What Cellphone






You’ve seen the ads, read the articles and decided on the network, now all you have to do is figure out which phone best suits your needs. We take a close look at the some of the features which really can make your life a whole lot easier, and some that are just a waste of space. If you think redial buttons are a neat idea then take a look at this little lot...




Arguably the most important feature on a mobile phone, for the simple reason that you may not always have your address book with you. There’s no ideal size for the number memory, it all depends on the extent of your business or social life. A few models can store 200 or more names and numbers, sometimes organised in to smaller ‘directories, though most phones have between 50 and 100 number memories, which is enough for most people. We suspect phones with fewer than 50 number memories may run out of room quite quickly. Pay particular attention to how easy, or difficult it is, to access the memory/directory, add, delete or change entries. Systems that work on keywords, or parts of names can be useful if your own memory is not so good (provided you can remember how to use it...).


Be warned that entering text on a phone keyboard can be a time-consuming business, so whilst some designs have what amount to built-in personal organisers they may not be very easy to use, and with some models you shouldn’t leave home without the instruction book!



The scratch pad is normally a function of the phone’s memory. It’s a sort of electronic jotter, to note down numbers that someone may have given you over the phone, by entering them into the keypad. The number can then be stored into the phone’s memory as a new entry, or dialled as soon as the call has ended.



This facility varies a lot, from a simple last number redial, to remembering the last ten numbers (or more) that were dialled on the phone. Another useful facility for those with sieve-like memories.



More important than you might think, especially in built-up areas or at peak times when lines/channels can be very busy. Autoredial, if selected, will normally keep dialling a number a preset number of times, or until it gets through and the call is answered



On some phones a limited selection of frequently-used numbers can be assigned to a speed-dial function. Instead of looking the number up in memory, or dialling it manually, all you need to do is press a combination of two or three buttons (usually including the hash ‘#’ or ‘*’ symbols, and the number is dialled automatically.



Mobile telephone charges quickly mount up, so it’s useful to be able to keep tabs on how long each call lasts. Most models show a minutes/seconds counter display on the LCD screen whilst a call is in progress, and/or  sound an audible bleep in the earpiece (that only you can hear), usually at 30-second or one minute intervals. Many phones also have cumulative call timers that add the length of each call to a running total. Call timers can only give an approximate idea of connect time, they normally start as soon as the last digit has been dialled, and take no account of how quickly or slowly the phone at the other end is answered.



Mobile phones are extremely vulnerable to theft, so security facilities are very important. None of them can prevent the phone from being stolen in the first place, but they can make the phone useless to the casual thief, and almost worthless  for more experience villains.


Nearly all mobile phones have front-line defence systems that prevent them from switching on without an appropriate four or six digit PIN number, though many users still do not bother to use it! Additional levels of security on some phones bar calls beginning with a particular number or numbers, protect the contents of the numbers memory, and safeguard system settings and personal preferences. GSM phones have extra protection in the form of a removable SIM (subscriber identity module) card, without which it will not work.


A few phones have an advanced security measure that automatically dials a preset number (your home number for example) with an alarm signal, if it is switched on but the PIN number isn’t entered within a few seconds.



At least two pocket phones do not have display panels, but how do you know you’ve dialled the right number? Displays have many more equally important uses, including keeping the user up to date about signal strength and battery power, ideally these should be shown all the time, at the very worst, not more than a button press away. It’s obvious really, but LCD displays should be big enough to read without a magnifying glass, and backlit, otherwise you’ll have to carry a torch with you as well.



Of course you could always put your finger over the mike hole -- if you can find it -- but some means of quickly muting the microphone is important, should you need a little instant privacy.



If you’re a disorganised sort of person who doesn’t wear a watch, or are always forgetting to do things then these sorts of facilities could be quite useful. They’re certainly handy to have if you spend a fair amount of time oversleeping in hotels or on the move.



On many phones you can choose to have straightforward bleeps, whenever a key is pressed, or the more familiar DTMF (dual-tone multi-frequency) tones. Although mobile phones networks do not use DTMF tones, many other phone-connected devices do, such as, computerised switchboards, telephone banking systems, remotely-controllable answering machines and premium telephone services. The only thing to be aware of is that tones can be heard, (and possibly recorded), so the number you’re calling could, in theory at least, be quite easily traced.



It’s often useful to be able to change the ringer tone and volume to suit the environment. A loud strident ring can be embarrassing or unwelcome in many situations, it might even be necessary to turn the ringer off altogether and rely on the display to tell you there’s an incoming call. Conversely, in noisy surroundings it’s important to be able to hear the ringer. In an ideal world these adjustments should be readily accessible, and not buried away deep in a multi-level menu system.



Battery power is the Achilles heel of mobile telephones and few analogue models can make it through a working day after more than a handful of calls. Most phones have one or more power saving systems, the most common types reduces transmitter activity by only sending speech, and not the gaps in between. This can make the call at the other end sound a little ‘choppy’, on others there’s no perceptible change in audio quality. It can be a useful emergency measure, when battery level is critically low, but in the end it is wise to carry a spare battery.



Sooner or later you may want to use your phone in the car. The questions to ask are: is there an optional car kit? If so does it support hands-free operation, radio muting, power boosters, battery charging? How easily can it be converted back to hand-portable operation. Can the phone be used for data transmission and/or fax machines, and will it need specialised (that means expensive) modems or adapters? These may not be important to you now, but in the future, who knows?



These are comparatively rare features, but well worth having. An earphone facility is useful if the phone is going to be used in noisy environments. Hands-free operation can be a useful safety feature, not only in cars, it’s also handy if you want your calls to be discreet.







Be afraid, be very afraid of any phone that displays ‘good morning’ or ‘hello’ messages when it is switched on. This is a slippery slope, we’re being conditioned, dark forces are at work....aaaaaaghh



It sounds like a good idea to have the phone answer incoming calls for you, but what if you don’t hear the ringer, or put the phone down and forget to switch it off? A good way to annoy callers, though...



This odd facility answers the call, and alerts the user, but the caller at the other end gets a no service message...



NAMs or number access modules are the entry points into a cell phone network. Two or more NAMs on a phone are only useful if you subscribe to more than one network (Cellnet and Vodaphone for example), or are likely to use your phone in countries that have split coverage, though we can’t think of any at the moment...



Mobile telephones are not a natural home for a calculator, at least not without a lot more buttons, which would make them even more difficult to use. The one or two phones that do have a calculator facility are only about one up from counting on your fingers and toes....




Ó R. Maybury 1994 0309



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