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. At times, I might 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.
Question: I am in a family plan with my brother and mom through AT&T. I have an iPhone 3GS and the other two are not smartphones. Our bill is $185 with me=$78 mom=$85 bro=$23 with 1,400 minutes and 2 of us have 200 texts per month. The bill is high, seeing as my mom doesn't text and my brother only calls and texts. I have unlimited data and never go over 2GB, but I don't want to lose it just in case. I've been waiting for the new iPhone to come out but I've read it may be a nano iPhone, which I wouldn't want. What do you suggest we do to get a cheaper bill? Should I switch to Verizon for the iPhone 4? My mom wants me to get my own plan so the bill is cheaper for them even though I pay my portion every month. I don't want to get another phone; I love the iPhone, but alone it will cost at least another $30 more. -- Peter, via e-mail
$185 is a lot to pay a month, Peter, especially if you can get something cheaper. I looked over what the current AT&T family plan pricing is for 1400 minutes ($89.99), a 200 messaging plan for two people ($20), and a legacy unlimited data plan ($30), and it should still add up to around $139.99 a month, not the $185 that you quoted. Perhaps there are additional fees that your family has incurred, or maybe you need to call AT&T and negotiate a new deal.
Aside from that, I would look into your monthly calling habits. If most of the calls your family make are to other mobile phones, then I would suggest looking into a cheaper minute plan. AT&T offers unlimited mobile-to-mobile calls to any carrier, so the monthly minutes you buy only apply to landline calls. If you don't make a lot of landline calls, I think you can get away with a 550- or 700-minute plan that costs $30 to $20 less. Also, I know you like unlimited data, but if you never go over 2GB, then you could also consider going to a $25 monthly plan to save some extra money. If you're running into overage charges with texting, I would suggest moving up to an unlimited family messaging plan, which is only $30 for everyone.
As for whether you should switch to Verizon, that's completely up to you. In the overall scheme of things, I don't see it saving you much money. As you say, you have to pay around $30 more a month anyway, and Verizon has even said that it won't likely keep its unlimited iPhone plan for very long.
P.S. And about that nano iPhone rumor: Please note that it's just a rumor. Nobody aside from Apple really knows what the next iPhone will be just yet.
Question:What would be the best headphones to use while driving? I drive a truck over-the-road and would like to listen to my iPad, but can't find any that allow you to drive while using them. -- Bob, via e-mail
Bob, I hope you didn't mean to write that! You absolutely should not use headphones while driving--it's dangerous! Now, if you're asking about a mono Bluetooth headset, I can certainly recommend a few from our Best Bluetooth headsets list--the Jawbone Era is good, as is the Plantronics Voyager Pro Plus. You could even go the wired headset route, as long as you remember to only use one earbud. Even then though, I suggest not listening to your iPad that way; it's safer if you use some kind of an auxiliary jack or an FM transmitter, so you don't need to fiddle around with the headset.