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You have to spend some time asking questions about these different phones and
services. I did, a couple of months ago and I'm also in the LA/Orange Area. I
checked with stores selling  different cellular phones and companies providing
the service under one roof such as office supply stores, electronic stores,
computer stores, etc. They have a sales clerk that can answer your questions
regarding the different brand of phones and companies that provide the
services. You can also drive around and find an exclusive store that sells
only phones and services for their company, like PacBell and Airtouch. I find
these exclusive stores better because their sales clerk knows more about their
product compared to a big store sales clerk that tries to tell you everything
they know about 4 or 5 different phone companies and 10 or more diffferent
types of phones. In the end, you should digest all these information and
decide what's good for you. It usually depends on the service area you want
access to, size of phone you like, battery life you need, phone features,etc.

You need to read first on cellular phone terminologies so you know what
questions to ask and how to decide which one is for you. Consumer Reports
Magazine dated September 1998 is a good start. It tells you about the
different kind of services available(analog and digital, PCS being a variant
of digital), the different phones available and the prices for most phones and
services depending on the package you choose(fixed fee for the first xxxx
mins.and a per minute rate after). 

After you read this magazine, or any other reference you can find, it's time
to go window shopping and asking questions. Cellular phone stores are
everywhere( malls, electronic-office-music-etc. stores, corners of sidewalks ,
etc...........Then you decide what's best for your particular needs. 

If you have an existing celllular phone and you just want to upgrade it,  talk
to your sales rep. If you have Airtouch and you want upgrade to digital, you
might have to switch company since they  do not yet provide digital service(
as far as I know, in my area). 

If this is your first time to get a cellular phone, Ask the following
questions, read the contract very well, and don't. make the same stupid
mistake I did:

1. How long is my contract?(you pay a hefty penalty if you cancel the service
before the contract expires)

2. If I upgrade or downgrade my service(add another phone, revise no. of mins
for fixed fee, change features, etc), will my contract start all over again?

I added a new phone line for my wife six months after I got mine, they
combined the two phones under one contract so we can qualify for discounts and
I just found out that my phone's contract does not expire counting from the
date I got it but from when it was included in the last contract I signed with
my wife's phone. I already ordered a new phone and service when I found out
that my contract is not expired yet due to this technicality(or my ignorance)
and I was glad that there was a provision for returning the new phone I got
within a week(I think) and my reason is acceptable to their manager. Ask your
salesman for their return/refund rule when you buy a new one.

3. After my contract is expired, can I cancel anytime?

I also found out that after your contract has expired, you should notify them
that you are not renewing it, otherwise they will renew it automatically(for
another year or so) and you're stuck with a new contract you did not renew

Just my thoughts and my experience. 

I'm still waiting for my phone's contract to expire before I get a new one and
I want to hear also from others about their phone/phone service experiences.

Ernie Natividad