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The 411: Data talk and music transfer

Every two weeks, CNET editor Nicole Lee answers your questions about cell phones and cell phone accessories in The 411.

Welcome to the 411, my Q&A 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 the same questions, too. At times, I might solicit answers from readers if I'm stumped. Send your questions and comments to me at If you prefer to remain anonymous, let me know in the e-mail.

Nokia E71
Nokia E71 Corinne Schulze/CNET

Hi Nicole, I read CNET reviews from time to time and your team there is really helpful with great unbiased reviews. I am writing because I can't seem to find concrete information about using an unlocked smartphone. Like some people, I would like a smartphone, but do not want to carry a data plan and occasionally use e-mail and Web over Wi-Fi. I have read that buying an unlocked (smart)phone that is carrier-free can be used this way. But I have also read that companies (AT&T to be specific) can recognize even an unlocked smartphone not purchased from them, and automatically assign a data plan to the voice plan. I specifically want to buy a used unlocked Nokia E71, and get a SIM card with no contract or data plan. Can I do this, or do the new practices by carriers make that not possible? Any help is appreciated, thanks for your time.--Scott, via e-mail

I did some research on this after my last column about data plans and there does seem to be a way for you to use an unlocked phone with AT&T without incurring any data charges. The most important thing you must do is to disable the data connection settings in your phone--this seems to be the snag that a lot of people come across when trying to do this. I know of a reader that was charged thousands of dollars because he did not do this and thought he was just using the Wi-Fi connection. I don't know if this method is officially sanctioned by AT&T, or if it's more of a roundabout way of doing things. It does seem rather ridiculous for them to start charging you data fees if you've never used it. I have contacted AT&T to see what they have to say about it, but they have not replied at the time of this column. I'll let you know if anything comes up.

Dear Nicole, I am signing up for a data plan on my cell phone and I have a choice of 50MB or up to 1GB of data. Can you tell me:

  1. Does this refer to downloaded information?
  2. How much is 50MB or 1GB of data on a monthly basis?
--Cam, via e-mail

As far as I know, the data allowance is for both uploaded and downloaded data. As for data usage, it would depend on how much data you plan on using. For me, 50MBwould be too little, as I download a number of songs and applications each month. If you plan on doing the same, I think 1GB would be a better choice, just be sure to keep tabs on it to prevent any overage charges.

Have you been able to transfer music from a computer to phone? I have tried a number of ways including spending hours of time on the phone with tech support from both Verizon and Motorola. A Verizon tech support person who was on the phone with a Motorola tech support person told me that drivers do not exist for this phone. If you know of any way that I can transfer music to my phone I would greatly appreciate it if. Please note that I have tried transferring directly to the SD card, but the phone does not recognize the music files when the SD card is in the phone. However, the music is recognized when the SD card is installed in any other device or machine with a SD card reader--Sam, via e-mail.

Senior editor Donald Bell wrote up this brief tutorial on how to transfer your songs to a cell phone, and you would do well to check that out first to see if he provided an answer to your question. I do think that in your case, the easiest step would be to transfer the songs to your microSD card as you said. It is curious that the phone does not recognize the songs. Are you sure that the songs are in the right file format? Some phones only support certain file formats like MP3 or AAC. Most basic phones won't recognize DRM-protected material, so be sure those files are DRM-free. Some phones also prefer it if the songs are in an appropriate folder, like a Music folder or a Songs folder, so maybe try that as well. See if you can look in the phone's settings to find the folder for those songs. I hope that helps--let me know if none of those methods work.