Ask Maggie: On mobile frustrations

Ask Maggie is a weekly column that answers readers' questions about all things wireless and broadband. This week's focus: BlackBerry Torch, Verizon frustrations, and Droid Eris.

Smartphones are supposed to liberate mobile phone users, but often they just give wireless subscribers big fat headaches.

A cool new phone comes out and you're dying to get it. But wait. You don't have the right carrier and therefore your dreams of a fancy upgrade are dashed unless you switch wireless service providers. This is an all too familiar scenario for almost every wireless customer.

Ask Maggie

In this week's Ask Maggie column, I answer one reader's question about when I think the new BlackBerry Torch might come to Sprint Nextel. Currently, the latest BlackBerry from Research In Motion, which sports a touch screen and slide-out keyboard, is only available on AT&T.

Another reader is frustrated that his Verizon smartphone doesn't allow him to access data while he is talking on his phone. And he wants to know if Verizon's new 4G wireless network will be any different.

And finally, I answer another reader's question about how to ensure his Droid Eris smartphone from Verizon Wireless has enough memory and horsepower so that all his apps run smoothly.

Ask Maggie is a weekly advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. If you've got a question, please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header.

BlackBerry Torch on Sprint?

Dear Maggie,
I'm a BlackBerry Tour user on Sprint. And I'd like to upgrade to the new BlackBerry Torch. I know it's only available right now on AT&T, but I was wondering when you think it will come to Sprint. I've heard conflicting reports on this. Some sites say it could be at least two years before the exclusivity with AT&T runs out.

I am not sure if these reports are true, which puts me in a dilemma: do I wait for the phone to come to Sprint, or do I give my soul to the devil and go to AT&T?

Have a great weekend,
LaTresha

RIM

Dear LaTresha,
You are correct. The BlackBerry Torch 9800 is only available on AT&T's network. Neither AT&T nor Research In Motion has said how long the exclusive deal with AT&T will last. But AT&T is spending a great deal of money and effort marketing the new touch-screen slider . So my guess is that AT&T will have the exclusive rights to the phone for at least the next six months. But after that, it's anyone's guess what will happen.

When RIM first launched the phone it pegged it as the first device in a new family of vertical slider phones. RIM typically won't keep a new family of products on just one carrier. The big exception is the touch-screen BlackBerry Storm. The Storm and the Storm II are both exclusive to Verizon Wireless in the U.S. market.

It's more likely that RIM would introduce another version of the Torch on other carriers after the AT&T exclusivity deal ends. So it might not be the exact same phone with all the same features as the BlackBerry Torch 9800. A CDMA version for Sprint or Verizon Wireless might offer slightly different features, but it would have the same slider/touch-screen form factor. Maybe it would be called the BlackBerry Torch 9830 or 9850. I have no idea if this would be the official name, but it's just an example of what RIM might do, based on how it's rolled out devices on multiple carriers in the past.

So the short answer to your question is this: If you really want the BlackBerry Torch right now, you have to switch to AT&T. If you think you can wait six months or longer, a similar phone might come to other carriers, such as Sprint. But there's no guarantee since neither AT&T nor RIM have made the details of their arrangement public.

Talking and surfing on Verizon Wireless' 4G wireless broadband network

Dear Maggie,
Do you know if Verizon's 4G LTE network will allow users to talk and use data at the same time? This is the only advantage AT&T has over Verizon at this point. I can't seem to get an informed answer to this.

Thanks,
Greg

Dear Greg,
As you have correctly alluded, Verizon's 3G wireless network has not traditionally allowed wireless subscribers to talk on their phones while they are sending e-mails, surfing the Web, or accessing any other Net-based mobile apps.

Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel have built their networks on CDMA technology, and their 3G networks use a technology called EV-DO. And traditionally, these technologies have not allowed for the simultaneous use of voice and data.

This is different from networks that have been built on GSM. AT&T and T-Mobile USA use GSM technology and a 3G technology called HSPA to build their networks. The GSM and HSPA technologies allow simultaneous voice and data sessions on a device. This means you can surf the Web while talking on your iPhone.

This difference has been a main point of contention among many Verizon subscribers with smartphones.

Now to your question: Verizon hasn't yet launched its 4G wireless network. So it's unclear how it will work. I contacted Verizon for a definite answer, but I did not get a response.

In theory, the new network should allow people to talk on their phones and access data at the same time. Here is why: Verizon is likely to continue using its 3G network to connect voice calls and it will use its 4G LTE network for data. Chief Technology Officer Dick Lynch said in February at the GSM Association's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that getting voice to work over LTE has been particularly challenging . Until the company is able to get it to work, Verizon will use the existing CDMA network to provide voice services. And the LTE network will be used for data. Eventually, when voice over LTE becomes a reality, Verizon will use that technology. And because LTE is a packet-based technology, data and voice should be able to work simultaneously.

Making room for mobile apps

Dear Maggie,
I have a Droid Eris. I like the phone, but the battery stinks and it's now slow. I thought the allure of these smartphones--or at least one alluring factor--was the idea that I could get an app for just about everything. But what I have found is that when I put too many apps on my phone, I get a notification that my phone is low on memory. A "duh" moment, I know, but how much memory does my phone have and just how much does it need to run without giving me a warning?

Thanks,
Matt

Droid Eris
HTC Droid Eris CNET

Dear Matt,

Memory is definitely an important thing to consider when buying a smartphone. Overloading the phone, as you have experienced, can slow it down quite a bit. The Droid Eris has 512MB ROM and 288MB RAM. It also has a microSD card to add memory. Unfortunately, mobile apps cannot be saved to the microSD. So the best thing for you to do is to free up some internal memory by storing pictures and music on the external microSD card and keep the internal memory storage for your mobile apps.

Kent German, a senior CNET reviews editor, said that most apps are less than 1MB in size. This means that you should be able to store a lot of apps on your phone's internal memory. If you're able to free up the memory by storing what you can on your microSD card, you should have more than enough space to download lots of mobile apps.

 

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