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Do you know where your phone is?

We put mobile phone users to the test, timing how long it took to locate their cell

Ellen Warren

Shopping Adviser

November 4, 2010

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How many times have you seen it — or done it yourself? The cell phone rings and suddenly there is this frenzy of pocket-patting, rooting around a purse or a backpack, mad dumping of the contents and … a missed call.

Some people can find their phone on the first ring. But others — myself included — go through a wacky dance trying to locate the thing before the ringing stops.

Armed with a stopwatch I set out to see how long it //took// people to find their phones. It quickly became obvious that my test should be confined to women since all the men carried them in their pants or suit coat pockets and could find them at the first ring.

Interviews with those who found their phones quickly turned up some good tips for keeping them easily accessible.

And I even found one woman who 'fessed up to doing what I do: stuffing her phone in her bra. This is handy but not recommended. Retrieval makes for a most interesting scene when you go to answer a call.

shopellen@tribune.com

Nia Molina, 48, Elgin, Ill.

"I know it's in here … I think," said Molina as she checked her two coat pockets, then various zippered pockets in her shoulder bag.

"Come on, Mom. Come on. Come on," cheered her son, Mateo, 7, jumping up and down as she struggled to locate the phone for what seemed a very long time.

Molina says she just tosses the phone into her purse "at random" which is why it took her the longest of all those I interviewed — 16 (and 1/2) seconds — to locate the phone.

"At least I found it," she laughed.

Raven Andersen, 26, Memphis, Tenn.

Andersen boldly predicted it would take her "two seconds" to find her phone. It took more than twice that but a still-very-respectable five.

By putting the phone in the one and only outside zipper pocket of the only purse she ever carries, she says she always can get to the phone in time.

Susan Taylor, 57, Manchester, United Kingdom

Asked to show me her phone, stopwatch running, Taylor laughed and declared, "That is so unfair."

She took off her backpack, unzipped it, reached in for her purse — and found the phone in the purse side pocket. Fourteen seconds in all.

She tries to always buy "medium-size" purses. When they're bigger, "You can't find anything."

Lydia Davitt, 24, Minneapolis, Minn.

It took cyclist Davitt only three seconds to yank the phone out of the pocket of her fleece. She had just put it there for the last seven miles of a 500-mile, five-day bike ride.

Most of the trip the phone was in a pack attached to her bike in a plastic bag inside another plastic bag covered by a rain cover. "I'd hear the phone ringing but I wouldn't even attempt to answer it because I knew I'd never get to it in time." Serious cycling with a phone in your pocket, she says, is "annoying" and uncomfortable.

Patricia Garber, 45, Eureka, Ill.

Garber knows precisely which of the two zippered pockets of her purse to go to and extracts the phone in five seconds.

That's because she meticulously returns the phone to the same pocket of her purse every time. The same goes for her car keys. "I know people who switch purses for their outfit. I think it's a good idea to always have the same purse."

Donna Hartley, 73, Sundridge, Ontario, Canada

"Peter (her husband) and I must be the only two people in the world who don't carry a cell phone."

"They contribute to the dehumanizing of society," he says.

"My daughter keeps trying to give me her old one and I can't be bothered. We don't find it necessary. If I want to call somebody I'll go out and find a phone. I've never been stuck," Donna Hartley declares.

How to keep track of your cell phone:

Always put it in the same place after use — no exceptions

Use the same purse every day

Pants, coat pockets are best but need to be deep, secure

In a colorful case it's easier to find

Most "cell phone pockets" on purses are useless

Don't carry purses with lots of zippers — too confusing

Rubbery case prevents slippage from pants or purse side pocket

Don't hear it? Try vibrate or ring/vibrate combo to feel it too

Backpacks will drive you mad

Nerd alert: On your belt is convenient but lame