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Smart ways to save on smart phones

Consumer Reports magazine: January 2013

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How important are our smart phones? Just consider how much we’re spending on them. The average American household shelled out more than $1,500 on phones and phone service in 2012, and the biggest spenders easily blew through twice that amount. Overall, spending on wireless services went up, even though many households cut just about every other expenditure they could.

Part of that spending spree came as owners of basic cell phones continued to trade up to their first smart phones, those Web-connected combinations of phone, mini-computer, and micro-compact camera. And upgrading from a plain cell phone at a major carrier isn’t cheap. You have to buy the smart phone itself (usually $100 to $400 when signing a two-year contract) and fork over $70 to $110 a month for a plan with data service. That’s a lot more than a basic phone plan, which generally costs $40 to $70 a month.

Even if you already own a smart phone, you might be tempted by the charms of a later model. The best of the new phones—including the Apple iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy S III, and Samsung Galaxy Note II—offer better cameras, bigger and more responsive screens, and faster processors for speedier Web access and app performance.

Cell-phone service remains among the lowest-rated of those evaluated by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. Yet the experiences of the 63,000 respondents to this year’s survey offer glimmers of improvement.

Our yearly cell-phone survey story tells you which carriers came out on top—and which didn't do so well. We asked ConsumerReports.org subscribers about voice, text, and 4G services as well as value for money, satisfaction with data service, ease and speed of reaching support staff through the phone system, and support staff knowledge.

You'll also get tips on how to save money on your phone and plan, advice on how data plans are changing, and trends in the smart-phone world.

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