The phone you choose will in most cases determine which of these four networks you connect to. Charges (a one-off connection fee, monthly line rental and call bills) vary enormously, as does coverage. For complete details of network charges (and the various service providers which buy air-time from the networks and sell it to the public), What Mobile and What Cellphone magazines are invaluable.
Hand-set prices also vary according to network, (some are subsidised more than others) and there are lots of good incentive deals around. All prices quoted are therefore approximate. And be warned - once you are hooked up to a network you will be charged to be disconnected, so rash choices are best avoided. Another important consideration is how long the battery will last before recharging; this is measured in terms of stand-by time (how long you can keep the phone switched on, but without using it) and talk time (how long you can spend using the phone continuously). The figures below are for the batteries that come fitted as standard.
Three of our testers - Jill Robertson, film producer, Tim Pitman, architectural assistant, and Melanie Rickey, fashion journalist - work primarily from offices and view mobile phones as a route to an easier life, rather than an essential work tool. Saul Metzstein, television director and long-time devotee of this, the ultimate in personal communication gadgets, needs his mobile for work and for play.
Testers gave each model marks out of ten for ease of use, sound quality, clarity of on-screen instruction, special function and appearance. They also considered other features, such as battery life and design.
pounds 99.99; weight 236g; stand-by time 18 hrs, talk time 80 mins
This phone scored highly across the board and was voted best for both sound quality and features - accessed, as with most mobiles, via function keys which call up a series of computer-style menus. "This was the best all-round phone," declared Jill Robertson, "with a technophobe-proof display (ideal for me), which communicates the many functions in user-friendly prose and avoids the usual unintelligible abbreviations. Slim and sexy, value for money - my favourite." Saul Metzstein didn't find the Nokia Orange particularly attractive, but still marked it highly. "It has the best general features and the controls are the best on any of the phones tested. The large display makes functions easy to see and understand, but the big screen is too easy to scratch." Tim Pitman said: "Best of the simple slab phones, with a nice big display."
pounds 29.99; Cellnet/Vodafone/ Mercury One-2-One; weight 215g; stand-by time 8 hrs; talk time 60 mins
Available in yellow, blue, green or fuchsia on black, this phone is striking or luridly disgusting, depending on personal taste. Its name was also considered a disadvantage: "I half- expected to receive a hatchback rather than a phone," said Jill Robertson. This phone did poorly on all criteria and scored lowest on clarity of instructions, sound quality and, most decisively, looks. Melanie Rickey found it "dinky, quite sweet and nice to hold" but Jill Robertson, who tested the fuchsia on black model, commented: "To use it publicly in Soho would be nothing short of a fashion crime."
There were other drawbacks, too. Saul Metzstein criticised the sound quality, "like listening to a bad transistor radio", but conceded that the overall shape was comfortable, though he didn't find the controls or functions particularly clear.
"Disgusting," said Tim Pitman. "The shaped buttons and coloured panels are offputting. It's too light."
pounds 149.99; Mercury One-2-One; weight 192g; stand-by time 17 hrs, talk time 2 hrs
"Compact, rugged feeling," said Saul Metzstein of this, the smallest of our phones (just 49mm wide by 130mm long), "but wonderfully light. The only one you'd feel comfortable carrying about all the time." However, no tester found the tiny format ideal: "Its shortness means you can find yourself talking into mid-air, which can be disconcerting," said Saul.
Jill Robertson agreed: "This was my second favourite. Pretty straightforward to use, with a wide range of features lengthily but clearly explained in the handbook. An interesting selection of ringing noises kept me entertained - briefly - but not my friends." Even with such a range of gimmicks and features, though, she didn't think the price was justified. Tim Pitman was also concerned by the cost. "Looks cheap in spite of being the most expensive," he said.
pounds 179.99; weight 236g; stand-by time 50 hrs, talk time four hrs
This has all the trappings of a luxury car - excellent controls, well thought-out display and sleek appearance to match. For Saul Metzstein, though, it was "too much like talking into a flip-top Mars Bar. A slimmer design would be better for holding and putting in your pocket," he suggested. He found the screen display excellent: really clear, with some great functions to play about with - including a choice of five different languages. "Best of all," said Saul, "is the exceptional battery charge time."
Jill Robertson described this phone, which scored well across the categories, as "another of the tiny and cute variety. The sound quality was variable, though. One person I called asked whether I was speaking through a pair of tights."
Tim Pitman also thought the Sony cute ("like a remote control"), but found one of its features particularly irritating - the slide-up ear-piece, which locks the keys to prevent mis-dialling. He found this an inconvenience, but our other testers welcomed it.
**PEOPLES PHONE CTN 7000
99p; weight 340g; Cellnet, Vodafone; stand-by time 16 hrs; talk time 100 mins
This phone - which comes in a variety of acid shades and black - divided our panel over looks. Fashion writer Melanie Rickey loved her bright pink hand-set. "It got us noticed walking down New Bond Street - with everyone else's sleek black phones we felt different. I adore it."
"The colour and size made it feel like talking into a banana. Is it manufactured by Fisher-Price?" asked Saul Metzstein of the yellow model. "It didn't have enough useful or easy-to-use functions, and didn't feel suitably rugged and `serious'."
Jill Robertson feared being mistaken for a BT repairman when using the large canary yellow hand-set in the street. "It resembles a `My First Mobile Telephone' for the 3 to 5 age group," she said.
"Does it work underwater?" asked Tim Pitman who thought it was fun but wasn't sure you'd really want to use it, or be seen using it: "Looks fairly robust - one for the kids."
pounds 49; Vodafone/Cellnet; weight 240g; stand-by time 16 hrs; talk time 60 mins
This phone's fold-over design was unique among the models we tested and proved very popular with the panel. When the phone rings there is no messing around looking for buttons, just open it up to answer.
"A great phone to keep in your back pocket without having to worry about accidentally dialling Belgium every time you sit down," said Jill Robertson who found herself, "rather hoping I would be beamed up to the Enterprise when I opened it. I was further disappointed when I called my mother only to discover she had moved to an echo chamber." Melanie Rickey thought this "flash, nice to play with and clear to use, loved it". Tim Pitman was also very positive: "Neat size when folded and a good size when open - ideal for the poser. If you're going to have folding/push-up bits this is the one."
"It has the dubiously useful feature of being the correct shape to rest between your jaw and shoulder, look no hands!" said Saul Metzstein, who complained that the buttons make it seem more like a calculator. "The flimsy aerial lets the rest of the stylish appearance down," he commented.Reuse content