How To Determine Which Cell Service Is Best For You

by : Jon Arnold

With every cell phone carrier advertising their latest cell phones and super plans, it gets more and more difficult to determine which one is the right one for you. How do you know? If you live in a major metro area or almost any larger city, the plans, service and coverage are going to be pretty much the same. But if your intended usage is outside the major metro areas or you will be using your cell phone all over the place because you plan to travel a lot with it, then this is where the rubber meets the road and the RIGHT plan takes significantly more scrutiny.

Before going any further, it is important to note that you need to define what you plan to do with your cell phone. Now with that said, throw that note away. What you really need to determine is what ARE you going to be using it for, and what capabilities and functionality do you REQUIRE (not just merely “want" or find somewhat cool or desirable) with your cell phone and cellular service? If you don’t define this BEFORE you start shopping, it is almost inevitable that you are going to be spending more than you need to, perhaps to a significant degree.

The first thing to note is where you will be using your cell service the majority of the time. Find out what carriers have the best coverage in your area. Again, this is critical. For example, if you save $10 per month but the carrier’s coverage in your area is marginal, how useful is your cell service if you drop one out of 3 calls, and the other calls make you sound like you are calling from the bottom of a bathtub?

Regarding the actual cell phone, unless you are just dying for a particular model phone (and you should not be), choose the cell carrier before you choose which phone you need. There are very few cell phones that have features that are particular to only one carrier.

Standard equipment would be a decent battery life giving you about 3 hours of talk time. The built-in cameras take pictures of a quality that is merely “ok" and will not win any awards, and you will likely use that feature minimally if at all after the novelty wears off. The ability to be an MP3 player? Bag it – it will drain your battery faster and does not deliver the quality of an MP3 player that was actually DESIGNED to be an MP3 player. It provides 10-15 seconds of full motion video? Yawn. You won’t use it after the novelty wears off, but you WILL be paying for that functionality. It has a built in PDA with organizer functions? It will kill your battery life.

Bottom line on the cell phone itself: let the cell phone function as a cell phone, and don’t try to force it into performing functions that it was not designed to do, because that will only drive up the price, and it will not do any of those things as well as a device that was designed to do them.

Let’s say you have narrowed your carrier choices down to 2, maybe 3. Now let’s look at the plans. Who will you be calling mostly? T-Mobile has plans that allow you to select 5 people that you call most frequently and gives you unlimited minutes to call them. Sprint and Verizon usually allow you to call other cell customers of theirs on an unlimited basis. What about nights and weekends? Most carriers provide unlimited nights and weekends. Note that despite the position of the sun in the sky, “night" doesn’t start until 9:00pm, or with Sprint and an extra $5 per month, “night" can begin at 7:00pm.

How many “anytime" minutes do you need? Be generous here, because you could be paying as much as 30 cents per minute or more as soon as you go over your allotted anytime minutes. Yes, every time you call your voicemail from your cell phone, that goes against your anytime minutes.

Finally, your best bet is to buy online. In this age of “immediate satisfaction", your desire is to waltz into the cellular carrier’s retail store, and walk out of there talking on your shiny new cell phone. Don’t do it. Go into the retail store to get a hands-on view of the phones you are considering, but with the spotlights, the shiny chrome cases, and a sales rep smiling like he’s auditioning for Jaws, avoid the temptation. You can always find at least an EQUIVALENT deal online, and very frequently the online resource will also throw in some extras like a carrying case, a car power adapter, a travel adapter, and a hands-free kit, which would cost nearly another $100 if you get it at the carrier’s retail outlet.

Bottom line: define what you want and be smart about it. A cell phone can be a great thing, but you need to feel good about having done the proper research to get a great deal on it.