Latest models dial up picture quality.
There's a reason Nokia, the world's largest cell phone maker, calls its 2- and 3.2MP N-series models "multimedia computers" instead of camera phones. Like top models from other manufacturers, the N-series units do more than just take pictures and make phone calls.
They also boast powerful CPUs that can run software on the Symbian Operating System (including image-editing programs), let you surf the web via high-speed EDGE networks (in the U.S.), and even conduct phone-to-phone video conferencing (in Europe).
Some N-series units-as well as models from Samsung and Sony Ericsson-have built-in GPS technology, decent MP3 players, and audio and video recording. They may even let you connect to your office or home computer networks through WiFi, and play captured or downloaded videos on your TV.
On the picture-taking side, most feature minimal exposure, white balance, and other image-quality controls-plus PictBridge support for desktop printing. And all of the camera phones we've listed come with rechargeable batteries, software bundles, connection cables, and earbuds.
Expect to pay a bit more for the phone and for a monthly data plan that lets you tap into the high-speed networks offered by most carriers. With a data plan, you can upload and download images to web sites without risking having your photos highly compressed or resized by your camera phone.
Some phones can even connect via USB to a laptop and act as a high-speed wireless modem.
In the U.S., most camera phones are configured at the factory for their individual networks, and it's typically difficult and expensive to reconfigure them.
However, Cingular and T-Mobile (and other carriers using GSM technology) will accept phones purchased elsewhere-even overseas-as long as they have a removable SIM card that stores your account information, contact lists, and even calendars.
Currently, the EV-DO networks developed by Sprint/Nextel and Verizon Wireless, and HSDPA networks developed by Cingular/AT&T, offer the fastest data connection speeds (often exceeding 500 Kbps in covered areas and meeting true 3G requirements).
The EDGE networks currently offered by Cingular and T-Mobile move data at about half that rate (also known as 2.75G), but may serve wider areas.
Better models ship with removable memory cards that make it easy and fast to transfer images to computers-in most cases, either MiniSD or TransFlash cards.
Both are interchangeable and can be read by a card reader using an inexpensive (or free) adapter. Sony Ericsson camera phones support Memory Stick Duo (MSDuo) cards.
With capacities up to 2-gigabytes, MiniSD and MSDuo cards give you lots of room for photos, videos, contact lists, and MP3s.