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What is 4G?

Posted by wrlsfanatic on December 6, 2010

In 2002, Sprint and Verizon launched their “3G” 1xRTT networks.  Roughly 3 years later, they launched an actual 3G network.  Carriers have been calling things whatever they want for years now, and yet everyone is freaking out about the new 4G network labeling.  I’d like to explain what the hell 4G is to those who don’t know, and then I’d like to address who is right and who is wrong in their network claims.

What 4G is… officially and unofficially

4G, as defined by the International Telecommunication Union in its IMT-Advanced specifications, refers to a mobile network with an all-IP backbone that should be capable of 100Mbit/s peak speeds for mobile users (also 1Gbit/s peak for low mobility users, but most consumers don’t qualify, so for the purposes of this post I’m leaving that out).  WiMAX, Clear/Sprint’s technology of choice, does not qualify, plain and simple.  Neither do the forthcoming LTE networks from Verizon and AT&T, nor the HSPA+ network that T-Mobile is currently branding 4G (AT&T also covers their network with HSPA+, but hasn’t launched an HSPA+ device, nor are they going to call this network 4G for a good reason I’ll get to later).

When Clear/Sprint launched their WiMAX network, they called it 4G in their marketing campaign.  I believe all carriers planned to label their next generation networks as such, but Clear and Sprint were the first to market with the label.  Verizon and AT&T let it go, resting on the laurels that they would soon launch their own “4G” networks with LTE and they knew none of them qualified either.  Even pundits were allowing it, it seemed, probably because of the aforementioned move to 3G years ago and the incorrect naming.

The issue started when T-Mobile started talking about its “4G” network.  LTE and WiMAX currently have technology migration paths that will move them to true 4G in the future (LTE-Advanced and 802.16m, respectively), while T-Mobile’s HSPA+ does not.  Some would say that should preclude them from using that branding.

So who is right and who is wrong?

It should be obvious by now that nobody is truly right since none of the networks currently launched adhere to the IMT-Advanced standards.  That just leaves the question, “Who is wrong?”  Since we’re allowing that Clear, Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon are all getting a pass for their “4G” labeling, then it really boils down to whether T-Mobile should be allowed to label their network as “4G”.  AT&T especially would say that it’s not valid because they have rolled out HSPA+ across almost their entire network and haven’t called it “4G” yet.  However, there’s a simple reason for that: AT&T still plans to roll out LTE beginning in 2011, and they want to play their “4G” card then.  They have yet to launch even a mobile broadband card based on HSPA+, because they want to make a splash with LTE and depending on how they price LTE, they may want a premium for it, which will be hard to get if users can get similar speeds for a lesser price with HSPA+.  In my opinion, T-Mobile has every right to call their network “4G” and there are three simple reasons for that.

First of all, real world speeds of LTE, WiMAX, and HSPA+ should be comparable.  LTE hasn’t launched commercially in the US yet, but it will run at average speeds in the ballpark of the other two.  WiMAX and HSPA+ generally run at the same speeds, with HSPA+ maybe even getting the crown if you want to nitpick.  This really is enough for me.  To the end user – a vast majority of whom don’t care and never will care what is truly 4G or not – 4G is about a new experience of data on a handset, and there’s no question (whether it be latencies or pure bandwidth) that the technologies all deliver an experience that’s above and beyond the previous generation, whether that be EVDO Rev A or HSDPA.

Second of all, the technology migration paths DO NOT MATTER.  Ask yourself this question: can an EVDO Rev 0 device use an EVDO Rev A network?  Can it benefit from the better speeds of a Rev A network?  The answer is no.  Clearly LTE Advanced and 802.16m will be the same.  Why does it matter that an EVO uses a technology that will one day be adapted to be “true” 4G when no EVO will be able to use it?  It doesn’t.  Not even a little.

Finally, I’d argue that T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network is the best current implementation of a “4G” technology.  Why?  Well turn on 4G on your EVO and I’ll tell you.  What?  You don’t want to because it drains your battery?  Man, wouldn’t it be nice if you just used “4G” when it was available and not have to choose between turning it on every time or draining your battery?  Well I have news for you, that is HSPA+.  It doesn’t require a separate antenna in the phone, so you don’t turn it off and on.  Like many people would say about Apple, “It just works.”  That’s a much better experience than “4G” on the EVO where I almost never use it simply because I don’t find it worth the hassle, for the most part, to turn it on when I’m jumping on the internet for something quick.

Conclusion

You’ll notice that none of the carriers are doing anything about T-Mobile’s claims, other than complaining about it.  AT&T released a statement and Clear has recently posted a statement about other “4G” networks.  None of them have filed a lawsuit, mostly because they know that none of their competing standards are truly 4G either, and for all the reasons above they wouldn’t stand a chance in court anyway.  I say don’t worry about which one is right… if you want to move into the next generation of data speeds, look for any handset claiming to be “4G” and enjoy!

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Review: Seidio Innocase Extended/Extended Rugged Skin & Skeleton/Holster Combo

Posted by wrlsfanatic on November 18, 2010

I’m warning you right now: I’m a wireless fanatic, not a camera fanatic.  I’m getting better all the time at taking pictures with my Canon SX10IS, but I have a long way to go.  Feel free to complain in the comments if it makes you feel better if my pictures make you sick to your stomach.

If you’re here, then like me you a) feel the need for the Seidio Extended Battery, and b) don’t care to dremel some other case to try and make it fit around your phone.  In that case, I have not one but two cases that might interest you.

Seidio Innocase Extended
This case has actually been around for some time, but if I had the option of getting the Extended Rugged Skin/Skeleton by itself (which according to the Seidio rep I chatted with last week isn’t going to happen) I would have done so.  My problem with the case is simple: the sides are protected, but if the phone falls on its top or bottom parts, it’s in trouble.  When I get a case, I want to be able to take it off some day and have it basically flawless inside.  As you can see, this case obviously doesn’t cover the top or bottom of the EVO, and the sides don’t stick out enough to be the first thing that would make contact with the ground if it did fall – not that I would want the sides to stick out that much, just saying.

That being said, it’s worth noting that this is a very good case if what you’re looking for is protecting the phone from total loss in the event of a drop.  Of course it doesn’t protect the screen from breakage – nothing does – but the rest of the phone is well protected.  Its outside is the same soft, rubbery plastic that the extended battery’s replacement back has, and it brings that soft touch around to the sides of the phone for a much better grip.  It also fits snugly enough that I can say with confidence that it won’t pop off like some cheaper cases do if the phone should be dropped.

This case also allows access to the camera and kickstand, so you won’t lose any functionality in that regard.  If I had to make up a complaint, it would be that it’s so snug it’s a bit tough to get off, but honestly that’s the point, isn’t it?

Seidio Innocase Extended Skin & Skeleton

This is the reason I bought this combo pack.  This is the kind of case that would allow me to throw my phone against a wall without worry of damage… not that I’m stupid enough to do that on purpose with a $500 piece of electronic equipment.

The case is actually two pieces: a silicone case (the “skin”) that sits underneath a hard plastic shell (the “skeleton”).  Together, they don’t add that much thickness to the bottom of the case, and the thickness on the sides I fully expected based on the pictures on Seidio’s website.  What I didn’t like was how much they stuck up on the top of the screen.

As you can see, the case is nearly two quarters thick on the top of the screen.  This silicone layer could have been thinner if it fit more snugly around the phone; instead, it sits rather loosely.  Given the stretchiness of silicone, I see no reason why this shouldn’t be more snug than it is (meaning, even if it’s tight, you can still get it on and off because it stretches).  When you’re pulling the phone out of your pocket, this skin layer is going to move around a bit.  That movement is actually necessary as the height of the silicone on the edges of the screen would make moving icons from one home page to another nearly impossible were it not for the “play” in the skin.  As for typing, I don’t think I personally will be able to manage.  Since I’m right-handed, my thumb naturally pushes the case out of the way a bit on the far (in my case left) side of the screen so the “q” isn’t an issue.  The “p” on the other hand is going to be a bit annoying to get to.  If you’re using Swype – like me – then you won’t have a problem at all.  Swyping close to the “p” will be good enough.  It’s something I can get over, but I feel like they could have avoided this issue by making that piece of the case thinner, and I can’t think of any reason why it couldn’t be thinner and still fully protect the phone.

Now onto the positives… the openings for the headphone jack and HDMI/charging ports are really exemplary.  They manage every feature I would want perfectly: a ton of room for any charger/HDMI cable/headphone jack I would ever use, a build that I have full confidence will last as long as my phone does (longer, I switch phones like I switch shoes), and they manage to be completely flush with the rest of the skin when closed which looks very sleek.

I also really like the access to the power button.  The case has a little bump at the top that you push to turn the power on, and it is easier to hit a naked EVO’s power button.  It’s almost too easy, but in general use I don’t see a big problem.  The volume up/down buttons aren’t quite as nice for my hands, but aren’t bad.  You won’t hit them by accident, but their placement just feels off ever so slightly.  Not a big deal, just my observation.

The overall feel of the silicone is great for the sides of the case – lots of grip.  One thing I especially like is that the skeleton is NOT made out of the same soft, rubbery plastic that the regular Extended is.  I had a silicone case for my Treo 700p years ago, and though I loved the fact that it wouldn’t slide out of your hand, I hated that it would stick to your pocket.  If you’ve ever tried getting your phone out of your pocket when you’re sitting down, you’ll know what I’m talking about.  While the sides of this case are grippy, the back is more slick which combine to give the right sturdiness in your hand with the ability to get it out of your pocket if the situation arose.

The one thing some people won’t like about this case is that it blocks access to the kickstand.  This was clearly laid out on Seidio’s site so it wasn’t a surprise, and I simply don’t care that much.  If I need to use it, the case is easy to take off (don’t worry, falling off isn’t going to happen).  I believe the camera will be fine, but as HTC has yet to release their latest source code for the new camera in the EVO and I hate Sense UI with a passion, I couldn’t tell you if the camera worked properly or not.  I FULLY suspect it will.

In general, I’d say this case is very much what I expected – which is a good thing – and while I wish it was a little thinner on the sides of the screen, that certainly would protect it from small pebbles should it ever fall perfectly flat on its screen.

Seidio Innocase Extended Rugged Holster

I remember liking a holster on my aforementioned Treo… for all of about a month.  Those days are long gone, so this is most definitely one piece of the combo that I wouldn’t have bought if it were an option.  If you, on the other hand, are in the market for a holster, this one is very solid.

As you can see, the belt clip is wide enough to accommodate even a fairly wide belt.  I can attest to the fact that once your EVO is in this holster and locked, it isn’t going anywhere.  The lock/unlock mechanism isn’t too clunky to lock and unlock (once you’re used to it), and more importantly I don’t see any way you could accidentally unlock the holster unless you meant to.

My only complaint here is that the top clip – where the holster opens and closes – rests directly on top of the power button.  Remember how the power button was nice and easy to hit?  That becomes a problem here.  The clip at the top keeps the power button so snug that it takes an easy touch to get it to close without turning the screen on (or off).  I could just accept this as inevitable since the phone has to sit snug, and the power button is located on the top of the phone, but the clip is actually off-set a bit.  If my pictures don’t show it, Seidio’s online store shows it very clearly.  I have a hard time believing that a company that designed the rest of the case so well couldn’t have placed the clip between the power button and the headphone jack (you might want access to that when the phone is in the holster, after all) and still hold the phone firmly.

It’s not a deal-breaker in my opinion, but I’m not the target market.  Most importantly, you can clip it onto even the fattest belts in the world, and your phone most certainly won’t leave your side.

Seidio Ultimate Screen Guard

This is a welcome addition to the combo pack, even if I had already ordered a screen protector before this became available (two days before, but it still hasn’t arrived).  All of my photos have the screen protector on, so whatever you can glean from those is what you get, I’m afraid.  I didn’t bother with a screen protector on my last phone (Palm Pre) simply because the few that I tried had a plastic-y feel to them that I didn’t care for, and honestly the rest of the phone fell apart so bad I didn’t care to protect the screen any better.

The Ultimate Screen Guard is something I could definitely use long-term.  I can’t attest to the anti-glare or anti-fingerprint performance just yet, but it fit the three most important criteria I have: application, feel, and responsiveness.  Like many new screen protectors, it applies with static instead of a sticky substance, so if you need to remove it and put it back on, it’s not a problem at all.  I set mine on the first time and it was slightly off on one side.  My second attempt was far better, and other than a slight bubble right below the speaker (couldn’t get it to show in a picture to show you) it is flawless.  It feels VERY close to glass, so my fingers glide across it very nicely.  Most importantly, as you’d expect from any modern screen guard that’s worth a damn, I noticed absolutely no issue with responsiveness versus the naked glass.

I have a Clarivue Anti-Glare in the mail as I type, and I’ll update this when that arrives.  Right now, I see no reason to use it, so kudos to Seidio for throwing in at least one feature I’ll use.

Summary

Overall, for $50 it’s a very nice combo set.  The Extended Rugged Skin & Skeleton – which is all I wanted in the first place – is generally a very good case.  My litmus test is simple: if I drop my phone with that case on, I won’t be the least bit worried of any damage to the phone inside.  Typing will be somewhat more annoying, but not to the point that I couldn’t stand it or would hesitate to use my phone as much as I would without the case.  If I really wanted to remove some bulk while still protecting a majority of the phone, the Extended would perform admirably, even though it simply doesn’t protect the very top or bottom of the phone, which it doesn’t claim to.  The holster is a waste for me as I will never use it, but if someone like my father – who is still rocking a holster – wanted to carry an EVO, I would definitely point him in the direction of this combo pack, though with the caveat to expect the screen to turn on and off throughout the day when it’s in that holster.  And finally, had I known Seidio was going to announce this combo, I would have never bothered ordering another screen guard.  From what I’ve read the Clarivue is very nice, but I doubt it’s worth an additional $13 when this one is all but free.  For $50, even if you’re like me and you won’t be using all of this, this is a pretty good deal on a well-made set of cases.

UPDATE

I’m almost embarrassed to fix this, but I really don’t have a choice.  It dawned on me after trying on the case that I should at least TRY putting the silicone case on top of the Extended case by itself.  Mind you, at the time Seidio’s site said nothing about setting it up that way, only that the skin and skeleton went together.  There also are zero instructions in the box (other than those for the screen protector), and while I wouldn’t expect something lengthy, I can’t believe they didn’t even mention it.  All 5 pieces come in separate containers.

Now that I’ve tried to defend myself, I must report that with the Extended on underneath the Skin and Skeleton, the fit and finish of the case is EXACTLY what you would expect for the price.  The silicone doesn’t just fit snug on the phone, it actually sort of locks in place on the edges of the Extended case.  What’s really nice about the snugger fit is that when you do need to hit keys at the edge of the keyboard to start a word, you can kind of roll your thumb against the edge of the phone.  If you tried to do this with the loose case, the edge could slide and you hit the wrong key, or if you try to slide the case out of the way your finger gets too close to the screen and you accidentally hit a key near the one you’re trying to hit.  That may or may not make sense, but I can tell you that the snug case is vastly better to type on.

Summary 2.0

Since I am adding this information, I thought I’d also add my impressions after using the case for a couple weeks.  My summary still stands: I wanted ultimate protection for my EVO and ultimate battery life, and there honestly aren’t any other options.  My largest complaint is how often I turn the power on and off without trying.  My wife is completely unable to adjust her grip and constantly brings up the power/reset options when playing games on the phone because she can’t manage to hold it in such a way to NOT press the power button.  Normal people should be able to hold it in such a way, but I would say that’s a worst-case scenario.  Typing isn’t bad, but obviously isn’t not as easy as typing without any screen at all.

I will continue using the case despite some drawbacks and I don’t regret the purchase at all.  My EVO is nothing short of a touchscreen tank.  To prospective buyers, I suggest you weigh your priorities before purchasing this case.

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The Battle of the Best – iPhone 4 vs. HTC EVO

Posted by wrlsfanatic on June 12, 2010

Let’s talk today about the best handset battle the wireless industry has ever seen.  That’s not hyperbole, that’s fact.  The first iPhone was the best wireless handset to hit the market, and continued to be for a long time.  The Pre – in my mind – was the best contender to come along since its inception.  WebOS is smooth as silk, and can’t be underestimated in the future.  Unfortunately, the hardware just wasn’t (and still isn’t) there with the Pre to really show off the fantastic operating system, so it ultimately fell short.  Now, as Apple continues its yearly hardware refresh cycle, the Pre is fully and completely obsolete.

In rolls the EVO.  The spec list reads like a list of the best of components available for wireless phones currently.  The biggest screen (4.3″) with the best screen tech (AMOLED), the fastest processor (1 GHz Snapdragon), the best camera (8MP) – hell, put one on the front too – high def video (720p24), an FM tuner, HDMI output, and oh yeah: the beginning of the next generation of wireless data speeds, Wimax.  The kickstand is almost a boastful indulgence as its inclusion suggests HTC thinks that it belongs as much on your entertainment center as it does in your pocket.

So on June 7th, like the rest of the world that just can’t wait to get the latest and greatest in their hands, I listened to Steve Jobs announcing the latest update to the iPhone.  Every year, the iPhone seems to set the bar for what to expect from phone hardware and software, while the rest of the industry spends the next year catching up.  And then… nothing.  No huge surprises.  No great, must-have features.

Here is a breakdown of the features of both phones to explain why the iPhone – in my opinion – is no longer the undisputed king of the mountain.

Screen

This is the most logical place to start because it’s the most obvious and impressive thing about both of these phones.  The EVO went the brute force route: make it bigger.  Period.  Steve, in his usual way, went more elegant with the same size display as the previous generation (3.5″), but quadrupled the number of pixels per inch.  The selling point here is that you can see crisper pictures and sharper text.  In theory, you should be able to read text that’s smaller on the iPhone than you would on the EVO.

Unfortunately for Steve, he makes a couple miscalculations in assuming that this pixel count will make up for the phone’s lack of size.  On both of these phones, the screen is not just a display, it’s the way you interact with the device.  So when I use my finger to hit a key, it’s much easier to hit a larger target, naturally.  Plus, as a current Pre user, I find myself frequently having to zoom into a page several times to hit small links.  Having more screen real estate also means I have more room to pinch my fingers out to zoom in – while I might have to zoom the screen in 2 or 3 times to get where I want with my Pre, I have enough room to do the same thing in one swipe on an EVO (potentially).  You could argue that I won’t have to zoom in as much to READ text on a page if I had a higher pixel count, but I still have to zoom in if I’m trying to press on a link or button on a page.  These are real, tangible benefits to a bigger screen.  “It looks nice” is not a tangible selling point to me.

Apple also touts their propriety screen material as being far more scratch-resistant than regular glass.  While HTC has said nothing so far about their screen, users have managed to prove that it is nothing to shake a stick at… or even a razor blade, if you so choose.

Phone Size

I don’t really think this is much of a feature, outside of a drastic change to the size or shape of a phone.  However, I’ve seen several people saying that they couldn’t possibly stand to carry around the EVO – suggesting it would take a holster, or it would be akin to lugging around a laptop – so it bears discussing.  Let’s dispel this myth: while the EVO packs a relatively massive screen, it manages to keep a small profile, courtesy of its incredibly thin bezel.  The EVO is a full 7mm (~1/4″) longer, 4mm wider, and no thicker than the iPhone 3GS.  So when someone says they simply can’t stand a device that is so large, they had better have a Motorola Startac as their primary phone.

In fairness to Apple, the iPhone 4 is another tenth of an inch slimmer in width and thickness (same height) as its older brother.  That’s nice, but it is simply not a differentiator.  That kind of size makes zero difference in how I use the phone.  It’s the kind of thing you tout if you want to say, “I have the thinnest phone ever.”

Video Calls

This is was unquestionably the worst part of Apple’s demonstration.  Not only did Steve say he was bringing video calling to the world when he clearly is not, but the features are so stripped-down that they are a mere novelty, not actually useful.

The iPhone 4 will offer Facetime, which allows someone on an iPhone 4 (sorry 3G, 3GS owners), that is also using wifi (so much for video calls from the beach), to call someone else on an iPhone 4, that is also using wifi.  Meanwhile, Fring on the EVO allows you to not only speak to other EVO users – over the entire Sprint network – but also with anyone else using Fring on a handset, or Skype on a desktop.  Qik is also an option for EVO users, though it is Qik to Qik only.  FAR more robust, FAR more useful.  I will applaud the implementation of Facetime: it is integrated directly into the dialer (as opposed to being a separate app), and you can switch between a voice and a video call on the fly.  However, that only helps soften the blow of finding out that an otherwise cool feature – that Steve would have you believe gives them “a reason to come to work every day” – is almost entirely useless.

Storage Options

The EVO is being shipped with an 8GB micro SD card for its $199 price, while the iPhone comes with 16GB of storage for $199 or 32GB of storage for $299.  What sets the EVO apart is the removable nature of its storage.  It would be much better if the card was accessible from the outside of the phone, but in my opinion, that doesn’t take away the benefit of having removable storage.

Here’s why: I have a real camera, and a USB drive option on my wife’s new car – many new cars are coming with that option.  I already own a 16GB card that I move between these uses.  I keep it in my wife’s car 99% of the time, and when I want to, I take it out and put it in the camera (when my phone’s camera isn’t enough) to use.  A micro SD card in my phone would allow me the option to use either card if I wanted to go running or mow the lawn and have additional music to listen to.  It also allows me to view the various photos on either card if I’m somewhere without the camera but with my phone.

I can’t say for sure that everyone would want this feature, but I imagine most techies – which theoretically should be the target market for smartphones – don’t have at least one microSD card floating around their homes like me, and being able to swap that in and out is invaluable.  Versus the $100 premium Apple charges, I can buy two micro SD cards, enjoy the portability of my storage, and still have some money to spare.

Camera

Both devices have front and rear cameras, but that’s where the similarities end.  The iPhone includes a VGA camera on front (roughly the equivalent of a .5MP camera) and a 5MP camera on back.  The back camera has an LED flash, and a “backside illuminated” image sensor.  Steve touted this as a feature that he focused on more than megapixels to make photos better.

Luckily for HTC, the EVO was already in front of this development.  It has a 1.3MP camera on front – so your friends can see all your pimples during your video calls – and a “backside illuminated” 8MP sensor on the rear.  Plus, it has two LED flashes to the iPhone’s one – not likely to make a difference, but another small thing that shows that HTC absolutely refused to be out-done with this phone.  We’ll have to see the quality of pictures from both when reviewers get ahold of the iPhone 4, but at least on paper the EVO has the lead.

While writing this review, I came across this new macro lens that came out for the EVO… worth checking out for people who really love their phone cameras.

Handset Pricing

I’ve already touched on phone pricing above.  Essentially, you’re paying $199 for 16GB of storage on the iPhone, and 9GB (1GB internal, 8GB via micro SD card) of storage on the EVO.  If you want to go up to 32GB, you can pay $100 extra on the iPhone or buy a couple of 16GB cards for your EVO for around $50 apiece (after shipping and/or tax), which gives you a full 41GB of storage altogether.  You have to decide for yourself if you prefer the flexibility of several storage cards or the convenience of having it all in one place.

I do have to mention here the one major design flaw I see on the EVO.  In order to access the micro SD card, you have to remove the battery.  For most this won’t matter, but I like to switch my card out frequently and move it between devices, so this is annoying for me.

It also bears mentioning – since I see many other sites talking about this – how often you will receive a full rebate with both carriers.  AT&T is generously offering customers within 6 months of their full rebate upgrade eligibility an early upgrade at the “full rebate” price.  I’ve also seen them offering recent iPhone 3GS purchasers the ability to get a rebate for the difference of what they paid and what the 3GS now costs. These are generous offers, to be sure, but they are not official policy.

Sprint offers all customers in their loyalty program full rebates on handsets every 12 months.  If you buy an EVO, you have to be in the program since you have to be paying at least $69 (as an individual subscriber) or $129 (as a family subscriber).  I’ve seen several sites lauding AT&T’s offer, while ignoring the fact that Sprint has had this loyalty program in place for quite some time (I was in when I bought their Pre), so I thought it worth mentioning.

Carrier Pricing

I know we’re comparing hardware here, but both of these devices are tied to their respective carriers, so it’s pretty easy – and really, necessary – to compare the plans available to both subscribers as well.

Note: I will be ignoring the 200MB/$15 AT&T data plan.  If you use a smartphone and you use less than 200MB of data a month, you probably are wasting your money on the phone in the first place.  Plus, AT&T claims that the average iPhone user is in the 500MB/mo range, so it’s not unfair to assume that 200MB isn’t going to cut it.

The vast majority of EVO customers will choose the $69 Everything Data plan with Sprint’s $10 “premium data” add-on (whether you’re in a 4G market or not).  That gives you unlimited messaging, unlimited data (really unlimited, not “5GB cap” unlimited), nights starting at 7PM, and unlimited wireless to wireless calling.  That means that your only limitation is the 450 minutes that you would use to call landline phones during peak hours (7am to 7pm M-F) every month.  Suffice it to say, that should pretty much cover everyone outside of a cold-calling insurance salesman.  With AT&T, assuming that 100% of anyone considering this phone would need at least SOME messaging, the plans start at $69 for 450 rollover minutes (nights starting at 9PM), unlimited AT&T in-network calls, 200 text messages, and 2GB of data usage.  If you need more texts, your next option is 1500 messages, which would bring your total to $79/mo, the same as Sprint.  So if you can keep your data usage under 2GB (no streaming Netflix unless you’re on wifi), and your texts under 200, and your calls under an AVERAGE of 450 minutes per month (AT&T is still the only game in town with rollover minutes) then AT&T is the better value.  If you are a heavy texter (not that 250 texts per month even qualifies as heavy texting these days), or a heavy data user, then Sprint is the better value.

On the family plan side, Sprint’s $149 for two subscribers ($129 + $10 per phone for “premium data”) is the same as AT&T’s price ($69 for voice, $30 for family texting, and $25 per phone for data), though Sprint’s nearly unlimited calling (1500 minutes with any mobile, anytime vs. 700 rollover minutes) and truly unlimited data will be a differentiator for some.  (A third EVO would cost $30/mo, while a third iPhone would cost $35/mo, respectively.)

For those who prefer to tether their phone to a laptop, or, dare I say, an iPad, that will run you $30 with Sprint, or $20 with AT&T, though it bears mentioning that you can’t actually tether an iPhone to an iPad.  The iPhone’s tethering options are USB or Bluetooth, and the iPad can only get an internet connection over wifi – kind of a crazy miss for Apple since they’re such big fans of all their devices working together.  Also, if you’re using both your handset and your iPad/laptop/other phone/etc. through your iPhone, you’ll definitely have to worry about the 2GB cap.

Since, as I said, both devices are tied to their carriers, this does make a difference.  If your usage patterns will allow you to save a few dollars on AT&T, then that’s good, but I believe that most people reading blogs on the internet comparing phones probably are higher users and will almost always save money with Sprint’s pricing.

“Data Experience”

I call this section “data experience” (rather than data speed or network technology) because it’s more than just the technology you’re on.  To get it out of the way, the browsers are generally, functionally, the same.  Android’s browser will roll out Flash support eventually, but while some will say this is a big downfall of Apple’s, I think the simple fact that Apple won’t support it means that many sites will re-write themselves for HTML 5 over time.  Plus, we have no way of knowing what the experience Flash will even give when it does arrive on handsets, since it is clearly designed to be used with a desktop, and more importantly, a mouse.  “Mouse-overs” are something extremely integral to any Flash site, and I’m not sure how that will work on a finger-driven device.

In terms of the “data experience,” Sprint’s “First” advertising campaign applies two-fold here.  First, and most obvious, is the fact that the EVO is a “4G” phone.  I use quotes since it does not technically qualify as a 4G technology, but all the US carriers seem to have tacitly agreed to call things 3G and 4G based on how much they spend to upgrade to them, not how powerful they are.  Still, there is no denying – based on any review you can get your hands on – that Sprint’s (or, technically Clearwire’s) Wimax network is fast.

The second “first” the EVO brings is the ability to browse the internet while talking; but that feature is only new to the CDMA world (read: Verizon and Sprint), and is not new to the wireless world at large.  Since GSM data networks are essentially completely separate from their voice counterparts, phones running on those networks can both carry on a voice call and perform a data transaction at the same time.  Some Apple commercials have displayed this perfectly:

“Hey, what movie do you want to see tonight?”

“Just a second, let me pull up what’s showing.  How about Baby Geniuses 2?”

“Done, can’t wait.”

While that conversation has never and could never happen (nobody SAW that movie, right?), it’s the best example of the usefulness of that feature.  Any time you’re on the phone and need to look something up relevant to your conversation – a movie, a restaurant, an e-mail, etc. – having the internet available is a good thing.

However, there is one huge caveat, one that spans many thousands of square miles: both of those features only work in 4G markets.  In a Sprint 3G market, you will miss out on the “4G” experience, and you will have to call your significant other back if you want to find out where that restaurant is, or when that movie starts.

AT&T offers simultaneous voice and data across its entire network, so it takes the crown there.  Data speeds, however, are lacking.  While you will get EVDO Rev. A speeds anywhere on Sprint’s network, most of AT&T’s network (from a square mile standpoint) is still EDGE; a much slower network technology.  AT&T is rolling out HSPA+ and plans to reach 250M people by the end of this year, which will help.  HSPA+, while not “4G” from a marketing standpoint, has been repeatedly shown to match Wimax speeds in the real world.  Sadly, the iPhone 4 only came capable of HSPA (notice the missing “+”), which is comparable to Sprint’s EVDO network.  Meanwhile, Clearwire/Sprint will be rolling out 4G and hopes to reach 120 million people by the end of 2010.

So this one is difficult to call.  Simultaneous calls and data is a nice feature, and you have to balance that against faster data speeds on Sprint’s network – whether you’re in “4G” areas or not.  I’m much more interested in speed, but not everyone is.

App Market

The iPhone unquestionably has the larger selection in their app store, and there are many very good apps.  The only place where Google has an advantage here is in the type of apps.  Android has a higher percentage of free apps, and basically approves every app that’s submitted.  That doesn’t mean Android’s market wins (far from it), it means that there will likely be at least one app here or there that is available via Google’s store that Apple would never approve (Fring anybody?) that will help you feel better about not having access to roughly 5 – 6 times as many apps.  Also, the Android market is growing at an incredible rate, and there really aren’t a lot of mainstream apps that are available for the iPhone but not for the EVO.

Battery

There is no question that the battery life on the iPhone 4 is better.  But battery life’s importance is subjective.  I’m a mobile person, but I have no problem keeping my phone plugged in most of the day so that if I do need it to be completely mobile, it’s at 100%.  I don’t love managing things like wifi, bluetooth, 4G antennae, e-mail updates, etc. to preserve battery life, but they are a small nuisance – TO ME.  They may be important to you, and may be an issue.  I will say this: I have used my aforementioned Palm Pre for around a year now, and every report I read says that the EVO’s battery is awful, but that it is significantly better than the Pre.  My Pre certainly has poor battery life, but it is manageable.  If the EVO is better than that, it is not the end of the world.

Customization

This is the first half of the larger debate between Android and iOS users: would you rather something be easier to use or more customizable.  Customization actually is a function of usability: if you can customize something enough, it becomes easy to use because you have made it that way.  However, the trouble of customizing something is an effort that some users don’t want to go through.  Android is certainly the customization king with its widgets, and its plethora of themes.  While both have apps that alter the functionality of the phones to some degree, Apple doesn’t allow apps that alter things to the degree that Android does.

Ease of Use

The yin to Android’s yang, ease of use is Apple’s forte.  Unlike some Android apologists, I don’t believe that ease of use should be underestimated at all.  This incredible article from Wired magazine talks about products that are “good enough,” but they win because they’re just incredibly easy to use.  My take on this isn’t that Android is fine being harder to use, just that it isn’t so vastly more difficult that it should turn a large number of users off.  Notice that the article talks about products that are cheaper AND simpler.  In this case, both devices are similarly priced.  I would argue that anyone taking the time to read this detailed review of the EVO vs. the iPhone 4 would fall into the category of people with enough know-how (and free time) to customize their EVO to make it just right for them.  Still, I know that this effort isn’t for everyone.

Conclusion

I think it is clear that Apple has not managed to take the unrivaled wireless crown this time around.  From a hardware-only standpoint, the EVO is a superior phone in most technical aspects.  What annoys me to read are people who weight things based on their own preferences and then call one phone or the other a winner accordingly.  I will not be doing that.  The big screen, the camera, the customization (I’m a tinkerer by nature) and the removable storage of the EVO are all huge deals to me.  The added convenience of swapping micro SD cards, the fact that I happen to live in a market where “4G” his been lit up, and the FM tuner (that I currently have to take out my Zune to use) make the choice easy for me.  Sprint’s cheaper and unlimited plans are just icing on the cake.

However, if you prefer to charge your phone overnight and not worry about it the rest of the day – all the while browsing the internet and texting constantly – the EVO will not work for you.  It does not have the number of apps that the iPhone 4 has available to it, nor does it have the polish that iOS has.  If you live in a major market that does not yet have “4G” service, then you are probably in for a similar web-browsing experience on either device.  If you have an iPod already, then the easier iTunes integration might be your cup of tea.

Regardless of the phone you choose, you can rest assured that you will have a great piece of hardware that cannot ultimately claim to be the best.  I know that’s a sad payoff for some, but the reality is that there are going to be fans and detractors of both.  Having read this, you can tell them all that they’re right.

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Start at the beginning

Posted by wrlsfanatic on June 8, 2010

I have no idea why anyone would care to read what I have to say.  I decided to start this blog for two reasons: 1) I am obsessed with wireless news and reviews to the point where it has invaded my dreams.  2) I’m too opinionated to keep quiet.  This allows me to comment (read: complain) about wireless happenings and keep my Facebook friends out of it.

A few things about me to begin:

- I’m opinionated.  We covered this, I know, but it can’t be over-stated.  I try hard not to form opinions before I’ve read enough to speak intelligently on the topic.  However, once my opinions are formed, it’s hard to convince me I’m wrong.  But…

- I DO listen to other comments and criticism.  I gladly admit when I’m wrong, and I accept that my opinion isn’t always right.  So while I might think one thing, and I might debate it with you fervently, I do value opinions.  Please don’t let my opinions hinder discussion here… that is, if anyone even reads the crap I post.

That’s enough.  I doubt any of this will matter since I doubt many will read this site.  However, I do hope to offer myself a venue to vent, and at the same time, maybe give some opinions on the wireless industry that are worthwhile to someone other than me.

Happy reading.

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