If you've been in China for a couple of years and still have yet to set your phone settings to Chinese, or if you just got here and have studied pinyin and a few characters, or if you're me and have just bought a basic Nokia after losing your previous 16 Motorolas in taxis and trains, then it's time to peruse this page.
How Do I Use This Phone!? some lesser-known tips for maximizing your mobile
Tone input on text messages can be a useful study tool, even on basic phones that don't have a dictionary program. When writing a message, just type the pinyin for the character you want, then choose from tones 1 to 4 (and sometimes 5) by pressing "1" on a Nokia or "0" on a Motorola or Sony-Ericson. Hit the same button again to change to the next Chinese tone, or use the direction pad to move left or right and then press "select."
Did you know? Many Nokia models allow you to hit up on direction pad twice to turn on the flashlight. I'd take that over a low-resolution phone camera any day.
Confused about networks? A mobile phone number indicates which network it belongs to: Those with prefixes from 130 to 133 are part of the China Unicom (中国联通 zhōngguóliántōng) network while those with prefixes from 134 to 139 are on the China Mobile (中国移动 zhōngguóyídòng) network. The numbers beginning in 15X are also common China Mobile numbers while those beginning with 18X are growing on the nascent 3G network, which many people here—at least those who understand what all these terms mean—are hoping will offer a new age in mobile communication.
If you're on the China Mobile network, you can check your balance at any time by dialing 1008611, which will automatically send an SMS to your phone with the following message containing several numbers. The message might look something like this (your numbers will be different):
The main number of concern here is the second, which is your remaining balance. Once it's below 10 RMB, you will usually start to receive warning messages from the 10086 service each time you make a call or receive a paid call. In the message above, the first number is the fees accrued this month; the third is how many minutes of free airtime you have remaining, and the last is how many remaining free SMSes you are allotted.
This article by Reed Riggs was first published in CHENGDOO citylife Magazine, issue 21 ("Questions").