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How to buy a mobile phone!
Surajeet Das Gupta
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February 23, 2005

Buying a new global system for mobile (GSM) phone can be a nightmare. The very array of choices, ranging from fancy phones with in-built MP3 players, with large pixel cameras and huge storage space, can be bewildering.

Faced with fierce competition, manufacturers are bombarding the market with new products ever so often, making older models obsolete.

Cutting through the clutter, we try to make your task of buying a mobile phone easier. If you want mobile phones to do much more than be just a device for voice calls, here is the lowdown on what you can buy and what mobile phones are about to hit the market this year. (Check out phone buying tips below!)

Slim is in: It cannot get thinner than this. Motorola's Moto Razr V3 is redefining design and it is super thin -- just 13.9 mm.

Says Percy Batlivala, Motorola's general manager, southwest Asia, for personal device communications: "It is the thinnest clamp phone in the world. And despite being foldable, it is razor thin. It is an iconic product for us."

Motorola used an aluminum frame (used in aircraft) to reduce weight, component sizes were redefined and made smaller and the embedded antenna at the base of the phone, claims the company, offers better transmission capability -- which simply means more voice clarity and better coverage than other phones offer. The phone weighs only 95 gram -- but costs a stiff Rs 33,000.

Camera phones will get hotter: If you want to throw away your digital camera and click pictures on your phone, wait for a while. At the moment, mobile phone cameras now don't have the high powered 5-mega pixel lenses digital cameras have.

Mobile phones here now have a camera but these have less than 1 mega pixel. So you're unlikely to get high quality pictures. But the good news is that Samsung has launched a mobile phone that even professional photographers won't disdain.

It offers a 5-mega-pixel camera, has 16 million colour (this means that the colour quality is as good as that on a television screen) and digital zoom. The CCD (charge-coupled device) camera and high-sensitivity flash allow the user to take the same quality pictures as from a top-end digital camera.

What is more, the S250 can also function as a camcorder. The 92MB onboard memory can store up to 100 minutes of video. The S250 also boasts a QVGA TFD-LCD (Thin Film Diode-Liquid Crystal Display) that has previously been adapted only for top-end TVs and desktop monitors The SCH-S250, however, has been developed in Korea on a code division multiple access platform.

But, says Anuj Kapur, general manager, marketing, at Samsung India: "The GSM version will be out in the next 8-12 months and it will be in India." So wait till then for the price.

If you do not want to wait so long, check out phones with cameras of above one mega pixel -- many give decent prints. The Sony-Ericsson S-700i offers you a 1.3-mega-pixel camera and 262,000-colour screen and the company claims that it provides you with prints that are equivalent to that from a digital camera. But you pay Rs 30,000 for this mobile phone.

Nokia too has introduced models that offer you good quality images. The 7710 offers you 1.3-mega pixels and a 65,000-colour camera. But in April Nokia will offer you two more ranges -- the 6680 and 81 (at a price of around Rs 20,000 to Rs 25,000) with 262,144 colour, video and a still image editor.

Says Nokia India marketing head Sanjay Behl: "It is not the mega pixels that only matter. We are looking at the entire consumer experience."

Nokia has tied up with Kodak and Hewlett Packard for a program called Xpressprint which allows customers to go into any of their photographic retail outlets and get prints of pictures taken on the phone.

Coming, videos on phones: Samsung is all set to challenge camcorders with its D-500. The hand phone offers an amazing one hour of video recording time, equivalent to recording about 20 video songs. The phone should be in India within a few months.

But if you just want to show some video clips to your friends, Sony-Ericsson has the perfect solution. As part of its marketing strategy to lure the young, the company has used video to segment the phone market. Sony is offering its K-500 phones with embedded video content, which can be changed for Rs 10,000.

Says Sudhir Mathur, general manager of Sony Ericsson in India: "The phones have been segmented in three categories (Thriller, Romance and Friendship) with different cinema clips in each (three clips of 30 seconds each).  The whole idea is to use movies to woo the youth market."

And in case you want to change the content, you can do so at the "Fun Zones" Sony is setting up at its retail outlets across the country. You can download clips here, for a price, of course.

For music lovers who want an iPod and a phone rolled into one: Phone companies across the globe are trying to push mobile phones as music devices too. With the phenomenal success of the iPod, many are asking whether you'll be able to download and store music on your mobile phone.

That revolution is round the corner. Last week Sony-Ericsson announced a new Walkman range of phones, which will be available on shop shelves by next month.

You can transfer CD collections through the PC to the phones, just as you do in an iPod. Later, analysts say, it will also be possible to download music from copy-protected sites on to the mobile handset.

Says Mathur: "The company will strengthen music solutions on the mobile with the Walkman phones. The focus will be on larger memory space and high quality headphones which will make music exciting while on the move."

Motorola too has tied the knot with I Tunes, a part of Apple Computers, so that you can soon download music on your phones. That phone is not on the drawing board. A few weeks ago the US company previewed the E-1060, the phone that will allow customers to download music from I Tunes stores, and will be available sometime this year.

Till then, you can try the Motorola E-398; you can transfer music on CDs to the phone through a music web browser. With a 64 MB flash card (its in built memory is only 5 MB) and a 3D sound system it is an ideal product for those who want to store songs.

Phones that offer storage, big screens: If you see the phone as an instrument to store music and pictures and see video clippings, remember that you require enough storage capacity and a screen that is big. Executives on the move need storage capacity to save Power Point presentations, make notes and store a lot of phone numbers.

Samsung will soon launch the V 5400, the first phone that, the Korean chaebol claims, has an internal disk drive with 1.5 GB capacity. The phone boasts of a 2.2-inch screen, an MP3 player and dual speakers with 3D sound effect. Samsung executives say that the new product will be available in India in the next few months.

Still, you need not wait for Samsung's new phone. Thanks to flash memory (which is just like putting a floppy in the PC), storage is no longer a key issue, if your phone has a slot to put a flash memory card. Nokia has a range of phones with large screens combined with storage space.

The Nokia 7710 at a street price of around Rs 27,000 offers you a four-inch screen, virtually the size of your palm. And it also combines this with a lot of memory space -- in built capacity of 90MB and a flash memory (this is like the floppy disk of the computer) of another 128 MB.

Nokia's hot selling Communicator (9300 and 9500), priced at between Rs 33,000 and Rs 37,000 also offers large storage space (80 MB in built) and 128 MB flash memory which comes free, apart from a large screen.

In upscale models, Sony Ericsson too offers a lot of storage space. Whether for the S-700i (around Rs 30,500) or the P-910i (Rs 38,000), the company offers flash memory options that can raise storage space to as much as 0.5 to 1 GB.

But if you are looking for phones within the Rs 14,000 to Rs 15,000 price bracket with enough storage capacity, opt for for the K-700. Its 40 MB storage space is enough for about an hour of video recording.

For the young and trendy: If you are young and want the world to know that you have sent a message to your girlfriend saying how much you love her, try the Nokia 3220 (around Rs 10,000) and WMS or wave short message.

You'll have to type a message and shake the phone -- a unique display technology will make the message be seen as a wave in the air.

At the moment you need to buy a 'Fun Shell' accessory to enjoy WMS, which costs extra. But Nokia executives say that they are now working on a bundled solution where the entire package will be available for around Rs 10,000.

For those who want the music they are hearing to be heard by others around them, Samsung will soon offer a new product. The E-630 comes with the "Sound Mate" accessory, which amplifies the sound on your phone twice over.

More important, it has six hours of audio recording time, which will take only 20 per cent of the battery power. This will be out in a few weeks.

Phone buying tips

It does not matter what mobile phone you buy, but you need to observe some basic rules when you're buying one.

1. Most consumers buy colour phones today. Note that the quality of colour and resolution vary dramatically from model to model.

If you want to use your mobile phone to see videos or to store and look at the pictures you shot using your mobile phone's in built camera, opt for a handset that offers 65,000 colour or above (that is how the quality of colour is calculated -- the higher the number, the better the quality and clarity).

If you want good pictures, many manufacturers recommend that you opt for a phone that has 262,000 colours.

The pictures must have a reasonable resolution. Says Anuj Kapur,  general manager, marketing, at Samsung India: "Many of the phones in the market have 4,000 colour. So you might wonder why the quality is not so good. But if you want future proof quality for pictures, you need a minimum of 65,000. And in terms of resolution it should be a minimum of 128. It is a balance between the two which is crucial."

2. Polyphonic ring tones are offered in every model today. So why are these important? Polyphonic tones make it possible to experience many instruments playing together in the ring tone. But mobile phones offer a variety of polyphonic tones, ranging from  4 to 64.

When a retailer tells you that the handset offers 16 polyphonic, it simply means that so many instruments can be played together in the ring tone. If you want reasonable sound quality, you must not opt for less than 16.

3. Battery life is important. Most people only want to know what the talk time that a battery can sustain is. But stand by time is equally important, especially for average mobile phone buyers who do not carry chargers all over the place.

A three to seven-hour talk time is not unusual. But check out whether the battery has enough stand-by time to last at least the whole day.

Nokia has a different checklist:

Says Nokia India marketing head Sanjay Behl: "It's an easy guide to identify what a customer actual wants."

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