Friday, March 25, 2005

Camera Phone, Money Back. Questions?

Cellular phone packages, especially the ones you find online, have just taken another leap forward in what you get for what you pay. First it was a free cell phone with your service, then came free cell phones with money back. Now you can get free camera phones and still get money back.

But just a second. Won't you have to pay more for your service contract in order to get the freebie camera phones and cash back? Not really. A little secret of the cellular phone business is that the service plans themselves are the same whether you buy from a branded cell phone store, an electronics superstore, a kiosk at the mall, or from an online dealer. In fact, before we go on, go grab the sale ads from your local electronics and cell phone stores. We'll compare the deals.

Online dealers don't have the overhead of physical store locations. They win customers by offering multiple service providers, lots of free phones, and big cash back rebates. This is one time when you might save a bundle by doing your shopping in a store so you can play with the various phones and then placing your order online to get the best deal. Let's see what's available.

A really popular camera phone is the Motorola V300. It's a flip phone with a VGA quality digital camera (640 x480 pixels) and a 65,535 pixel color display screen. There is another display on the outside of the phone that shows date, time, battery life and caller ID. This phone offers email, speakerphone, 2-way text messaging, MIDI and MP3 ringtones, games and even photo caller ID. That's where a picture of the calling party pops up in case the number doesn't ring a bell. You used to pay big bucks to have a camera phone the same size as a small cell phone. Now it comes with the T Mobile Get More 600 Minutes plan for $39.99 a month. You also get an in-car charger, belt clip, and hands free earbud (please, please use this if you need to talk while you drive). Shipping is free, and after the rebates you make $75.

Want an even better deal? Choose the FamilyTime shared plan with 500 minutes a month for $49.99 a month from T Mobile and you'll get TWO Motorola V300 camera phones plus... get ready for this ... $150 back.

Other camera phones are available, too. For instance, chose the Motorola V600 and you get Bluetooth capability added to your phone plus about the same money back. Or get the Sharp T150 Video Phone and you'll be in the movie making business. You can capture up to 15 seconds of video with the built-in megapixel camera. Free? Yes. Money back? Yes.

Other carriers offer free camera phones with their service plans. Sprint has models from Samsung and Audiovox that include built-in flash. Cingular gives you money back with the Sony Ericsson Z500a video phone that has a 4x digital zoom. After the rebates you'll make $80. Or pick a family plan and get that doubled to $160. Verizon features the LG VX3200, and also has Audiovox, Samsung and Motorola models available.

Still think you get the best deals from that guy at the kiosk, the big box electronics supermarkets or the brand-name cellular stores? How much money are you paying up front? After you've mailed in the rebates, are you ahead or behind? Don't sign any contracts until you've checked out the latest free camera phone offers and service plans using the Cell Phone Plans Finder.

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