washingtonpost.com
Customized Bells and Whistles for Cellphones

By Michael Tedeschi
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, October 15, 2006

On the surface, the cellphone remains a utilitarian device for communications, whether it's a voice phone call or a text message.

But take a look at the selection of phones available today -- all of the shapes, sizes and colors -- and it's easy to see that the cellphone is more than a communications device; it's also a reflection of personality. Colorful cases, dangling charms and even the wallpaper picture of a pet, significant other or kid helps to give it a unique look.

But what really makes the cellphone unique is the music -- and not just what you hear coming out of the speaker when it starts ringing from inside a purse or belt-clip case. More often, the ringback tone -- the song that the caller hears instead of the "rrrinnnggg" sound -- says a little something about the individual.

The simplest way to get music or clips for a ringtone is to download them from your carrier. Verizon Wireless's "Get It Now" and Sprint's "Power Vision" make it easy to select everything from the latest from Shakira to "Sweet Home Alabama" on your phone or through their Web sites.

The downside is the cost of these extras. Ringtones range from $1.99 to $2.49 each. Ringback tones, on the other hand, cost about the same, require a monthly subscription and are only good for a year. After that, they disappear.

It's easy to balk at spending twice what iTunes charges for a full song for something that's merely a snippet of a song. But there are options.

Subscription services, such as DadaMobile ( http://www.dadamobile.com/ ), allow users to download a wide selection of ringtones, ringbacks, games and backgrounds. At about $10 per month these services can add a good chunk to your monthly phone charges and are best suited to voracious customizers.

One of the biggest issues for those who download ringtones and ringback tones from their carriers is the selection -- not all songs and artists are licensed for downloads and you don't get to pick which 30-second segment of the song is played.

Enter software such as Xingtone, which allows you to clip a piece of any audio file on your computer and transfer it to your phone or even upload your own music to the service for others to download. The $20 software is available as a download from http://www.xingtone.com/ .

Wireless carriers have limited the ability of some newer phones to save such sounds, but if your phone supports it, the Xingtone investment will give your phone a truly unique sound.

For those willing to invest less money but more time, computer generated MIDI versions of popular songs can be turned into tones.

With some mildly tedious tweaking (with shareware like Able MIDI Editor, http://www.widisoft.com/ ) you can send yourself part of Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" to replace the generic "wind chimes" ringtone that comes standard on some phones. For those looking to attract less attention with their ringtone choice (say in an office environment) these computer-based tones lack vocals and sound like they were created by a synthesizer -- similar to conventional ringtones.

And if that isn't enough, users can take these cool sounds and songs and do a bit more customization.

Your ringtones and ringback tones can be "assigned" to different callers -- maybe a Barry White tune plays when the spouse calls and Eminem when your teenager calls.

(After all, you want those teenagers to realize how truly hip you are, right?)

Personalizing a phone doesn't just involve downloaded music. Most newer phones also allow you to use images to pop up in place of the caller ID number.

Depending on your comfort level with technology and willingness to spend more on your monthly bill, there are several ways to turn your phone into a style statement, as well as a useful device.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company