Smart Phones at Virgin Mobile
July 13, 2012 3:47 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I are going to swap our elderly "regular" cell phones on Sprint for smart phones on Virgin Mobile. My wife is going to go with the Optimus Elite. My question is this: Can it possibly be worth it for me to go with the less expensive iPhone ($550) over the highest-spec Android phone (the Evo V 4G at $300)?

I have no Apple devices and use Windows on my regular machines. I'm 95% convinced about the Evo but would listen to arguments about why spending twice as much will give me twice as much usefulness/pleasure. (I do inherently dislike the Apple business model.) Also would be interested in learning that no-matter-what, the Evo is a bad idea.

I use my phone only when I'm out and about, I definitely don't live on it. I'm looking forward to being able to use data-based stuff like maps and the web, if I take a photo with the on-board camera I'd be using it online so the difference between 5 or 8MP doesn't matter at all. That said, if the camera in the evo is just total junk, that's not cool.

My phone would need to have a service life of a couple of years, at least. The idea of running down to the phone store because a new model comes out is laughable to me, so I try to get something decent to start with.

I'm a programmer, so rooting a phone doesn't sound intimidating, but am not sure it's a requirement to be able to do so.
posted by maxwelton to Technology (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
No. It's not worth it. Is the Android OS as slick as the iOS? Not really. Not by a long shot. Is the iOS worth double the price up front and a more expensive cell plan? Not in my judgment. My HTC Thunderbolt works just fine, thank you.

You don't even really need the highest spec Android phone. Even a more basic one will do 80-90% of what the iOS does. Maybe not quite as fast, maybe not quite as shiny, but it still does basically the same thing. For half the price. And for the 10-20% that it won't replicate, there's generally an equivalent service. Siri is the exception.

So the question is: is having Siri really worth $300?

If it's math you want to do, it's not hard to do it.
posted by valkyryn at 4:06 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am totally geeky and am not afeared of rooting devices (though I've never done it - out of inclination, not intimidation). I get paid to do systems engineering and administration so I am very technical and am very inclined to customize systems and devices to my needs.

That said I recently switched from PC to Mac (the Mac Mini) and all of my devices EXCEPT my smart phone are Apple/iOS devices. I own: an older iPod Touch (which serves as my alarm clock these days), an iPad Retina (3), and the Mac Mini.

My smart phone is an older Samsung Galaxy S. It does almost everything I want it to do including WiFi tethering to its 3G service.

When the contract is up with T-Mobile, I fully intend to get an iPhone 4S (probably won't even wait for the next one to get released) and sign up with another carrier.

The reason? Look at the iOS upgrades and how good Apple is at ensuring that old devices can and will upgrade to the latest OS.

Contrast with my T-Mobile-hosted Samsung Galaxy S. How many OS upgrades? 1. What's its most up-to-date possible OS? Froyo (Android 2.2). Can I upgrade it further? Maybe, if I root it and I'm very brave. Does Google care? No. Does T-Mobile care? No. Am I up poop creek? Yes.

That's why I switched to Apple devices. Because Google doesn't care and T-Mobile doesn't care but Apple does.
posted by kalessin at 4:09 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

There is absolutely no reason for you to spend that much money on an iPhone. We have two or three old iPhones between us just from upgrading. You can get older ones (perfectly good) for like 50 bucks on eBay or CL.
posted by Madamina at 4:21 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have an iPhone (a 2-year-old 3GS that I bought at reduced price shortly after the iPhone 4 launched.) I love my iPhone. Based on what you've written here, I don't recommend you get an iPhone. $250 extra doesn't seem worth it.

However, if you're like most people, you'll probably wind up using your phone a lot more frequently after you upgrade to a smartphone (any smartphone.) So, when you're in the store examining both options, take into consideration the interface and the OS design choices and try to imagine what things are going to get on your nerves when you're using these on a daily basis. (For me, a major factor in getting an iPhone was that I have tactile issues that make it uncomfortable to use regular cell phone keyboards frequently/for extended periods, and at the time, all of the other touchscreen models were way more expensive.)
posted by kagredon at 4:26 PM on July 13, 2012

I think the updates are a major difference. Unless you get one of the very few 'pure' android phones, chances are that whatever version of the operating system you start with is the one you'll still have 3 years later. If you love the Evo as it is now and know about yourself (as it sounds like you do) that you won't feel like you're missing out as the OS is updated and yours stays the same, then that's no problem. Especially since with the iPhone 4, you're already starting out behind on the hardware.

If I were buying an android phone, I'd go with one of the pure ones even if the specs were lower but I don't think Virgin Mobile offers any of them.

The one you've picked seems to get good reviews, with most of the complaints being about battery life - which is an endemic smartphone problem and easily if annoyingly solved with an external battery.

I love my iPhone a lot but I think that as long as you actually like the HTC V 4G (do you get a try out period like on other carriers?) there's no reason to pay the extra for an iPhone.

On the other hand, you might want to look into how much benefit you'll actually get from the 4G in your area, and if it's not great, I'd be tempted to get a cheaper phone (the HTC V One (up to date OS, lighter, better battery time, possibly better camera) and the Triumph (one behind on OS but considered the best of its class) both seemed to get reviewed very well) and consider an earlier upgrade than you otherwise might have done for a phone that costs $100 more.
posted by Salamandrous at 4:30 PM on July 13, 2012

I recently picked up the HTC Evo 4G for Virgin. I found it to be really clunky and weird. For example, there are two protruding lenses on the back. Two, so you can take 3D pictures.

I ended up swapping for the Optimus Elite, which I've been happy with. If I were buying now, I'd get the HTC One V at $199, which is pretty close enough to Evo in specs. In that case, the price difference with the iPhone is pretty significant.
posted by gimletbiggles at 4:39 PM on July 13, 2012

The 3GS was released a little over two years ago, and yet it's still getting OS updates, though admittedly without many new features. Whereas I'm not aware of an Android device from Virgin Mobile USA that has ever received an update. Certainly my Optimus V never got updated, despite the update for the nearly identical Sprint device. It's just one of the small cruelties they inflict to keep as many people on the full-price Sprint plans.

Also, the resale value of the Apple phones tends to be better. I ended up selling the VM BlackBerry for about 25% of what I paid after only a year or so.

One major vote in favor of the Evo 4G is that you can add a hotspot plan for $15 a month, which would be a big savings if you were also thinking about a tablet.

Also, if you're currently using Windows and are a programmer, you may not appreciate the simplicity and "there's one way to do something" that the iPhone provides. Maybe you really like the idea that you can just turn on an alternate app store without rooting the phone.
posted by wnissen at 4:54 PM on July 13, 2012

(Can someone explain the hotspot thing to me? I think it means you can get a tablet without 3 or 4G services and as long as your phone is connected to the "G" network, you can connect to the phone using the tablet's wireless? In other words, you can buy a less expensive tablet? Or is it you don't need a separate plan for the tablet, but you still need one that has the "G" services?

I don't know how likely I am to buy a tablet to use on the road, as it were, but if adding a hotspot for $15 a month means I don't have to buy a $50 month account for the tablet, I could see the advantage.)
posted by maxwelton at 5:31 PM on July 13, 2012

Also, on updates, if I root the phone, I assume I then get to install the Android OS of my choice and therefore keep it updated...or am I missing something? Thanks for the answers so far and thanks for answering my completely ignorant questions.
posted by maxwelton at 5:33 PM on July 13, 2012

if I root the phone, I assume I then get to install the Android OS of my choice and therefore keep it updated...or am I missing something?

Due to the fragmentation of Android devices, just rooting your phone won't automatically allow you to upgrade the OS. A developer community would have to release a specific ROM for your phone, and the existance/strength of such communities varies based on device.

That being said, I wouldn't say that alone justifies spending $300 more on the iPhone.
posted by Kronios at 6:15 PM on July 13, 2012

Just so we're clear, the Evo is a line of phones, not a single phone. Sprint carried the Evo 4G (which uses Sprint's lame-o WiMAX network, and was a version of the HTC Supersonic), the Evo 3D (which had 3D camera for video and still, of negligible utility outside the phone)-- which gimletbiggles has, a couple Evos that had the slide-out keyboard, and the newest phone, the Evo 4G LTE (Sprint's version of the HTC One X, which will support Sprint's LTE network when they get around to deploying it in your area. (My own city is 6 months away according to the early talk, but they might move it up). This one is the one you're getting for $200 + 2 years. (Think about the insurance, as the replacement cost is $550.)

I own the Evo 4G LTE (unrooted, original Sprint ROM), after owning the first Evo 4G for about 2 years. The new one is fast and beautiful. It's definitely got some features that let it compete just fine with the iPhone 4S, which most of my coworkers have. It's got a huge and beautiful screen, the camera is greatly improved over the Evo 4G (which itself was considered a challenge to the iPhone 4, albeit one that fell short), it runs Ice Cream Sandwich (that's Android 4.0) out of the box, which has great improvements over previous android versions. It has a bigger battery that's not removable. So far I've been super-happy with battery life despite some abusive days. (Jelly Bean can also tell you what's using your battery the most.) When the phone gets to use its LTE radio, that may change.

I'm not a fan of the iPhone and haven't owned or used one for more than in passing, so I can't speak to whether it's more elegant or what not. It's clear that iOS and Android are borrowing things from one another. My iPhone 4 and 4S-bearing coworkers find the Evo 4G LTE to be impressive, and these guys are all phone nerds. (And guys, for that matter.)

Finally Siri. Well, I don't know when Sprint will get it, but Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean), which exists in concrete form, contains a voice-search that, youtube can show you, is certainly competitive with Siri, and if Sprint has its shit together (okay, tenuous proposition) you will have, before long, a phone that can duplicate the iPhone 4S's last major trick. What'll you do wiht the $300 you just saved?

Buy the Evo, you won't regret it.
posted by Sunburnt at 8:48 PM on July 13, 2012

Hmm, looks like i mis-read-- the Evo 4G LTE is a Sprint phone, but you're leaving Sprint. The Evo 4G LTE is faster than the Evo V 4G (1.5GHz vs. 1.2) and it appears that the Evo V has the 4-button layout instead of the new, ICS/JB-optimized 3-button layout.

Get someone in a store to demonstrate its features to you, and then decide.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:05 PM on July 13, 2012

For what it's worth, Virgin uses Spint's network I the US. Whether that means you can easily use a used sprint phone with virgin, I don't know, but it does mean that you can't by just any used iPhone and use it with Virgin, as one poster seemed to be suggesting.
posted by Good Brain at 11:28 PM on July 13, 2012

If you are a busy person who wants a phone that is not "fiddly", go with the iPhone.

By fiddly I mean the UI in the android phone has too many vibrating proximity buttons, and each app can implement the hardware UI differently, so you end up having to remember what "back arrow" means contextually. I found that completely maddening when I was on a conference call, working an issue, trying to copy something from one app and copy it into a text message "which text message app am I using again, and how do I get back to the phone app?"

I got an iPhone, and now home means home, the UI consistent, and I can almost operate it completely by muscle memory.

That's just me, who knows, I might be too dumb for an android phone.
posted by roboton666 at 11:35 PM on July 13, 2012

The iPhone is such a superior user experience that it's worth seeking out, and there are more than enough pristine previously owned iPhones available out there from reputable online sellers. There's absolutely no reason to saddle yourself with a lesser device.
posted by FeralHat at 3:22 AM on July 14, 2012

bah...a pox on the iphone! (i will NEVER forgive apple for getting in bed with AT&T and their ongoing warrantless wiretapping system...NEVER...what American would? and will NEVER give them another dime of my money.) so on political/ethical/personal freedom grounds: EVO. (there are a LOT of apple zombies here on MEFI...ignore them)

soo...I have the evo and i LOVE it (dont waste your time/effort on the motorola triumph)
-the price is better
-sprint service is awesome (at least where i live)
-android voice search has always been better functioning/more useful/better integrated (available in most programs and throughout the OS) than SIRI...googles only mistake has been not marketing the f**k out of it like apple has.
-the 3d might not be more than a gimmick to you, but i love any form of stereoscopy and people are always intrigued by it...i even got that 'john carter' movie to play on it (look for files labelled SBS (for 'sidebyside' 3d) can take a bit of getting used to (like adjusting images taken too close...dont worry...instructions included), but the effect is hasnt really been advertising it, but the screen, not just the camera, is 3D
-HTC Sense is pretty rad...most other manufacturers, when they add a 'skin' to android, get nothing but flak from their customers over it...not so with actually makes the phone better/easier to use/ and (most importantly) have better battery life (HTC is really good about shutting stuff down when not in use)...also, you can shortcut your 4 favorite apps (like phone and camera and messaging, or even angry birds) to the unlock screen...drag them into the ring to unlock and start them...SO INCREDIBLY USEFUL! (esp for the camera app...i NEVER miss the shot)...automatic weather updates on the home screen...actually USEFUL widgets and whatnot...
-cameras are both awesome...3d, 2d, and front-facing are all clear and sharp, flash is nice and bright...great low-light performance without flash, etc.
-the screen is awesome, not only in 3d...not QUITE retina display specs, but damn close...had to get out a magnifying glass to see pixels. qHD= 540x 960, and bright enough to see in full sun...good color balance/gamut
-there is a SUPER SECRET FEATURE that most phones dont have: FM RADIO! (you will need to google around for the sprint evo3D radio APK (APK=app installer file)...not on the google store for some reason that probably involves patent HATES htc) need to have headphones plugged in to act as an antenna (you can switch to speaker in the app, but you have to leave the headphones attached) works, is cool...and definitely ODD having a transistor radio in this day and age ;)
-screen is bigger than the iphone, so easier to type on
-battery life is awesome...i installed juice defender (great app), but even without it i get two solid days out of it (you just have to turn off auto-sync otherwise it will be constantly checking for new email and app updates and draining the battery...the same is true of any phone tho...even iphone)

note: this phone IS the Sprint EVO 3D...they just changed the software (i.e. the phone says sprint instead of least for now while they are getting rid of their old sprint stock...not really a pro/con...same exact hardware)

-wimax is not as fast as LTE...buuuut...doesnt bother me...service is really good here where i live (3g works everywhere) and the speed difference is really marginal (like wifi g vs wifi n)...if you're considering metroPCS for their LTE...DON'T...metro's service SUCKS.
-virgin has never been good about updates, but it ships with ice cream sandwich which has tons of really cool features (my favorite: speakerphone. just turn the phone face down and it comes on automatically) and it's unlikely that you'll ever need to upgrade it...root it later if you want jellybean (which is still in the process of being root-ified, so not available now just came out last week in beta anyway)
-hotspot is $15/month extra, not free (to clarify, 'hotspot' allows you to share your 3g/4g service with up to 5 other devices, like a tablet or laptop, when wifi isnt available) there are 'workarounds' on the google market that use bluetooth instead of wifi to do the sharing (for free) that i haven't tried, but they're out there...

long story short, get it, you'll love it. :) any other questions, just ask...
posted by sexyrobot at 9:23 AM on July 14, 2012

oh..upgradeable memory! that's a def plus over the iphone...comes with 2GB built in (1 for android, 1 for your apps (thats a LOT of apps, plus most can be moved to memory card as well) and an 8GB card (included) that you can swap out whenever you want...i got a 32GB card for like $25 on amazon...have all my music on it...
posted by sexyrobot at 9:31 AM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

You cannot just get a used iPhone off Craigslist and use it on Virgin. I know that's already been stated but it should be repeated.

Android phones usually end up disappointing - few upgrades, lack of polish, bugs, viruses (believe it or not), vastly inferior quality and selection of applications. But I'm not sure it's worth the extra money.

I would also suggest not going with Virgin. They use Sprint's network which is absolutely miserable for data. Have you looked into the non-contract tmobile plans or Straight Talk?
posted by The Lamplighter at 10:18 AM on July 14, 2012

alsoooo...i checked out the specs here on the elite vs the one v...omg the htc one v is a MUCH better phone...she should def spring for the extra $50 and get it. LG makes a nice phone (i used to have the optimus v), but the htc one v is obviously a much better phone in:
-weight (lighter)
-screen size, resolution, pixel density, and type (bigger, better, denser, Super-LCD)
-processor (faster)
-built in storage (4x)
-camera (f2.0? f**k yeah!, more features)
-supported music and video formats (more)
-radios (more bands=more coverage)
-better gps (also has a-gps which triangulates from known cell tower locations to Assist satellite)
and most importantly:
-Ice Cream Sandwich and HTC Sense (remember i said virgin is slow with updates? though, this is starting to shake out to be a phone mfg responsibility for the most're more likely to get an update from htc (i have a tablet of theirs) than lg...the elite is really outdated with gingerbread...)
any particular reason she would want the elite?

oh...also: best reason for android over iphone: turn by turn navigation...LOVE it!
posted by sexyrobot at 11:02 AM on July 14, 2012

also, with the same OS (ics and sense), you could share more/be more compatible/troubleshoot each other/etc...
(aaand...the turn-by turn nav is also voice activated...touch the microphone button and say "123 main street" and it will start giving directions almost immediately)
posted by sexyrobot at 11:08 AM on July 14, 2012

I used Virgin Mobile until a couple of months ago. They provide adequate service at a great value. The 3G is slow but manageable, and good enough for emailing, reading articles, and looking at maps.

The HTC One V is a new device with the newest version of Android from a company that has a history of being competent at Android software, and apparently has a metal body, so it's probably a better option than the LG. The Evo V is a rebranded 1 year old Sprint flagship, but seemed to be more about the 3D screen and camera whiz-bangery when I've played with it (they had some in the labs at my old job, where we were working on them, and a coworker bought one). Sprint seems to be moving away from WiMax "4G" as well, so who know's how long that'll stay online?

Unless you need a giant 3D screen or 3D camera (in which case you wouldn't want an iPhone), I don't see any reason to get the Evo V over the One V.

I think you should probably both go for the One V-- it seems like a simple well-polished device that will do all the smartphone things you'd expect it to.

(I moved to T-Mobile. An unlocked Galaxy Nexus on T-Mobile prepaid is also a great choice that costs the same $30/mo., with fast data and an awesome device.)
posted by akgerber at 3:24 PM on July 14, 2012

I ended up with the Evo V, though I could care less about the 3-d thing (which, having tried a couple of shots with it, seems gimmicky, surprise!). Screen size won out in the end, it was the largest of the Virgin devices. Everything else about it seems OK, though I was looking with some envy at the LTE available on contract with Sprint. Some other time, maybe. Thanks everyone for your feedback!
posted by maxwelton at 3:28 AM on July 20, 2012

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