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Keep these questions in mind when buying phones

On Thanksgiving weekend my family and I bought new cellphones. For me the choice it was easy because I knew exactly what features I wanted and what services were important to me. But if you go into a store not knowing what you want, it can be maddening trying to sort out features like megapixels, mp3 players, touch screens and full QWERTY keyboards.

And if you're buying one for a present, it can be especially tough trying to pick the perfect phone. If you want to bring your kid into the store to get the phone but don't want to spoil the surprise, you could always just buy a gift card and go with them to the store the next day to pick one out. (But of course that isn't as much fun as unwrapping an actual phone.)

So here are some basic guidelines to buying phones for pre-teens, teenagers and young adults. I would suggest buying it at a date where you can still return or exchange it a few days after it is given. That way, if the phone isn't right, they can still go back to the store and get what they want or modify the plan.

The first rule is make sure to buy a plan for text messaging and sending photos to other phones, because practically everyone in that age group are heavy texters. And even if you don't buy a plan for text messaging and somehow keep your child from texting, their friends will still text them and you can be charged for receiving texts.

AT&T Wireless provided the following questions you should ask when choosing phones and services. I think its best to take home a booklet of information on your provider's phones and plans, and then figure out what works best before picking out the phones. That will save you a good amount of time.

For pre-teens and teenagers:

  1. How many in the household need wireless service?
  2. How many minutes will be needed each month and how many months the service will be required?
  3. Is the data plan associated with the phone ample to avoid overages for text messaging and data use via the phone?
  4. Which phones are the most convenient for children to call at home?
  5. Are there additional services that can help parents and children stay connected when they are not at home together?

If you are buying for someone who is college age or older, they might find it very important to have Internet access to check e-mails. Here are some other questions to keep in mind for young adults:

  1. If the children are at an out-of-state school, is there a national plan set up to avoid roaming charges?
  2. Does the phone have a camera, and will they use it enough that they'll need a high megapixel?
  3. Do you need a plan that includes downloading online music, social networking or games?

I hope some of these questions help better organize your shopping plans. Some of the most expensive phones this holiday are touch-screen phones, but just because they are the newest and most expensive doesn't mean they make the best gift. And if they are rough with phones, be sure to get something that can survive a few drops on the hard floor.

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