- Mobile Phone Buyers Guide
Mobile Phone Buyers Guide
Everything you need to choose a mobile phone
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With so much choice and so many offers, buying a mobile phone can be a bit of a minefield. However, the process can be made so much simpler if you break down the selection process. The key to choosing the right phone is getting the right handset and the correct tariff for your needs. Lets start with the handset:
Handsets fall into a number of categories. We’ve simplified these into four groups:
|Basic Mobile Phones: These handsets do exactly what they say on the tin. Effectively, they make and receive calls, send texts and may have one or two additional features. These phones generally appeal to those less concerned with complex features and fashionable accessories and have the easiest to use operating systems. They are usually at the bottom of the price table.|
|Music Based Phones: These handsets are based around providing music as well as being a mobile phone. They have larger memories than normal phones, to store your music, and often have designated music buttons on the handset. If you want to combine your phone with your MP3 player, this kind of handset will be the one to go for. However, battery life can suffer so be sure you leave yourself enough juice for some calls.|
|Camera Based Phones: Increasingly, mobiles are featuring better and better cameras. In some cases it can be argued that they are cameras with mobiles attached! If you’re a happy snapper, then this group of mobiles is for you. Take note of some of the other features however, particularly LED flash and optical zoom are important for the seasoned professional! Due to all the camera features, this group of phones can sometimes be let down by size and weight.|
|Smartphones: Mobile phones can now do more than ever before, almost as much as a home PC, and as a result have been labelled Smartphones. These top-end devices not only allow access to email, but web browsing, satellite navigation, computer synchronisation and often have a full QWERTY keyboard. These phones no longer simply target business users, but those who want to stay connected, and have constant access to the World Wide Web. So if you want a Swiss Army-style phone and you’re quite happy to pay a little bit more, go for a Smartphone.|
Tariff selection is a little more complicated. There are lots of options, but the first question is whether to go Pay as you go, or on a monthly contract. Both have their advantages, and of course their disadvantages.
A Pay-As-You-Go tariff is a top-up based credit scheme. You pay to get call credit on your phone, and then use it until it runs out. This type of contract suits those who don’t use their phone a great deal, or those that do not want to be tied into a long term contract, it is therefore the most flexible option.
This has obvious downsides in that you can run out of credit just when you need to make a call, and it means that you have to pay for the handset separately. This often means the top-end handsets are hugely expensive.
In this contract type, you pay a set fee per month, and for that you get a number of free minutes and texts. By signing into a contract such as this, you often get the handset for free. This type of contract suits those who use their phone more regularly, getting the best value for money over the contract period.
However, be sure to take into account the length of the contract. Some attractive offers tie you in for up to two years, meaning you can’t change your handset during this time. Also, make sure you select a tariff that accurately works with your requirements. A 2006 study by T-Mobile saw that 61% of users regularly exceed their allowance of calls and texts, and this can be extremely expensive. Try to take some time to work out how many texts and minutes you really require, there are so many options of tariffs out there, you will find one that suits you.
- Which is the best network provider?
- Which is the best tariff for me?
- How can I save more money on my tariff?
- Can I keep my number?
- How much wil it cost to use my phone abroad?
- Should I insure my phone?
Which is the best network provider?
Orange, Vodafone, T-Mobile, 3 and O2 are the current UK networks. Every time you use your phone to have a conversation, send or receive text or multimedia messages or browse the web, it goes through your network. Virtual networks, like Virgin Mobile or those operated by supermarkets, use other networks to provide coverage.
To choose the best network, the best thing to do is to speak to people around where you live. Although almost all of the UK has good coverage from all network suppliers, there are still some local “blackspots.” Local knowledge is the best thing here, but if you’re still not sure, have a look at the links below, which give coverage maps for the specific network supplier.
Virtual providers do quite well on coverage because they aren’t restricted to using their own networks. Tesco, for instance, boasts 99% coverage of UK population. The weakest areas for all networks are those least populated, like North Scotland, North England, West Wales, Cornwall and Devon. Most networks have gaps in these areas and typically only provide 2G coverage so you can text and make calls but won’t be able to use video calls or fast web-browsing.
Which is the best tariff for me?
With literally thousands of tariff/handset combinations out there, choosing the right contract can be pretty daunting! Before you choose a tariff, decide how much, what for and when you are likely to use your phone. A unlimited text messages and unlimited minutes of talk time might sound desirable but why waste money on something you’re not going to use? Choose a tariff weighted more heavily towards texts, minutes or downloads depending on how you use your phone.
If you’re still not sure, we’re here to help!
Simply contact us with as much or little information as you know. You might tell us you’re more of a texter than a talker. Maybe you specifically want the new Nokia N96 on Vodafone but don’t want to spend more than £30 a month. We’ll then search all the major network providers for tariffs that meet your needs. Whatever you’re looking for, we’ll do our best to help as soon as we can!
Contact us: email@example.com
How can I save more money on my tariff?
You will often be entitled to an upgrade after two thirds of the contract is up. If you take an upgrade, you get a new phone and start a whole new contract. You should therefore only do this if you are still happy with your network choice. The little-known alternative is to say that you don’t want the new phone but want its cost deducted from your bills (I just did this and saved £160).
You can also save money by looking at other networks when your current contract is nearing its end. Network providers always start by offering the best deals to new customers rather than trying to keep their existing ones. Sometimes, just saying you might move to another network, or asking for your PAC code, is enough for your existing provider to offer you a better deal.
Can I keep my number?
If you’re moving from one contract to another, even across networks, then the answer is, “Yes”. All you need is your PAC code, which you can get by calling your current network’s customer services. You then need to give this code to your new network.
If you’re switching from pay-as-you-go to contract, you may not be able to keep your number. At the time of writing, Orange is the only network to allow customers to migrate a number from pay-as-you-go to contract. Orange and T-mobile are the only networks to allow customers to transfer their pay-as-you-go number form another network to theirs.
How much will it cost to use my phone abroad?
Where you can use your phone depends on its Bands. International roaming is a service offered by network providers to allow you to use your phone abroad. Your UK mobile provider won’t have coverage outside of the UK so you ‘roam’ on the foreign network. For loaning their network, the foreign provider charges your UK network, who passes on the cost to you. This applies for both making and receiving calls and text messages. Receiving a call is generally cheaper than making one but exact details can be found in your price plan. For a comparison of the major networks, check out the Eurotariffs on the European Commission site. Some networks offer tariffs, such as Vodafone Passport, that are specifically tailored for frequent travellers. You can also get good deals buying a pre-pay chip while on holiday and using that, but remember that this won’t have your usual number.
Should I insure my phone?
If you don’t have insurance and you have a contracted phone that comes to an untimely end, be prepared to buy a new handset as you will still have to pay your monthly tariff till the end of the contract.
Mobile phone insurance is available from normal insurance companies as well as mobile phone shops. For a few pounds a month, good insurance should cover you in the event of theft, accidental damage, loss and fraud. Be certain to compare the details of a few deals from different companies and always examine the small print of any agreement before signing.
There are a few extra things you could consider to fulfil your individual needs.
If you have a hearing aid you will probably have to use its inductive coupler loop to reduce the terrible buzzing you will hear when trying to use most mobile phones.
Text messaging is a great form of telecommunication for the profoundly deaf so look for a phone with an easy to use keypad such as the standard QWERTY style of computer keyboards.
The visually impaired find that some phones, like Blackberrys , are extremely helpful because they have adjustable font size and large screens.
Whether you’re interested in the latest cutting edge technology, great style or you just want to make and receive calls, your mobile’s features (or lack or them) are what define it.
So here are the definitions:
Band – The most common of these are dual-, tri- and quad- and literally tell you the number of frequency bands the phone supports. If you buy a dualband phone in the UK, it generally works here and the rest of Europe, whereas triband will allow you to also use your phone in the US. If you are a regular traveller, we suggest quadband, which stretches to cover parts of Asia too.
Bluetooth – A short-range radio frequency that allows data transfer between anything with a Bluetooth connection. These can included mobile phones, computers, printers and cameras. Bluetooth can be used on your mobile to transfer files between phones or your computer and it can also be used with a Bluetooth hands-free headset. A Bluetooth headset fits on your ear and is a combination of a microphone and earphone. It transmits and receives audio when in range with your phone so you can have a hands-free conversation.
2G – Second Generation. Most phones without EDGE or HSDPA are considered 2G. This functionality allows you to send/receive basic text, multimedia (MMS) and phone calls.
EDGE – Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution allows faster, more reliable mobile phone transmissions. As well as improving sound quality, EDGE can be used for Internet connection and multimedia services such as video calling. Although technically a 3G technology, it is unofficially considered as 2.75G due to being slightly slower.
HSDPA – High-Speed Downlink Packet Access is a 3G (Third Generation) mobile technology. It allows very high data transfer rates and capacity, greatly increasing the speed and quality of mobile Internet and multimedia, such as music and video.
Instant Messaging – A form of real-time communication, like MSN or AIM on computers. Rather than sending and receiving one message at a time, instant messaging allows a kind of two-way text-based conversation to develop on your phone.
Java – If your phone has Java, you will be able to receive and run applications like games with colour and sound.
XHTML Browser – Extensible HyperText Markup Language Browser allows you to browse websites as you would on a home computer so you see the site as intended.
MMS – Multimedia Messaging Service allows sending and receiving of messages containing images, audio and video
MP3/ATRAC Playback – This means your mobile will play music of one of these formats. MP3s are the common format of music on iPods and MP3 Players whereas ATRAC is the Sony-branded version of compressed music files.
Operating System – This is the software that manages all the resources and other software on you mobile. An example of an operating system is Windows, just like on a computer. The most up-to-date version of Windows Mobile is currently version 6 with a new release scheduled in 2008.
Polyphonic – Refers to ring tones. As opposed to monophonic, this means your phone can play multiple notes at a time. The result is a more dynamic and melodic sound.
Realtone – Sometimes called a truetone or mastertone because it is a ring tone of similar or equal quality to an MP3. Great if you can’t get enough of your favourite song!
SAR – Specific absorption rate, is an indication of how much radiation you are exposed to while using a mobile phone. The higher the SAR, the more radiation is emitted. The four UK network providers have voluntarily agreed that all phones on sale in the UK should be below 2.0 W/kg in 10g of tissue, as recommended by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection. If you want to know more about radiation from phones and masts, see the Direct Gov site.
SMS – Short Messaging Service often called text messaging allows short messages between mobile phones. SMS is frequently used to refer to the message itself.
USB – Universal Serial Bus is universal socket allowing the transfer of compatible data between various peripherals. One use of this in mobile phones is to transfer music or other files from a computer.
Wi-Fi – Wireless Ethernet uses the same radio frequencies as Bluetooth but has a stronger connection. The common use of Wi-Fi on mobile phones is to connect to the internet.