The 411: Is 4G for real?

Every two weeks in The 411, CNET editor Nicole Lee answers your questions about cell phones and cell phone accessories.

Nicole Lee Former Editor
Nicole Lee is a senior associate editor for CNET, covering cell phones, Bluetooth headsets, and all things mobile. She's also a fan of comic books, video games, and of course, shiny gadgets.
Nicole Lee
4 min read

Welcome to The 411, my column answering all your questions about cell phones and cell phone accessories. I receive plenty of questions about these subjects via e-mail, so I figured many of you might have similar queries, too. At times, I might solicit answers from readers if I'm stumped. Send your questions and comments to me at nicole.lee@cnet.com. If you prefer to remain anonymous, let me know in the e-mail.

Question: Now that Sprint's 4G is finally coming to New York City, I was thinking of getting a 4G phone. Are the speeds really that good? Should I get a WiMax phone from Sprint, or will I regret it if LTE becomes the new standard? -- Michael, via e-mail

In general terms, yes, 4G is faster than 3G, at least where Sprint is concerned. Sprint's 4G WiMax can offer speeds of up to 10Mbps down, though real-world speeds average out to around 3Mbps to 6Mbps. This is far faster than Sprint's EV-DO, which tops out at around 3Mbps.

As for whether it's faster than 3G in general, at this point, it's about on par with T-Mobile's HSPA+ network, which is still technically 3G technology. However, WiMax and LTE have the capacity for much faster speeds--up to 40Mbps or more. These are early days for 4G, so we expect speeds to improve as carriers grow their infrastructure. As for whether you should place your bets on WiMax or LTE, you shouldn't fret. Sprint has already mentioned that it has the ability to switch from WiMax to LTE without too many headaches. In our opinion though, it does seem like LTE will be the more globally accepted standard, as both Verizon and AT&T have come out in support of it.

Hi. Thinking of getting the Evo 4g or the Samsung Epic 4g. Since these phones do so much, I was wanting to know if you knew which one had the best screen for viewing movies and which one has the best audio quality? I currently have the Hero and like it, but it is very laggy. Do the processors on these phones keep the phone running without having to wait? What one would you get and why if you had the choice? Thanks so much for your time and your reviews. -- Bruce, via e-mail

Luckily for you, CNET has recently done a Prizefight between these two phones, so you can see what our panel of judges think is the best handset overall. Personally, I think the Evo 4G wins out when it comes to movie watching, due to the size of the screen and a handy kickstand on the back. As for audio quality, I think the Evo 4G sounds just a touch nicer than the Epic 4G, but most people seem to think they're around the same. We found both phones to have quite good performance as well.

Right now I am using an LG EnV Touch, but lately the phone sporadically rejects my memory card, forcing me to reboot my phone. It also mysteriously calls random numbers and powers off at random times even though the battery was charged all night. I have updated the software, which alleviated the problems some of the time, but doesn't get rid of them. Because I have a little less than a year left on my contract, and because Verizon won't let me upgrade without signing a new contract, I turned to Best Buy's Cowboom.com to find a replacement phone.

I am thinking about purchasing a refurbished Palm Pre Plus, LG Ally, or HTC Droid Eris. My questions are: If I buy the phone from a third party, can I transfer my line/contacts to that new phone without signing a new contract? And am I forced use the smartphones with a data plan? I don't have a data plan right now; I bought my phone before the $9.99 3G multimedia data plan was mandatory. Currently I use my iPod Touch for the Internet, so if I bought the smartphone, I would only use the Internet on Wi-Fi. Would they know whether or not I use a smartphone or my EnV Touch? If so, how? -- Jonathan, via e-mail

I'm sorry to hear about all your problems with the LG enV Touch; hopefully Verizon will release an update that improves it. As for whether you can transfer your line to that new phone, yes you can, but you have to contact Verizon to have them transfer the line over. And since you're informing Verizon of the new phone, they'll likely want you to sign up for a data plan as you would be using a smartphone. I don't believe there's any way around it, but if any of our readers have advice to offer Jonathan, let us know in the comments.