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Frustrated with Verizon's smartphone lineup? You're not alone

In this edition of Ask Maggie, CNET's Marguerite Reardon offers advice to a reader unhappy with Verizon's current lineup of smartphones. She also advises another reader on how to make sure he gets the latest Google Android software updates.

Verizon Wireless has built a loyal following by having a rock-solid network. But the carrier is not known for having the widest selection of cool devices.

Getting Apple's iPhone a couple of years ago helped ease the frustration. But Verizon's slow adoption of one of the season's hottest smartphones has some subscribers scratching their heads.

In this Ask Maggie edition, I offer my insights on choosing a Verizon smartphone. I also explain to another reader the best option for making sure you are never left out of a Google Android software update.

Verizon's tired smartphone lineup

Dear Maggie,
I follow your Ask Maggie column on CNET, and I am hoping you can give me some good advice. I currently have the iPhone 4S on Verizon Wireless. I want to get a new smartphone. But I am wondering which one to get.

I don't want the iPhone 5 since I'm looking for a device with a larger screen. But it doesn't seem like Verizon has a very good selection of new devices. It seems like the iPhone 5, the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the Nokia Lumia 928 are the only devices I really have to choose from.

What about other Android phones? Why doesn't Verizon have them? I like the looks of the HTC One, but it's still not available on Verizon. I also am interested in the upcoming Motorola X Phone.

My question to you is what should I do? Should I just buy the Lumia or the Galaxy S4? Or should I wait for any of these other phones? I'd like to stay with Verizon only because the coverage has been good. But I am frustrated with the lack of choices.

Thanks for your help,

Dear Josh,
This is a great question. You aren't the only one complaining about Verizon's long-in-the-tooth smartphone selection at the moment. My husband, Mark, is in desperate need of a new smartphone. But he refuses to buy a new one until Verizon refreshes its device lineup.

Verizon Wireless store
The Verizon Wireless store in South Arlington, Texas. Verizon Wireless

He said that perusing Verizon's selection of devices in its retail stores is like walking through a museum of yesteryear's smartphones. He might be exaggerating just a tad, but you get the point. Verizon needs some fresh phones.

Meanwhile, competitor AT&T has kept pace with the market for new devices, not only offering the hottest devices available, but also getting the ones that Verizon also offers weeks or even months before Big Red.

This isn't to say that Verizon doesn't offer some of the hottest new phones. It offers the iPhone 5 and the Samsung Galaxy S4. But the carrier is also prominently featuring on its Web site the Droid DNA from HTC and the Droid Razr HD and Droid Razr Maxx both by Motorola. Of course, there isn't anything really wrong with these products, but they were released back in November and October of last year, respectively.

It's now the end of June. In smartphone time, those phones are ancient. Several new devices have been introduced since the HTC Droid DNA and Motorola Droid Razrs hit the market last fall. Not to mention the fact that none of these phones was released to great acclaim even when they were brand new on the market.

That said, as I mentioned above Verizon does offer the iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S4, which are two of the most popular smartphones around. But unlike competitor AT&T, Verizon only offers the GS4 in the 16GB model. It doesn't offer the 32GB version. And it doesn't offer any of the new GS4 branded spin-off phones recently released by Samsung. For example, AT&T offers the water resistant and dust-proof Galaxy S4 Active. Verizon does not.

That said, Verizon is offering other newer devices such as both new BlackBerry 10 devices: the Q10 and Z10. And it is the only carrier offering the newest Nokia Lumia 928.

Where is the HTC One?
But as you point out in your question, Verizon has yet to begin selling the much talked about, and much anticipated HTC One. HTC announced the device in February. AT&T and others started selling it in April when it was released.

Verizon has promised it will offer the HTC One. The company says that it will begin selling the HTC One sometime "this summer." But there has been no official word from the company on when exactly it will go on sale. Some bloggers are speculating it could be mid-July.

It's hard to know exactly what the hold-up has been, since Verizon isn't saying much. But some have speculated that Verizon was hoping that HTC would tweak the device and market it with a different name that is exclusive to Verizon.

But several weeks ago, Verizon confirmed via Twitter that the HTC device will soon start selling is the same model that other carriers offer. Verizon is notoriously slow in approving new devices for its network. The company claims it has a stringent testing process that often slows down approval of some devices.

There is some speculation that HTC's update to Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean on the HTC One may be part of the delay. Verizon may have delayed the release of the phone in order to test the latest software update.

If the HTC One is released on Verizon in mid-July this may be just ahead of when Motorola is expected to take the wraps of its latest phone the Motorola X Phone. This device, which fans hope is the perfect marriage between Motorola's hardware and Google's software, may be announced August 1, according to a few blog sites that say Google and Motorola are planning a big new marketing campaign. Some people speculate that the X Phone could be part of the rebranding effort.

In spite of high hopes for this device, rumors suggest, it might be a bit disappointing. According to reported leaks about the Moto X Phone, it has a 1.7GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor with 2GB of RAM, a 720p high-definition OLED screen, and 10-megapixel camera. These specs are nothing to sneeze at, but when compared with the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the HTC One, it seems the performance of this device may not be top notch.

So what should you do?
If you need something immediately, I'd suggest the Samsung GS4. I also like the Nokia Lumia 928, which runs Windows Phone. But the only problem is that you'd be leaving an ecosystem that is neither as developed as Apple's iOS nor Google's Android ecosystems. The same can be said for the BlackBerry 10 devices now on the market: the Q10 and Z10 have gotten decent marks from BlackBerry fans, but again you'd be entering a less developed app ecosystem.

If you can wait a bit longer, then you probably should. As I mentioned earlier, the HTC One should be on Verizon (cross your fingers) in July. And the Moto X Phone could be introduced in early August. Of course, given Verizon's track record of getting new phones on its network, unless it's an exclusive, which I'm guessing it won't be, you might have to wait weeks or months after it's introduced before Verizon will get it.

And if you can wait even a bit longer, there are rumors that the next iPhone might have a larger screen. The current iPhone 5 has a 4-inch display. Some of the rumors getting thrown around suggest that Apple may be considering models with a 4.7- and 5.7-inch screen sizes. Of course, these are rumors. Apple hasn't said whether the next iPhone will have a larger screen. But people are the next device, whatever size it is, to launch in September. So if you're going to wait until August to see what's happening with the Motorola X Phone, you could probably justify waiting one more month to see what Apple introduces.

I hope that advice was helpful. Good luck!

Making sure you get the latest Android updates

Dear Maggie,
I'm getting ready to upgrade phones soon and I'm having a hard time deciding which way to go. Currently it's between the HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S4. I've had the chance to play around with both of the devices. And I know the big differences between them. However, my issue is updates in software/OS. I've been stuck with a Motorola Photon still on Gingerbread, and it's irritating. I don't want the same thing to happen again.

Honestly I'm leaning toward the HTC One, but I've also considered an iPhone due to less fragmentation (iOS7 is also really pretty). I just bought an iPad 4 and love it. If I get two updates I'd be happy, I just don't want to be three behind again. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

Thank you,

Dear Darius,
This is one of the chief complaints from Android users. It's difficult to say which phones will get which software updates when they come out. That said, I know Samsung Galaxy S4 ships with the most up to date Google Android software, which is Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean. Meanwhile, the HTC One ships with Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean. It's still Jelly Bean, but doesn't have the very latest update to the phone. That said, it is expected to get the update in July.

Google Nexus 4
The LG Nexus 4 Josh Miller/CNET

The next big iteration of Google Android hasn't been announced yet. That's likely to be what everyone is calling Android 5.0 Key Lime Pie. When that software is released, it's really hard to say which devices will get it first. My guess is that the Galaxy S4 will be among the first, mostly because it's Samsung's flagship device, and I would expect the company to do its best to keep this phone up to date. I'm less certain about the HTC One.

That said, device manufacturers aren't the only ones who determine which devices and when they get software upgrades. Wireless operators, which have to test the software updates on their networks, also have a say. And as I mentioned in the answer to the question above, Verizon is notorious for being very slow to test and approve new devices as well as new software upgrades.

If you want to make sure that you get the latest Android updates, you might want to consider getting a Nexus device. Google has just started selling unlocked versions of the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC one, which both run stock Android software. These versions of the popular smartphones do not have any software from either Samsung or HTC. It is a pure Google Nexus experience, which means it will run the most up-to-date Android software. The big benefit to getting a Nexus phone is that when new updates to Android are released, you are guaranteed to be among the first to get the upgrade.

The big downside in buying these devices is the fact that you have to pay full price for them. Also, the devices are currently only available as GSM devices, which means they work on AT&T and T-Mobile in the U.S. A Verizon or Sprint version is not available.

The cost of the Google Nexus version of a Samsung Galaxy S4 is $650. The Nexus HTC One is about $600. If this is too pricey for you, you may want to consider the Nexus 4, which in the 8GB configuration is currently selling for $299 on Google's website. Other benefits to getting these Nexus devices is that they don't require carrier contracts. And they come unlocked, so you can use them on other GSM networks.

Switching to the iPhone is also a possibility. Apple has done a very good job of making sure it's older devices can get at least some of the features that its newer software upgrades offer. But there is also a limit to this as well. Not all the features will work on iPhones that are two or three years old, because the hardware isn't able to accommodate the new features.

But since Apple only releases a major software upgrade once a year and it only releases one new iPhone a year, you are right that there is a lot less fragmentation as compared with Android. But some might argue that this also limits functionality.

In your case, I'd say your decision hinges on whether you want to spend the extra $400 or $450 to buy a phone that you are guaranteed will get the latest Android updates. The other option is to pick one of the most popular Android devices on the market and hope that manufacturer and carrier will offer you at least one or two new software updates. (The third option is to root your phone so you can install whatever updates you want, but that takes a bit of technology know-how.). I hope this information was helpful. Good luck!

Ask Maggie is an advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. The column now appears twice a week on CNET offering readers a double dosage of Ask Maggie's advice. If you have a question, I'd love to hear from you. Please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header. You can also follow me on Facebook on my Ask Maggie page.