Judging from various cellphone forums, there’s a lot of interest in having a smartphone — but without the high monthly charges that would ordinarily be required. Here’s an approach that works for me.

I got a T-mobile Pay as You Go account with its associated SIM card and put enough minutes on it to qualify for Gold status. Now my minutes don’t expire if I keep renewing the card. I then bought a Nokia 5800 unlocked smartphone from Dell for $228 (after rebate and coupon) and put the SIM card in. The phone works great with T-mobile. All calling features, plus my contacts’ phone numbers from the SIM, came over just fine. Text messaging is a breeze too.

The Nokia’s standalone music player, camera, and other bells and whistles work just fine.

When I want to surf the web or check email, I’m usually within range of a Wi-Fi network, which the Nokia handles very easily. No charges there.

But what about those times when I want to use the Nokia smartphone and I’m not in range of a Wi-Fi network? Well, that’s when it would be nice but expensive to have a data plan. Even then, I can get the information I want by using Google SMS. Example: I was headed toward Roanoke, Va., on the Interstate but concerned about the weather, so I texted weather roanoke to 466453 (“GOOGLE”) and got back the weather summary via return text message. You’d be surprised how much information you can get that way (restaurant search, movies, air travel updates and more) — see http://www.google.com/mobile/default/sms.html for details.

There you have it: Smartphone music and camera features when you want them, web browing and email free whenever you’re in range of Wi-Fi, cellphone calling and easy texting from anywhere — and Google SMS for travel data from the web. And all this for far less money than, say, an iPhone with a data plan.

Can you have an inexpensive prepaid smartphone?
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