Picking the right phone to take to college is important, but picking the right wireless service plan is just as critical. The Brighthand editorial staff has put together some suggestions for making the best choice.
Check for Service
The first thing to consider is to be sure you’re going to get wireless service on your college campus. You probably don’t have to worry about this if you’re a Verizon customer, and you’re fairly safe with Sprint. AT&T and T-Mobile, on the other hand, are more of a concern if you’re headed for a small college town.
Every carrier has a maps on its website showing its coverage area. It’s worth taking a look — you don’t want to show on campus and find your new phone has no service.
How Much Do You Need?
Generally speaking, college students are heavy users of wireless data. However, that doesn’t mean you automatically need a wireless plan with as big a data allotment as you can find. Many universities have Wi-Fi networks that cover their entire campus, or at least most of it. You can use this for streaming music or video, rather than a cellular connection.
If you want to really save money, get a pre-paid plan and a smartphone that supports a VoIP service. Or go whole hog and just get an Apple iPod touch. You can Skype your friends (and your parents) rather than making voice calls. The downside of this is you won’t be able to text — you’ll be sending lots of email instead. It’s inconvenient but cheap.
That nearly ubiquitous Wi-Fi network is also the reason why you probably don’t need 4G service. Don’t get me wrong, a super-fast wireless connection is great, but if you’re going to have Wi-Fi where you eat, sleep, and study, an LTE or WiMAX connection is unnecessary.
Pay Now or Pay Later
Obviously, students can keep riding on Mom and Dad’s wireless family plan, but if you’re ready to go out on your own, you have a decision to make. I know this sounds like Cell Phone 101, but it’s worth repeating: you have two choices in wireless service, pre-paid and post-paid. Which is right for you depends on how you use your phone.
Post-paid service is best for heavy users who make a lot of long phone calls, send and receive loads of texts, and are on the Web or Facebook frequently. Just keep in mind, college is one of the busiest times of your life — if you have time to spend hours on the phone every day, you’re not doing it right.
Pre-paid is the better option for those who make just the occasional phone call, maybe an hour a week, and send a text every now and then. If this sounds like you, you could consider an el cheapo TracFone and an iPod touch for email, games, social networking, etc.
If you’re coming to the States to go to university, you’ll run into some special problems when it comes to cell service. Many carriers don’t use the GSM standard you’re used to, and the ones that do use different frequencies for 3G.
As a result, unless your mobile has specifically been designed to work in the U.S., you’re probably only going to be able to make voice calls with it. If you really love your phone, this might be acceptable thanks to the college Wi-Fi network I mentioned earlier. Or you could start fresh with a phone and service plan from an American wireless carrier.
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