You don't always have to pick from the limited phone buffet offered by your cellular service provider. Consider picking up an unlocked phone that isn't tied to a particular carrier. This option mainly applies to users with a GSM carrier like AT&T or T-Mobile. CDMA providers like Nextel, Sprint and Verizon are less inclined to let you activate an unlocked phone on their networks.
The biggest advantage of opting for an unlocked phone is choice. You'll have options like the $699 Nokia N95 (with built-in GPS and a 2.6-inch display) or the $320 Motorola MING A1200 Linux-based smartphone. One of the biggest drawbacks is the loss of the substantial discounts you can get by purchasing your phone directly from a carrier with a contract. Also, don't expect tech support from your carrier for an unlocked phone. Unlocked Apple iPhone owners found that a simple software update disabled their phones on networks other than AT&T. But if features and freedom trump price and carrier support in your book, then an unlocked phone can be an enticing addition to your tech arsenal.