July 23, 2014

Battle of the Network Stars

When purchasing a new phone many of us are being faced with not only a question of a handset but a prospective betrothed wireless carrier for at least a two year term (this is/was the genius of the Nexus One, more on that later).  That has not been more evident since Apple signed an exclusive agreement with AT&T back in 2007.  This created a love/hate relationship with the iPhone as it was and has been plagued with voice issues, the MMS and copy/paste debacle, and the most recent ad wars with Verizon Wireless.  The recent arms race between the Big Four is becoming an acronym soup of HSPA, 3G, LTE, 4G, and WiMAX.  This is alienating all but the geekiest of us customers.

While there are numerous reports and stats of the wireless carriers, beauty is always in the eye of the beholder.  The current carrier debates are reminiscent of the Ford vs. Chevy of yore except now it’s around AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon.  Each carrier has its terms and conditions that may keep us from renewing but am increasingly feeling like that they care less since the early termination fees (ETF) have become so steep for smartphones that they eventually make their money back whether we stay or not.  This does not bode well for a us customers since we have less leverage and kinda like to be thought of gasp! Valued.

Enter Google’s Nexus One this past January.  They figured that they could sell a carrier unlocked device and put it online for a flat fee.  Well the major issues were that it launched on T-Mobile with a conditional plan, the AT&T model was too little too late, and to boot the Verizon model became vapor ware this past week.  While I don’t mind dropping some decent coin, I will not do it at least without one hands-on experience and there were no units available in stores.  I find this curious because Google is giving them out like hard candy to dev’s and trade show registrars so why can’t we get a few to test in retail land?   I do not consider the N1 a failure but Google’s way to ramp up development and show off the ubiquitous Qualcomm 1GHz Snapdragon processor.   A true Google Lab experiment indeed.

So what’s driving your smartphone decisions?  Hardware specs, Android OS version, mobile-to-mobile,  downloadable apps, carrier coverage and plan, affordability, or all the above?

AT&T seems to be at the top of the list when it comes to customer complaints, et al, but you can’t deny their base as they are a mash-up of past BellSouth Mobility, Cingular, and SBC Wireless.  AND they happen to have a little known Apple handset from the future called the iPhone.  This one device has single-handedly revolutionized the smartphone landscape and given AT&T a big black eye when it comes to call quality and the go/no go wireless tethering policies from their CEO, Ralph de la Vega, and now they will have to bear the burden of unlimited 3G iPad plans.  While their only Android device is currently the oft maligned Motorola Backflip they are adding the tablet sized phone Dell Mini5 aka the Streak very soon and possibly other unicorns like the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10.  Their GSM network can also accommodate devices like the Acer Liquid, etc. as can TMO’s.

Sprint is coming on strong with the MiFi Overdrive and the soon to be announced HTC EVO that will have 4G and includes a mobile hotspot for up to eight WiFi devices.  EIGHT!  A year ago Sprint was written off by many in the industry but from my point of view, it definitely Android is giving them the shot in the arm they badly needed after the Palm Pre was received with lukewarm reviews.

If affordability is your bag with a peek into future high-speed data plans then T-Mobile definitely has what you are hankering for including the aforementioned Nexus One; among other Android stars like the Motorola CLIQ and new MyTouch Slide.  And they are a GSM carrier as an added bonus.  TMO was the first carrier to go out on a limb for Google and hence the G1 was born.  I presently have two G1′s and have had several of these devices and it is probably the most polarizing Android device but it was what hooked me on the “art of rooting” and the legendary CyanogenMod.

Verizon will give you the most pervasive 3G network but as AT&T points out you will not be able to surf the web and talk simultaneously.  The same goes for Sprint as this is an issue of a CDMA network.  But they may just have the best line-up of Android phones available.  The Motorola Droid put Android squarely in the mainstream and the Eris became a solid “budget” device even though its sister the HTC Hero was state of the art in early 2009.  Which just goes to show how fast the Android market is changing much less the mobile market as a whole.  I finally got my hands on the Incredible yesterday and it is VERY fast and I feel that the Sense UI is near perfection mated to the Snapdragon.

Hard choices indeed, but it looks as if you almost can’t lose since any and all of the carriers have something to offer but only you have to make the payments and live, for at least a year, with one of these phones.

Let the battle begin!