Teens and smartphones: Coolness is key

Texting matters a lot; voice and Web not so much

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Phone choice is personal decision

The fact that four of the five teens picked a different phone as their favorite bolstered Verizon's view that cell phones are extremely personal devices. That means it's a good idea for the carrier to offer dozens of models and a choice of operating systems in an attempt to reach the widest possible audience, Verizon officials said. That marketing approach could be making a difference: Verizon is the largest wireless carrier in the U.S., with 90 million customers.

Besides assessing the look and feel of the devices, the teens shared some other impressions: Without a doubt, they all care most about texting, followed by voice calling, with Web browsing at the bottom of the list. Gaming via a phone app didn't even register with this group.

Using a phone to store songs (which are purchased separately) was a low priority; playing a music stream with an application such as Pandora was more important. Two students said keeping songs on a phone made little sense. Emily explained that when she tried to port ring tones from an older phone to a newer one, her carrier at the time wouldn't allow it. Verizon said it was aware of that problem and now sponsors a service to make it easy to retrieve songs and other media stored in the cloud for easy installation on a new phone.

Taking good photos was a high priority. But the group was divided on the value of video chat, which may be available on upcoming phones -- the next-generation iPhone, which will arrive this summer, is rumored to support video chat.

"Video chat would kill your battery," Emily declared. But Julie said she would welcome having video chat on a personal mobile device, especially after having experienced problems moving from videoconferencing on a Mac at home to a PC with a different video format.

(Several of the teens asked when Verizon would be getting the iPhone, now sold exclusively by AT&T, and one of the Verizon reps smiled coyly and urged them to "read what you find on a Google search about that." Hearing that, two in the group piped up. One said, "That means you are getting it." The other said, "It means you aren't getting it." Go figure.)

For teenagers, cost plays a major role in the choice of a phone and a service plan, and all five said they were dependent on their parents to help make such decisions. Verizon officials said they don't usually see young people coming to buy phones on their own until they are about 20 or older.

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