Ask Maggie: On iPhones vs. Droids, again

This week's Ask Maggie answers reader questions about using MS Office suite on iPhones and Androids, ditching broadband for the iPhone Wi-Fi feature, and when Sprint will get the iPhone.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
8 min read

Nearly two weeks after Verizon Wireless announced it will get the iPhone, iPhone fever is still gripping many CNET readers.

Ask Maggie

I dedicated last week's Ask Maggie to answering questions about the Verizon iPhone. And this week I got several more questions related to Verizon's upcoming launch of the iPhone. So in this week's Ask Maggie column I answer some follow-up questions. Specifically, I clarify for one reader that both iPhone and Droids support Outlook e-mail and Microsoft Office docs. I also advise another reader not to ditch his Comcast broadband for the Wi-Fi tethering feature of the iPhone 4 on Verizon. And finally, I answer one eager Sprint customer's question about where the iPhone might be launched next in the U.S.

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.

Still deciding between an iPhone vs. a Droid

Dear Maggie,

Thank you for last week's column comparing the Verizon iPhone and the Droid smartphones. I have a few follow-up questions for you on this.

I use Microsoft Office Outlook for my contacts, calendar, and e-mail. Would this work with a Droid or iPhone?

I also want to be able to access Microsoft documents from my smartphone so I need Microsoft Office mobile formats like Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. Can I use this with either of these phones?

When do you think that Verizon might offer a "Global iPhone" with both CDMA and GSM capability? Could be on an upcoming iPhone 5 for Verizon.

Thanks for your advice in advance!


Dear Howard,

These are some great follow-up questions for anyone considering buying either an iPhone or a Google Android phone.

You are in luck, the iPhone and the Droid each support Microsoft Outlook and some of Microsoft's other business suites. I spoke to CNET Reviews mobile experts Kent German, Nicole Lee, and Bonnie Cha to get more detail about this.

Kent said that it's very easy to set up Microsoft Exchange on your iPhone if you know the necessary information. You'll need your e-mail address, username, password, and server name. For some accounts, you might need the domain as well.

If you have Outlook Web Access, then you shouldn't need to involve your IT department. But if you don't, you may need to contact them for the correct settings.

As for accessing, reading, and altering Microsoft documents, you can do this on the iPhone, but you'll have to purchase an app, Kent said. He suggests QuickOffice apps which cost between 4.99 and $16.99. There are cheaper and even free apps available, but they won't offer a lot of functionality, he said.

Android subscribers can also access and sync their e-mail and calendar to their Outlook accounts. But if you are not using a Microsoft Exchange account it gets tricky. CNET Reviews editor Nicole Lee says that Android phones are optimized for Google products, such as Gmail and Google Calendar. So she recommends switching over to those tools rather than going through the trouble of syncing to Outlook.

But if Outlook is what you like to use then there are workarounds and you can sync Outlook with your Google account or use a third-party solution, such as gSyncit, Bonnie Cha said. If you want more information check out Nicole's explanation in her column on the 411.

Bonnie added that all Android phones come with some kind of free Microsoft Office suite, such as QuickOffice, which allows you to, at the very least, open and view Office documents. Most have basic editing functions, but if you want the ability to create new docs on your phone, you'll often have to pay to upgrade the app to a premium version of the suite.

Now to answer your final question: Do I think Verizon will come out with a GSM/CDMA iPhone? Honestly, I don't know the answer to that. I was surprised that the version Verizon announced two weeks ago was not a "world phone."

I suppose that adding the additional radio increase device costs and takes up room in the device. So if there is a way to mitigate either of those things, then there's a chance that Verizon and Apple will add GSM in a future version.

What I think is more likely to happen is that Apple will add an LTE radio chipset to a newer version of the Verizon iPhone. LTE is the technology used for Verizon's "4G" network. If LTE is added to the phone, then it will be backward compatible with GSM networks. So when you're traveling abroad, you'll be able to roam onto other GSM networks.

When will this happen? I don't know. But I don't think Verizon will get another release of the iPhone for at least a year. Maybe it will release an update in six months, but Apple typically only releases one new version of a product per year. A new GSM version of the iPhone is likely to be released this summer.

Ditching broadband for the iPhone's hot spot?

Hi Maggie,

I have a question I was hoping you could answer in regards to the release of the Verizon iPhone, and its ability to become a Wi-Fi hot spot. I was thinking about getting rid of my broadband Internet provider (Comcast) at home and adding the $20 tethering, so that I could connect my desktop and Xbox 360 all at once. I figured this could help reduce my bill. I was wondering how much slower my devices would operate if I did this. And if I would notice a real difference if i just used my iPhone instead of Comcast's 15Mbps service.



Dear Mullarky,

In theory this sounds like a great idea. Why not share the bandwidth from your iPhone account with all the other Internet-enabled gear you have in your home? The $20 Wi-Fi tethering fee that Verizon charges for its other Wi-Fi hot-spot phones is nothing compared to the $50 or $60 you are paying for Comcast's broadband service. Right?

There are a couple of reasons why this isn't a good idea. For one, Verizon's iPhone operates over Verizon's 3G network. This is a network that provides average download speeds between 700Kbps and 1.2Mbps. And that's if you are in a place with good cell phone reception. Speeds can be much slower when connections aren't great or if the network is congested.

If you're used to a 15Mbps cable modem service, and you plan to do a lot of gaming and video streaming via your Xbox 360, you will notice the difference in performance.

Now, if you were to use one of Verizon's new LTE smartphones coming out later this year for Internet access, that's a different story. The LTE network, which Verizon calls its "4G" network gets average download speeds between 6Mbps and 12Mbps. Some users have even reported download speeds around 20Mbps. So an LTE device would definitely provide you a fast enough broadband connection so that you could stream movies and play interactive games on your Xbox. And you likely wouldn't notice the difference in terms of performance.

But there's a catch to this as well. And that's price. Verizon doesn't want people using its wireless broadband services as a replacement to fixed broadband. Remember, the company has a wired broadband business selling DSL and Fios fiber to the home service. So the company makes sure to keep limits on how much data can be used on its wireless broadband networks. It's been doing this for years with its 3G wireless data service, capping usage at 5GB per month. Traditionally, customers using the $20 a month tethering feature via a smartphone, have been held to the same 5GB cap.

Verizon hasn't yet announced data pricing for either the iPhone or the new LTE smartphones it is launching this year. So I don't know the specific pricing for the data services for these devices or what Verizon plans to charge for tethering.

But the company has released pricing for its USB data stick customers on its LTE service. Subscribers can get 5 gigabytes of data per month for $50 or 10GB of data for $80 a month. Customers who exceed this limit will be charged $10 for every 1GB over the limit. The $50 pricing of the service is $10 cheaper than Verizon's existing 3G wireless service. The company said it will offer text alerts that will warn customers about the usage of their data plan.

Based on this pricing model or a similar one that will charge you if you exceed your monthly usage cap, you're probably better off keeping your Comcast broadband service.

Sprint iPhone?

Dear Maggie,

I am currently on the Sprint network, and was wondering if there is any chance that the iPhone 4 will be released on Sprint anytime in the future. I have read rumors that say that it will be released, but I have also read articles saying it won't. I am hoping you have some good news for me! ;)

Thank you so much!


Dear Ben,

I wish I could look into my crystal ball and tell you for certain one way or another. But honestly, I don't have magical powers to predict the future and Apple doesn't fill me on its device launch plans.

That said, during the press conference two weeks ago, Tim Cook, Apple's COO, said that the deal with Verizon to sell a CDMA version of the iPhone was not exclusive. So you could infer that Apple will be looking to strike deals with other CDMA providers. So my guess is that Sprint will eventually get the iPhone. In fact, I suspect that eventually several U.S. carriers will have a version of the iPhone.

When will this happen? I don't know. Again, I suspect that Verizon will get a semi-exclusive on the iPhone for at least a few months. Before Apple starts selling the CDMA iPhone elsewhere in the U.S., I think it's more likely that the company will announce a deal with China Telecom, another big CDMA provider.

It makes sense for Apple to sell the iPhone through as many carrier channels as possible. It will be interesting to see what happens as it adds these new carriers. Will it offer older models of the device to other carriers? Will it keep the newest versions of the product for AT&T or, in the future, Verizon Wireless?

The iPhone is so popular that people seem willing to buy it even when the latest version of the product doesn't have all the same bells and whistles that its competitors have. We'll have to wait and see if customers are as eager to buy an older version of the iPhone on Verizon this spring, even though AT&T is likely to get a new version this summer.

Sorry I couldn't more precisely answer your question. I'll be sure to write a story should I hear of an exact release date for a Sprint Nextel iPhone.