Ask Maggie: On waiting for a Verizon iPhone 5

This week's Ask Maggie answers reader questions about waiting for the Verizon iPhone 5, deciding between the Verizon iPhone and an LTE smartphone, and the benefits of owning an Android phone and Android tablet.

Now that the Verizon iPhone has been introduced, the next question people ask me is if they should get it now or wait until the summer when a new version of the Apple iPhone is expected.

Ask Maggie

This is indeed the age-old question of buying now or waiting for the new generation of product. It's hard to advise people, because there are so many unknowns. But in this week's Ask Maggie, I do my best to provide some insight.

I also help another reader decide if he should get the Verizon iPhone or one of the new Verizon LTE devices that is set to launch later this year. And finally, I answer another reader's question about the benefits of owning an Android smartphone and an Android tablet.

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.

Waiting, waiting, and more waiting.

Dear Maggie,

I am one of those Verizon customers caught in the vacuum of deciding should I buy the iPhone 4 now (something I have been drooling over for a year now) or wait until the iPhone 5 comes out potentially this summer. This will also allow time for the "dust to settle" and things to become more clear as to how Verizon's service will be affected by all this.

But now that Verizon has said it will only offer the unlimited data package "for a limited time" I don't want to be left in the dust. Should we get the Verizon iPhone 4 now so we don't miss out on the unlimited data package?

My wife and I just need a good dependable cell service. We use text..... A LOT! We exchange pictures and some video of our adorable 3-year-old, play music while on the train to and from work. And we would like to check on Facebook while out and about every so often. We are Mac users at home so the iPhone fits into what we like in regard to iTunes, iCal, iPhoto and iMovie (of said, adorable 3 year old :))

I know there is always a want of the "latest and greatest" but I am thinking of waiting until the summer to make our decision. Whadathink?

Thanks,

2longshot

Dear 2longshot,

The short answer to your question is this: If you can wait, you might as well wait a little longer to see whether Apple announces a new iPhone and whether that phone will be offered on Verizon's network.

Verizon's offer of unlimited data plans for a "limited time" is clearly meant to entice consumers to sign up for the iPhone 4 sooner rather than later. Verizon clearly wants to rack up as many new iPhone users as it can as soon as it can. It doesn't help them meet their quarterly revenue expectations to have customers waiting until the middle of the year to see if a new iPhone will come to the network.

As you mentioned, Apple typically releases a new version of the iPhone in June. The company has come out with a new version of the product in the summer every year since 2007. But it's unclear what new features or functionality will be added to this year's new model. Will it be much different from the iPhone 4? After all, the iPhone 3GS followed the iPhone 3G and only offered modest enhancements.

Will the next version of the iPhone also be available on Verizon's network? Or will it only be available for GSM networks, such as AT&T's network?

Honestly, I don't have the answers to these questions. I can speculate on what I think will happen. But that's not too helpful given that I simply don't know for certain. So if it is important for you to have the latest and greatest iPhone, and you can live with your current phone another few months, then I would wait. You don't really have anything to lose.

Don't let yourself be pressured into buying the iPhone 4 from Verizon immediately because you think the unlimited plan will go away in a few months. From what you described of your usage patterns, it doesn't sound like you need unlimited data anyway. You'd probably be fine on a tiered service offering. Of course it is hard to say whether you'd pay more or less for that plan than what Verizon offers today, because the carrier hasn't announced what its plan will be. And that is a risk.

But Verizon recognizes this is a competitive market, and I doubt the company would introduce a plan that is more expensive than AT&T's offer for the vast majority of consumers.

Verizon iPhone or Verizon 4G LTE smartphone?

Dear Maggie,

I am currently an iPhone user on AT&T's network. But I want to switch back to Verizon Wireless. I am trying to decide between the Verizon iPhone 4 or the 4G HTC Thunderbolt. The one concern I have about the Thunderbolt is that I am currently not covered for 4G in my area where I live. So is the first 4G phone worth getting?

Thanks so much,

Patrick

Dear Patrick,

Neither the Verizon iPhone 4 nor the HTC Thunderbolt have been released. And neither device has been reviewed yet by CNET yet. So, it's hard to say for sure which phone is more reliable or performs better. But what I can tell you is that each of these devices has their pluses and minuses.

Switching from the AT&T iPhone to the Verizon iPhone would likely cause you the least amount of pain in terms of syncing contacts, music, e-mail, text messages, and other information from one device to another. Since all of that information is stored in iTunes it should just go with you when you sync your new iPhone from Verizon to your account.

That said, the HTC Thunderbolt is a cool phone. The fact that you are not in an area where you can access Verizon's 4G LTE network is a factor to consider. The phone would likely offer much better performance than the iPhone if you were able to get to the 4G network. But if you can't get to the 4G network, then performance is likely to be similar on Verizon's 3G network.

I asked CNET smartphone reviewer Bonnie Cha what she thought and she said that the Thunderbolt is worth looking at.

"It's definitely worth checking out," she said. "Even without 4G, you're still going to get a good set of features."

The Thunderbolt will run Android 2.2 with the latest version of HTC Sense and will be upgradable to Android 2.3. It offers 8GB of internal storage and 768MB RAM, an 8-megapixel camera with HD video capture, a front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera, and a 1,400mAh lithium ion battery.

The one thing Bonnie said has initially disappointed her about the Thunderbolt is that it does not use Nvidia's dual-core Tegra processor. Instead, it uses the 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8655 processor. The downside of this is that the device may not be as responsive as other LTE devices that are coming out that use the dual-core processor.

But the upside is that the device may have a slightly better battery life than these other devices. Also, the fact that you'll use this device mostly on Verizon's 3G network instead of the 4G LTE network likely means that the battery performance will be similar to other 3G smartphones, such as the iPhone.

We know the Verizon iPhone 4 will be launched February 10, but we don't yet know when the HTC Thunderbolt will be coming out. Bonnie said she has heard rumors it could hit store shelves in February or March. So my advice to you is to wait until the devices are on the market. Check out what reviewers have to say about the phones. Also consider what users who have bought the phones say. And then make your decision.

I hope this helps.

Any benefit to owning an Android phone and Android tablet?

Dear Maggie,

If I own a Droid Incredible, does it make sense to keep the Galaxy Tab I got for Christmas or should I exchange it for the iPad? I was thinking "Android-Android," but I keep second-guessing myself. What would you advise?

Thanks,

Snehille

Dear Snehille,

The obvious benefit of using devices that share the same operating system is familiarity. If you're already used to using the Droid Incredible, which is based on the Google Android OS, you may be more comfortable with the OS for the Galaxy Tab, which also uses Android.

But one of the problems that Android has is that it's very fragmented. Even at the smartphone level, different devices run different versions of the Android OS and that means that not every app runs every device.

The situation gets even more complicated when you talk about tablets, according to CNET tablet reviewer Donald Bell. Since Android lacks a central piece of sync software like iTunes, getting apps on multiple Android-based devices isn't easy, he said.

The second part of the equation is that not all Android tablets include Google's official Android app store. The high-profile models do, such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab and Dell Streak. But the vast majority do not, and instead use third-party storefronts with limited selection and no record of past purchases you may have made through Google's Marketplace.

The third factor is that not all tablet hardware running Android meets the same specs of Android phones. To keep prices low, many manufacturers omit features such as cameras, GPS, compass, multitouch screens, or Bluetooth, which potentially breaks compatibility with many apps. It's one thing to get Android running on a device, but it's another thing altogether to promise third-party app compatibility, Donald said.

But Donald also said there is hope that with Android Honeycomb and Google's acknowledgment of Android's place on tablets, that the approval process and possible licensing hurdles for getting Google's Marketplace on tablets will become less difficult.

But today, it's likely that apps that you have downloaded from the Android Market onto your Droid Incredible may not work on your Galaxy Tab. You may have to download the same app again. And in some cases, that may mean paying twice for the same app.

This is not the case within the Apple family of products. If you already have apps for your iPhone or iPod Touch, Apple claims on its Web site that "you can just sync them to iPad from your Mac or PC. They run in their original size or you can expand them to fill the iPad screen. And you can choose from over 300,000 iPhone and iPod touch apps in the App Store. iPad works with almost all of them."

So my advice is that there is no inherent benefit to having an Android smartphone and an Android tablet outside of comfort level. But that is not the case with the iPhone/iPad, since apps can be shared among the devices, which is a benefit. In your case, since you'd have to buy separate apps for your Droid Incredible and your Galaxy Tab, then you might as well get the iPad, if you like that device better than the Galaxy Tab.

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