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List of Best Online Stores to Buy Cell Phones

Stores making this list excel at price, selection, quality, customer service

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With a sea of Internet stores clouding your ability to clearly make an online cell phone purchase, this list weeds through the crowd and recommends some of the best bets to buy cell phones.

The major perks of ordering a handset online include a steep discount that can come with a Web purchase along with convenience.

To make this About.com list of top Internet cell phone merchants, we looked for vendors that excel in affordability, selection, quality brands, trust and customer service.

While this list is in no particular order, some vendors you’ll recognize immediately while others may be unfamiliar to you.

1. AT&T

AT&T packs much more than just the game-changing iPhone.

While exclusively signing that killer phone has convinced many people to come over to its service, AT&T is one of the best around for a wide selection of cell phones suited for any kind of consumer.

AT&T typically sells handsets from Sony Ericsson, Nokia, LG, Samsung, Motorola, Palm, Research in Motion’s BlackBerry and the lesser-known company Pantech. View all the AT&T handsets here.

Because AT&T uses GSM for its underlying cell phone technology, the carrier can be useful for European cell phones in addition to U.S. cell phones, too. GSM provides better international roaming.

2. Sprint

As one of the big cell phone boys, Sprint is a cutthroat rival with AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile. They all fight tooth and nail for various handset exclusives. While you can only get the iPhone from AT&T, for example, the competitive and all-in-one Instinct went to Sprint.

Sprint, which is together with Nextel, typically sells handsets from Sanyo, Samsung, Motorola, LG, Research in Motion’s BlackBerry, Palm and lesser-known vendors including HTC, Novatel Wireless and Sierra Wireless. View all the Sprint handsets here.

3. Verizon Wireless

Like the other major cell phone carriers, Verizon Wireless often rewards its customers (or minimizes the start-up cost in favor of a long-term investment) by offering heavy discounts on handsets when you agree to a long-term service contract.

Verizon Wireless then offers even further discounts when you purchase online. Verizon Wireless typically sells handsets from Samsung, LG, Motorola, Nokia, Palm and Research in Motion’s BlackBerry. View all the Verizon Wireless handsets here.

4. T-Mobile

T-Mobile offers steep discounts when purchasing handsets online. A cell phone that prices out at $189.99 in the store, for example, could go for free when you order it from the convenience of your home computer. T-Mobile calls these “Web-only discounts”.

T-Mobile typically sells handsets from Samsung, Motorola, Nokia, Sony Ericsson and Research in Motion’s BlackBerry. View all the T-Mobile handsets here.

Because T-Mobile uses GSM for its underlying cell phone technology, the carrier can be useful for European cell phones in addition to U.S. cell phones, too. GSM provides better international roaming.

5. Virgin Mobile

Virgin Mobile has a very different mantra than its Sprint reseller. Virgin Mobile lives and breathes low-priced phones and no-contract service plans. They especially target a young and hip crowd on seriously low budgets.

Most are priced from $10 to $100 with an average around $50. The phones are typically sold from Samsung, UTStarcom, Kyocera and LG.

They do, though, typically only come with today’s basic features. Don’t look to Virgin Mobile for advanced handsets that can compete with the likes of the iPhone or Instinct.

While Virgin Mobile’s selection isn’t nearly as large as the big cell phone boys, they’re focusing squarely on one particular demographic with phones along the economical line. View all the Virgin Mobile handsets here.

6. CREDO Mobile

Like Virgin Mobile, CREDO Mobile is another Sprint reseller. Unlike Virgin Mobile, CREDO Mobile’s creed is specifically focused on the environment and all things green.

CREDO Mobile donates 1 percent of your cell phone charges (at no extra cost or trouble to you) to “progressive non-profits working for peace, civil rights, the environment, economic equality and fair voting”.

Like Virgin Mobile, the company doesn’t offer a very large selection of handsets. CREDO Mobile typically sells Sanyo, LG, Samsung and Motorola handsets. Most are priced in the $20 to $60 mark. View all the CREDO Mobile handsets here.

7. Earth Tones

Similar to CREDO Mobile, which resells Sprint cell phone service, Earth Tones resells AT&T service. While CREDO Mobile donates 1 percent of your charges to green groups, Earth Tones actually donates 100 percent of its profits to environmental organizations.

Unfortunately, though, Earth Tones has a very small cell phone collection typically from handset manufacturers including Motorola and Nokia. View all the Earth Tones handsets here.

8. LetsTalk.com

LetsTalk.com’s allure is its ability to offer cell phones at heavily discounted prices. In this industry, though, money has to be made somewhere. When vendors take a hit on the sale of an actual handset, they typically make up for it in long-term service fees.

While LetsTalk.com will sell you the latest cell phones for cheap, free or even cash back, you’ll almost always have to tie yourself to a service contract with a cell phone carrier.

Like Amazon.com, LetsTalk.com has a huge selection of handsets from many different manufacturers. LetsTalk.com typically sells handsets from LG, Motorola, Research in Motion’s BlackBerry, Palm, Casio, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Sanyo, Nokia, HTC and Pantech. View all the LetsTalk.com handsets here.

9. Amazon.com

While Amazon.com is a huge online marketplace that sells nearly everything you could ask for, Amazon.com’s cell phone offering can be particularly compelling.

Similar to LetsTalk.com, Amazon.com regularly offers the latest cell phones with hefty discounts. The handsets are sometimes free and can even pay you to buy them (i.e. you buy it for free and even get $20 back).

Amazon.com typically sells handsets from a large variety of cell phone makers including Motorola, Research in Motion’s BlackBerry, Palm, LG, Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Sanyo, Samsung, Pantech, Kyocera, UTStarcom, Casio, HTC and Audiovox. View all the Amazon.com handsets here.
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