BACK TO BASICS
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...
1. NUMBER/NAME MEMORY
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!
2. SCRATCH PAD
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.
3 NUMBER REDIAL
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
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
5. SPEED DIALLING
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.
6. CALL TIMER
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
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
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.
9. MICROPHONE MUTE
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.
10. CLOCKS, CALENDARS AND ALARMS
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.
11. DTMF TONES
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
12. RINGER TONE AND VOLUME
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.
13. POWER SAVING
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?
15. EARPHONE/HANDS-FREE OPERATION
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.
BOX -- COPY
GIMMICKS, GADGETS AND TOYS...
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,
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