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Calling All Buyers

Here's your chance to get up to speed on the latest features in mobile-phone technology.

There's been a lot of conversation about 3G (Third Generation) wireless networks in the United States and overseas. All the different names, acronyms and hyperbole for the different generations of America's several incompatible networks can give you a 3G headache.

We won't add to the pain, since you won't be riding a network whose bandwidth exceeds 100Kbps anytime soon. But what's come online lately are interesting new phones that take advantage of the greater bandwidth and Web access that carriers are offering on their way to 3G. Color screens, better audio, downloadable ringtones and animation, and larger phonebooks can all create a richer phone experience for just a few dollars more. It's as much about add-on Net services as the physical phone, because the new handset generation takes advantage of a broader menu of offerings downloadable from the Web. Phone models are usually closely associated with a service provider. For example, the $180 (all prices street) Samsung N400 works with the new PCS Vision service from Sprint. It comes with a color screen, a speakerphone and support for a $100 add-on PCS Vision Camera from InfoHand. Sprint's PCS Vision has a PCS Business Connection component available for secure access to corporate data and e-mail. This is geared toward larger businesses, but could be an option for midsized companies with a mobile work force.

Battery life is an important consideration but can be hard to track down in the maze of specifications. You don't want your phone croaking out in the middle of an important business call, and, certainly, performance will vary widely. The $150 Sanyo 4900, which comes with a standard battery, offers 4.5 hours of talk time. But the trade-off comes with its 4.6 ounces of weight. Heft-conscious buyers may want to consider the slimmer 3.8-ounce VX10 from LG Mobile Phones as another option to go with.

Business travelers who need to haul their cell phones to distant lands should take a look at the Nokia 6340i. This GAIT-compliant mobile allows roaming across a variety of GSM, TDMA and analog networks where Cingular roams. We won't get into all the technical details here, but this handset is the first of its kind. And it could be the wave of the future for mobile phone compatibility.

When it comes to distinctive features, Motorola's i88s offers powerful long-range walkie-talkie capabilities when paired with Nextel's Direct Connect service. A push of a button can put you in contact with employees or colleagues-so long as they are using a similarly equipped phone. This feature could make good business sense for work teams who need to contact one another several times during the business day.

Aesthetic choices like a flip-style or candy-bar-style handset are purely personal decisions. Your best bet is to visit a store and try out your options, because you don't want to get stuck with a device that isn't comfortable for you. Color screens can be nice if you plan on using the limited Internet services that are available. Just as PDAs have gone over to predominantly color screens, so will mobile phones.

Take the street prices listed with a grain of salt. Costs usually drop if you purchase a phone and a calling plan at the same time. If you're upgrading a phone and hanging on to an existing plan, you'll pay more for the hardware. Be sure it's compatible with your service provider's network and the services you want.

Shopping List
New features like color screens and better audio make for a richer phone experience. Try these next-generation options on for size.

MANUFACTURER
NODEL
CONTACT WEIGHT FEATURE STREET
PRICE
LG MOBILE PHONES
VX10
(800) 793-8896
www.lgmobilephones.com
3.8 ounces Flip-style, caller id ringers, works with verizon $99.99
MOTOROLA
i88s
(866) buy-moto
www.motorola.com
5.4 ounces Bar-style, speakerphone, voice recorder, works with Nextel direct connect $249
NOKIA
6340i
(888) nokia-2u
www.nokiausa.com
4.4 ounces Bar-style, voice recorder, gait-compliant,works with cingular $79.99
SAMSUNG
N400
(972) 761-7000
www.samsungusa.com
4 ounces Flip-style, 2.9 hours of talk time,color screen, works with Sprint pcs network $180
SANYO
4900
(619) 661-1134
www.sanyo.com
4.6 ounces Bar-style, 4.5 hours of talk time, color screen, works with Sprint pcs network $150

Like this article? Get this issue right now on iPad, Nook or Kindle Fire.

This article was originally published in the April 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Calling All Buyers.

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