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No Samsung Galaxy S II on Verizon? No problem (Ask Maggie)

This week's Ask Maggie offers some smartphone alternatives to Verizon Wireless customers hoping to get their hands on the Samsung Galaxy S II.

Verizon Wireless may not be getting Samsung's flagship Galaxy S II Android phone. But does it really matter? Word on the street is that the carrier may end up with something better.

Late last month, Verizon disappointed many of its customers when it confirmed it would not get the much anticipated Samsung Galaxy S II. The carrier didn't offer much explanation for why it was taking a pass on Samsung's hottest selling smartphone. Meanwhile, Verizon competitors AT&T, T-Mobile USA, and Sprint Nextel will each be offering the device.

But Verizon smartphone subscribers shouldn't fret just yet. The Motorola Droid Bionic and a new device from Samsung that's expected to be released later this fall could be enough to satisfy them.

Also in this week's Ask Maggie, I explain some of the finer points of Verizon Wireless's unlimited data policy for smartphones. And I offer some advice to a reader looking to buy an iPad 2 here in the U.S. to be used abroad.

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.

Is Verizon missing the Wow-factor in smartphones?

Dear Maggie,
I will be making the switch from an AT&T iPhone to an Android later this year. The problem is that I will be switching to Verizon Wireless. And right now, Verizon doesn't have any "WOW" Android phones. I was really hoping to get a Samsung Galaxy S II, but that isn't happening for Verizon anymore. What are my options?


Dear Must-always-have-the-best-tech-in-NYC,
The three most anticipated phones this summer have been the Motorola Droid Bionic, the Samsung Galaxy S II, and the Apple iPhone 5. After some delay, the Droid Bionic is finally for sale on Verizon's network. So for now, that is the smartphone du jour.

Meanwhile, the Samsung Galaxy S II is available on the other three major U.S. carriers: AT&T, Sprint Nextel, and T-Mobile USA. I understand that you're disappointed that the Galaxy S II is not on Verizon. But the Droid Bionic, which operates on Verizon's 4G LTE network, may be a fine substitute. The phones don't have the exact same specifications, but they're pretty close. Here's a look at how they compare:

Operating System: Both the Motorola Droid Bionic and the Samsung Galaxy S II run the Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread OS.

Camera: Both phones have 8 megapixel autofocus cameras. And they also have front facing cameras for video chatting.

Screen: Though the resolution differs a bit, both the Droid Bionic and the Galaxy S II sport a 4.3-inch screen.

Size: The Motorola Droid is slightly bigger and heavier than the Samsung Galaxy S II. Dimensions for the Motorola Droid Bionic are 2.63 inches by 0.52 inches by 4.96 inches with a weight of about 5.57 ounces. Dimensions for the Samsung Galaxy S II are 2.6 inches by 0.33 inches by 4.93 inches, and it weighs 4.09 ounces.

Storage: Each phone comes with 16GB of internal storage, and storage can be expanded to an additional 32GB via a microSD card. Both phones also have 1GB of RAM.

If the Droid Bionic still doesn't "wow" you, there are rumors floating around that Verizon is holding out for an even hotter phone from Samsung. According to the Boy Genius Report, Verizon plans to offer the Droid Prime in October, the same month it's expected to start selling the Apple iPhone 5. The Droid Prime is expected to be exclusive to Verizon, and it's also expected to be among the first to offer the latest version of the Android operating system, its 4.0 version known as Ice Cream Sandwich.

BGR said Verizon was afraid that the Galaxy S II wouldn't be able to compete against the iPhone 5, and that's why it has opted to hold out for a more up-to-date device from Samsung.

CNET Reviews editor Bonnie Cha said Verizon has a tendency to unleash a bunch of new devices in the fall for the holiday season. She noted that all the carriers do this to some degree, but Verizon especially likes to announce a bunch of new devices to carry it through the holidays.

So my suggestion to you is to wait another month and see what shakes out. You may be happily surprised.

What it takes to keep your Verizon unlimited data

Dear Maggie,
I have been a Verizon customer for well over five years now. When the company announced it would no longer offer its unlimited data plans, I bought a smartphone for one of my sons, so that his usage would be unlimited. My other son was not interested in any of the smartphones Verizon offered at the time. We asked a Verizon Wireless representative in an instant message chat online if an unlimited data plan on his basic feature-phone would count for him being grandfathered in so that later he could get a smartphone and keep his unlimited data plan. The rep told us that he would in fact be grandfathered in when buying a smartphone. So I added unlimited data to his plan.

Last night I went to purchase him the Motorola Droid Bionic, the phone he wanted, and was told that he must switch to a tiered plan by a representative in the store. Now I have conflicting answers after the tiered plans are in place. I don't know how to resolve this. Can you offer some advice?


Dear Denise,
I have some bad news for you. I contacted Verizon Wireless to ask them about your situation. And Brenda Raney, the company's spokeswoman, confirmed that the rep you originally chatted with online was wrong.

She said that customers who have an unlimited data plan on a Verizon Wireless smartphone may keep their plan when purchasing another smartphone including the Motorola Droid Bionic. But customers who have an unlimited data plan on a Verizon Wireless basic phone (non-smartphone) and move to a smartphone will need to move to one of the new usage-based plans that begin at $30 for 2GB of data. That's the policy. She apologized for the customer service rep who offered the misinformation, but she offered no suggestions for making an exception.

If you saved the chat session in which the rep provided the wrong information, or you were able to get that rep's name and ID, you may be able to talk to a Verizon supervisor about making an exception. But from what Brenda Raney told me, it doesn't seem like they will budge.

On the bright side, unless your son is a very heavy data user, he will likely be fine with the 2GB data plan. That said, I know it must be frustrating for you since you had expected he would have the unlimited plan now and in the future. But to be honest, it's hard to say whether Verizon will continue to offer the unlimited plan to existing customers in the future. So in another year or two, it may not matter much that he didn't get grandfathered into the unlimited data plan.

Are 3G iPads unlocked?

Dear Maggie,
I am from Greece, and I'm coming to the U.S. in a few weeks for a holiday. I want to buy a 3G iPad 2 that I can use with my Greek carrier Vodafone GR. Can I buy an unlocked iPad with 3G?


Dear George,
The 3G version of the iPad 2 is unlocked in the U.S. But if you plan to use it in Europe or anywhere else in the world where GSM is the predominant network technology, then make sure you get the 3G version for AT&T's network. Verizon Wireless also sells the iPad 2, but its 3G version uses a different network technology that is not supported by your carrier in Greece. Also, the CDMA technology that Verizon supports does not use a SIM card or microSIM card, which means it's not as easy to switch carriers. GSM devices use SIM and microSIM cards, which can be popped out and replaced so that the device can be used on other GSM carrier networks.