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Right tune sets tone

Kick tinkling bells to the kerb and liven up your mobile's ring, writes Katie Cincotta.

IF YOU want your tech image to be an expression of your unique personality and hipster credentials, it's not enough to simply have a sexy new smartphone.

You have to get the ringtone right. Because having it on default not only screams ''boring'', it also says you're lazy, common or maybe too incompetent to customise your phone settings.

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A guide to annoying ringtones

Do you know how to setup a custom vibration for your iPhone? Or how to change the default ringtone on your Nokia Windows or Samsung Galaxy phone?

With Nielsen's 2012 Australian Online Consumer Report revealing that 51 per cent of online Australians aged 16 and older now own a smartphone, half of us are answering to polyphonic music downloads and custom sounds, leaving Nokia's old tinkling bells to fade into obscurity.

Late last year, Nokia put out a crowd-sourcing call on for a new default ringtone to launch its first range of Windows-based smartphones, including the Lumia 800.

The winning tune was created by Italian DJ Valerio Alessandro Sizzi, who entered a 23-second dubstep track that will now be loaded on to 100 million handsets.

Sizzi says sound is becoming an important element of branding, with the technical evolution of handsets and greater storage capacity allowing the development of more complex and more creative audio files.

While the young DJ had his own winning composition as his ringtone for a time, he admits to getting bored with hearing the same thing every day.

''I had it on but I like to change the ringtone of my mobile phone quite often,'' the sound designer says.

''I usually make it myself - edit a song that I like; depends on the mood.


''At the moment I'm using Garden by T.E.E.D.''

For those who prefer the more discreet notification of vibration, there's also fun to be had with new personalised versions.

In one of Apple's under-the-radar features, iOS 5 on iPhone 4S lets you set up a custom vibration so you know exactly who's thumping in your pocket and whether you want to pick up.

To tap out your own personalised rhythm for someone, choose contact, then select edit and ''create new vibration''.

At an average $1.69 per iTunes single track, people are also setting up their favourite songs as ringtones. When I first experimented with this, I chose Climbing Walls by Melbourne band Strange Talk. I discovered that hearing the zippy melody go off in my handbag was both confusing and unnerving: was it my mobile ringing or my music player firing up randomly? Did I really want the checkout chick and the doctor's receptionist knowing what music I was into? How would I handle that sprightly synthesiser at seven in the morning, or while in the grips of PMT?

After just two days, my favourite song began to grate on me and I ended up groaning every time the perky dance track signalled an incoming call.

Discovering that ringtones of familiar songs can make you dumber was the final straw.

This piece of information sent me scrambling back to Xylophone (despite it being the ringtone used by highly strung obstetrician Nina Proudman of television's Offspring).

A 2012 research study from Washington University reveals mobile ringtones - especially catchy songs you know and like - drain your brain power. After being exposed to ringing mobile phones, students scored up to 25 per cent less on course content recall tests than before the distraction.

The results were worse still after hearing a familiar tune.

Perhaps the follow-up study should measure blood-pressure levels when confronted by annoying ringtones, including all those clever folk who've set up the Klaxon abandon-ship alarm for their boss or spouse.

Or Woodley fans who have downloaded the gangly geek's scream from the ABC website for their mother-in-law or ex.

How to change your default sound

Nokia Lumia 800

Settings>Ringtones and press the play tab to the left to sample sounds, including some of the more novel ones, such as the robotic Botnia and the whistling pop tune.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus

Swipe from the top of the screen down, tap the settings Icon>Sound>Ringtone. Default ringtone is Girtab (which sounds like a cosmic fairy dance).

Apple iPhone 4S

Settings>Sounds>Ringtones. Default ringtone is Marimba.