What type of phone should I buy next month and what carrier should I be on?
October 30, 2008 9:16 AM   Subscribe

What type of phone should I buy next month and what carrier should I be on? I'm on a Verizon family plan right now with my parents and it expires around Thanksgiving. I have a free upgrade with Verizon, as well.

This a two-pronged question.
1. What carrier should I use? I live in the DC metro area.
2. What phone should I buy on said carrier?

As far as the carrier is concerned, I've never had a problem with Verizon so I have no reason to switch. However, I do notice that their phones are stripped down once they hit their network (unlike AT&T) and that is aggravating. AT&T seems like a good alternative mostly due to phone selection and performance. T-Mobile and Sprint are out there, too, but I honestly don't know a single person from the East coast that uses one of these networks. Is there a reason for that?

Now, on to phones:

I do a fair amont of text messaging so I'm not sure what type of phones that rules out. I do know that I don't want one of those huge flip QWERTY things like the AT&T Tilt, en(V)2, or LG Voyager. I'm more into the brick, almost minimalist look (iPhone, LG Dare, Pearl, etc.) I have a RAZR now and I want to get away from the flip game, too. Also, how does texting work on the iPhone? I hear it doesn't have SMS, but what exactly does that mean?

One thing that I must have is an ability to sync contacts between my phone and my computer. I suppose my MacBook Pro and iPhone would play pretty nicely. Not sure how the other phones work in this department.

Another nice thing would be some sort of GPS or map. I know the iPhone has Google Maps and some sort of GPS. Is it good and do the other phones have something like this?

Internet would be nice too but I've been without that on my phone for years and it hasn't ruined my life so far.

Same goes with email and Blackberrys run pretty expensive with email. I don't really need it so why pay a ton for something that is just an "eh" with me? However, I have noticed the Blackberrys have gmail chat and that seems like an interesting option. My primary personal email is Gmail.

I do know that I won't really use my phone as a media player. I have an mp3 player that I love anyway and there's no reason to use the phone, too.

A major thing that I would like to gain out of this new phone would be a to-do list of some sort. A to-do list that somehow syncs with my computer's to-do list would be fantastic. Does this exist? Remember The Milk for iPhone? Do any other phones have this sort of capability?

8. WI-FI
Wi-Fi would also be awesome.

And is there visual voicemail on the iPhone? I know it's on the Instinct.

So basically, from what I can see so far, these phones are maybes:
1. iPhone
2. LG Dare
3. Blackberry Pearl
4. Blackberry Curve
5. Some other kind of Blackberry
6. Samsung Instinct
7. LG Vu

And are there near-future phones that I should consider, too?
1. Blackberry Bold
2. Blackberry Storm

Am I missing anything that I should look into?

Any help would be fantastic. Thanks you MeFi yet again.

A few resources I have been reading up on:

posted by decrescendo to Technology (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm by no means an expert in this area but I'm an iPhoner so I can chime in on that regard. What you've heard is that iPhones don't have MMS, which is sending picture/audio/video messages through text. You can still email pictures but you can't send them to other phones. Also when you receive an MMS you will have to go to a website to retrieve it. iPhones certainly do SMS. Whether the lack of a physical keyboard will bother you is something you may want to explore in an Apple Store before making the purchase as that could be a dealbreaker if you text a lot (text messaging does not support landscape orientation so the keyboard is a bit smaller in vertical mode).

The GPS does not function like your Garmin/Tom Tom/whatever in your car. It is Google Maps with a blue dot that tells you where you are and updates itself. You can then get directions from your current location. It will not give you turn by turn directions and notify you of upcoming streets, etc. However Google Maps does work quite well as a directory of businesses and addresses as well as directions.

If you already own a Macbook you'll enjoy the syncing of contacts with the phone so that's a plus. Also as a Gmail user you will benefit from being able to have full IMAP access to Gmail through the phone. The want for Wifi almost makes me think you will be limited in your options, I don't see many people with wifi-enabled phones but as I said I don't know a ton in this area so there are likely options others might point you to.

Overall there is nothing in your post that the iPhone CAN'T do (some with the help of applications on the App Store) so that's one vote in that direction. But there may be other phones that meet those needs as well.
posted by genial at 9:55 AM on October 30, 2008

Verizon only works in the U.S. When you travel abroad or to Canada, your phone becomes basically a paperweight.
posted by Zambrano at 9:56 AM on October 30, 2008

I've also got an iPhone, and honestly...sigh...I hate to come across as a fanboy...but...sigh...look, I believe apple makes some crappy products sometimes and isn't infallible...but...argh...sigh...

Look, you know how the iPod kind of changed your relationship to music? All of a sudden it got so plentiful and manageable that you started thinking about it in an entirely different way? The iPhone does that FOR YOUR ENTIRE LIFE. I had to get my wife one about 2 weeks after I got mine because otherwise she couldn't understand why I spent more time with the phone than with her.

It's not perfect, but it's reeaaaaaaalllly good.
posted by paanta at 10:03 AM on October 30, 2008

The T-Mobile G1 does everything you want, except they do not have 3G in DC yet, so the internet is workable but not necessarily as awesome as it can be.

But on the plus side, it is constantly synced with my Google contacts and it gets gmail before the web app half the time even on edge, I bought a 30 dollar microSD card that gave it as much storage capacity as an Iphone (the media player that is currently on there is not nearly as fancy as the apple job). I realize that Android is an unfinished product, but its really really nice so far.

But I think you would also do well with an iphone, it just depends on how you feel about using something that is so completely locked (seemed to bug you with Verzion) and whether you want to have the exact same awesome phone as EVERYONE else.
posted by BobbyDigital at 10:10 AM on October 30, 2008

OK. I've been meaning to put together my own AskMeFi post on this subject, too. My requirements are a little different than yours, there are a few sticking points in common.

For reference sake, I currently carry a Treo 700w on VZW (shootmenow) and a BB7290 on AT&T. I've previously had LGs and Motorola flips. I also own a handful of PDAs of different eras including an iPaq 4705 and various old Palms.

Here's a quick list of what's been on my mind:

1--texting & email --or, for me, SSH: QWERTY. (Full Stop, end of story.)

If you're going to be dealing with composing a lot of text be it in email, SMS or in terminal sessions you really need a comfortable QWERTY keyboard. Struggling with various other interfaces over the years has convinced me of this. And for extended emailing and especially for terminal sessions the keyboard needs to be of a reasonable size. The Treo keyboard is irritatingly small for those of us with fingers that do not taper to a knife-point. I've yet to find a more comfortable keyboard than the one on the BB7290 for any device its size. There's actually space between the keys, unlike the newer BBs.

I'm not sure which of the current devices is best in this regard. Maybe the new Google Phone?

2--Contact Sync. iPhone will certainly sync with the Apple suite of products. BB & WindowsMobile will want to sync with an Exchange server or a local Outlook/Entourage install (or a stand-alone contact manager in their sync client if you don't have Exchange or Outlook, IIRC.) I don't know if a BlackBerry synched to a Mac will pick up the Address Book or not. Your best bet is to take the time to check for any issues with syncing the models you're considering to the machine(s) you own reported on user forums, knowledge bases, etc.

3--GPS. One thing to know is that Verizon disables the built in GPS receivers on their phones. (VZW is famous for locking out functionality that exists in the device at manufacture via "crippleware"--altered firmware.) You are required to subscribe to their proprietary navigation service instead, which by some reports still works only by AGPS (triangulation.) This has been as issue with the Verizon Curve, for instance.

4--Internet. This is where things get tricky: the carriers that provide the most device freedom have the worst data servce. Verizon's EVDO is the only real national 3G service right now. The UMTS/HSPDA footprint of the GSM carriers is much smaller in comparison, and has a much lower capacity at this time.

This means that you may have a harder time maintaining a 3g connection on an iPhone than on a Verizon BB or Treo/Centro, and will generally see lower performance.

Also, it's important to note that AT&T will not permit tethering iPhones at this time--you can't connect your laptop to the Internet through the iPhone. This is thought to be due to AT&T not being ready to accommodate the huge number of macbook-toting iPhone owners all at once. If you want to tether on AT&T, you will want to get a Blackberry instead.

5--Email. Email is only expensive for 'push' service--i.e. a Blackberry with an Exchange plan and a hosted Exchange account. Gmail is available over a wireless data connection either through a specific gmail client (platform dependant), a generic email client, or even a mobile WAP/WML web browser (at http://m.gmail.com ) as exists on almost every phone these days. You just need to pick a data plan sized to handle the traffic your email generates.

6--If media isn't important to you, you have the luxury of being able to sacrifice screen size/quality for better ergonomics/battery life/price.

7--This is sort of hand-in-hand with contact sync. Windows Mobile devices are designed to do this through Exchange and/or Outlook. The iPhone will use iCalendar or .mac or whatever. Some platforms/devices/carriers offer more flexible syncing--this may depend on the installed OS version, the brand, the model, extra software or even an addon service from the carrier. If this is really important to you, and you don't want to use one of the standard solutions, spending some time reading forums to learn from others' solutions and to look for any lurking gotchas (i.e. specific undocumented incompatibilities) is probably a good idea.

8.-- Wifi -- this will limit your options rather severely.

One phone I didn't see on your list is the Google G-1 (aka Android.) That's t-mobile only at the moment, but might be worthy of consideration.

So far as carriers are concerned I can't comment on the D.C. market, but:

--CDMA carriers (Verizon, Sprint) will work better in buildings and other limited-reception environments.

--Verizon is the most fascist carrier around when it comes to crippling phones, disabling built in features and replacing them with inferior subscription based addons, disabling bluetooth profiles, disabling GPS, etc. They are expensive and nickel and dime you to death. However, they also tend to offer the highest call quality, greatest reliability, and best data throughput.

--GSM equipment (AT&T, t-mobile, anything with a SIM card) will create audible and visual interference in electronics. That noise that sounds like telemetry in your car stereo or computer speakers? It's your GSM phone. And that annoys the shit out of me.

--GSM equipment can be unlocked and moved between carriers much, much more easily than CDMA equipment. The ability to swap out SIM cards can be very convenient for travel, etc.

There is visual voicemail on the iPhone. (I think that was originally an iPhone specific feature?)

Keep us posted on what you decide, would you? My own deliberations have been stalled for some time now. I can't get the equipment I want on the carrier I want without restrictions I don't want.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:12 AM on October 30, 2008

I think you should look into an unlocked E-71. Extremely capable, extremely underrated phone.
posted by Macallister Vagabond at 10:16 AM on October 30, 2008

Go with a Palm Centro. It's cheap (sub $100 with contract, only $350 unlocked straight from Palm).

Great text messenging program (and unlike the damned iphone it does MMS). Some find the Centro keys to small. While I prefer the slightly bigger keyboard on my Treo 680 (same OS basically but a generation older of hardware), I have no troubles with the Centro keyboard (I have fairly typical hands for a nearly 6 ft guy).

Check. Windows and Mac for sure. I know people that sync under Linux and they say it works.

Google Maps, check. Basic GPS like abilities provided in Google Maps by triangulating off of cell towers. Other GPS apps are available, but they all suck. If you find you use a GPS in the car alot, get a real GPS (the sub $200 ones are fine).

Check. Nowhere near as nice of an interface as the iphone, but the built in Browser works for mobile site and the Opera Browser does real browser just fine. A limitation would be that there is no real AJAX support in either. It has pretty much always worked well enough for me to purchase movie tickets while driving to a movie theatre, look up bar bets on the internet, find addresses, etc.

Check. Depending on your usage, the simplistic built in email client may work. Otherwise purchase ChatterMail or SnapperMail.

Check. The built in media player ain't great, nor is it pretty, but it works for listening to podcasts and such. The real limitation is the micro sdhc card capacity.

Check. Syncs like the calendar and Contacts. No clue what the software interface for the tasks are on the Mac side.

8. WI-FI
I counter that this really isn't all that it is cracked up to be. You aren't really going to be watching YouTube on your Palm, and on most portable devices the processing power chewed up by the browser is what is going to slow down your browsing the most.

I am serious. It ain't sexy, but it works and is relatively cheap.

For the carrier;

T-Mobile is by far the cheapest option for my wife and I. Sure their 3g support is crap, and the coverage in rural areas can suck a little, but I can live with those things for $40/month less than AT&T.

I believe Verizon is evil on oh so many levels. Number one being the intentional breaking of phones features for their own benefit.

I do not believe in contracts, which means no Sprint and until recently that meant no Verizon (at least I think they now let you use them without a contract).

Closely related to not believing in contracts, I do not believe that subsidized phones are good for the consumer and for anything but a cheap basic phone I will not purchase a locked phone. This realistically means no CDMA carriers. Yes, this does mean I pay more for phones.

With a GSM based carrier (AT&T or Verizon), you can import sexy phones from Europe and Japan.
posted by fief at 10:16 AM on October 30, 2008

The iPhone and T-Mobile G1 (there's no such thing as a "Google Phone") don't do TaskLists or syncing out of the box, you need a 3rd party app, and even then it probably won't sync with anything.

The G1 ONLY syncs with your google account, not with Outlook or whatever you use. Neither the G1 or iPhone have turn-by-turn GPS, just Google maps, which works the same way it does on your computer.

Windows Mobile phones will do everything you want, but are ugly and a pain to use.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:27 AM on October 30, 2008

(Sorry, I mean it won't sync TaskLists/To Dos, not that it won't sync)
posted by blue_beetle at 10:28 AM on October 30, 2008

If you're comfortable with a touch-screen keyboard, the iPhone is tops. I've got one, and I can't imagine getting anything else. My roommate got a BB Curve at the same time, and he's jealous. And, so far, I've had a pretty great experience with the AT&T service people. The Instinct from Sprint is also pretty good, lacks some features, but adds some (haptic feedback, which I would love the option for on the iPhone, turn-by-turn GPS, etc.).

The next software update for the iPhone is supposed to support turn-by-turn GPS, but we'll see if that actually develops. Basically everything people have said before is true, so I'll try not to repeat it.

Now, you can use either Verizon or Sprint underground on the Metro (as they're both CDMA technologies, and Sprint will roam on Verizon's network down there). If you switch to AT&T or T-Mobile, you'll have no signal down there. If that's an issue. For me, it really isn't. It was kind of cool having spotty internet access in the tunnels, but I've compensating by getting some great small games to play on the iPhone. Verizon and Sprint's service around DC is ubiquitous; when I was on Sprint, I never lacked a full signal. AT&T has been pretty good so far (it's only been a couple of months, and I haven't been everywhere, although I still haven't had to drop to Edge anywhere), but T-Mobile's is a little spotty (and they still somehow don't have 3G coverage).

So, if I were you, I would try the iPhone to see if you like the touchscreen keyboard, and if not, chose between AT&T and Sprint based on phones, and whether you like the pros of GSM or CDMA more.
posted by General Malaise at 11:03 AM on October 30, 2008

- Verizon *is* evil. An international standard (GSM) such as AT&T, T-Mobile is the way to go. And your phone will work abroad.
- I use T-Mobile and I'm happy with it. Haven't noticed that many issues with coverage - I'm sure AT&T is better mine.
- T-Mobile is cheap. I pay $30 for calls and $20 for data (Blackberry Pearl). I love it cos I can bluetooth to my laptop and use it as a modem -- no additional charge. I have no complaints re. customer service etc.
- Google maps on the BB works beautifully.

I would love to get the G1 but I read that it doesn't support Exchange which is a showstopper for me.
posted by NailsTheCat at 12:16 PM on October 30, 2008

« Older Why don't scars just go away?   |   Social Math Games? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.