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3 dumb ways to buy a smart phone

Smart phones aren't smart for everybody, and picking the wrong one is all too easy -- and expensive.

By Stacy Johnson Nov 12, 2010 2:09PM

This post comes from Brandon Ballenger at partner site Money Talks News.


Smart phones might be the trendiest tech you can fit in your pocket, but in some circumstances people aren't approaching them with much smarts. They commit to spending thousands without doing much in the way of research. 


For instance, the average iPhone user pays about $95 a month for service for a two-year total bill of about $2,300, according to a blog. And that's just the plan itself, before all the extra taxes and fees.


Stacy Johnson recently went to a cell store to shoot a short news story on dumb ways to pick a smart phone. Check it out, then continue reading.

With all the options out there these days, choosing the best option isn't a simple task, even for the phone wizards who keep up with the cutting edge. As mentioned in the video above, there are three dumb moves you definitely want to avoid:

  • Buying a phone without checking your current usage and shopping for phone plans.
  • Picking a phone that doesn't have the features you could use the most.
  • Grabbing the shiniest phone with all the gadgets.

Basically, you need a smart plan of action before you get a smart phone.


Step One: Look at what you've got now, and figure out how much you actually use your phone and what for.


One easy way to do this is to try the totally free Head over to the wireless section of the site, and they'll give you a personalized guide to the best phones and plans for you. By asking questions about your bill, usage of minutes, texting, email, and other plan features, they can tailor results to find you the best savings. Billshrink also has a chart comparing the most popular phones and how much the minimum or unlimited plans for each cost.


If you're looking at smart phones for the first time, you might be wondering why the plans cost so much more than your "regular" cell phone. It’s because of the data plan, which is usually between $15 and $40 extra per month on top of the voice plan. One way to offset that is to pick a voice plan with fewer minutes and instead send more emails and text messages, or use free calling alternatives like Skype.


Once you get a few recommendations, you’ll want to think about the features – physical and digital – of your ideal phone. For instance, if you’re constantly sending text messages or emails from your phone, you might want a traditional keyboard, rather than a touchscreen version or a square block of buttons.


And if you often use your phone to browse the Internet, you might want a bigger screen with a bright, high-resolution display for easy reading. The trade-off there is the phone might be harder to fit in your pocket, and you’ll want to get a case or screen protector to prevent grime and other damage. Here are a few more features people often want in a phone:

  • GPS
  • Camera
  • Ability to multitask
  • Convenient apps

After you narrow down your options to a few different phones, get off your computer and go to the store to check them out. Make sure you’re comfortable with how to use the phone, how the phone feels and fits in your hands as you use it, as well as the sound and display quality. While the visual appearance of a phone is what marketing hypes as sexy and appealing – and is what many people sadly base their purchase on – that’s the least practical aspect of your potential new phone.


At this point, you probably have a pretty good idea what smartphone is smart for you. Here are a few last tips before you make the commitment:

  1. Ask your friends why they picked their phones. While it’s dumb to just get what everybody else has, it can be smart, too – if you ask why and they have good reasons, not “because it looks cool.” Chances are at least some of your friends thought this through, too. (If not, send them here.)
  2. Ask or find out about early-termination fees. The most popular smart phones are expensive to make, but the big wireless carriers have to make them affordable or nobody will buy. So they subsidize some of the cost in exchange for a long-term contract from you, and whack you with big cancellation fees if you try to leave early. Contracts are usually for two years, and ending one early could cost you hundreds.
  3. Check out the return or exchange policy. Most places will let you exchange the phone for free or a small fee within 30 days, so give it a trial run. If you don’t like it, don’t get stuck with it for years.

Finally, if you get that smart phone, make sure you read "5 tips to avoid cell phone bill shock."


More from Money Talks News and MSN Money:

Nov 14, 2010 2:43AM
Interesting article! I just now got Coupons of my Favorite Brands for free at
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