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IDIOT’S GUIDE TO PURCHASING A PHONE.

By Dennis Kioko

Are you buying a phone; might you be considering to upgrade your phone. Getting another phone may be a difficult decision to make with new technology and new phones being released every day. It may not be as simple as walking into a phone shop and asking for a phone. You have to buy a phone that suits your budget, tastes and likes.

Carriers including Safaricom, Celtel, and Telkom wireless have also included a horde of new features that may compound the confusion of their subscribers who may not know about their use. Moreover, carriers are now introducing contracts ranging from 1 year onwards hence you may have to first of all make technical consultations before deciding to invest into a phone or contract. In this feature, we will cover the basics and delve a little bit into the technical issues of mobile telephony.

First things first, what service do you require from your phone? You will obviously need to make voice calls and send and receive sms which are offerings on all phones. On top of that, you may want a data ready phone that is able to surf-where you will get Man U news faster than your favourite news channel- camera, mp3, fm radio amongst other features.

Weighing in first, the first consideration is the phones weight. Given that the phone will become a permanent resident of your pocket or handbag, you may not want to have a slanting gait due to the weight of your phone on one side. An average phone will weigh in at 100 – 150 grams. Discreteness is also important, as you wouldn’t want to arouse suspicion in these times of terrorism, and so size comes in at a close second. An average phone should be about 13 cm long, 5 cm wide and 3 cm thick.

A regular earpiece/hands free user should consider phones that have jacks located at the top, or at the side as close as possible to the top. Drivers might prefer phones with advanced hands free capabilities to their advantage.

Going to factor, phones will mostly come as candy bar(long thin e.g. Nokia 1100), slide where the screen and a few basic buttons slide to reveal the rest of the phone and clamshell phones commonly referred to as flips.

When buying a clamshell phone, one with both an internal and external screen is better as the external screen would aid in identification of callers without necessarily flipping it. Also, many clamshells and slide phones now include dedicated music and function keys that enable operation of many tasks without opening the rest of the phone.

If you are a frequent traveler abroad, and would prefer maintaining you phone rather than purchasing many phones, you should consider purchasing multiple band phones which are usually tri band or quad band GSM and dual band UMTS(This term will be explained later here if it is new to you). GSM 900/1800 is used in Europe/Asia/Africa while GSM 850/1900 is used in North America. UMTS(3G) phones operate on 800/850/1900/2100 band or 850/1700/1900/2100. this will be 2100 downlink/1900 uplink (W-CDMA) in Europe /Asia and 1900 uplink/850 downlink in America. Generally, the more bands a phone has, the more frequencies it can pickup and therefore the more countries you can use the phone in. Please note too, that a quad band 3G phone may not necessarily be a quad band GSM phone.

Another major consideration on the health side, is the radiation emitted by your phone, known as the Specific Absorption Rate. Most phone manufacturers will tend to hide this information. WHO(World Health Organization) puts a limit of 2Watts/Kg(2W/Kg) . You may reduce the amount of radiation you expose yourself by limiting the length of your voice calls, using a hands free kit, keeping the phone away from your body when using any of its data features. You are also advised to use accessories and parts made/approved by your phone manufacturer. In Kenya, Nokia accessories are marketed by Cellucom, Motorola by Fone-Express and Sony Ericsson at Sarit Center.

It is tiring to keep recharging your phone or to have a phone that keeps running out of charge and so you should also consider the battery life. Average talk time is 4 hours for most phones and 2- 6 days standby time. Note that battery life is affected by signal strength in your area, the weather and 3G networks have lower battery consumption than 2G networks. Also, a higher milliAmpereHour (mAH) rating does not necessarily result in longer battery life.

When it comes to screen size, most phones will have at least 6 lines of text. More lines result in easy readability, and the phone should also be legible enough. For multimedia and data ready phones should also have a large enough screen. Good color phones should also have a screen of more than 5 cm in length. A good phone with a colour screen should allow you to adjust the contrast and font size or backlight for a monochrome screen. At this point, it is advisable to note that some low –end colour phones are susceptible to screen burn e.g LG .

Scroll buttons make a phone easier and more comfortable to use. The scroll button should be slightly raised and easy to use for your thumb. For those with a bookload of contacts,a phone that offers voice calls(Where you can dial by use of your voice) would be a good investment. In the next part, we consider at the nitty- gritty of mid-end and high end phones.

PART 2

Colour phones come in 2 types, CSTN(Colour Super Twisted Nematics) Display and TFT (Thin Film Transistor) Display. CSTN offers lower quality than TFT but is cheaper. CSTN screen also tend to vary in phones of the same model, with some being sharper than others.

Phones come in different colour screens, beginning with monochrome (one fore ground colour and a different colour for the backlight e.g. black and green for Nokia and Black and Blue for Motorola.) In colour phones, the more the colours, the sharper and clearer the images. The number of colours is given in thousands where 262K means 262,000 colours. High end phones will offer more than 256K colours although you can get cheaper good colour phones with 65K colours.

Coming to matters of the camera, phones will vary with clarity and distance from which you can take vivid shots. Camera quality is measured in pixels ( the small – grainy-dots you see in low quality images or videos). They start off at VGA(640 X 480 pixels) and advance into mega pixels(MP) with high end phones offering 2 -3 MP and higher( 1 mega pixel = 1,000,000 pixels) .A higher Mega Pixel camera is able to take clearer shots ion low light and further distances than one with lower MP ( but this may be offset by a screen with low pixel area.)If you use your camera a lot, another consideration would be amount of memory, more so a memory card and a flash light would be a good perk.

A memory card will allow you to squeeze more video, more pictures, more music and more applications into your gizmo. Memory cards in modern phones are usually either transflash(MicroSD[Micro Secure Disc]) or MMC(MultiMediaCard). MMC appear on older phones and many manufacturers that supported it are phasing it out (Siemens quit out of the mobile phone manufacturing altogether) and replacing it with MiniSD and SD.

Storage capacity is measured in bytes and 1Mb(mega byte) is approximately a million bytes and 1 GB(Giga byte) is approximately 1,000,000,000 bytes. Currently Transflash (SDs) supports 64Mb – 4GB and MMC currently supports up to 4GB.Also a phone with a larger amount of onboard memory(basic phone memory without a card) will result in better performance and more memory for you. Note that phones that support memory cards have a maximum capacity of memory card they can support, and a grater capacity will result in slowing down of the phone or the phone completely hanging.

In data transfer infrared and Bluetooth are designed for this purposes. Infrared only is found in older phones while newer phones may have both or Bluetooth only. Bluetooth comes in class 1 and class 2, with class 2 devices being faster than class 1 devises. A2DP is a Bluetooth feature that supports stereo in Bluetooth headphones. Bluetooth operates on 10 meter range and is omni directional while infrared requires a direct line of sight between 2 devices. A mini USB(Universal Serial Bus) port is included in several phones and aids in transfer of data to computers, an audio jack or a charging port living up to its universal name. It also comes in 2 classes with class 2 being faster.

When it comes to internet connectivity, the basic technology in GSM (2G) networks (Celtel and Safaricom ) is GPRS(General Packet Radio Service) with a maximum theoretical data transfer rate of 115 kbps(kilo bits per second[115,000 bits]). GPRS is sometimes referred to as 2.5G. GPRS phones are divided into 12 classes, with a class 12 device offering faster speeds than a class 10 device and so on. Enhanced-GPRS commonly known as EDGE(enhanced Data Rate for Global Evolution) offers higher theoretical speed of 384 kbps and is also divided into 12 classes , with class 12 devices being the fastest. EDGE is also known as 2.75G.

A new technology still being implemented in many countries and being introduced soon by Safaricom is known as 3G(third generation). Most 3G networks utilize W-CDMA(Wide Band Code Multiple Access) on GSM- known as UMTS(Universal Mobile Telecommunication Standard) - and EV-DO on CDMA networks. Currently, W-CDMA is set to have maximum theoretical data transfer rate of 14.0 Mbps (14 million bytes) with HSDPA(High Speed Downlink Packet Access) although most networks support up to 384 kbps for R99 handsets and 3.6 Mbps for HSDPA. HSDPA is sometimes known as 3.5G. Newer HSUPA(High Speed Uplink Packet Access) offers high speeds from the phone to the base station. With a 3G phone and a Bluetooth/USB modem, the capability to surf the internet with broadband speed is possible and many carriers in Europe, USA and Asia offer monthly broadband packages similar to Safaricom’s Bamabanet but way faster and cheaper.

Phones that use 3G fall back to 2G in areas where 3G coverage is unavailable. High end phones like Apple’s iphone are able to connect to wireless office networks using Wi-Fi.In Africa, countries with licensed 3G operators include Wana in Morocco, Vodafone in Egypt, South Africa, Vodacom in Dar-es-salaam in Tanzania and Nigeria.

Armed with this knowledge, you should be able to make a wise choice when buying a phone. Also note that in Kenya and the Middle East, some sellers el off refurbished phones to unsuspecting buyers as new phones.

All copyrights belong to their respective owners.

Enquiries welcome at gramware@gmail.com

References made from http://www.pcworld.com and http://en.wikipedia.org and other sources.

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