Welcome to The 411, my column answering all your questions about cell phones and cell phone accessories. I receive plenty of questions about these subjects via e-mail, so I figured many of you might have similar queries, too. Occasionally I solicit answers from readers if I'm stumped. Send your questions and comments to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you prefer to remain anonymous, let me know in the e-mail.
In lieu of the usual Q&A format this week, we're offering a few quick tips on cell phone gifting. I realize it's probably too late for some of you to go out there and buy holiday gifts, but for the last-minute shopper who plans to give a mobile-related gift, here are a few quick tips.
Don't forget the carrier -- It's easy to get enticed by shiny phones and forget that not all phones are supported by all carriers. If coverage is important to you, make sure the carrier of your choice has good signal in the recipient's home or office. Also realize that if you're getting a new phone, there are often two-year contracts that need to be signed, and if you're getting a smartphone, data plans are often required as well.
Of course, you can get past these issues if you're willing to fork out extra for a non-contract device. Sometimes this means getting an unlocked phone if you're on a GSM carrier, or you can also choose to get a prepaid plan if you want something a little cheaper. Definitely check out our cell phone buying tips for more detailed information on how to choose a carrier.
Do a little research -- Aside from the carrier decision above, do a little fact-finding on what your gift recipient wants in a phone. Is he a texting fanatic? Does she want e-mail everywhere? Does he hate touch-screen keys? Is she addicted to iTunes? These facts will help a lot in narrowing down the kind of phone he or she needs.
Add a personal touch -- This tip is especially for those of you who are gifting smartphones: Consider prepackaging the device with apps or media the person might like. For example, if the person is a big Beatles fan, why not pack the phone with all of his or her favorite Beatles songs? The same goes for the person who's a fan of video games or likes a particular movie or TV show. Cooking-related apps would be great for the culinary enthusiast; you get my drift.
I know this isn't always possible since most smartphones require you to sign into your own account to get at these apps or media. If that's the case, maybe throw a gift certificate in with the phone along with a few app recommendations in a nicely presented card.
Keep your receipt -- Most companies have a grace period of at least a month for you to test out a phone. Definitely keep your receipt in case he or she isn't satisfied with the purchase.
Accessories for the friend who has everything -- If your friend or family member already has the phone of his or her choice, consider getting a thoughtful accessory instead. A pretty case, an extended battery, a car dock, or a Bluetooth headset would make great gifts.
To help you make your choice, CNET has compiled a best cell phones list in a variety of categories, as well as a holiday gift guide for cell phones and smartphones.