Don’t get stuck for 24 months, choose the best cellphone for your needs

Comparison shopping online can make all the difference in the offline world.

Do you have to go through three selections before you can type an SMS, and then a further five to actually send the message on your cellphone? I do. You win some, you lose some and I guess that’s the price one pays for having a Samsung D600.

The irony is that I knowingly chose the phone, even though the usability isn’t what I was used to. Granted, I’ve used two Motorolas before this – hardly logical phones.

South Africans with cellphone contracts have become used to the big handset upgrade every 22 months or so. You’re almost giddy with expectation during month 21 because your current phone is battered from being dropped so often and it has a quarter of the battery life you were used to.

This means a Saturday morning trip to the nearest cellphone shop, or a quick call to your PA in which you ask her to just “sort out a new phone”. If you choose the shop route, you’re presented with six or seven options (after waiting a while), different add-ons, bundles, extra gifts possibly designed to confound you into choosing something on the spot. You pick one, take the box(es) home and plug the phone in for its obligatory overnight charge.

The problem is that this process is, more often than not, rushed, resulting in you being saddled with a phone for the NEXT TWO YEARS whether you like it or not. Sometimes your choice means relearning how to perform even the simplest tasks.

I had a boss who always owned Nokia phones. A while back he “upgraded” to another brand and spent the better part of six months trying to figure out how to make the blasted device do things. A simple calendar appointment became a five-minute-long process, not because the phone was that complicated. He was simply not familiar with the menu structure.

The point is there are extremely valuable tools online that will help you make the best decision. For example, www.gsmarena.com and www.mobileburn.com .

GSMArena’s audience is mostly between the ages of 18 and 34, and most have owned three to ten cellphones. This level of sophistication means their ratings are informed.

Each GSMArena phone page has information about: what type of networks the phones work on, the dimensions, weight, display type and size, ringtones (polyphonics, truetones, mp3s, or others), vibration functions, onboard memory, extra memory card slots, data capacity (3G high speed vs a GPRS service), bluetooth wireless functionality, USB connectors to other devices like a PC, camera types and if the phone can record video, battery life, and details about any extra features.

The information is very comprehensive, and if you don’t know what a feature means, you can simply click on the item and a window will pop up with an explanation. For example, if you were unsure about the “camera” function on a GSMArena phone data page, your click would bring up the following info: “More and more phones nowadays have the ability to take a still picture or shoot a video clip using a built-in camera. The most important characteristic of the camera is the resolution”.

The killer application on this site, though, is the phone comparison tool.

Not so long ago, I was looking to upgrade my Motorola and considered two phones: the Motorola RAZR V3i and the Samsung D500.

The first thing I discovered on the site was that the Samsung D600 was pretty much the new replacement for the D500, and my decision was then limited to the RAZR or the D600.

The comparison tool, which features the two phones and each of their specifications alongside each other, told me that while users rated the RAZR higher in terms of design (8,5 vs the Samsung’s 8,2), the Samsung beat the Motorola hands down on features and performance (both 8,1 vs 7,8).

Meaningless details like the phone’s weight did not interest me; what I wanted to know was how much memory the phone had (to store mp3 music files, and other data) and how good the camera was (I don’t own a digital one). Both phones could accept microSD memory cards to extend their memory (which one would need to buy separately), but the Samsung had almost 80 megabytes (MB) onboard, while the Motorola had a pitiful 4MB.

The Samsung also has up to 300 hours of battery life, compared with the RAZR’s 200, and this pretty much sold me on the Samsung.

On each phone’s page, you’re also able to read other user’s opinions, see their ratings, look at lots of photos of the handset and even download the cellphone’s manual.

Mobile Burn, on the other hand, has reviews of most phones with critical, in-depth looks at phones and their features. For example, the “snapshot” feature on the new Nokia N90 is three pages long, and written by the site’s editor Michael Oryl. The N90 page also contains a specifications list detailing the cellphone’s features.

Mobile Burn, however, doesn’t provide more help on features (like what tri-band means, for instance).

There are certain things to look for when comparing phones.

A study by research outfit JD Power and Associates found that customer satisfaction, when it comes to cellphones, can “be measured based on performance in five factors … physical design (counting for 24%), operation (22%), features (20%), durability (19%) and battery function (15%)”.

Consider these factors when you are looking to upgrade, or even start a new contract.

Also, when upgrading you are able to get a phone in a higher price range than that which would come bundled free with your contract. You’ll need to pay an amount (around a few hundred rand, depending on the phone and contract) to get a phone like this, but ask salespeople to explain this.

Think about what you use your existing phone for, before looking at your upgrade options. Most people in the US, based on the JD Power survey, use the speakerphone, followed by SMS and camera capabilities.

Find out from your service provider exactly which phones are available to you. Nowadays, with phone manufacturers releasing new models almost weekly, you’re sometimes presented with two or three very similar looking phones, often with considerably different features. Make sure that you can upgrade to the RAZR V3x, for example, as opposed to the V3i, or even the V3i DG (yes these all exist!).

If you’re looking for a specific colour phone, find out from your service provider if you have this option.

Comparison shopping online has changed the way retailers do things in the US. Companies in that country are forced to offer the best prices they can because of tools like Google’s Froogle, which lets you compare anything from frying pans to brake pads.

Even in our relatively young online market, making comparisons on the web can help you get the best deal in an “offline” world. Use websites, search engines and read up on cellphone models you’re considering. Think about the following statistic: 83% of GSMArena visitors said in a survey that using the site had helped them decide what phone to buy. You can’t argue with that.

There’s one rule in all this: don’t rush it. You may just find yourself cursing your phone every day for the next two years.

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Don’t get stuck for 24 months, choose the best cellphone for your needs