|Time is money |
By Joni Blecher
Senior Editor Joni Blecher, a.k.a. the cell phone diva, wants to answer all your questions about cell phones, service plans, and wireless connectivity. To send her a question, just click this link.
A: First of all, the R520 isn't that great. Sure, it's a GSM/GPRS world phone with a built-in Bluetooth module, but Ericsson and other manufacturers have plenty of cooler GSM/GPRS models on the way. We'll see them in the fall, when GPRS networks (next-generation GSM) get up and running. Ericsson has the Bluetooth-enabled T39 slated to arrive stateside by year's end, and Motorola is waiting to release a slew of GPRS/GSM phones (we'll preview them next month).
As far as SMS goes, the European market has been ahead of the United States for some time because it uses one standard--GSM--and carriers have roaming agreements with each other. The United States has three different networks for cell phones: TDMA, CDMA, and GSM. To complicate issues further, the carriers don't really work with each other. In Europe, you can use SMS to send a message to anyone with a cell phone, regardless of service provider. In the United States, if you have an AT&T phone, you can't send an SMS message to a phone with Sprint PCS service. Granted, there are ways around it, but this requires typing in e-mail addresses. The point of SMS is to send notes to another phone number--not to a long address. It's up to the carriers to bring about these changes in the United States.
A: There are many phones that have that feature. It's usually located in the Settings section of a phone's menu. However, the timers aren't synchronized with your billing cycle, so you have to manually reset them each month. Usually, the phone also has a calendar or an alarm feature that can remind you that it's time to adjust the controls.
I want my AOL
A: AOL has a mobile version of its software for just about any device you want to use. Your best bet is going to be a handheld device with wireless service and an expandable Stowaway keyboard. Since I don't know how much money you want to spend, here are a couple of options.
A relatively inexpensive choice is the Handspring Visor and a VisorPhone Springboard module. The VisorPhone supports both voice and data, and you can now buy the module for $49 from Cingular Wireless, Powertel, or VoiceStream. Then you'll just have to pay a monthly service fee, which can be as little as $9.95 or as much as $59.95.
If you don't mind making a large investment, pick up a color Compaq iPaq and a PC Card modem, then subscribe to a wireless ISP such as OmniSky, which has consumer-friendly menus and service. You can also check with your cell phone service to see if it offers wireless data services. You'll find that this is often the case, and you can use your plan minutes for both voice and data. Sprint PCS, for example, offers a similar option when you purchase the Sierra Wireless AirCard 510.
A: It sounds like you don't really need a monthly plan. A good option for you would be a prepaid plan. Almost every service provider offers one, and it works a lot like a calling card. First, purchase a cell phone (typically for less than $100) and pay an activation fee (about $25). Next, you need to buy a plan with a set amount of minutes that expires after 60 days or more. You can always shell out for additional minutes. This is usually the best option for people who want a phone only for emergencies. You should know that, as with calling cards, the actual cost of minutes in a prepaid plan is more than that of a typical service plan, but the benefit is that you won't have a monthly bill or a contract.
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