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With the advent of spiffy phones with color screens and fast Internet connections, wireless gaming is coming into its own. Here's a guide to help you pick through an array of choices -- phones, carriers, games -- to have the ultimate on-the-go gaming experience that fits your budget.

Choosing a Phone: Playing the hottest new games requires that you have a so-called "next-generation" phone handset. These phones have key features that make them game-worthy. The first is a big, bright color screen. The second is the capability to connect to the Internet via the "GPRS" protocol so that you can download new games. The third is the ability to run downloadable games developed in the Java or Brew formats.

You'll also want to know the amount of memory a phone has for storing games, as well as other things you might want to download, such as ring tones and graphics. The less memory you have, the fewer games you'll be able to keep on your phone. If you're really into games, look for a phone with swappable memory storage cards that can boost your capacity into the megabytes.

Sound completes the gaming experience. Here, make sure your phone has the ability to play "polyphonic" tones that go beyond simple rings and beeps.

Thanks to heavy competition between phone-handset makers and wireless carriers, getting a game-worthy phone shouldn't break the bank. Most carriers offer phones that meet the basic requirements for free with a new plan, or for no more than $150 if you're upgrading from an old phone.

Watch Those Charges: Handset makers and cell-service providers are rushing to enrich their games offerings because, they believe, that's where a big pot of money is. That behooves you to be aware of the costs of gaming by phone, as charges can pile up.

The first thing you'll need to check is how your carrier charges for connecting to the Internet to download games, as well as to take advantage of the multiplayer features of wireless gaming. Most carriers charge by the amount of data you download or upload (a typical downloadable game is about 60 kilobytes of information).

AT&T Wireless, for instance, charges $8 a month for 1 megabyte of data, and $99 for 100 megabytes (presumably for users who use their phones to check and send email).

Your phone likely will come with a few games pre-installed, such as solitaire. You'll have to pay extra to get new ones -- from $2 for a simple puzzle game and as much as $6 for a hot title such as Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4. Some games will expire after a set period of time -- say, 60 days, meaning you'll have to go back online to buy it again if you can't stop playing it.

Let's Go Shopping: So where exactly do you go to find all of these games? Here's where it all gets a little confusing: not every game is available for every game-worthy phone, and the selection will also vary by carrier. One step is to check your carrier's website to see what games they have for which phones.

You'll then need to pilot your phone on to the Internet to get a game -- likely from your carrier's proprietary game store. Carriers typically have proprietary, easily accessible services through which you can buy games and other downloads. Verizon's service, for instance, is called "Get It Now."

Are We Playing Yet: Regardless of your carrier or specific phone, you're likely to find a wide range of games for your playing pleasure. These include sports games such as Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf from Electronic Arts, the action game Splinter Cell from UbiSoft, and puzzler Diamond Mine from Jamdat. Each game will come complete with instructions on controls specific to your phone -- and perhaps even some tips for how to master the game.

More Fun on the Run Coming: As cool as the new phones and the games are, you haven't seen anything yet. The game industry believes that mobile and wireless gaming will be one of its hottest growth sectors.

Nokia's new N-Gage promises to take the mobile-gaming experience to a new level of depth and richness. Sony is expected to follow next year with its powerful PlayStation Portable, which will combine a huge library of games with wireless features and perhaps a phone. There's even talk that Nintendo will soon add wireless and phone features to its venerable Game Boy Advance.



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