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Guide to Cell Phone Accessories

This Mobilook guide helps consumers choose cell phone accessories for their own use or as gifts for friends. It describes the types, features and performance of cell phone accessories.

  1. Overview
  2. Batteries
  3. Battery Chargers
  4. Headsets
  5. Cases and Holders
  6. Belt Clips & Holsters
  7. Face-plates and Covers
  8. Auto Accessories
  9. Ringtones
  10. Data Cables
  11. Antennas
  12. Keyboards
  13. Memory Cards
  14. GPS Modules

1. Overview

Accessories and add-ons for your mobile phone can make it do more things, work better or look different. They can add to the functionality or convenience of your phone. Accessories are sold under the manufacturer's label (original parts) or as after-market products.

Most cell phone accessories are designed to fit a specific make and model of handset. When shopping for accessories for your phone, first select the product or manufacturer, then select the model you use to see what accessories are available for your handset. Then look at the features and price.

Mobile phone accessories are sold at many retails outlets and websites, such as Best Buy, Circuit City and many independent retailers.

Some accessories have better design or quality than others. For important accessories, such as batteries and chargers, it is often worthwhile to spend a little more and get better quality from a brand-name supplier. It will last longer, give you fewer problems and make your phone work better -- in other words, cost less in the long term.

Using non-original or non-approved accessories, especially batteries or chargers, with your phone might invalidate the phone's warranty. Check with the manufacturer for approved accessories before you buy.

2. Batteries

Battery life determines how much time the phone handset will stay powered before needing a recharge. The length of time a charge will last depends on how much you use your phone, the features you use and the strength of the wireless signal.

The "talk time" is the time you spent talking on a call. It consumes the most power. Weak signal strength from the carrier during a call consumes more power.

The "standby time" is the time when the phone is turned on but not in use on a call. Most phones have between five and 15 days of standby time.

The capacity and power of your batteries determine how long your phone will keep working before needing a recharge.

Proper use and maintenance of your batteries will ensure that your phone performs as designed. Misuse of your batteries can give you unending trouble and grief.

There are four types of rechargeable batteries used in mobile phones:

  Nickel Cadmium (NiCad) Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) Lithium Ion Lithium Polymer
Technology Era Old Recent New Newest
Charge Capacity (run time) Low Medium High High
# of Charge-Discharge cycles 500-1000 300-1000 250-500 150-500
Memory Effect (loss of capacity with recharge) Yes Some None None
Shelf Life (self-discharge) Low (one month) Medium (one month) High (many months) High (many months)
Preferred Charge Rate Slow charge Fast charge Fast charge Fast charge
Cost per Charged-hour Low Medium High Highest
Advantage Lowest cost Higher capacity and less memory effect than NiCad High capacity per volume (makes small size) High capacity per volume Solid-state cell is very safe.
Disadvantage Lowest capacity.
Memory effect.
Contains toxic cadmium.
Lower capacity than Li or LP Low charge cycles.
Liquid cell can explode if misused
Lowest charge cycles.

You must use the proper voltage of battery in your handset as specified by the manufacturer. Using another voltage will seriously damage your phone.

Batteries power is rated by capacity, measured in mAh (milli-amper-hour). Higher capacity (mAh) means more battery life at a given rate of energy consumption..

Most handsets come equipped with standard capacity batteries that are rated for regular performance. High-capacity batteries are available for some models, as standard equipment or replacement, and give higher performance.

It is recommended to fully charge new batteries to capacity before their first use. Some batteries require three complete recharges before they reach true full capacity.

Most problems with rechargeable batteries are caused by misuse:

  • Frequent overcharging – Use a charging system that turns off when the battery is fully charged.
  • Cell polarity reversal – Damages Ni-Cd and Ni-MH batteries. Occurs when one battery of a series-connected set fully discharges. Charge and discharge all batteries in a set equally.
  • Dirty battery contacts – Impairs charging. Occasionally clean battery contacts with an eraser or cleaning alcohol.

The ideal operating temperature for rechargeable batteries is 68-77F (20-25C). At higher temperatures, capacity and charging of Ni-Cd and Ni-MH are reduced. At lower temperatures, capacity of all types is reduced and charging of Ni-Cd and Ni-MH is reduced.

Cellboost Instant Power Batteries – A small disposable battery that attaches to the phone and gives an extra 60 minutes of talk time. To use, simply open the pack, plug the battery into the phone and start dialing. For information, see Cellboost. Available at Radio Shack.

3. Battery Chargers

Battery chargers recharge your phone's batteries. Different types of batteries (see above) require different types of chargers. More powerful and rapid chargers take less time to bring a battery back up to full charge. Get the proper charger for your batteries and your phone usage.

Chargers can sit on a desktop or mount on a wall. For car chargers that run off 12-volt DC power, see Auto Accessories below.

If you travel to other countries, get a charger that works with the foreign electricity supply (voltage, frequency, and outlet/plug design). Multi-voltage chargers are more convenient than carrying a charger and power adapter.

Follow proper charging procedures for better charging and longer battery life. Most chargers have an "auto-off" feature that prevents overcharging after full charge.

You can damage rechargeable batteries if they are charged while cold (below operating temperature). If the batteries are cold, warm them up first.

4. Headsets

Headsets increase your comfort level when driving or talking for long periods.

Ear-only headsets let you listen to music while your handset is tucked neatly in a pocket or purse.

Headset styles can be: in-ear (ear-bud), over-the-ear, over-the-head or behind-the-neck. Use a style that is convenient and comfortable for your listening and activity (sitting, walking, driving, etc.), and looks good on you, too.

Microphones can be built into a boom or mounted on the lead wire.

Hands-free headsets (ear-speaker and microphone) let you answer, listen and speak on the phone without holding the handset to your ear and mouth. Some models take voice commends and let you receive and make calls without touching a control.

Some headsets have a noise-canceling feature that removes background noise and allows you to communicate more clearly.

Although phone calls are monaural, MP3 music is stereo. If the audio output is stereo, then get a stereo headset to hear stereo sound while playing music on your handset.

Most headsets connect to the mobile handset via a cable. The standard cable connector plug is 2.5 mm diameter.

To avoid messy wires, use a Bluetooth-enabled headset, which connects to the handset wirelessly via radio waves and operates up to 3 meters (10 feet).

If you are interested in the audio performance of your headset, compare the following technical specifications. If the salesperson does not know what they are, look at the specification sheet.

Ear-speaker specifications:

  • Frequency response (Hz) – Lower low and higher high are better
  • Impedance (Ohm) – Lower is better
  • Sensitivity (dB) – Higher is better
  • Signal-to-noise ratio – Higher is better
  • Volume control – In-cord is convenient
  • Power source – Battery capacity
  • Connectivity – Wired (2.5 mm jack) or wireless (Bluetooth)
  • Stereo or monaural
  • Sound technology – Dynamic or electrostatic

Microphone specifications:

  • Frequency response (Hz) – Lower low and higher high are batter
  • Impedance (Ohm) – Lower is better
  • Sensitivity (dB) – Higher is better
  • Noise cancellation – Circuit for gain-before-feedback and sound isolation
  • Sound technology – Dynamic or condenser (capacitor)

5. Cases & Holders

Handset cases come in a variety of types ranging from simple sleeves to padded or waterproof cases. Lightweight plastic covers provide simple protection from dirt and handling. Leather cases are more stylish and expensive. Cloth cases are also available.

Using a case is recommended in harsh environments, such as salt water (salt spray near oceans), wind, sand, dust, paint or chemicals. This helps prevent damage to the exterior of the handset and the internal components.

A simple trick for protecting the glass screen of a handset's LCD display is to place a piece of clear plastic adhesive tape over the screen. If the tape gets dirty or scratched, just put on a new piece. Better to scratch the tape than the screen. The tape works especially well for stylus-input screens, such as on PDA phones or smart phones.

6. Belt Clips and Holsters

Use a belt-clip or holster if you do not want to carry your phone around in your hand, pocket or purse. Convenient for frequent phone use or for specific clothing.

Some clips or holsters hold the handset more firmly, which is good if you are active, such as with children or moving a lot, and don't want to bump or drop your phone.

7. Face-plates and Covers

A face-plate, also called a cover or skin, is a plastic add-on cover that "dresses up" the outward appearance of your handset. It can be used as a fashion accessory or a unique identifier.

You can have different face-plates for different activities or events. For example, at work, at school, with friends or on a date. Match your face-plate to your wardrobe, jewelry, style or looks. If you need several face-plates, consider buying a variety pack of three or five.

A huge variety of face-plate designs, styles, images, patterns and colors are available from many suppliers and retail outlets.

8. Auto Accessories

Auto accessories help you mount, power and use your mobile phone while in a vehicle, such as car, truck, recreation vehicle, boat, or anything with a 12-volt DC power supply.

Hands-free auto accessories let you use the features of your phone without using your hands, allowing you to operate your vehicle safely. Check each state, province or city for laws restricting the use of mobile phones while driving a vehicle.

Car Power Adapters and Chargers

Cars and trucks have a 12-volt DC (direct current from a battery) electrical system. Power adapters, or inverters, convert the DC power to AC (alternating current) for use with electronic devices . The adapter connects into your car's lighter plug.

Inverters come in different power ratings. Get one that matches the combined power needs of your handset and devices.

You can damage rechargeable batteries if they are charged while cold (below operating temperature). Warm up the batteries first.

Mounts & Cradles

These devices glue or stick somewhere on your car's interior, such as the dashboard, console or glass.

They are designed to be used conveniently and to hold and route attached wires neatly.

Car Antennas

A car-mounted antenna can provide better reception than the handset antenna. The handset needs to have an antenna jack.

Car antennas can be mounted on interior/exterior glass, roof or panel. For more details, see our Antennas section below.

Signal Amplifiers (Booster)

Signal amplifiers (or power amplifiers) can increase the range of your calling, improve the signal quality, and decrease the number of dropped calls in areas where the carrier's signal is weak.

Signal amplifiers increase the strength of the handset's transmit and receive signals (bi-directional) by up to 20 dB depending on the strength of the original signal.

A signal amplifier is connected between your phone and car mobile antenna. Its power supply connects to your lighter plug.

Hands-free Car Kits

A state-of-the art hands-free car kit allows you to use your mobile phone while driving -- safely and hands-free.

Remember that hands-free -- according to most driving laws that prohibit driving while using a cell phone -- means keeping both hands on the wheel at all times.

Most hands-free car kits include a cradle/mount (usually handset-specific), car power charger and inverter, and a hands-free headset.

Other features and functions that some models come with include:

  • Voice-activated control unit and docking station.
  • Universal wiring harness.
  • External speaker.
  • Send their audio output through your car's speaker system and eliminates the need for a separate speaker. They can automatically mute your vehicle's music when you dial out or receive a call. Depends on vehicle specifications and wiring.
  • Noise-canceling digital signal processing suppresses echoes and disturbing background noise.
  • Work with Bluetooth (wireless) phones. Bluetooth adapter needed.
  • Built-in data ports for connecting to your laptop or PDA.

9. Ringtones

Ringtones are sounds or melodies you program to hear on your phone when someone dials your mobile number. You can hear different ringtones for different callers.

Ringback tones are sounds the caller hears on their phone when they dial your number.

For more details, see our How to Personalize Your Mobile Phone: Ringtones section.

10. Data Cables

Data cables make a hardwire connection between your phone and a computer. They are used for transferring data between devices, such as loading software onto your handset or backing up your address book onto your computer.

FBus (Frontend Bus) is a Nokia protocol for communication between some handsets and a computer over a serial connection. An FBUS cable is used for uploading tones and logos, connecting to the Internet with Nokia Data Suite, getting faxes and managing the address book. FBus is a high-speed (115.2 Kbps) full-duplex bus.

The MBus (Master Bus) cable is a Nokia protocol used to program the flash memory in a Nokia mobile phone. For example, to change logos, adjust the LCD brightness, unlock it, or change other internal mobile phone information. MBus is slow (9.6 Kbps) and only half-duplex (bi-directional).

11. Antennas

A better antenna (also known as aerial) increases the strength of the radio signal received from and transmitted to the carrier's radio antenna. This can improve reception, reduce dropped calls and increase cell phone range depending on the phone's location and wireless carrier's signal. A better signal reduces handset power consumption and can increase battery life.

Antennas are available for use with mobile devices in indoor areas (home, office, factory, shopping centers) and outdoor areas (car, truck, boat) and any other location that receives weak signals.

Antennas are available in single-, dual-, tri-, and quad-band capabilities. Match the antenna to the capability of your mobile device and service.

Consider buying a new or replacement antenna if:

  • You damaged your existing handset antenna and need to replace it.
  • You want to replace your existing antenna with a better performing antenna to increase reception.
  • You want to add an antenna to your vehicle for better reception.

Note: Higher dBi gain is better.

External-Stubby Antennas

Stubby antennas are mounted externally on the handset or mobile device. They offer high-performance, low-cost and durability.

Provide up to 2 dBi of gain.

External-Retractable Antennas

Retractable antennas provide maximum performance when extended and convenient size and styling when retracted. Retractable antennas have the highest signal integrity of any mobile phone-mounted antenna type and have a reduced specific absorption rate (SAR).

Provide up to 2 dBi of gain.

Internal-Embedded Antennas

Internal antennas are encased within the housing of the mobile device and offer several advantages including increased durability and reduced size while being aesthetically pleasing.

Provide up to 4 dBi of gain.

Yagi and Panel Antennas

These low-cost antennas can improve your signal strength drastically. Installed on poles, the antenna points in the direction of the cellular tower. The antenna can be rotated on the pole until the connected cell phone obtains the maximum signal. These antennas can be combined with a signal-boosting amplifier to increase maximum range.

Yagi antenna have up to 7 dB gain. Some models can withstand 125 mph (200 kph) winds

Panel antennas provide up to 11 dBi gain.

Glass-mount and Patch-mount Antennas

Glass-mount and patch-mount antennas can be placed anywhere: on car windshield, on glass window of home or office. Compact models can be carried for use on a trip to improve your reception and transmission of your cell phone.

These antennas can mount internally on windshield or rear window. Or externally on rear window. They route electromagnetic radiation to the outside.

Provide 3 dBi of gain.

Car Roof-mount Antennas

Slightly better reception than glass-mount antennas. More complicated mounting.

Up to 5 dBi gain.

Magnetic Portable (Whip) Antennas

These antennas route electromagnetic radiation to the outside and increase the mobile phone range. They can be used in any location.

Available in various mast lengths. With interchangeable mast models, you can use the shorter mast in the city and the larger one when longer distances are required.

Provide up to 9 dBi gain

Signal Amplifiers (Booster)

Signal amplifiers (or power amplifier) work with the antenna to increase the range of your calling, improve the signal quality, and decrease the number of dropped calls in areas where the carrier's signals are weak.

Signal amplifiers increase the strength of the handset's transmit and receive signals (bi-directional) by up to 20 dBi depending on the strength of the original signal.

A signal amplifier is connected to the cable between your phone and the external antenna. Amplifiers can be used at home, in office, or with any vehicle (car, boat, RV,) that has a power supply.

Antenna Terms

dBi – A ratio of decibels to an isotropic antenna that is commonly used to measure antenna gain. The greater the dBi value, the higher the gain and the more acute the angle of coverage.

Gain – In a given direction, the ratio of the signal power intensity in that direction to the net signal power received by the antenna from the transmitter. Higher gain means higher signal strength.

SAR – Specific Absorption Rate; the amount of radio wave radiation absorbed by the human body (SAR for the entire body) or by the head (local SAR) from a handset.

12. Keyboards

Phone handsets come with a range of built-in keyboards ranging from a few additional keys to a full Qwerty keyboard.

Maybe your phone does not have a keyboard or has an awkward one. Maybe you don't want to use a button or stylus for data entry. An after-market keyboard can make data input easier.

Features to look for in add-on keyboards are adequate key spacing for your hands, intuitive layout, and solid tactile feel.

13. Memory Cards

Mobile phones use internal memory to store programs and data, including addressees, messages, ringtones and graphics. The more memory in your handset, the more data it can store. Some phones can expand their memory by inserting a removable memory card into a slot.

A memory card is a small electronic flash-memory storage device used to supplement the storage capacity of a device such as a mobile phone. They can hold data such as games, video, pictures, audio, and text files.

Popular memory card formats are SanDisk CompactFlash, Sony Memory Stick and SanDisk-Siemens MultiMediaCard.

Capacities range from 16 MB to 16 GB.

14. GPs Modules

GPs modules use the Global Positioning System of earth-orbiting satellites to determine the location (and elevation) of the handset receiver anywhere in the world.

GPs can be used to locate or track the position of someone with GPs-equipped handset.

GPs modules require GPs-compatible hardware, software and services. Extra service charges may apply.

For more – To find accessories for your mobile phone, see our Accessories for Mobile Phones: Accessory Vendors page.

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