Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine

Bells AND WHISTLES – wireless telephones

Bells AND WHISTLES – wireless telephones – Buyers Guide

Ronaleen R. Roha

For today’s phones, calling home is just the beginning.

Placing a call is only the beginning of what you can do with the latest, coolest wireless phones. Some browse the Web, so you can check stock quotes and airline schedules or get driving directions. (Not all service providers support phone browsers, and sites you can see are still limited and without the graphics.) Some aren’t Internet-ready, but you can send short e-mail messages and faxes you compose on the phone or link to your computer to exchange data. Two even double as personal digital assistants (PDAs).

Be sure any phone you buy is on the list of those recommended by the network you’ve chosen. Network categories include analog or digital (either digital cellular or digital PCS) in one of three incompatible standards called CDMA, TDMA and GSM. Analog service is available almost everywhere, but not so with the other technologies. So if you travel a lot, look for a dual-mode model (which operates on both analog and digital systems) or a dual-band phone (one frequency for analog or digital cellular and another for digital PCS). Some phones are even tri-mode–analog, digital cellular and digital PCS.

Use the retail prices here as a rough guide. Service providers may offer a better deal, perhaps in exchange for a multiyear service commitment.


This small flip phone’s GSM technology (the standard outside the U.S.) and the smart card in the handset let you make calls in 120 countries using a single phone number (your service provider has to have a roaming agreement with a foreign system).

The travel recharger comes with five plugs for international use. You can choose from among 24 languages for the three-line display. You can also set up a second phone number.

The 1888 is not Internet-ready but has a built-in, infrared wireless modem you can use to transmit data, including to and from an infrared-compatible laptop, palm-top or PDA.

The phone has an “active flip”: It automatically answers calls when you flip it open and ends them when you close it. You also get an alarm clock and 15 built-in rings and tunes; if the spirit moves you, you can compose your own.

PRICE: $200 to $300

STATS: 6.3 ounces; 6 hours and 40 talk time and 120 hours standby


CARRIERS: Omnipoint and Voice Stream


Qualcomm has combined a digital phone and a PalmPilot organizer (stylus and all) with all of Palm Computing’s features–plus some new ones. it’s bulkier than its cool cousins but more convenient than carrying a phone and a PalmPilot separately. For example, just touch the stylus on the entry in your address book and the phone automatically dials.

The pdQ Smartphone is Internet-ready, and you can receive alphanumeric pages. It has an appointment book, calculator, memo pad, to-do list and an infrared port you can use to “send” data to other Smartphones or Palm organizers.

PRICE: $500 to $1,000

STATS: 10 ounces; up to 2.5 hours talk time and 40 hours standby

TECHNOLOGY: CDMA digital cellular dual-mode model and CDMA digital PCS model

CARRIERS. Not yet announced


If you’re not a technophile, this phone is for you. No Web browser. No wireless modem. No PDA.

It takes just a few minutes to learn to use Nokia’s Navi Key, which lets you find and use any function easily. There are even on-screen explanations of many functions. The five-line LCD display is clear and can be set for English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and, with the 5170 and 5180 models, Hebrew.

The price (especially if you buy during a promotion) puts a 5100 phone in the running to be your teenager’s phone–the three games and choice of 30-plus rings and tunes are popular with the younger set. But these phones are sophisticated enough you, too. And they can match your mood: Nokia offers do-it-yourself changeable covers that come in more than a dozen colors (most about $20 each).

PRICE: $79 to $149

STATS: 6.2 ounces; up to five hours of talk time and up to 14 days of standby (depending on model and mode)

TECHNOLOGY: CDMA, TDMA and GSM. Some are dual-mode or tri-mode.

CARRIERS: AT&T Wireless Services, Bell South, Omnipoint, Sprint PCS and others


You can use this pint-size phone, with an active flip and four-line, back-lighted LCD display, to make calls, of course, or to receive alphanumeric pages or surf the Web. It’s also a two-way radio–press a button on the side of the phone and you can instantly talk to, say, colleagues who have compatible Motorola phones–and a speakerphone that can easily pick up and broadcast voices from all around a fairly large office (a great feature for hands-free use while driving).

You set the display for English, French, Spanish or Portuguese and can make the phone vibrate rather than ring. You can also arrange for a second phone number.

PRICE: $300

STATS: 6 ounces; up to three hours talk time and 50 hours standby

TECHNOLOGY: TDMA digital cellular

CARRIERS: Nextel and SouthernLINC. Web browsing available in Atlanta, Chicago, New York City, Greensboro, N.C., and Washington, D.C.; available nationwide by early 2000.


You’ll be forgiven if your imagination conjures up James Bond in his BMW Z3 when you hold this tiny, premium-priced phone. “Q” could have designed its chrome-finished exterior, with no antenna (it’s internal) to mar its sleek lines. (In fact, Nokia’s head designer used to design BMWs.)

This phone is just that–it doesn’t have a wireless modem and isn’t Internet-ready. But it can still be fun. There’s a calculator with a currency converter, a calendar, three video games, an alarm clock with snooze function, a choice of 35 rings and tunes, and a display you can set for English, French, Spanish or Portuguese. The phone can vibrate, too.

PRICE: less than $1,000

STATS: just under 4 ounces; up to 2.5 hours talk time and six days standby

TECHNOLOGY: a TDMA tri-mode model will be soon and coming in early 2000, two CDMA PCS dual-mode models

CARRIERS: AT&T Wireless, Bell South and others


Ever wish you could check your appointments calendar and the phone number of a contact while you’re on the road and then make the call–all with one device? NeoPoint’s soon-to-be-released phone-PDA combo incorporates some features of a personal digital assistant at a lower price than Qualcomm’s pdQ Smartphone, and you can use it with just one hand. It has a large 24-character by 11-line display that you can navigate by clicking on icons.

The Internet-ready handset has an active flip, contact list, appointment book and to-do list. You can even program voice commands for a variety of actions. You might say “Internet, stock quote, Disney” and pluck a quote from the Web, or you could say “call home” to announce you’re stuck in traffic. All that and it’s small enough to slip into a breast pocket or purse.

PRICE: $300 to $400

STATS: 6.4 ounces; up to 2.5 hours talk time and up to 40 hours standby


CARRIERS: Not yet announced

Reporter: James Ramage

COPYRIGHT 1999 The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc.

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