Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Guide to Cell Phones

Believe it or not, I actually had a request for a topic this week. (I know--will wonders never cease?) Inquiring minds want to know about cell phones: specifically, what are smart phones, how to tell if a phone will work with your service if you don't buy the phone from your carrier, what's an android, and how much do these new phones cost?

Well, kind reader, wonder no longer. 1337 Librarian is here with your answers.

First of all: smart phones. No, that doesn't mean you have to be particularly smart to use them. It just means that the phones themselves can do more than regular phones. They don't just dial numbers, take messages and allow you to talk to someone who lives far away. They even do more than just text or take pictures and videos. These puppies go on the internet. They come with a slew of apps (Apps are programs designed specifically for those phones. They cost as little as nothing or as much as $10 or so (sometimes more). They're typically designed for specific uses--they do one thing, and do that one thing really well. So there might be a Facebook app for checking Facebook, a Google app for searching, etc.). Apps are key, because users of smart phones usually end up using apps more than anything else on those phones. (You search for, purchase and download the apps directly to your phone.)

Naturally, all of this smartness doesn't come for nothing. If you buy a smart phone, you're going to want to get a data plan to go with it. This is a monthly fee to use the internet (and access all those lovely apps) on your phone. It's typically in the realm of $30-$50 per month, or so I've been told. (1337 Librarian knows a lot about smart phones, but he's too cheap to buy one himself. More on that later.) That's a good chunk of change you'll be shelling out for these extra features, which is why many people try to finagle these phones through their work. Finagle away!

How do you tell if a phone will work with your carrier, if you don't buy it through your carrier? Most phones can be made to work with any carrier--but it takes a lot of work to get that magic to happen. I would advise against purchasing a phone separately from a phone contract. The thing is, when you go to buy a phone, your phone carrier will have all sorts of wonderful discounts on all sorts of wonderful phones. You can typically walk out of the store with a great phone, for half of what you'd pay normally (or less!). So getting your phone with your contract is the way to go.

But 1337 Librarian, you say. There are new phones coming out every week! What if I want to get the latest and greatest down the road? Not to worry.  Phone companies expect you to be getting a new phone every two years or so, and they offer the same deals when it's time to upgrade. If a particularly awesome phone has just been released, then often carriers will offer special discounts early, as well.

What's an Android? It's a type of smart phone. There are two huge gorillas in the smart phone arena these days: Google and Apple. Google has the Android phone (and a ton of similar phones with various names). Apple has the iPhone (iPhone 4 is the latest version). There are other, cheaper smart phones, but these are the big ones. Do you want a cheaper one? It depends on how many apps you want, and what you want to do with your phone.

Because remember, dear reader, you don't have to get a smart phone. You can get a dumb phone and be perfectly happy. Right now in our neck of the woods, you're not exactly zipping along on the internet on these phones. Internet speed can be quite slow. Is it worth it to you to pay $40 extra for slow internet? That's a judgement call you're going to have to make on your own. Right now, I just have a regular cell phone. Word on the street is the iPhone will be coming to Verizon (my carrier) in January (as of now, it's always only been available on AT&T). If that indeed happens, I might well upgrade but not get the data plan, if that's possible. Why would I want to do that? Well, these smart phones can also work on wifi connections--and those are free. An iPhone has a killer digital camera, video camera, slew of apps, video conferencing . . . it's got a lot to offer, and I love me some Apple gadgetry. But I'm in a holding pattern while I see if the move really happens and how much it'll cost.

Anywho--that's about all that comes to mind about cell phones. Got any further questions? Go ahead and ask 'em!

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