How to buy the right cell phone

Josh Long/CNET)

Buying a cell phone as a holiday gift is a bit more complicated than buying a television or a camera. It’s not that shopping for those products is easy–indeed, one TV can present you with a mind-boggling array of specs–but a cell phone also requires you to select a carrier and choose a service plan.

Those extra steps, combined with the staggering amount of choice in the mobile space, can confuse even cell phone fanatics. So if you’re wondering where to start, don’t feel bad.

Rest assured that CNET is here to help. With a little preparation, gift shopping for a cell phone can be a stress-free experience. If you keep in mind the following steps, the only pain may be to your pocketbook.

Step 1: Choose your carrier
If your recipient has asked for a specific, carrier-exclusive phone, then you’ll be able to skip this step. But if that’s not the case, remember that choosing a carrier is equally, if not more, important than selecting a phone. The carrier, after all, is what makes a phone “work,” so it’s absolutely critical that you find a provider that will deliver reliable service in your area. If not, even the fanciest handset is worthless.

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