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For a long while, it was easy to pigeonhole cell phones in three categories: those that don’t work, those that break down, and those that get lost.

Fortunately, technology has improved cell phone performance in the first two categories (although we’re still losing them -- and at $500 a pop for an iPhone, that can hurt). In fact, cell phones are so improved that owning them has become a necessity and not a luxury in the eyes of the 150 million Americans who have cell phones. According to NetworkWorld Fusion, that number is up from just 16 million in 1994 and will rise to 1.8 billion cell phone users (globally) by 2008.

So if you’re either a cell phone user or looking to buy your first unit, the technology is sufficient – and well on the way to superb. Now, it’s all a matter of getting the cell phone that works best for you. That’s the key – tailoring the myriad cell phones and cell phone plan options that meet your specific needs.

How best to do that? Simple. By cultivating a cell phone persona that matches your personal preferences and your lifestyle.

Why your lifestyle? Finding the right cell phone plan for you means asking yourself some basic questions. How often do you make calls? Are you getting a cell phone mostly for emergencies? Do you make more calls during the day or at night? Call it the ‘savings factor” – where you can get the most for your money based on how you use your phone. Let’s have a look at some of the key “lifestyle” cell phone issues:

When You Call -- Cell phone packagers make their hay on cell phone users who make calls during business hours – conveniently defined by cell phone makers as the hours between 7 AM and 9 PM. After that, “anytime” minutes kick in, offering cheaper rates usually at night and on weekends. So knowing when you place calls and targeting plans that cater to the times you make calls is job one for a savvy cell phone customer. Key questions to ask: Will I make mostly local, regional or long-distance calls? When do I make my calls – day or night, weekday or weekend? How much do I want to spend on my cell phone plan? Also look for carriers that are starting to waive prime-time cell phone fees. Verizon, AT & T and Cingular have all rolled out such plans.

Where You Call -- It helps to know if you’re primarily a local phone caller, a regional caller or a long distance phone caller. Different carriers have different plans, but all charge more for long distance. If you don’t make many long distance calls, there’s no sense in signing off on a plan that hits you with heavy long distance fees. But if you’re a business traveler who frequents far-off bourses like Europe and Asia, a cell phone package offering “one rate” plan might work best for you.

Who You Call -- Family plans are another issue. If you have a large family, or a large group of close friends, shared-line family plans make sense. They’re cheaper and user-friendlier than non-family plans.

What You Value While You Call -- Most cell phone service plans include a number of features such as Caller ID, Voice Mail, Call Waiting, Internet services, music, video and more. Again, choose a package with the unique features that makes sense for you.

What Carrier Do You Want When You Make Calls? – Cell phone carriers are a precocious lot. They target consumers by demographics and offer cell phones and functions accordingly. For example, Ericsson tries to cater to younger customers with cartoon graphics and user-friendly text messaging. Verizon and Motorola aim primarily for the business customer, with functions like calendar scheduling, calculators, and three-way conferencing. Companies like Nokia emphasize phones that offer voice answering and voice dialing because their research shows that their customers drive a lot. These days, cell phone carriers are making it easy for customers to find not just a phone, but a phone company that adapts well to their lifestyle.

How You’ll Pay for Your Calls – Most cell phone carriers offer either pre-paid or traditional phone-billing plans. The vote here goes to pre-paid plans, because they’re easier to monitor, can be spread out over several months, have no service fees, and have no monthly bill. You don’t have to use your real name to sign up for a pre-paid plan; good news if you’re a CIA operative or play for the Red Sox. On the downside, pre-paid plans are slightly more expensive than traditional billing plans. Check with your carrier to compare prices.

By and large, finding the right cell phone plan for you is like buying a pair of blue jeans. Find the one that fits you best is the only way to go.

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Last Post by johngarger
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Cellphone manufacturers are ever more forgetting one very large category of users: those who just want to use the darn thing as a phone (so no cameras, PDAs, internet access, radios, mp3 players, you name it) and don't want something so tiny you need a pencil and magnifying glass to press the buttons.

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Can someone give me an idea whether or not I should go for a smart phone or just use a more stylish phone and wait for some better technology? I am on the Sprint network, and was referred to http://www.sanyowireless.com , but I'm not seeing any options that look like smart phones. I don't need an MP3 player or a camera, I'd rather have a phone that is lighter and easier to carry. Any recommendations would be welcome.

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