On Call: Bluetooth radiation and unlocked phones

This week, CNET cell phone editor answers questions about Bluetooth radiation and the availability of CDMA phones.

The Aliph Jawbone 2. Is its radiation harmful? Aliph

Q: I'm curious as to whether Bluetooth headsets also emit radiation, which could prove harmful to one's health. What can you tell me about this?
- Craig

A: Bluetooth headsets do emit radiation, but they do it at a much lower power than a cell phone. In fact, it's so low that it's almost negligible. Keep in mind that while cell phones need to connect to a tower that could be a couple of miles away, a headset has an effective range of just 30 feet. However, if the prospect of Bluetooth radiation really worries you, I would suggest using a wired headset instead.

Q: Why do Sprint and Verizon Wireless appear to get sloppy seconds when it comes to the best and brightest new smartphones? It seems as if AT&T and T-Mobile get the most interesting phones, even though their networks aren't as extensive as Verizon and Sprint. I know Sprint has the Samsung Instinct, but that phone has no Wi-Fi. Will Sprint be getting something like the Samsung Omnia for the holidays?
- Eric

The Samsung Omnia could come to AT&T. Samsung

A: Though the selection of Sprint and Verizon Wireless smartphones isn't quite as extensive as with the GSM carriers (AT&T and T-Mobile), I'd say they have some very decent options. Verizon has the XV6900, the RIM BlackBerry Curve 8330, and the Samsung SCH-i760, while Sprint offers the RIM BlackBerry Curve 8330 and the Motorola Q9c, to name a few. And though it's not a smartphone by our standards, the LG Dare is a solid option as well. I'd agree, however, that the CDMA phones are lacking in Wi-Fi support. AT&T in particular does better in that department. And incidentally, if anyone is getting the Omnia, Bonnie Cha thinks it will be AT&T.

Because CDMA has a smaller global footprint, some cell phone manufacturers are less inclined to make CDMA phones. Just look at Nokia and Sony Ericsson, for example. Nokia has dabbled in CDMA phones, but it has never had a clear-cut strategy for doing so. And Sony Ericsson, on the other hand, shuns CDMA completely. The technology does get attention from Japanese and Korean manufacturers like Samsung, LG, and Kyocera, but that's mainly because they have CDMA in their own back yards. Moto spends a good deal of time in both sectors, but there again, Moto operates in a country that uses CDMA.

As for the lack of Wi-Fi on Sprint and Verizon phones, I'd blame that on the peculiarities of the carriers. In my experience, the CDMA carriers tend to be much more controlling and protective than T-Mobile or AT&T. Verizon was the last carrier to remove Bluetooth restrictions in its phone and it was only last year that Sprint and Verizon said they would start allowing unlocked phones on their networks. I'd theorize that they're slow to adopt Wi-Fi because they want to keep their customers using their calling minutes.

Q: I bought a new unlocked phone and would like to start a new account at AT&T. Can I get out of paying an activation fee and signing a contract? - Elisa

A: As a new customer you will have to pay an activation fee, even if you're using an unlocked phone. Yet, you might be able to avoid signing a contract that includes an early termination fee. The only reason carriers charge an ETF in the first place is to recover the cost of selling you a new phone at a discount. But, if you're not getting such a discount or rebate then there's no reason you should be stuck with an ETF. If AT&T tries to press you with one, I'd argue that point.

Kent German, CNET's cell phones guru, answers your questions about cell phones, services, and accessories and reports on the state of the industry. Send him a question.

 

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