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10 things to look for when buying a phone

What are the key features you should be looking for in your new mobile phone in 2005?

  • CNET Australia staff

One of the most anticipated phones this year is the W800i from Sony Ericsson

Looking for a new mobile phone? Here are 10 key features you should look out for.

Buying a mobile phone these days can be rather confusing, especially since they now come jam-packed with features, from built-in video cameras and MP3 players to onboard PDA and 3D gaming functions. Therefore, to help you make a better buying decision, we have identified 10 key features you should consider when looking for a new phone.

External screen/caller ID: On flip phones, this lets you see who's calling before you open the cover. Many camera phones can also show a picture of the caller, if one has previously been attached to a contact.

Phone book and voice dialling: Consider how many contacts you can store. Also, voice dialling lets you make calls without using the keypad, which is particularly handy when you're on a headset.

Microbrowser: This lets you surf the wireless Web. If your phone features a WAP (Wireless Access Protocol) browser, it's optimised to view sites configured to display on small, mobile devices. Not all sites, however, are made for WAP browsing. Also, you can use some Internet-ready phones as a fax modem, but you'll need to purchase the proper data cables to take advantage of this feature.

Text messaging, instant messaging, and e-mail: They allow quick communication without making a phone call. Be sure to find out how many messages you are allowed to send and receive per month. If you're a heavy e-mail user, make sure your phone supports this feature and consider adding a data plan to your basic service.

Camera, video recorder, and picture messaging: Use them for taking pictures, shooting brief video clips, and sharing them with others. Most are low-grade VGA models, but some camera phones have resolutions of more than a megapixel. 2-megapixel models are expected to reach Australia in the second half of 2005. Some carriers offer better online tools than others, and multimedia plans vary. Also, a camera phone is no substitute for a real camera (yet).

Speakerphone/conference calling: A speakerphone is useful for multitasking, such as working on a computer while you're holding a conversation. Consider getting a unit with a full-duplex speakerphone, which allows both parties to speak at the same time. Business travellers who need to set up impromptu meetings will want to look at a phone that supports conference calling.

Push to talk: A walkie-talkie-like service that lets you immediately connect with individuals or call groups, which is especially useful for business users who need instant contact with their colleagues. Best of all, you don't need a mobile signal to use them. Not all carriers offer this feature, however. In Australia, Telstra and Optus are the only operators with push-to-talk services.

Bluetooth and infrared: Both features let you wirelessly connect with external devices. A phone with an infrared port allows information to be exchange wirelessly with PDAs or PCs. In addition, you can use Bluetooth to connect to a wireless headset.

Multimedia options: Some features to look for include MP3 support, FM radio, and polyphonic ring tones. 3G handsets also support streaming video and videoconferencing. However, you'll to have a 3G service in your area.

Accessories and add-ons: What's available, and what's important to you? Just make sure it's specifically designed for your phone of choice. If no games and applications are on the phone, can you get them?