Ask Maggie: On Verizon iPhone vs. Droids

This week's Ask Maggie helps one Verizon subscriber decide between the new Verizon iPhone or a Google Android phone.

The Apple iPhone is finally coming to Verizon Wireless, so what now?

Ask Maggie

For years, CNET readers, my close and not-so-close friends, and my family have nagged me with the same: when will Verizon get the iPhone? Now, I can happily say February.

Earlier this week, Verizon finally took the wraps of the long-awaited Verizon iPhone. There is certainly a lot of pent-up demand from both Verizon subscribers and others wanting to be on Verizon's network for the iPhone. But what about new smartphone customers who haven't made up their minds yet on which phone to get? The news of the Verizon iPhone has now further complicated an already confusing choice.

This week, I try to help one Verizon subscriber decide whether the iPhone is really for him or whether he should go with one of several new Google Android phones on the market.

I also clear up some lingering questions about whether the Verizon iPhone can be upgraded to handle voice and data at the same time over a cellular connection and whether existing Verizon subscribers will be able to use the company's decade-old upgrade credit plan to get a discount on the new Verizon iPhone.

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.

Verizon iPhone or Droid?

Dear Maggie,

I am in the process of updating my cell phone, but not sure what to get. I have been with Verizon Wireless for years, and I plan to stay with them. I have been waiting for the Apple iPhone to come to Verizon. So I am happy it's here. But now I'm not sure if I should get it or if I should get a Google Android phone. Is the iPhone really that much better? I've also been considering the Droid Pro and Droid X.

My basic needs are:

  • Reliable phone
  • Good battery life
  • Ability to access the Internet and read it on the screen without the trouble I currently have with my BlackBerry.
  • Pictures/Videos would also be cool, but I probably will not use those features as much.

I have been told by many people to go with the Droid X or the iPhone. However, I'm concerned that the "screen" keyboard will be difficult to use versus the keypad such as that on the Droid Pro or my current BlackBerry.

Thanks for your expert opinion.

Take care,

Mark

Dear Mark,

After years of only a few cool choices of smartphones on Verizon, now there are several. But choice is good. And honestly, you'll likely be happy with any of these options.

The first thing you should consider is whether you want an iPhone or an Android phone. As you know, starting in February you'll be able to preorder a new iPhone 4 that will operate on Verizon's CDMA network. The Verizon iPhone announced this week hasn't been tested yet, but for the most part it's the same phone that AT&T has been selling on its network since June.

This has been the most popular iPhone so far, with Apple and AT&T each reporting they've broken sales records with the device. Some of the features people like, include the front-facing and back-facing cameras, the sharp screen resolution, and the Face Time video chatting application.

There are additional advantages that go along with the device because it's an iPhone. For example, all iPhones easily sync to iTunes, and they have access to the more than 300,000 apps in the iTunes App Store.

Google Android phones can also be synced to a music library, but getting music from iTunes is not as simple as doing it on the iPhone. And there are fewer apps in the Android Market. One other drawback is that because there are different versions of the Android OS and different Android phones on the market, not all applications work on all Android phones.

That said, there are millions of very happy Android users who would never consider buying an iPhone. So in many ways it's a very personal choice. Are you a Mac or a PC? Are you an iPhone or a Droid?

Based on your three main criteria--reliable phone, good battery life, and access to the Net--either an iPhone or an Android device would reasonably satisfy your needs. While there have been complaints about voice quality and dropped calls on AT&T iPhones, those problems may not exist on Verizon's network. We'll have to wait to see.

So far, I've heard few complaints about Android phones having call quality issues. This might be due to the network they are on or it could be due to the fact that traditional cell phone makers, such as Motorola and Samsung, are building these phones.

As for accessing the Net, Android smartphones and iPhones offer better Internet browsing experiences than what you're used to on a BlackBerry. And as far as battery life goes, none of the iPhones or Android phones will have the same long lasting battery life as RIM's BlackBerry. But it's a trade off you may consider to get the other bells and whistles, such as mobile apps and more robust Internet access.

Another thing to consider is the form factor. You need to decide whether you can live without a physical keypad on your phone. It sounds like you've been using a BlackBerry for a while, so this could be a difficult transition. Personally, I thought I'd hate the virtual keypad on the iPhone, but I've actually grown used to it. And now I prefer it over a physical keypad.

In general, I think most people can adapt to the virtual keyboard. But if you are constantly sending e-mails and text messages and you think the "screen" keypad will drive you crazy, then don't get either the iPhone or the Droid X. Instead, consider the Android phones that have keyboards.

I talked to Bonnie Cha, a CNET Reviews editor who tests smartphones, and she recommends for you either the Motorola Droid Pro or the Motorola Droid 2 Global . Both of these phones use the Google Android operating system. And both are made by Motorola. They have very similar features. So your ultimate decision might come down to which design you like better.

The Droid 2 Global has a slide-out keyboard, so the pros of that are you're getting a roomier keyboard and larger screen. But on the downside, it's a bit heavier and clunkier. The Droid Pro is more like a BlackBerry, with a slate form factor and touch screen/keyboard combo. The screen isn't as high-resolution as the Droid 2, but you're getting a nice bundle of security features with it.

You mentioned that battery life is a top concern for you. In my experience, the iPhone on AT&T has decent battery life. I usually charge my phone once a day. But I usually can squeeze at least another half day out of it before I need to recharge.

As for the two Droids I mentioned with keypads, Cha says the Droid 2 Global had less-than-stellar battery life when she tested it. But the Droid Pro actually had pretty decent battery life. The Droid Pro has a smaller and lower-resolution screen, so that helps.

In general, she said she got about a full day's use on the Droid Pro before needing to recharge. But on the Droid 2, she had to recharge it around mid-day or late afternoon. Users have also complained about battery life on this phone so be aware of that.

In either case, she recommends picking up an extra battery if this is a big concern for you.

I hope this helps and happy smartphone shopping!

Can the Verizon iPhone be upgraded for simultaneous voice and data?

Dear Maggie,

I understand that one of the limitations of the Verizon iPhone, because it's on a CDMA network, is that it cannot handle simultaneous voice and data. However, I know there is a new standard technology called SVDO, which will fix this issue for CDMA devices. My question is when this new technology is rolled out will it be a software upgrade that can be applied to the Verizon iPhone 4 coming out next month, or is it a hardware upgrade that requires a new phone?

Thank you,

SonicMan

Dear SonicMan,

The Verizon iPhone can support voice and data simultaneously if you are using Wi-Fi for the data connection. But you are correct in stating that the Verizon iPhone does not allow voice and data to be used at the same time over the CDMA cellular network.

You are also correct that a new technology called SVDO will allow simultaneous transmission of voice and data over CDMA networks in the future. But unfortunately, the SVDO technology is something that is built into CDMA chips that go into phones. This means that for a phone to take advantage of the capability it must come with the chip inside. Devices that have regular CDMA technology cannot be upgraded via software to take advantage of this.

What is SVDO anyway? SVDO is a specification that was put forth by the CDMA Development Group (CDG), which is an industry group that was established in the early 1990s to promote the use of CDMA cellular technology and to help with the standards process.

In 2009, the group adopted its "CDMA2000 1x Advanced Specifications", which are upgrades to the EV-DO 3G technology that CDMA carriers use.

Perry LaForge, who is head of the CDG, explained to me the ability to do voice and data at the same time on a phone has nothing to do with the wireless network per se, but instead is determined by the chips on the phone. When CDMA was first introduced, carriers decided to keep voice on chunk of spectrum and data on another chunk of spectrum. By separating the voice and data channels, the phones could optimize service for each session.

By contrast, GSM networks handle voice and data over the same spectrum channel. So while users can talk and surf the Web at the same time, LaForge argues that the voice and data sessions are not fully optimized because they must share capacity.

The SVDO technology creates separate channels for voice and data that can be transmitted at the same time. So instead of sharing one channel and transmitting voice or data, now two channels exist that can be used simultaneously. LaForge says this approach still allows for voice and data sessions to be handled for optimal performance, but voice and data traffic can operate at the same time on a device.

Verizon rejiggers its upgrade program

Dear Maggie,

Please tell me that this Smartmoney article is wrong and that Verizon IS NOT ending the "New Every Two" program in three days. Am I the only one who is just a little outraged at this? I count on it! I have two phones, one is my personal phone and the other I have through work. I'm ready to upgrade them both. Will I be able to upgrade to a new Verizon iPhone? Please tell me that I can!

Thanks,

Michael

Dear Michael,

I have some good news for you and some bad news. First, the good news. You can still use your "New Every Two" credits toward the purchase of your Verizon iPhone. This means that if you have a credit of $100 under this plan, you can get the new iPhone 4 16GB for Verizon for $99.

Now for the bad news, Verizon is discontinuing this program as of January 16. And once you use up your credit, you won't earn anymore. Brenda Raney, a spokeswoman for Verizon Wireless, said the company is shifting to a "simpler program" in which customers will be offered promotions and discounts directly.

"We are a retail business so the New Every Two promotion is evolving to be more in line with how retailers work with customers today," she said in an e-mail. "This will include promotional offers via e-mail based on preferences that are more tailored to customers' needs."

Raney said that customers will still get access to great promotional pricing under the new plan. And subscribers will still be eligible for upgrades before their contracts end. For example, customers on 1-year contracts will get to upgrade via a promotion starting at 10 months. And someone on a 2-year contract will be eligible for an upgrade after 20 months.

Customers under contract prior to January 16, 2011, who meet the qualifications for New Every Two program will be grandfathered so they can use the benefit one more time, she said.

But for customers signing up after January 16, they will not get to access this program. I hope this helps clarify things for you!

 

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