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Mobile phones are becoming the Swiss Army knives of modern gadgetry. Merely making phone calls is so 2004. Surfing the Web at near-broadband speeds, storing crucial work files, editing memos � these are things that people can, or soon can, do right on a phone. The problem is that it’s more and more confusing to sort through the options. Phone store salespeople and Web sites spout indecipherable acronyms, different phone carriers sell wildly varying services and add-ons, and some new technologies bring security worries along with them. So here’s a quick primer on what the modern cellular user needs to know, right now. One word to get familiar with is Bluetooth, which is finally catching on. This is a short-range wireless technology, with a range of about 30 feet, that lets electronic devices communicate with each other. Bluetooth-equipped PCs, for example, work with a wireless keyboard and a mouse � no more wires. It’s the technology that explains why all of those people wearing headsets that are connected to nothing aren’t actually crazy. Bluetooth headsets, which cost between $35 and $70, work with Bluetooth-enabled phones. Many, though not all, new phone models come with Bluetooth, but even if you have one that doesn’t, all is not lost. With a special adapter, like the Jabra A210 (about $50), Bluetooth headsets can be used with non-Bluetooth phones. It’s not quite as slick as having it built-in � you have to plug a small piece of plastic into your headphone jack and then Velcro it to your phone � but that still beats a wired headset. Bluetooth isn’t limited to headsets, either. It can link phones to Bluetooth-equipped speakers (if you’re into letting everyone hear your conversations) and kits that allow you to use your cell phone in the car without holding it, a must in some states. Bluetooth phones can also zap files to any other Bluetooth phone, or a PC that features Bluetooth (and a growing number of them do) and transfer files, like MP3s, photos, and instant messages, back and forth. Or, at least, you should be able to do this. While manufacturers may build all of these capabilities into their phones, it is the service providers, like Cingular Wireless LLC and Verizon Wireless, that decide which features are ultimately turned on in the phones they sell. Here’s where the fine print really matters. In one notable case, Verizon was sued by phone owners who had purchased the Motorola v710 Bluetooth-enabled phone only to discover that Verizon had disabled the ability to zap photos or text to another phone. They contended that Verizon had not sufficiently disclosed this limitation. In September the Los Angeles superior court approved a settlement in the case; a $25 credit, or the ability to terminate their Verizon contracts early. (Verizon � which offers its own service to send photos, at anywhere from $5 to $15 per month, depending on usage � still disables these Bluetooth features; it just notes that more clearly.) There are some security issues to keep in mind about Bluetooth. A Bluetooth phone gets “found” by other Bluetooth devices only when it is in what’s known as “discoverable mode.” This enables it to send out a signal announcing its availability to connect, or “pair,” with another Bluetooth device � sort of like a singles bar for electronics. It’s at this moment, however, that an attacker, detecting the signal, could pair with the phone and, conceivably, hack it and obtain the phone’s PIN, the security code that enables two Bluetooth devices to interact. With the PIN, an attacker could use the phone to make calls, send messages (“bluejacking”), or install a virus. That’s why it is vital to keep your phone in “nondiscoverable” mode when you don’t need to use Bluetooth, and be sure that the PIN is at least five digits, which makes it harder to crack. Synchronizing is another bit of business that’s suddenly become easier. Now that a lot of people have discarded their PDAs and use their phones’ contact managers, it’s become essential, too. But anyone who has ever tried to input their Rolodex into a phone knows that tapping out the data on a numeric keypad can quickly eat up hours. It’s much easier entering this data on a PC and then syncing it to a phone, with a cable or Bluetooth. Having this data on a PC also provides a backup copy should you lose your phone. Most phone manufacturers have stepped up to the plate and offer synchronization software. Nokia, for example, offers a free software tool, called Nokia PC Suite, which syncs phones with Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express, or Lotus Notes. For some Nokia phones, it will even let users transfer cheap ring tones from PCs, rather than buying expensive ring tones via the phone. There are plenty of third-party solutions, too. DataPilot (datapilot.com) is a $35 program that not only syncs with Outlook and Outlook Express, but also with the Palm OS used by many PDAs. You can transfer ring tones and photos as well. Another product, FutureDial Suite (futuredial.com), works only with Outlook, but also transfers ring tones and photos, and lets users send text messages to multiple cell phones from PCs. For Macintosh users, there is iSync 2, included as part of Mac OS X. It works with about 30 cell phone models (primarily from Motorola, Nokia, and Sony Ericsson) and syncs phones with contacts in OS X’s Address Book and appointments in its iCal application (no ring tones or photos, though). Another increasingly popular technology that causes a lot of head scratching is VoIP, or Voice over IP, a technology that carries phone calls via broadband Internet connections. There are different flavors of VoIP � many companies use VoIP with normal-looking office phones. But it also permits services like Skype (skype.com), which is software that allows users to make free computer-to-computer phone calls, and even calls from a computer to a land-based or cellular phone, for less than the price of a normal call. To use it, you have to download the software, and it helps to use a headset (about $30) to make a call. Finally, a word about acronyms. Phone carriers and salespeople like to throw around terms like EV-DO and EDGE, UMTS and HSDPA. It’s confusing, to be sure, but here’s all anyone needs to know: It’s about speed. EV-DO networks (used by Verizon and Sprint) permit Web surfing and video clip downloading at near-broadband speeds. EDGE networks (used by Cingular and T-Mobile) are slower, but are gradually morphing into UMTS networks, and, perhaps within another year, HSDPA, which promises speeds that rival broadband, will allow simultaneous voice and data calls. So the next time a salesman starts touting an EDGE phone with Bluetooth, you can talk the talk. Alan Cohen is a New York � based freelance writer. E-mail: [email protected].

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