by Marty Demarest

There are several ways to take and send pictures with your cell phone, but the most intuitive method is to use a phone with a built-in or attachable camera. There are several available, each with a specific service provider who you'll need to contact in order to activate your service. Fortunately, the service providers can also usually get you a deal on the phones themselves. But before you buy anything, find out how sending images will affect your bill. Some calling plans charge you for the time that you use e-mailing pictures to people, while other plans give you unlimited image-sending time. Since pictures can be relatively large digital files, you can use up quite a few minutes sending them.

Leading the short list of phones that currently have built-in cameras is Sanyo's 5300, which is serviced by Sprint. Not only does it have the usual display panel on the phone's inside, it also has a smaller one on the outside, letting you preview your pictures. It also has a built-in flash, and the camera zooms and auto-focuses. Separate, attachable cameras are available for the Motorola T720, serviced by T-Mobile, and the Samsung A500, also serviced by Sprint. While not as convenient as built-in cameras, these detachable devices usually mean the phones cost less, and you'll still see the resultant pictures on the phone's display panel. None of the cameras take particularly high-resolution photos, although they look fine if viewed on another cell phone.

All of these options leave only one question unanswered: Why do you need to have a telephone with a camera attached? Unless you're an insurance adjuster or one member of a disturbingly affectionate couple, it's hard to justify spending several hundred extra dollars for the special phones and calling plans. Perhaps shopping might be easier if you're the type of person who has to validate every purchase with a trusted friend's opinion. Just point, click, call, discuss and buy. Or maybe you want the babysitter to be able to send you pictures of what just happened with the kids in the case of an emergency. ("Tommy's sick. See.") Or perhaps you just want to placate those people who complain about drivers talking on their phones. With a camera attached, you can at least be fiddling with your phone and still see where you're going.

Publication date: 02/13/03

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