Smart facts about smartphone shopping

New or used? Buy or lease? You may think that I’m talking about cars and in most cases you'd be right. However, those same questions, and more, can apply to smartphone shopping.

I recently replaced my smartphone, which was just couple months shy of 3 years old but due to technology’s built-in obsolescence was becoming long in the tooth. I asked myself similar questions and did my homework before setting foot in a store.

The myriad options you are faced with when you walk into a store can be daunting, and outright intimidating, so doing your homework is a good way to prepare. Here are some of the things you want to think about before going shopping.

There are two radio signal standards used in the U.S.: GSM and CDMA. What the acronyms stand for is not of much importance; simply remember that carriers AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM while Verizon and Sprint use CDMA. Phones from GSM carriers can't be used at CDMA carriers (and vice versa).

Most of the carriers have transitioned to a pricing model that is based on a monthly bucket of data allotments in chunks, measured in GigaBytes (or “GB” for short), while claiming that talk and text is cheap, unlimited and free.

Data is depleted from your bucket of monthly allotment. This happens when you use your smartphone to check your email or use apps that connect to the cloud (aka the internet). Using Wi-Fi connections when available will not count against your data allotment.

Voice and text are separate from data, thus your monthly bill will show at least three line items: voice, text and data. Newer radio signal technology called LTE, supported by both GSM and CDMA carriers alike, is already carrying data at a blistering speed while poised to also carry voice traffic.

Although carriers claim talk and text to be free, if the signal reception at the places where you will frequently use your smartphone to talk/text is poor, free doesn’t do you any good. Carriers usually give you a short amount of time to back out of your contract if you find that their network offers poor reception in your area. But rather than wait and potentially go through the hassle to back out, minimize the chance of buyer's remorse by asking your neighbors, colleagues, family and friends for feedback on the carrier they use so you can guesstimate which carrier may be the best for you.

There are several smartphone purchase options with most carriers: You can buy your smartphone outright; make 24 monthly payments for the cost of the smartphone at zero percent interest if you have an excellent credit score; or even lease the smartphone in similar fashion as leasing a car (complete with lease-end buyout price).

There are primarily two types of smartphones: iPhones made only by Apple and Android-based phones licensed by Google to many third party manufacturers. Although iPhone pricing doesn’t fluctuate that much among carriers, there are many different types of Android-based smartphones and they fluctuate in price or can be exclusive to a certain carrier.

Again, do your homework before walking into a store to minimize over-buying or under-buying because commitments, enforced through contracts or remainder of financing coming due, will incur early termination fees (or "ETF" for short) if broken prematurely.

Tak Sato

Business and technology strategist/consultant with 25 years of experience. Holds Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Science and MBA from Cleveland State University.

As founder of geek with a heart, "Hand-holding You in the Digital World", Tak helps Individuals, Seniors, Families, Small Businesses, Schools, and Non-Profits utilize appropriate technology in their personal and professional lives.

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Volume 7, Issue 21, Posted 10:02 AM, 11.03.2015