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Cell Phone Advice Tips

Read these 17 Cell Phone Advice Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Cellphone tips and hundreds of other topics.

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How are peak minutes different than off peak minutes?

Peak Minutes vs. Off Peak Minutes

Ever wonder why a call to your honey is more expensive at night than during the day?

Most cell phone plans include both peak and off peak minutes that are part of the total talk time allotted for the plan. Peak minute times will vary with most plans but the standard timeframe is from 6:00 am to 9:00 pm Monday through Friday. Off peak minutes typically include nights and weekends, with nights beginning at 9:00 pm and ending at 6:00 am. The weekend minutes usually begin at 9:00 pm on a Friday evening and end at 6:00 am Monday morning. Of course, this will vary from plan to plan--some carriers offer longer off peak hours or unlimited nights and weekends.

So what's the difference in your "I love you" at noon and at 8 p.m? Peak minutes, e.g. at noon, are minutes deducted from the total minutes allotted in a given plan. For instance, if the plan has 600 peak minutes, you can talk for up to 600 minutes during peak hours without any additional charges.
Once the limit is reached, however, overage charges apply (usually on a per minute basis). "I love you" may be invaluable, but it costs you!

On the other hand, off peak minutes are free with most carriers and are often unlimited, so you can say "My sweetheart" over and over at no charge.

You need to evaluate the starting and ending times of both peak and off peak minutes when looking for a cell phone plan. Keep a diary of your calls, and chart how much time you spend on the phone during the day versus the evening before deciding which cell phone plan is best for you.

If you bill and coo during the day, you'll want a plan with a lot of peak minutes, but if you usually talk at night (when no one's around), you'll want a carrier that offers free unlimited nights and weekends with a small amount of day minutes.

Tip: If you don't know what plan your sweet nothings need when you're starting out, overestimate rather than underestimate phone usage, as overage charges can be brutal.

Switching schedules to daytime to spend more cuddle time at night? The plan can usually be adjusted within the first 30-90 days at no additional cost to the user or change in the length of the contract.

   
Why should consumers shop around?

Shop Around for a Cell Phone Carrier

It seems that everyone's offering cell phones--including Apple Computer. With so many people using cell phones these days, there are many, many carriers available. Some of the most popular include Nextel, Alltel, Liberty, Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Cingular. How do you decide which service to use?

Some things you might consider when choosing a carrier:

• how much you are willing to spend per month
• what features different carriers offer (data access, two-way text)
• which calling areas tyou need access to
• mobile-to-mobile options
• family share plans
• activation fee costs
• phone prices
• accessories included
• contracts

Once you know what you want, you can easily choose a carrier.

Tip: Don't accept a special offer or sign any contract until you're sure the carrier and the phone you've chosen has everything necessary to make the wireless experience a good one. That iPod Nano might not suit you! Very few states offer a "buyer's remorse" guarantee when purchasing cell phone plans, so an informed decision is a wise one.

   
Why not consolidate a landline number and a cell phone?

Transfer a Landline Number to a Cell Phone

Want to transfer a home phone or office phone number to a cell phone? You can if your current cell phone carrier offers service in the same area as the home phone or office phone. The transfer can take up to four days. Transferring landline calls to cellular phones offers the convenience of never missing a call when you're on the go.

Some tips when transferring your landline number:

* You may not want everyone to be able to reach you at any time. If that's the case, invest in call blocking or keep your landline and don't give out your cell phone.
* Unless you're a doctor, cop or other on-call professional, set limits as to when you'll take calls. You do have a right to privacy!
* Take advantage of voicemail and call screening.
* Transferring a landline number can be beneficial if customers need to reach you out in the field.

As the telecom ad says, your office (or home) is now pretty much anywhere.

   
Why do cell phones require battery replacement or battery boosters?

Recharge: Batteries and Cell Pack Boosters

Calls dropping? It might not be because you're away from the coverage area. Cell phone batteries lose power rapidly if the phone is used often. The battery becomes drained and needs to be recharged (so do you after a day of talk). Although batteries for cell phones are expensive, it is wise to keep an extra on hand.

Each battery has a certain amount of talk and standby time before it dies. If you need additional time in-between charges, youcan possibly upgrade your battery or purchase a cell pack booster that plugs into the bottom of the cell phone to provide additional talk and standby time. Cell pack boosters average a few dollars each and can be bought at many convenience stores for on-the-go use.

You typically buy the battery of a particular cell phone through the carrier (which is the most expensive route), online for a competitive rate, or at a Radio Shack or Circuit City near you. You can also extend the battery life by completely discharging and recharging your battery with a cell phone charger. Make sure to turn off your cell phone when you're not expecting calls, when you sleep, and of course, in the movies. Eventually, though, you'll need a new battery so you don't drop that call to your sweetheart.

   
What is the difference between cell phones and landlines?

Cell Phones vs. Landlines

Thinking of giving up your home phone for a Razr or Sidekick? Don't disconnect just yet.

Cell phones offer a great deal more than landlines--but there is a price. While a consumer can subscribe to a typical landline company and have unlimited incoming calls, a cell phone user cannot. All minutes used during cell phone calls are deducted from the total amount of minutes allotted in a particular cell phone plan. The plan treats incoming and outgoing calls the same way when tallying your bill.

Tip: To avoid additional fees, a keep track of minutes you've used.

Although many landline plans have unlimited outgoing calls for a set fee each month (except, often, international calls), you can't take it with you--so it's a good idea to have both a landline and cell phone.

   
How digital camera phones are fun and easy to use?

Click! Digital Cameras at Your Fingertips

Finally, everything you need can fit right in the palm of your hand. Not only can cell phones make phone calls, connect to the Internet, and send text messages, but they can also take digital photos with built-in digital cameras.

While you probably don't want a cell phone camera if you're becoming the next Ansel Adams, these digital cameras take pretty decent photos that can be uploaded to a website provided by the carrier, sent (by phone) to other friends and family members, used as a screensaver or on caller ID, or even printed out.

Plan to take many vacation snaps? You can sign up with your carrier to have unlimited or limited photo options that may or may not use up your minutes. Plus, most carriers will include an online photo album that lets you or anyone you allow log on in order to view and print the photos.

But do camera phones function the way regular cameras do? Most mobile phones that have digital cameras will include a flash option, self-timer, image controls, fun tools, and the ability to change camera settings. The self-timer can be used to take a picture of the user just as a regular self-timer on a digital camera would be used. The fun tools may include fun frames to put around the picture taken (the most common frames on camera phones include holiday themes, graduation designs, wedding bells, picture frames, or birthday borders).

Other fun tools include the ability to change the look of the picture being taken (by applying sepia, black & white, negative, posterization, or embossed photo features).

An additional fun tool may allow the user to take up to two or more shots at the same time for motion pictures or just a double take. The image controls manipulate the brightness and white balance of the image.

Lastly, some camera settings include options such as resolution, quality, shutter sound, status area, and auto delete. These are just some of the enhanced basics available on many digital camera phones.

Of course, if you're looking for outstanding quality, you should invest in a real digital camera. The cell phone digital camera is made mostly for fun and opportune moments, but the images do not have the exact same quality as a regular digital camera.

   
Why buy cell phones online?

Buying Cell Phones Online

Books online, insurance online...now, cell phones online. If there's a product, chances are you'll find it on the Internet.

Buying cell phones online is one of the most convenient methods of purchase available. You can search for the most popular carriers, phones, and plans. Cell phone comparison shopping sites, as well as online shopping portals such as BizRate.com and Epinions.com, offer up-to-the-minute specials available from all carriers and the best phones to ensure that the consumer is getting the best deal available.

Hot tip: Buy through a site with consumer reviews. Although people online tend to mouth off, you'll get frank assessments of the cell phone you're considering.

Online shopping makes it possible to browse through phones and options without the hassle of a salesman trying to talk the consumer into something that they don't want or need. Buying online is unbiased and inexpensive--not to mention safe. Most sites are secure to ensure that transactions will go smoothly.

Safety, convenience, reviews...and discounts. Many of the top cell phones can be purchased at lower prices than the carrier offers directly, plus some sites offer free shipping. Credit approvals can be processed through multiple carriers at one time rather than one carrier at a time (which puts more marks on a person's credit report). Plus, some online sites are able to offer discounts, rebates, and additional savings that carriers cannot--this makes them even more competitive.

While shopping for mobile phones online is great, nothing beats "kicking tires" and holding the cell phone in your hand, especially if you're buying a Blackberry. You want to make sure you can use your cell phone with no frustration. Try in the store, then buy online.

   
What constitutes a local calling plan?

Hometown Plan: Local Cell Phone Calling Plans

Happy in your own backyard in Kansas? If you don't want to call Oz, a local cell phone calling plan provides basic area coverage and is very limited in calls. It is the low end cell phone plan for those who don't want to spend a lot on a phone bill every month. Downside for Dorothys: local cell phone plans do not tend to include long distance or roaming coverage.

If you want to call the Wizard from Kansas, a local plan may not be for you. Also, if you do a lot of traveling, for example if you're whisked to Oz, you'll incur roaming charges every time you travel out of the local service area. And you though the Wicked Witch of the West was scary!

If you say, "There's no place like home," a local plan will work for them.

Ruby Slippers Tip: You need to be cautious with this plan or low monthly payment can become sky high due to the additional charges that can accrue with long distance and roaming charges. Review the plan carefully and keep track of exactly where you can call and how far you can travel with the phone. You can't click your hee;s three times and make your cell phone charges disappear!

   
What does a cell phone web browser and Internet access have to offer?

Web Browser and Internet Access

You can surf the Internet on just about any device--though that rumor about Microsoft developing a toilet with Web access is an urban legend.

Most cell phones today have Web access via a Web browser with pages designed especially for mobile phones. The web browser is similar to a regular PC Web browser, with access to an address line where URLs can be typed in directly. You can perform normal Web functions such as searching, accessing email, instant messaging, and downloading sites.

Many of the same sites that are accessed through a regular PC can also be accessed from a cell phone. Tip: Because of Flash plugins, Java and other browser add-ons, there are some sites that are not compatible with cellular phones, but for basic web browsing it is a wireless dream. The most popular function is sending and receiving emails and instant messages (via programs provided by Yahoo, MSN, or AOL, etc). Popular sites such as PayPal, EBay, and Amazon are even cell phone compatible!

Web browser functions are available through most all carriers for a low monthly fee and the time allowed is usually unlimited. This is a great feature if you need constant access to your e-mail.

Data packages may limit how many megabytes you can send, so have an idea of your Web surfing needs before you buy a cell phone and data plan.

   
What accessories are a must have?

Accessories, Accessories, Accessories

You can accessorize your computer, your wheelchair, your iPod, and of course, your cell phone.

Most cell phones are compatible with various optional accessories. Depending on what phone you use, accessories can be purchased individually or in packages. Accessory packages are definitely the best deal as purchasing accessories individually can really add up. It's tempting, for example, to just buy a cell phone case or earphone that you see in the store without comparing prices--or comparing accessories to find the best "fit" for your phone."

Some accessories are necessities, rather than luxuries. Most carriers will provide one battery and a wall charger with all mobile phones. However, you can buy additional items that cater to your wants and needs, such as a magnetic holder you can stick on your dashboard, that holds your cell phone for convenient storage and hands-free calling if you have voice dialing or a Bluetooth headset.

There are countless accessories available. A car charger is a popular accessory that is often a must have for commuters. A cell phone holder is another nifty accessory that can protect cell phones from scratches and messy fingers--it usually comes with a clip for easy attachment to a purse, pocket, or belt, and your favorite designers make cell phone cases.

Cell phone use while driving is controversial, and some states seek to ban talking while driving. Anyone who plans to drive and talk at the same time (or do anything and talk on their cell phone at the same time, for that matter) might benefit from an ear bud/piece that will make hands-free conversations possible. This accessory will also help prevent unnecessary car accidents and dropping of phones. Plus, many ear pieces come with auto answer buttons so you can keep your phone in its place and answer your call with the push of a button. But keep your attention on driving--no business call is worth an accident!

Any of these items can be bought directly from the carrier, online, or even in retail stores. But a package deal on accessories for mobile phones will save you some cash and time.

   
What are roaming charges and how can they hurt your cell phone bill?

Be Careful With Roaming

Roam if you want to...but be careful when you walk on the wild side!

Roaming charges apply to cell phones when a user is outside of the carrier's coverage area. Cell phones can only be used within specified coverage areas (which will vary depending on the carrier and the plan chosen). If you wander outside of the coverage area in your Verizon plan, the cellular phones might still work but will technically be using another carrier. In such cases a roaming charge is applied to allow you to place the call in, say, Sprint's coverage area.

Roaming class can add up, especially if you travel frequently. In addition, if the you talk more than your minutes, per-minute charges will also apply (not to mention potential long distance charges).

How do you know if you're roaming? A great feature of many mobile phones is have built-in roam detection. If you stray into a roaming area the phone will alert you before the call is placed. In addition, you know you might be traveling or working in an area that will incur roaming charges, you can change their plan to one that allows unlimited roaming (depending on the carrier--Sprint is one).

In the long run, preventing roaming charges will definitely save you money, so you can truly roam free.

   
How may the network technology or not affect the carrier decision?

CMDA vs. GSM: The Difference in Network Technology

GSM vs. CDMA? Are these new software platforms? No. But what you don't know about can affect you. Two types of network technology are commonly used in the United States: CDMA and GSM. These will vary by carrier.

The network technology used by popular carriers such as Sprint PCS, Verizon Wireless, Nextel, Alltel is called CDMA. CDMA is an acronym for Code Division Multiple Access. This network is limited in who can and cannot access it so it does not provide for access outside of designated CDMA areas. Like Windows trying to run on a Mac, CDMA cell phones are not transferable from carrier to carrier therefore if the user desires to switch carriers a new phone will need to be purchased and set up.

The second common network technology is GSM or Global System for Mobile Communications. This network is the most popular worldwide with international carriers such as Cingular and T-Mobile. This network allows cell phones place calls worldwide by accessing other carriers' networks. Although the charge per minute to use other carriers' networks may be large, this technology ensures a connection can be made and is ideal for the international traveler.

If you want an all-purpose network, GSM (though many users complain about the availability and the network problems) is a great choice, but if you need secure communications, CDMA is ideal--no surprise, since CDMA has been used in military applications.

To know what network or carrier suits your needs, you need to know GSM and CDMA. Tip: If you're with T-Mobile or another provider on the GSM network, your phone will usually display "GSM" near those Cingular or Blackberry bars.

   
Why is keeping the same cell phone highly unlikely?

Keep the Same Phone Number but Not the Same Phone

Want to keep your old phone? It might be time to let go--or upgrade.

When switching carriers, you might not be able to use the same phone with a different company. Carriers have cell phones programmed for use within a certain network. Therefore, phones tend to not be transferrable from carrier to carrier. You can get a new Nokia, the same model as your existing phone, but you can't transfer your old phone to the new network.

But take heart if you fear change: You can keep the same phone number. Most carriers offer this option to help make the transition between carriers more simple for customers. You've said bye-bye to your old phone. You want to keep your old phone number--for convenience. Right. For convenience.

   
Why buy a cell phone when you can get one for free?

Free Cell Phones with Service?

Many companies today advertise a free cell phone when you sign up for service. Sound like cell phone puffery? It may be. You can't get a cell phone free and clear at no cost--unless it's a replacement free cell phone under a warranty plan.

Most free cell offers come with a rebate that you mail in after you buy a free cell phone. Look in a free cell phone directory of offers, and you'll discover that you have to commit to a contract or mail a rebate in order to get the cell phone at no cost.

Free, of course, is still free--it's just that free wireless phones, like most consumer products, don't come condition-less.

   
What does Sony Ericsson phones have to offer?

Tunes With Sony Ericsson Cell Phones

Music phones? Sony has introduced new music cell phones. But if you don't want to hustle and flow--and if you've heeded all those warnings about MP3 players--are Sony Ercisson cell phones a fit for you?

Sony Ericsson cell phones are a stylish phone alternative, and you can get them from almost every wireless carrier (Nextel typically features rival Motorola.) Sony Ericsson mobile phones are heavily discounted when you purchase them through a wireless carrier such as Cingular, especially if you shop online.

Sony Ericsson cellular phones include the most up-to-date technology, including digital cameras, email, instant messaging, video clips, video recording, video streaming, FM radio, games, Internet capability, MP3, downloads, organizer functions...and yes, music.

Just want a basic phone? Are there basic phones any more? No, you want tunes...occasionally. You're too busy listening to your Sirius Satellite Radio to groove along with your phone.

   
What does Nokia offer in wireless phones?

Nokia Cell Phones

Prepaid Nokias? Maybe "Alias" has an inside connection--but you don't have to join SD6 to get a prepaid Nokia or a free Nokia.

If you've decided Nokia cell phones are your objects of desire, take heart and go on a recon mission. Most wireless carriers offer Nokia cellular phones for free or at a share of cost, and you can get prepaid Nokia phone models with many different features that vary depending on the model of the phone. Features may include BlueTooth technology, FM Radio, Email, Java technology, Add-on Cameras, Internet Browsers, and, of course, Nokia camera phones.

Nokia phones have all of the latest styles and fashion crazes in the bag with swivel phones, clam shells, box sets, and keyboard style phones (which are excellent for gaming, instant messaging, web surfing, etc.).

Do an intelligence search for the best prepaid Nokia mobile phones on cellular phone shopping sites or on prepaid cell phone service Web sites, for example, Liberty Wireless or Net 10. You won't have to risk mortal danger to get prepaid Nokia phones.

   
What is the best way to compare carriers and plans?

Comparing Carriers and Plans

How do you tell the difference between a cell phone deal and a cell phone don't?

There are many ways to compare cell phone carriers and plans. You can call the carriers directly, go to the Sprint website, walk into a store, or better yet, go online to a cell phone comparison shopping site. Read reviews on ZDNet.com, CNET.com, Amazon.com or Epinions.com--you can also find great information in consumer blogs.

Before you go shopping, make a list of your must-haves in:

* Price
* Tech features (Bluetooth, etc)
* Cell phone plan
* Data services
* Style
* Function

If you know you're looking for a cell phone under $200 with a sleek style, push-to-talk capability and instant messaging with 500 anytime minutes, comparison shopping for a cell phone becomes easier.

   
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Guru Spotlight
Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.