Magazine article Newsweek

Phones-Or Fantasies?

Magazine article Newsweek

Phones-Or Fantasies?

Article excerpt

Byline: Peter Suciu

Today's mobile phone isn't just a phone. It's a lifestyle choice, a status symbol, a fetish object, a constant companion. New bells and whistles are added with each new model--downloadable ring tones, games, digital cameras, PDA functions--making it hard for gadgeteers to keep up with the hottest new number. Still, about 30 to 40 percent of Americans opt for the basic "free" phone that comes with a new service plan, according to International Data Corp. So how much should you spend on your next mobile phone? Let Tip Sheet tell you just how far your dollar will go.

Free to $99

If you're a first-time buyer, this is how wireless-service companies like to get you hooked: offer you an entry-level phone at little or no cost, hoping you will eventually trade up to one of their more gee-whiz models. But today's basic phones aren't as basic as they used to be--last year's midrange handset often becomes this year's low-end model. The Siemens A56 offers Enhanced Messaging Service (EMS), which allows you to personalize your phone with ring-tone songs that have a surprisingly rich sound, along with clip-art-style graphics and animations. Industry leader Nokia has several sub-$100 phones; the Nokia 1261 allows downloadable rings and can even double as an alarm clock.

$100 to $199

If you already have a service plan, or you are thinking of taking a step up from your entry-level phone, a little more cash goes a long way. You'll find larger displays and helpful applications like calculators and currency converters. LG's 5350 phone with Verizon service has a color display with various screensavers and downloadable games including those much-beloved classics Tetris and Pac-Man. The Motorola T720i is a bit more PDA-like with its icon-driven interface and Internet access to news and e-mail. But Nokia's 6385 kicks it up a notch with swappable faceplate covers, various musical ring tones and even instant messaging. …

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