Phone: 888-253-1315

Web: www.sprintpcs.com

Type: Digital (CDMA) with analog backup

SERVICE PLANS:

"PCS Free & Clear Area-Wide"

$45: 1,000 anytime minutes, unlimited night/weekend minutes, then 50 cents/minute.

No long-distance charges; roaming adds 50 cents/minute outside of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and Washington and on non-Sprint signals. $5 to move start of night/weekend hours to 7 p.m. from 9 p.m. or add unlimited calling to other Sprint PCS phones.

"PCS Free & Clear Nationwide"

$35: 300 anytime minutes, unlimited night/weekend minutes, then 40 cents/minute.

$40: 500 anytime minutes, unlimited night/weekend minutes, then 40 cents/minute.

$50: 700 anytime minutes, unlimited night/weekend minutes, then 40 cents/minute.

$65: 1,100 anytime minutes, unlimited night/weekend minutes, then 40 cents/minute.

No long-distance or roaming charges on Sprint PCS network; elsewhere, roaming adds 50 cents/minute and long-distance adds 25 cents/minute. $5 each to add unlimited roaming, move start of night/weekend hours to 7 p.m. from 9 p.m. or add unlimited calling to other Sprint PCS phones.

"PCS Fair & Flexible Nationwide"

$35: 0-300 minutes

$40: 301-400 minutes

$45: 401-500 minutes

$50: 0-700 minutes

$55: 701-800 minutes

$60: 801-900 minutes

$65: 901-1,000 minutes

No long-distance or roaming charges on Sprint PCS network; elsewhere, roaming adds 50 cents/minute and long distance adds 25 cents/minute. Exceeding allotted minutes bumps you to next higher plan (on $45 and under plans, airtime past 500 minutes adds 10 cents/min.; on $50 and over plans, airtime past 2,000 minutes adds 5 cents/minute). $5 each to add unlimited roaming, move start of night/weekend hours to 7 p.m. from 9 p.m. or add unlimited calling to other Sprint PCS phones.

"Add-a-Phone"

$20 adds one phone to any plan with 500 or more anytime minutes (excluding $45 "Fair & Flexible" plan). "Fair & Flexible for Families" plans, not offered online, start at $70 for 0-800 minutes.

Messaging/Web/etc.

Text messages cost 1 cent/kilobyte, or $5/unlimited. $15 "Vision" plan adds unlimited text messages, wireless Web access and picture sharing; download speeds up to 144 kbps. "ReadyLink" walkie-talkie service between compatible Sprint phones adds $10.

Fine print

One-year contract required ($10 fee otherwise), but can change plans without penalty. 14-day trial. "Night/weekend" means 9 p.m.-7 a.m. Mon.-Fri. and 9 p.m. Fri.-7 a.m. Mon.

Smartphones offered:

PalmOne Treo 600, Samsung i500 and i600, Toshiba 2032

Real-world cost estimates

(See below for explanation)

1: Light use (30 minutes): $35

2: Moderate use (three hours): $35

3: Heavy use (eight hours): $40

4: Land-line replacement (20 hours): $55

5: Chatty couple (six hours, two phones): $60

REVIEWER'S NOTES:

Sprint performed well in this year's roundup, thanks to improved performance in the Maryland suburbs (in Gaithersburg alone, the company says it has added four transmission towers this year). This is a solid choice throughout the metropolitan area.

-- J.B. II