October 23, 2003, 3:11 PM — I get asked a lot about cell phones - as in which cell phone to buy. While I covered this topic briefly in Choosing a wireless handheld, I must confess that, given the huge range of models out there, this is a nearly impossible question to answer. There are plain old phones, phones that have limited (and not-so-limited) data capability, phones aimed at vertical or special market segments, flip phones, candy-bar phones, and on and on. I also get asked a lot about what I personally use, and, while I will likely cover this in an upcoming column, I must caution that (a) I change phones frequently to try new models, and (b) just because it works for me doesn't mean it will work for you. Every mobile device involves some degree of compromise (See The single-device paradox for more details on this problem), but suffice it to say for now that it's unlikely you'll come up with something that's ideal for you. Such a nirvana is, and likely will remain, an abstract, theoretical concept.
When I talked about picking a device, I advised to start with the network and not the device. And I'd like to expand on this thought here. As we noted in our recent discussion of http://wireless.itworld.com/4276/031002cellfpg/page_1.html ">cellular technologies, there are profound differences in how the technologies work but the practical effect is the same - voice and data services while on the go. But there are two key variables that define the core differences between carriers regardless: coverage and price.
Let's begin with coverage. You can find coverage maps for all of the major carriers on their Web sites: