Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tech Column: Which Cell Phone Company You Use Matters

by Bill Adler

The other night while having dinner at the new neighborhood restaurant, Uptown Tap House, with my friends Barry and Christina, our conversation naturally turned to the hot neighborhood issue: Should we all upgrade to the iPhone 5?

By the time we had had our first glass of wine, I knew that the inevitable was at hand: I was going to set my alarm for 3 AM, so I could preorder the iPhone 5 when it went on sale at midnight Pacific time. (Alas, because I have a business account with AT&T, I couldn't preorder the iPhone 5 from Apple. I reset my alarm, and went back to sleep for a few more hours, destined to dream this dream about iPhones: http://rww.to/SlNt2x.)

I have AT&T for all of our iPhones. I won't get into the plusses and minuses of AT&T as a carrier in general, but I will say that there's one very, very important feature that AT&T's iPhones have that Verizon and Sprint can't match: One AT&T you can use cellular data and voice at the same time. On Verizon and Sprint, which use a different cellular technology, you can't be on a call while checking something on the Internet. Only on AT&T can you be talking with a friend and say, "I'll Google that restaurant's address" without losing the call. You can use voice and data simultaneously on Verizon and Sprint, but not when you're using cellular data.

For me that's a deal breaker, as far as my cellular carrier is concerned.

But you might not care about that. If you don't, there are advantages that Verizon and Sprint have over AT&T. Verizon lets you use Facetime over cellular; AT&T only lets you do that if you have a shared data plan.

Sprint is the only carrier to offer truly unlimited data plans, but Sprint, like Verizon, suffers from the no-talk-and-data at the same time problem.

Then there's the matter of data speed: LTE is the name of the fastest data connection available. Verizon has it in more places than AT&T. Verizon offers LTE in other countries, while AT&T doesn't. (Not that superfast data is actually affordable  when roaming in other countries.)

There are other factors to take into account when choosing the best provider for your iPhone 5: Overall price is one, and that can vary all over the place, because there are a lot of configurations for data-voice-SMS packages. Family and other share packages especially vary from provider to provider, and change over time, so take a careful look at them if you have more than one phone. Reception, of course, is another key consideration: If you don't have good service where you use your phone more often, the iPhone 5 is just another pretty game player.


Bill Adler is the co-publisher of the Cleveland Park Listserv, www.cleveland-park.com. He is the author of "Boys and Their Toys: Understanding Men by Understanding Their Relationship with Gadgets," http://amzn.to/rspOft. He tweets at @billadler.

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