I’ve been using a Blackberry Curve Titanium for going on two years now, and while it’s serve me quite well I want a little more in the coming year. I don’t even have a data plan for it, and even if I were inclined to have one I don’t think I’d actually buy one for this phone. It’s not a 3G capable phone so web browsing is excruciatingly slow at GSM speeds and I don’t even want to think what my experience would be with other forms of communication and sharing. Ignoring the fact that the version of BlackBerry OS loaded on my phone can’t do any of it anyway. And as Blackberry is tightly integrated with it’s proprietary Blackberry service, which I can’t get at work, it’s largely a moot point anyway. Smart phone is the way forward for me, and therein lies the odyssey. I warn you… this is a wall of text.
I’m a current T-Mobile subscriber. Have no problems with T-Mobile and have been pretty happy with their service since I started. The only issue I ever had was my original phone (HTC Wing) I used for a year and couldn’t ditch fast enough to get the Blackberry. Nothing to do with T-Mobile what so ever and everything to do with a horribly under-powered Windows Mobile based phone that never lived up to any of the hype. My wife, on the other hand, is a slightly different story. She’s had bad luck with her reception since the beginning. When we both purchased Blackberry Curves two years ago I had zero reception problems — in our home or out — while she always had reception problems. Her phone also had some kind of a wonky reset problem and finally T-Mobile replaced her phone just a few months ago with a Blackberry Curve 8520 but she still has reception problems in our house. I had to actually go out and buy a wireless router so she could make WiFi calls at home otherwise she’d probably have to go outside to make them. And at work (she works along the beach in a resort community) she gets barely any signal whether she’s outside or not.
She’s wanted to switch to another company with better signal for a while now. But it’s never as easy as that is it? In today’s age one can’t simply say they want to switch to X company because here in the United States our choices are limited by available handsets. And nearly every handset is locked to specific carriers. Case in point, if my wife and I had both wanted to be on AT&T because they just had the best service in the world (stay with me now), we could only use those handsets AT&T currently offers. If I didn’t like any of them then I realistically couldn’t switch to AT&T from my current carrier. But what if I wanted an iPhone 4.0 but didn’t want AT&T as my carrier? I’m out of luck again as AT&T is the only carrier that currently carries that phone. Verizon is rumored to be getting it at some point, but who knows when or even if that will actually happen. Of course you can always go out on the Internet and buy an unlocked phone that you like and use that on the carrier of your choice’s network. If you can find an unlocked version of the phone you want. There’s also the case that the Library of Congress recently ruled that “jail-breaking” your phone for the purposes of loading up “unapproved” apps, or unlocking it to take to another network was perfectly legal. However the vast majority of people won’t be able to do that and in the case of smart phones you impose limitations on yourself when you do it. I.E., no updates from the carrier after that.
It’s a delicate dance we have to make now. Not only do we have to contrast and compare handsets but we also need to contrast and compare carriers when considering a switch such as this now. The importance of which is the fact that unless you want, or are willing, to pay full price for a handset you’re locked into a contract for two years. Imagine how frustrating it would be to have the best smart phone available on the worst possible data network for two years and not being able to do a single thing about it. Shout out to all you IPhone 4.0 users out there, except I was being factious about the best possible phone bit. IPhone 4.0 is regarded as a very good handset but I don’t think you can honestly make the argument it’s simply the best any more. Android has changed the game entirely.
So where to start when looking for a new phone. First in smart phones — and at this point I know specifically I want a full Smart Phone — you have four primary operating systems to choose from. iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and Symbion are the biggest players in the market but hardly the only players. There’s a smattering of other operating systems but there’s largely a reason why they’re collectively such a small share of the market. If you’re serious about jumping into the Smartphone pool, you’ll end up going with one of the four largest operating systems. iOS is only used in IPhones, so unless you specifically want an IPhone and won’t mind AT&T (right now) you can cross that off the list.
Symbion based phones make up the largest share of the overall handset market but isn’t really that big of a player in the Smartphone segment. In fact they’ve so few options available currently in the segment, and none of them stand up to the current hardware offerings by other handset makers like HTC that I think you can very easily ignore the OS all together. BlackBerry is more business oriented and tied closely to it’s propriety BlackBerry service. Which isn’t to say that you can’t access other email and services but you’ll notice that development of the BlackBerry OS is keyed toward business users. BlackBerry phones are typically of high quality and the various models are carried almost universally by all carriers. You’ll find specific models like the new BlackBerry Torch are being carried only on the AT&T network in the U.S., which means it’s not even an option for me and BlackBerry has no other current SmartPhone that really measures up to what I’m looking for.
On the other hand, Android is making all the waves lately in the market. Not only is Android maturing very well since it’s introduction to the world in 2007, but with the release of Android 2.1 and now 2.2 it’s becoming a true power player. Android 2.1 and 2.2 are why IPhone is no longer spoken about as the clear leader in the market any more. Apples recent well publicized difficulties have only added to that as people who might have purchased IPhones because they were the best option as little as a year ago are looking elsewhere now and have found that simply isn’t the case any more. Once you understand what you’re basic options are it’s time to look at the hardware.
What I’m looking for is a full-face, touch screen, smartphone on the latest generation of hardware with a fast processor. The Snapdragon processor is definitely the best out there right now, running at 1ghz. Makes those Snapdragon based smartphones truly little miniature computers which is exactly what I’m looking for. And here is really where you have to pay particular attention to the options. I really like HTC handsets as they’re usually very high quality and almost all of the major carriers have several models to choose from but Motorola also makes some very nice models as well. Since I’m looking for a full-face touch screen smartphone, the options I’m looking at right now are the HTC EVO and Sumsung Instinct at Sprint; Droid, Droid 2, Droid X, and Droid Incredible at Verizon; and the Samsung Vibrant at T-Mobile. As several of these are made by HTC, Samsung and Motorola how do I differentiate which is the best for me?
Over the past week I’ve been very painstakingly comparing the handset features and specification and then looking at the service offerings, service coverage, service price, and customer service ratings for each of the companies. They’re all remarkably close to one another yet there are some important differences. I think Verizon has the best network and has a truly great phone with the Droid Incredible, but as my son had Verizon for quite a while before switching to Spring in June, I know all too well how bad their customer service can be at times. Is their customer service truly any worse than Sprint or T-Mobile? Probably not in the greater scheme of things but of the three carriers they’re plans are the most expensive and their service offerings are not really any better than Sprint’s or T-Mobiles. Looking for a current Smartphone automatically means that 4G coverage is part of the equation and Verizon doesn’t currently have a 4G service, though it will soon. If their 4G service is treated in any way like their 3G service we can expect this to be a very strong service nation wide.
T-Mobile has a model of the just released Samsung Galaxy S phone called the Vibrant. By all accounts the hardware is nice and the phone will be getting the Android 2.2 update so that’s a plus. But as I explained earlier they have poor signal strength where my wife works and she’s a prime consideration in this. Frankly, in relation to everything else T-Mobile is probably at the bottom of the pile for no other reason than their signal strength.
Sprint’s signal strength at my wife’s work was moderate when we tested it with my son’s phone this last weekend but we’re told by a friend that might have been an anomaly. Certainly something we’ll have to check again before making a final decision. Outside of that their signal strength is very good in my region. In fact recently my son, with his Sprint phone, was the only one able to get signal inside a large building and gets great signal at home as well. And their services are extremely competitive. In fact Sprint probably has the best cost to service ratio of the three carriers and has the brand new and sizzling hot HTC EVO. My son and several friends have the phone and to a person, every one of them absolutely love it.
I’m leaning toward either the EVO at Sprint or the Incredible at Verizon, but it’s a tough decision to make. There are a few minor differences in the hardware between the handsets, like the EVO has a forward facing camera in addition to the backward facing 8 mega-pixel camera whereas the Incredible has only a 5 mega-pixel backward facing camera. But when the service offerings, price, and features are as similar as they are those little things may matter. At least they do to me. My wife and I will discuss it again this weekend and will probably make a decision then. So if luck has it, my odyssey will soon be coming to an end.