You connect a data-capable cell phone to a laptop computer either with a USB cable or wirelessly via infrared (IrDA) or Bluetooth. All three of these connection options are more than fast enough to handle current, real-world cellular data transfer speeds, so speed-wise it doesn't matter which one you usethe data transfer rate between your carrier and your phone is usually slower than that between your phone and your computer. There are other factors to consider, but the choice will probably be made for you based on which connection method your phone and laptop have in common.
If you have a CDMA cell phone (see the Phone Carriers chart in Chapter 1), you probably don't have Bluetooththey tend to have USB and IrDA ports instead. Of the two non-Bluetooth options, USB is the way to go because it's easier to maintain a connection over an inexpensive (less than $30) data cable than it is over infrared. IrDA connections, because they need to stay aimed at each other, can be iffy at best. For example, maintaining an IrDA connection in a moving vehicle is a challenge.
Connecting a phone to a laptop via USB is a snap. You buy the correct data cable for the make and model of your phone (or, in some cases, you might have to buy a "connection kit" from your cell phone provider), then plug one end of the cable into the cell phone and the other end into an empty USB 1.1 or 2.0 port on your laptop. That's it.
GSM phones, on the other hand, can be found sporting combinations of all three types of ports. If you have a choice, go with Bluetooth because it doesn't have the restrictions of the other two methods. Bluetooth doesn't require a cable as does USB, and its 30-foot range is much greater than the one-meter line-of-sight limitation of IrDA. However, not all mobile phones are Bluetooth phones. If you're not sure of your phone's capabilities, check its documentation or contact the phone's manufacturer.
Almost all current laptops have USB ports, which can be used either for cabling directly to a cell phone or adding on plug-in Bluetooth capabilities. In terms of cable-free connections, Bluetooth has largely superseded IrDA in recent years. If you're not sure of your laptop's capabilities, check its documentation, contact the manufacturer, or look for the official USB or Bluetooth symbols next to the computer's ports.
USB ports are easily identifiable by their trident-like symbol (left), but not all Bluetooth devices bear the official Bluetooth symbol (right).