'Tis the season for sales, offers, rebates, and all manner of things designed to entice the holiday shopper into impulse purchases for yourself or someone on your gift list. If you're thinking of splurging on a new cell phone or service plan, here are a few tips to keep in mind as you shop:
Most carriers now offer a 14- or 30-day return policy on new phones and service plans. Check the details before you sign on the dotted line, and then view this as your trial period: Is the service delivering as promised? Is the handset everything you hoped it would be? Is customer service reasonably helpful and friendly? No? Then take it back! Don't settle - put the onus on the service provider to give you good reason to give them your money.
Data Plans and Coverage
If you're planning to use your mobile to check email and surf the Web, check out potential carriers' data plan options and network coverage maps first. That cutting edge smartphone won't do you much good without a decent data plan. Verizon and Sprint's EV-DO networks lead the way in high speed data networks, while Cingular's new HSDPA service promises near-Broadband speeds but has only been rolled out in select areas thus far. T-Mobile still lags behind with it's less speedy EDGE data services.
Make sure to compare plans, devices, and coverage maps to insure that you're getting the speed you want at a price you can afford, with coverage in the areas you frequent. There's nothing worse than a cell phone that doesn't get service in your home or workplace when you need it most.
Verizon's best known for it, but they all do it: Cellular providers in the U.S. almost always get custom-made versions of manufacturers' handsets with certain features tweaked or even disabled to their liking. Bluetooth and ringtone functionality are often limited to "encourage" users to purchase tones, wallpapers, games, and other goodies from the carrier instead of installing them manually (and for free) from their own computers. If you're planning to use Bluetooth file transfer or other advanced features, double-check to insure that your new handset & service will allow you to before making any purchasing decisions.
Upgrade Paths & Termination Fees
Less than one year ago I was thrilled to get an SE w800i Walkman phone for free (plus taxes) with activation of a two-year service plan. Now I'm already scoping out the PhoneDog classified ads in hopes of selling my phone and buying a newer model. Before committing to a contract of any length, ask about handset upgrade paths and early termination fees. Usually the best route to upgrading your phone is simply to buy a new or used one unlocked from a third party, but some carriers now offer decent upgrade options to promote customer loyalty.