Mobile phone buying guide

Whether you're buying an iPhone or a BlackBerry, Samsung, Nokia, LG, Motorola, or Sony Ericsson phone, we show you what to look for

Have you ever wondered what life was like before the invention of the mobile phone? It's hard to imagine now that mobiles dominate our everyday life. Although the mobile phone is primarily used for voice communication, the advancement of technology means the modern day mobile is capable of a number of other feats. From surfing the Web, listening to the radio, playing music and games, and reading the news, mobile phones are clearly much more than just a communication device.

Looking for a new smartphone? Check out our guide to the best Android phones available in Australia

Getting started

Before buying a mobile phone, you need to work out what you are going to be using it for. You might just need it for emergency calls, or the odd situation where you need to contact someone. On the other hand, you might use it as a business tool for scheduling meetings, downloading documents, browsing the Web, and checking your e-mail.

If you won't be making too many calls and don't need any additional features, then a pre-paid account could be best for you. A pre-paid account begins with a starter kit, and includes a mobile phone number, registration instructions and call credit card. Some packages also include a mobile phone. Calls are paid for with a recharge card or docket that contains a set dollar amount of call credits. Pre-paid accounts also allow you to recharge over the phone, on the Internet or with a credit card.

For those who will be using their phone more often, a contract or post-paid plan may be the best option. This consists of signing up for a fixed period of time (usually 12 or 24 months) for a set monthly fee. There are also capped plans, which mean you only pay a certain amount per month if your usage doesn't exceed a maximum value.

Choosing a phone

Choosing a phone can be a daunting task. Mobile phones usually cost anywhere between $50 and $1000, depending on features. An entry-level phone is capable of voice calls, voice mail and SMS messages and will have a phone book to store contact numbers, while a high-end handset can browse the web, download apps, make video calls, connect to a wireless network, capture digital photos and record video — often in high definition.

Mobile phones typically come in a candy bar, clamshell or slider form factor. Candy bar phones are the most common, lead by the rise of touchscreen smartphones like the Apple iPhone. Candy bar phones are narrow and long, and most can be operated with one hand. Along with the iPhone, Android phones are also becoming popular; these include models like the HTC Desire, Desire HD, Samsung Galaxy S, and Motorola Defy.

The clamshell, or flip-phone, has the advantage of a small size that opens up to a keypad and screen, but these phones aren't as popular anymore due to touchscreen options. Slider phones, where the keypad slides out from underneath the screen, offer space for a screen on one side and keypad on the other, while keeping a neat, small shape. Some models slide out horizontally to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard for text entry. A good example is the BlackBerry Torch 9800, which combines a touchscreen and a physical keyboard.

Imaging

Even the most basic mobiles now come with a digital camera. Low-end phones will more than likely have a VGA (0.3 megapixels) camera, while high-end models should have a camera between 5 and 8-megapixels, with some (like Nokia's N8 smartphone) even boasting 12-megapixel cameras. Many models have flash, autofocus, red-eye reduction, continuous shooting, face detection, geotagging, a macro mode and a self-timer.

Web

Today's most popular smartphones all allow you to access the Internet using a mobile Web browser. This browser varies between devices, but most new models provide a full desktop-like experience on your phone screen; enhanced if you have a full touchscreen.

Music

Do you have an MP3 player? If not, mobile phones that play MP3 music tracks are almost standard nowadays. Storage capacity is important, so if you are planning to use your phone as a music player be sure to purchase one with a memory storage card slot, or internal memory that is large enough to store your music collection. Models with an FM radio tuner will also provide music without the need to fill the phone with files or worry about storage capacity.

Connectivity

Most mobile phones have USB connectivity and can therefore connect to a computer to synchronise and transfer files using a standard cable that is sometimes included in the sales package. Bluetooth provides wireless connectivity for transferring files, such as music, video or images, to and from your phone. Bluetooth also allows wireless headphones and headsets to be used for hands-free communication. Most mobile phones also include the A2DP Bluetooth profile that allows the wireless streaming of music to a pair of compatible Bluetooth headphones. Many mobile phones also have Wi-Fi, which means they are capable of connecting to a wireless network, mainly for Internet browsing and e-mailing.

Messaging

A mobile phone can be used to send and receive SMS and MMS messages, and on phones with e-mail capabilities it's possible to send and receive Web mail through the likes of Yahoo!, Gmail and Hotmail, in addition to connecting your work or corporate e-mail account to your phone. Most handsets also support push e-mail; whenever new e-mail arrives in your inbox it is instantly transferred (or "pushed") to the handset.

Other features

Make a list of what you need or want your phone to do. There are a number of other features that may be useful. Voice-activated dialling can be used to record a word that will activate a call to a particular number when the word is spoken. Voice recording can also be used to record audio and send voice messages. A speakerphone allows the phone to be used hands-free away from the ear, although this isn't as reliable as a dedicated hands-free headset or car kit. Most phones also feature fully fledged mobile Internet browsers that allow users to browse the Web.

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Tags android phonesMotorolalgiPhoneAndroidAndroid smartphonesRIM BlackBerryBlackberrysamsungSony Ericssonmobile phonessmartphonesNokia

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Ross Catanzariti

Ross Catanzariti

PC World
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