Archived—Cellphone Choices for Canadians - A Checklist

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Before buying your first cellphone and service, or even if you are thinking about changing your current cellphone offering, take a few minutes to know what you want and need.

The key questions to ask yourself are how much money you are willing to spend every month and how you will use a cellphone. You can then work through this Checklist.

Take it with you to cellphone service providers or keep it handy when you call them. Talk to as many providers as you can before choosing the best cellphone and service for you.

Step 1: Cellphone Basics

Check to make sure that there are no coverage gaps in the areas you will regularly use your phone. Providers of cellphone service use time or "minutes" to figure out costs for voice calls. Ask your provider about the total cost of your monthly bill, including any additional fees such as for 911 services. Remember to also account for applicable taxes.

You will need to know how many minutes you will use for both calls you make and receive per month, and the time of day you will be using the cellphone. Usually calling during the daytime is more expensive. Check out Step 5 to see if you want to commit to a service contract or not.

It is also important to decide if you will only use the cellphone for voice calls, or also for texting and/or broadband applications such as emails, Internet access and music downloads. This will affect your costs.

If you commit to a service contract or a monthly plan, keep in mind that if you go over the allowable minutes, text messages or data usage in a plan you may have to pay more and if this happens too often, you may want to consider changing your plan to a more suitable one. Likewise, if you do not use the allotted amounts in your plan, you may want to change to a less expensive one. You will be able to check this all out when you get your bill.

How to Estimate Minutes

To quickly estimate how many minutes you may use in a month, think of daily use of a cellphone as about 575 minutes per month, using the cellphone a few times a week as about 350 minutes and very brief occasional calls, just to say where you are, as about 30 - 50 minutes per month.

Step 2: When will you be making calls?

Note: These time periods vary by provider. For example, some providers have later start times for evening minutes (e.g. 9 p.m.). You may be able to buy an "early evening" option.

Step 3: Features

How many?

Note: Check with your provider for information on roaming charges outside your local coverage area.

Do You Think You Will Need:

Reminder: The more features you choose, the higher the cost. Ask your provider. You may be able to purchase a few features together at a reduced cost, but keep in mind that there is no point purchasing features you don’t need, even if they are inexpensive. Providers may offer a few months of “free” features. Be aware when the free period ends. Ask your provider for details.

Step 4: The Cellphone Handset

There are many kinds of cellphones. The cost of the actual handset is usually tied to your service contract term. In most cases, the longer the contract term, the cheaper the phone - or you can buy it outright. Ask your provider about the warranty on the cellphone and if they have a service to loan you a phone should yours need to be repaired. Try out the cellphone features and look for:

Battery Life
How many hours between recharging and how long will the battery last before it needs to be replaced?
Will the phone handle daily wear and tear?
Is it easy to see and use?
Hands Free Capability
Many provinces have banned the use of hand-held cellphones while driving.
Is the display easy to read indoors and outside?

Step 5: Service Contract or No Service Contract?

No Service Contract — Advantages

  • You can switch providers or stop using the phone at any time without penalty.
  • You can buy an inexpensive basic phone outright with no further obligations or costs.
  • You can either buy prepaid cards or choose to receive a bill for a monthly rate.
  • With prepaid cards, you don’t need a credit check or credit card and you can control how much you want to spend — no surprises.

No Service Contract — Disadvantages

  • You may find the cost per minute will be higher than committing to a contract.
  • You will need to pay upfront for your cellphone.
  • You may have fewer providers to choose from.
  • If you choose prepaid cards you will need to check for an expiry date and add more money to your account on or before that date — or your unused credits may be forfeited.
  • If you choose to receive a monthly bill, it may be larger than you expected if you go over your allotted amounts for voice, texting or data.

Service Contract — Advantages

  • You can usually get a reduced price on the handset, the longer the contract the cheaper the phone.
  • You can choose a plan that suits your needs for the kind of calling you do.
  • You can check the bill, see where the costs are too high and take action.
  • You may be able to switch plans within the contract if the plan is not suitable.
  • You may be able to bundle other provider services to get discounts.
  • You may be able to have a package at a reduced cost that includes other cellphone users in your family or home.

Service Contract — Disadvantages

  • You will have a contract with one provider from one to three years which is usually only breakable by paying a penalty — this is very expensive, especially during the initial stages.
  • You must realize long term contracts mean a significant financial commitment.
  • You may want to change your handset more frequently which may not be possible without an additional charge.
  • When you use more minutes, or send more text messages than is allowed in your plan, your monthly bill can be much larger than you expect.

Step 6: What to do when your cellphone bill arrives

After receiving a few phone bills, carefully go over each line.

Consider talking to your provider for help in choosing a cheaper, more suitable plan.

You can get a grip on your cellphone costs, it takes a bit of time but it's worth it.