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Computer Care: When switching phones, consider price and coverage
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As my cell phone contract is about to expire, I find many options before me. I can stay with my existing service provider and retain my current phone or I can try a new company. Either way, I'm eligible to get a free or discounted device with my promise to stay for 24 months.

Mobile, or wireless technology is changing faster than the temperature these days. My 2-year-old once high-tech smartphone is so outdated that it will now bring no more than $50 on the Internet.

The choices are abundant. There are great phones from manufacturers such as HTC, Samsung, LG, BlackBerry and Apple. Operating systems on the phones come down to Android or Windows on most, while Apple and BlackBerry have their own proprietary software.

For decades, I have used and supported Windows on my computers, but when it comes to smartphones, I have to go with the competition. I use Windows Mobile 6.5 on my current HTC phone, but tire of it freezing and not responding as it should.

The Android phones I have tried are so much more responsive and the iPhone, well it's in a class by itself. Its interface is superb, but without a discount (of which Apple has none), it is also priced beyond what most of us want to pay for a wireless phone.

Occasionally though, when Apple releases new models like the iPhone 4S, the 3G is offered for free or discounted with that omnipresent new two-year contract.

There are two main considerations when switching phones or carriers: What can you afford and how is the coverage in your area?

Pull up the service provider's coverage map, not of Georgia, but of your neighborhood. Look carefully to see if you get both voice and data where you live.

Find out about roaming and long distance fees and if you're charged for activation and porting your number.

Look at the plans and compare. Determine your budget and choose from the plethora of plans offered. Often Family Plans are the best bet if you have more than one device. Text messaging and voicemail may or may not be a part of any plan, so be sure to ask.

With most smartphones, there is still the need for a data plan to supplement whatever voice/messaging plan you may have. Ask your provider to be sure, under what category your specific phone falls.

With some phones without a data plan, you can still access the Web and your email if the device has Wi-Fi capabilities. You can connect to your home network with it.

With other phones, you can use them as a hotspot, tethering the phone to connect your computer to the Internet.

There are two networks to choose from when it comes to wireless phones: GSM, which AT&T and T-Mobile uses and CDMA, used by Verizon, Metro PCS and Sprint. Globally, GSM is an older, more dominant standard and works in more foreign markets than does CDMA, but both work well here.

Resellers like Boost Mobile who use the Sprint network and PagePlus who use Verizon's network, abound. There are caveats though to consider with discounted providers.

If you are a PagePlus customer for example, even though you access the Verizon network, when an issue arises, PagePlus alone will deal with it.

Metro PCS and PagePlus don't require any contracts, but the former charges more for their phones while the latter asks for payment up-front on their plans.

Generally, you may save a buck or two on devices and rates through resellers (especially if you go with a pre-pay plan), but you forfeit the high speeds and local support which are reserved for the owners of the networks. Your father was right: You get what you pay for.

No matter how well any phone works at the store and how much you like it, ask if you can return or exchange it within a week's time without any penalty. It may not work as well at your house.

Cellular signals are line-of-sight. If there are obstructions in or near your home, the signal may be less than optimal. Things to consider such as hilly neighborhoods, tin roofs, metal studs in your walls, and electronic devices may cause interference.

Often, you'll discover the best deals online. You have to do all the work, but by not using a person to assist you, discounts are the reward. You may come across an Internet-only rate as well as phones not offered in the stores.

We have gone from bag to belt phones; from typing commands to voice recognition. Now, programming your phone is passé. You need only speak what you want your phone to do.

The new iPhone, with its dual processor and gigabyte of RAM, has more power than some laptops that I've recently worked on.

As a techie, I require state-of-the-art and believe my next handheld wireless device will be an iPhone.
I can only wonder if my next laptop will be a Mac.

Arthur Glazer is a freelance writer and computer technician in Gainesville. His column appears biweekly on the Business page.