Picking the right phone ...

Plenty of today's high-end cell phones dazzle. But ownership these days is about more than status.

It's about practicality.

Most phones only work with specific types of service (see box below), and most service providers offer steep discounts on phones.

So the best approach is to buy a phone when you sign up for service, says David Berndt, at the Yankee Group in Boston.

All plans come with a choice of phones; some offer basic models free. Better models start at $50. That's a lot less than what you'd pay retail.

Better phones come with more sophisticated voice-activated speed dialing, conference calling, speaker phones, even a handwriting interface and time-management software.

The most sophisticated phones can send e-mail, faxes, and browse the Web. They also come in tiny sizes, so they fit in more places. The smaller the phone, the more you can expect to pay.

Many digital or PCS (personal communication service) phones can switch to analog in areas where digital coverage doesn't reach.

If you sign up for one of these plans, make sure your phone has this "dual band, dual mode" capability.

The best investments cell-phone buyers can make are a spare battery and a car charger so they can still talk when the battery runs out, says John Makulowich, a technology expert in North Potomac, Md.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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