Also, as far as I know, all smartphones, regardless of OS can be integrated with your PC.  An iPhone syncs with iTunes.  My Android, plugs in to my computer’s USB port and I can drag and drop files (music, pictures, e-books, etc) in either direction.

Step 2 – Choose your provider

The second major choice you have when purchasing a smartphone is provider.  You want to go with a national provider – this will allow you to use your phone anywhere in the US and to call any number while staying within your plan.  It used to be that cell phones were tied to a particular provider (if you wanted an iPhone, you were stuck with ATT for example).  Now, however, most major providers carry a wide variety of Android, iPhone phones and other phones such as the newer Windows Phone or various Blackberry models.

The best thing to do is to research providers on-line.  Don’t be swayed by the pretty pictures of new cell phones – remember, whoever you choose you can probably get the same or similar models of phones.

Do consider actual service (the ability to use your phone) when choosing a provider.  If you live in a major metropolitan area and plan to only use your phone in major cities – any provider will do.  However, if you live in a rural area, travel a lot, or own vacation property, be sure to run some tests.  Find out what providers your friends and family have and what they do and do not like about their service.

When you do go in to purchase your phone and sign your service plan contract, find out what the return policy is – you should be able to return the phone and cut your contract within 30 days without any financial penalty.  If you live in a rural area – ask about coverage.

Step 3 – Choose your Plan – Items to Consider

When comparing providers, compare plans carefully, and be wary of hidden charges.  Read the fine print.

Smart phones tend to have a hefty monthly bill attached.  Be sure you understand one time fees (purchase of the phone, perhaps an initial sign-up fee), and monthly reoccurring charges.  Ask about additional data charges.  Ask about text message charges.  Make sure you know what is, and is not, covered.  Most US national plans, are just that – US plans, if you travel internationally (even to Canada or Mexico) you may need to purchase an international plan, or additional coverage.  Check on the cost.

That said, there are some “pay as you go” smart phones.  And there are some bargain and lower-rate carriers.  Be sure you known what you are and are not getting.

Overall, smart phones are fun, and useful.  I’m on my second.  My first was a Palm Pre, and my current is a Samsung Galaxy III Android phone.  Once you discover the convenience of having the Internet in your pocket, you won’t go back.