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The Gift of Gab

November 30, 2000|ELIZABETH DOUGLASS |

Sorting through today's phone gadgets and services can be intimidating, but the upside is that it's fertile ground for gift-giving.

A wide range of stores sell phones and equipment, from relatively inexpensive wireless accessories to more involved purchases such as home phone upgrades, mobile phones or pagers.

With mobile phone accessories, the key thing is compatibility. Most cell phone extras, such as spare batteries, hands-free headsets, desktop chargers and car cigarette lighter adapter/chargers, work only with certain types of phones, so it's essential that you shop armed with the make and model number of the relevant phone.

Buying a mobile phone for someone on your gift list is a bit tougher. If the recipient already has cell phone service, you'll need to know that person's carrier (in California, that's often AT&T Wireless, Nextel Communications, Pacific Bell Wireless, Sprint PCS or Verizon Wireless), and you'll need to make sure the phone you're buying works with the recipient's network. You'll also need to make sure the recipient will be able to transfer existing service to the new phone without problems or extra charges.

If you're buying a mobile phone and service for someone, it's best to start by comparing the service plans and coverage of the competing carriers. Keep in mind that you are obligating the recipient to monthly payments unless you plan to foot the subsequent bills.

Once you've sorted that out, review the phones themselves. Whenever possible, opt for a handset that works with both analog and digital signals to increase your coverage options.

Think about how the recipient will use the phone, how it will be carried (in a pocket, on a belt holster or in a purse) and what features will be important, such as screen size, button size and complexity of the feature menus.

Phones for the home are easier to buy. A residential telephone can cost less than $20 at an electronics store. It's a snap to upgrade an aging and feature-starved model to today's more capable phones at a reasonable price.

A good choice is a cordless phone. Although models that use the older, analog technology work fine, switching to a digital model will provide greater privacy, less interference and generally clearer sound.

Phones that use digital spread spectrum technology offer greater security, but be aware that some phones include an analog version of spread spectrum that is better than plain old analog but does not match the protection of digital signals.

You'll also need to choose between the three frequencies used by cordless phones. The cheapest models generally use 49 megahertz, which has the shortest range (100 to 200 feet).

Next comes 900 MHz, with coverage extending 500 to 1,300 feet. The top-of-the-line cordless phones use the 2.4 gigahertz frequency, with a range of as much as 2,200 feet.

If you're still stumped for ideas, consider this short list of phone gift favorites:

(a) Cell phone faceplates

Price: $5 to $10

Mobile phone maker Nokia is the leader in this craze, offering faceplates in a wide range of colors and prints (even holograms and college football themes) that fit on many of the company's most popular phone models. The cost is less than $10 from Nokia ( or $5 or more from a specialty accessories Internet site that has hundreds of Nokia-compatible designs to choose from (

(b) Hands-free headsets for mobile phones

Price: $20 to $130

There are many, many varieties, with prices ranging from less than $20 to more than $100, depending on the style, wiring and other details. Electronics stores sell many types by Plantronics and others, but one stands out for the car-bound user who wants tangle-free talking: the Air Magic Wireless Headset by Advanced Mobile Solutions Inc. It's a tad expensive, costing $100 to $130, but the sound is great, and it works with a range of mobile phone models and is comfortable and wireless between your earpiece and the phone.

(c) Panasonic 2.4 GHz digital cordless phone, Model KX-TG2550B

Price: $160

If you want to walk down the block to your neighbor's house and still answer your home phone when it rings, this is your unit. The phone operates on the 2.4 GHz frequency and uses digital spread spectrum technology to give it superior clarity and a coverage range of up to 1 mile, or as much as eight times the distance of the typical 900 MHz cordless phone. It includes dual antennas for extended range, lighted caller ID display, call waiting, two-way intercom with paging (for when you lose the handset in the couch cushions), and a good selection of automatic redial functions. The phone comes with a long-lasting battery (8 hours of talk time, 14 days on standby), power adapter and handset belt clip.

(d) Motorola Talkabout T900 Personal Interactive Communicator

Price: $180 plus $20 to $30 a month for messaging service

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