From the April 2006 issue of Wealth Manager Web • Subscribe!

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With so many cell phone options to choose from, how can financial planners sort out what's necessary from what's not? Since most advisors will tend to overlook the latest and greatest gadgets for practical features like text messaging and email capabilities, I spoke to several tech experts to get their opinions.

If you're looking to leave your computer at the office, then a smartphone is a wise investment. Many planners have heard of the Palm Treo 650 smartphone, which offers cell phone, PDA, email and Web functionality in one unit. The new Treo 700w is on the Verizon Wireless high-speed broadband network with Windows Mobile. Other popular products are Samsung's i730 and Blackberry.

Gary Boomer, CEO of Boomer Consulting in Manhattan, Kan., uses the Treo 650 to read email, review his calendar and retrieve contact phone numbers. The Blackberry works best for returning emails, while the Treo's higher speed Internet connection is useful if you're in an airport, he advises.

Mark Calhoun, managing principal with Etelligent Consulting in Overland Park, Kan., finds the keypad on the new Blackberry so small that it takes time to adjust to. He suggests the QWERTY keyboard (available with some phones) which slides out to allow for faster typing and greater comfort.

The communication features--email and text messaging--will be most important to advisors, Calhoun says, but advisors have unique needs, so one man's trash is another one's treasure. For instance, finance people won't be interested in the MP3 player, Boomer says.

A built-in camera is another option. "Unfortunately, the built-in cameras have proven to be great in capturing harrowing moments like the London bombings," says Richard Lee, president of Pillar Consulting Corp. in New York City. "Better resolutions coupled with faster bandwidth could mean streaming video or the beginning of the video cell phone. Since technology permits it, adding a camera, an MP3 player and FM radio is making the cell phone the ultimate practical portable tool for anyone."

But Kip Gregory, principal of The Gregory Group in Washington, D.C., thinks camera phones are mostly a waste unless you buy a high-resolution one--which would allow you to snap pictures for your Web site or pass along images to a client. If Gregory were buying today, he'd look for Bluetooth (for a wireless ear piece and microphone), speakerphone and conference calling, text messaging, mobile Web and maybe Push to Talk if he was constantly on the go with clients and wanted instant access to his assistant.

In terms of cell phone shape, "Cell phone makers are relying on trends and some risky ergonomics," says Lee. "Take the Nokia 7280. It looks more like a digital camera or MP3 player than a phone. The Nokia N90 resembles a digital video camera."

Phone size is something else to consider. Many women select the RAZR phones for their thin shape. But advanced features require a larger phone. The experts advise asking yourself these: Is the model too large for you to carry? Can you read the display in the sunlight? Is the font large enough to read?

There are also a variety of carrying cases to choose from, depending on your personal preference--many people like a holster for their PDA. Seidio's holster is a popular option for the Treo.

When deciding on a model and carrier, determine how tech-savvy you are and if you will have any use for the extra features. "Choosing the carrier is based on service plans, cell phone offerings and geographical coverage," Lee says, "The latest cell phone technology may not be available with your carrier. Some carriers are more innovative than others," It's a one year commitment or longer so changing your mind can be very expensive, he advises." Etelligent Consulting revisits their carrier selection once every two years--you might want to consider doing the same.

Before you buy a cell phone, smartphone or other communication device, decide what's driving your purchase. What would you like to do on your phone--get text messages from the office, retrieve addresses, set appointments, check email, surf the Web? Write down the features you plan to use before you make an impulse purchase. Ask a colleague or friend who has the device what features they use most and why they picked the model they did; test it out before you buy one yourself.

Following are some Websites--recommended by the experts--to assist you in selecting an appropriate cell phone:

CNET's Cell Phone Buying Guide, http://reviews.cnet.com/4520-7609_7-5537615-1.html, covers all the bases, including picking a provider, a calling plan, the phone itself and must-have features. On www.wirefly.com, you can search by zip code to compare plans offered in your area by the major carriers. Wirefly provides ratings from JD Power on market coverage, cost and service plan options and customer care. "Between the two--CNET and Wirefly--you can get a comprehensive overview of your options in a hurry," Gregory says. Boomer recommends www.phonescoop.com, which features reviews from users.

Erin Flynn is a freelance writer based in New York City.

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