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Consumer Reports finds that new cell phone models adapting to reflect users’ lifestyles

Posted Monday, December 21, 2009

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Smart phones, conventional phones becoming better, faster and more diverse

Yonkers, NY — Consumer Reports latest tests of 69 cell phones found that models are evolving to offer more sophisticated capabilities to meet consumers’ more diverse needs and lifestyles. According to a recent Consumer Reports National Research Center survey of more than 13,500 online subscribers, the desire for advanced features was the main reason consumers bought a new phone.

“Less so than ever, there’s no one phone, or even phone type to meet the needs of most people,” said Paul Reynolds, electronics editor of Consumer Reports. “On the positive side, everyone should be able to find a phone that suits them among the myriad of models that hit the market this fall.”

Best Cell Phones by Carrier

In Consumer Reports lab tests, all-conventional cell phones proved competent, with low-priced options offering a fine value. If price isn’t paramount, consider the carrier’s service rating as a differentiator. Consumer Reports found Verizon’s top–rated LG enV Touch, $100, an impressive phone and multimedia device enhanced with touch-screen navigation and a QWERTY keyboard for easier e-mailing and texting. The LG VX8360, $40 is a very good, straightforward cell phone at a bargain price. If simplicity is a priority, the Samsung Jitterbug J, $147 is available through Verizon. On the plus side are large buttons, free directory assistance and a comfortable earpiece. Negatives include pricey service and a thick phone that lacks common features.

The Samsung Memoir, $200 tops T-Mobile as a recommended phone by Consumer Reports with a full-featured, high-resolution camera that produces images comparable with those of 8-megapixel point-and-shoot cameras. The Samsung Comeback, $130, is also a Consumer Reports recommended product for T-mobile, with a keypad that facilitates phoning and a 2.6-inch screen and keyboard to satisfy texters. Sprint-Nextel’s Samsung Exclaim, $80 offers a good bargain and a dual-slider design that slides up to reveal a keypad for phone calls and slides right to reveal a keyboard for e-mail and text messaging.

While AT&T was among the lower-scoring for customer satisfaction in the survey, the LG Xenon, $150, Samsung Impression, $125, and Samsung Solstice, $100, offer large touch-screen displays and are compatible with AT&T’s Video Share, which streams live, one-way video to a compatible phone. The Samsung Impression boasts the highest-megapixel camera of the recommended AT&T models.

Top Smart Phones by Carrier

Consumer Reports selected the best rated smart phone choices by carrier based on the categories of multimedia use, office-like tasks and compact. Verizon’s HTC Touch Pro2, $200, scored the highest overall for frequent e-mailing and editing of Microsoft Office documents while the BlackBerry Storm 9530, $50, offered a lower-priced alternative with comparable features for office-like tasks is also part of Verizon’s portfolio of smart phones.

The T-Mobile myTouch 3G, $150, is the best choice for multimedia use with intuitive navigation, easy access to main functions and direct downloading of music, games, applications and services. The 16GB Apple iPhone 3G S, $200 and the Apple iPhone 3G, $100, from AT&T also ranked highly for multimedia use, with the best MP3 player Consumer Reports has seen in a phone to date. In the compact category, Sprint-Nextel’s Palm Pre, $150 is a good bet for multitaskers with the ability to link contacts, calendars and messaging.

Choosing the Right Cell Phone

  • Assess needs. Choose a conventional phone if its main use is for voice and text-messaging capabilities. Most carriers offer simple phones at little or no cost with a two-year contract. Smart phones are designed for people who need frequent access to multiple e-mail accounts, a sophisticated organizer, the ability to create and edit Office documents, and Internet-based services. Most smart phones Consumer Reports tested cost $50 to $300.
  • Select a carrier. Most phones work only with a specific carrier and will have either a CMDA or GSM digital network. CMDA phones (used by Sprint and Verizon) have modestly better voice quality, but GSM phones (AT&T and T-Mobile) work in more parts of the world and can easily transfer account information stored on a SIM card. Carriers also call the shots on features such as voice command, which is almost standard on Sprint and Verizon phones, but less common on AT&T and T-Mobile. Also, Wi-Fi is harder to find on smart phones from Verizon and Sprint than on AT&T and T-Mobile phones.
  • Decide where to shop. Shoppers Consumer Reports surveyed gave better ratings for price to online retailers than to walk-in stores. Also, consumers were happier buying a phone at a retailer like Best Buy, Costco, or the Apple store than at a carrier’s store. About three-quarters (76%) of shoppers at a big chain were highly satisfied compared with 64 percent who shopped at a carrier’s walk-in store.
When You Are Ready to Buy
  • Look at the display in daylight and bright light to ensure screen legibility.
  • Try out a touch screen feature before buying to decide whether it’s a preferred feature.
  • In Consumer Reports’ tests real keyboards trumped virtual ones, and bigger was better, especially for frequent texters.
  • Check 3G coverage maps on carriers’ Web sites which is important for multimedia tasks like Web browsing and streaming video content. Verizon and Sprint-Nextel 3G coverage tends to be less spotty than AT&T and T-Mobile.
  • Pass on insurance. Keep an old phone to use in case the new one gets lost or broken in the interim of qualifying for a free or low-cost phone.
The full report on cell phones is available in the January 2010 issue of Consumer Reports, available wherever magazines are sold. The full story is also available online at www.ConsumerReports.org.

Consumer Reports has no commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor appearing on this newspaper's web site.

 
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Consumer Reports finds that new cell phone models adapting to reflect users’ lifestyles
Verizon’s top–rated LG enV Touch
 
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