# Pick your partner. Before choosing a phone, if you're not already tied into a contract, you will need to select a carrier. Verizon, AT&T, Sprint/Nextel, and T-Mobile are the major nationwide wireless providers. However, you can purchase a plan through smaller companies as well. Service offerings vary from region to region, so know what's available.
# Get an upgrade. If already locked into a contract, know when it expires. If you're renewing, you may be eligible for a free phone upgrade or heavy discounts on new models.
# Location, location, location. Coverage is usually the most important factor in picking a carrier. After all, there's no point in having a cell phone if you have no reception. If you've ever owned a cell phone, you know how geographically sensitive cell phones can be. Step an inch to the left, and your reception suddenly cuts out. When doing your research, your best bet will be to ask everyone around you how their service ranks.
# Look it up. Find out which companies have cell phone towers near you. The more towers, the better reception you're likely to have. CellReception.com lets you type in your zip code to find cell phone towers registered with the FCC. Perhaps even more helpful, however, are people's comments and ratings, which let you track service right down to a street address.
I like to shop for smartphones as smartphones are converged devices that combine mobility, connectivity, and programmability. They are quickly taking over the market for mobile phones and PDAs. In fact, if you purchased a new mobile phone in the last year or so, there is a good chance that you already know a smartphone. You just need to explore it and make best use of it, if you have not done so already. For computer programmers, smartphones represent great opportunities for developing new applications or just hacking for fun.
I think T Mobile and maybe Sprint were top on a website I found before that had the top consumer ratings. Prepaid plans can still trick you. Don't get a really long contract, and give it a day to think about it before you commit to it. Make sure you know what areas will charge roaming and who and when you can call for free. Remember 1000 minutes is less than 30 minutes a day.
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