The 411: First smartphone ever

Every two weeks, senior associate editor Nicole Lee answers your questions about cell phones, smartphones, and all things mobile.

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 nicole.lee@cnet.com. If you prefer to remain anonymous, let me know in the e-mail.

Question: I've never had a cell phone in my life. I know that's hard to believe! But I just never saw the need for one -- landlines have been just fine for me. I don't need to be in constant contact all the time. Recently though, I've received some pressure to get one. I just feel like I really don't need it, but maybe a temporary one is ok. Is there maybe a phone I can get that I can only use every once in awhile, that doesn't require a plan? Thanks! -- Beau, via email.

This might come as a shocker coming from a cell phone reviewer, but I don't necessarily think everyone in the world must get a cell phone. If your lifestyle is such that you don't need it, I don't see the problem of not having one. However, it does make life a lot more convenient, and it tends to be cheaper if you make a lot of mobile-to-mobile or long-distance calls.

You can get cheap and disposable phones if you want something temporary, especially if you go the prepaid route. Virgin Mobile's payLo service, for example, offers cheap $15 phones and the basic service only costs $20 for 400 minutes. If you lapse payment, however, it's likely that your phone number will expire, so you might have to keep reupping every month or so to keep the number alive. But if you really only need a phone every once in awhile -- like on vacations -- then maybe you don't care so much about changing your number. Readers, please let us know of other alternatives that Beau can consider.

I'm ready to finally get my first smartphone! I took a look at your list of smartphones for first-time buyers, and I'm so confused as to which to pick! I use Google for email and calendar, but I also own a Mac and I use iTunes for music and podcasts. Is the iPhone good for me? Will I miss a keyboard -- should I get a Sidekick instead? Help! -- Rand, via email.

Welcome, Rand, to the confusing world of smartphones! Yes, there are many different types of handsets to choose from and it can get quite daunting. You should of course ask yourself what you would use your smartphone for. If it's primarily for music and podcasts from your iTunes account, an iPhone seems like a good choice. iOS has also had a good track record for being newbie-friendly.

But Android isn't that difficult to grasp either, and you can always use other programs like DoubleTwist to sync music, or a third-party app to handle podcasts. If you like Google services, Android phones also tend to be a better fit, but iPhones can get email and calendar information from Google too. It all comes down to testing the phone out in the store and getting a feel for the interface and operating system. That's also my advice for physical versus virtual keyboards -- yes, virtual keyboards do take some acclimation, but today's autocorrect software make most typos and mistakes a thing of the past. Try out in the store for awhile, and if you buy one, don't be afraid to return it if it's not right for you. Good luck!

If I have an iPhone, and I want to get a tablet, am I obligated to get the iPad? I figure it might make more sense to get an Android tablet instead, just to get the "best of both worlds" experience. What do you think? -- Ming, via email.

No, of course you're not obligated to get the iPad if you already have an iPhone. You're free to use any tablet you wish! I know a few people who are just like you -- they have an Android OS on one device, and iOS on another. The only potential downside is that you can't take advantage of apps that can be used on both the tablet and the phone, or apps that "speak" from one device to the other. Another point to consider is that you are probably already familiar with the iPad interface from using the iPhone -- the Android OS might take a bit more of a learning curve. But these are minor considerations if you're relatively tech savvy.

 

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