Time for a New Smartphone?

Is a new smartphone on your holiday list?


At one time, a little over 10 years ago, if you wanted a smartphone you had 2 choices; the iPhone and HTC Android G1.   Both of these first generation phones represented what would now become a very populated and complicated marketplace.


Should I buy a new smartphone from my provider?


This question doesn’t have an easy answer because it’s based on how you want to use and pay for your new phone.  


If you want to buy your phone on credit a provider may have better options.  With the average smartphone costing over $700 (and some well over $1000) these no interest loans will allow you to pay off your device over a year or two.   The cost of this is built into the device and the service allowing you to spend less up front.


If you want to buy your phone outright, you might negotiate a better deal with your provider.   Buying from a store may be a good option as well.


Will any smartphone work with any provider?




In the United States there are two major formats for mobile phones, GSM and CDMA.    Sprint, Verizon, and US Cellular use CDMA. AT&T, T-Mobile and most of the rest of the world use GSM.  


If you are a technical person you might want to know that CDMA means Code Division Multiple Access.  GSM means Global System for Mobiles. The differences are in frequency and how the technology works.  GSM is a standard and was mandated by the European Union in 1987 and later became a world standard. In fact Verizon plans to shut down its CDMA network at the end of next year in favor of GSM.   


With 5G data just around the corner it’s important to make sure you buy the right kind of phone.


In addition to the technical differences many US carriers “lock” their phones to their network.  This means you can’t use your phone on another providers network at all until they give you an “unlock” code.  This usually won’t happen until the phone is paid for in full, and with some carriers may never happen.


What about an “unlocked” smartphone?


If you buy a phone outright you may be able to buy an “unlocked” phone,  that is a phone that will be allowed to work with any network. You still need to consider the GSM vs CDMA issue if you want a truly open phone.  Also if you travel globally and want to use your phone on a foreign countries network you will need an unlocked phone capable of GSM. Again, GSM is in most places.  It is important to confirm where you are going. On my last trip to Aruba, for example, they won’t allow any foreign phone and you had to rent one there.


Can I only use a mainstream US network with my smartphone?


There are other options if you want to think outside the box.  An example of this is Google Project Fi. This option is a “virtual” number network.  Google doesn’t have their own network in most cities so your Google Fi phone will work with the strongest signal for the big providers.   To use this until recently, you needed a Google Fi phone, which has been limited to the Pixel and a few other options like LG and Motorola.  Google is opening the network to additional phones, including the iPhone and several Samsung models, next year.


William (Bill) Sikkens has been a technology expert for KXL on the Morning Show with Steve and Rebecca since 2014. With an expertise in I.T., cyber security and software design he has had more than 20 years’ experience with advanced technology. Sikkens conceptualizes and designs custom applications for many professional industries from health care to banking and has the ability to explain the details in a way all can understand.  Article edited by Gretchen Winkler.

Links and brand/store information provided are for information only and are not endorsed by Alpha Media, KXL or William Sikkens.

Got a technology question or comment for Bill? Follow him on Twitter @sikkensw



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