For most people, it's hard to imagine how we managed before we had mobile (cell) phones. Most cellphones today are actually small computers with rich feature sets. Before you buy a phone for yourself or your grandchild, ask these questions:
- Does the phone or device have Internet access? If you want to check email or use the Web to look up restaurants or directions when you're on the road, you need Internet access.
- Does the phone with Internet access offer filters that block content that could be harmful to children or offensive to you? Is the filter turned on? If the filter isn't on by default, ask the sales person to turn it on for you in the store and help you set appropriate filter levels.
- Does the phone or device have location (GPS) capability? GPS allows you to let your phone's location be tracked. This is useful for emergencies, such as a car accident when you can dial 911. If the phone doesn't have GPS capability, 911 may not be able to identify your location. If you need to, you should be able to block this capability or limit it so that your grandchild can't grant access to predators who are trying to track your location.
- Is the phone or device Bluetooth enabled? Bluetooth is a technology that allows a mobile phone to seek, discover and talk to other Bluetooth-enabled devices in the area. This capability is available in some cars so that you can talk hands-free while driving, which is, in fact, required by law in many states. But with Bluetooth enabled, nearby devices can access information on your phone. When Bluetooth functionality is turned off, other devices can't detect the phone, pull information from it or send information to it.
Here are some additional safety tips:
- Know how to report theft of the device. You may need to provide hardware information found within the device, under the battery. If you don't have this information written down, you surely won't be able to find it once the phone is stolen.
- Know how to report harassment or bullying. The carrier should have a clear set of procedures you can use to report any malicious calls. It's best to know these in advance of harassment.
When buying a cellphone and/or signing up for cellphone service, consider whether you should get a prepaid account or an account that bills charges monthly. Depending on your phone usage, it may be more economical to get an account where you buy minutes, rather than paying a monthly fee and taxes whether you use the phone that month or not. If you use the phone only when you go on trips, for example, a prepaid plan such as one offered by Tracfone makes sense.