The 411: Storage limits and more on data plans

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

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

This is the 411, my Q&A 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 the same questions, 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.

First off, thanks for your recent piece comparing the smartphone voice and data plans. Very helpful! My question pertains to smartphone flash drives. Most of the current smartphones allow the user to add storage via a flash drive, usually a microSD or SD card. When I read the review about the smartphones, I often see some kind of statement regarding flash memory that seems to indicate that their is a maximum amount of storage that a device will accept.

For example, the review of the HTC Tilt 2 says, "The Tilt2 has up to 32GB of expandable memory while offering 512MB ROM/288MB RAM." So my question is: is the maximum amount of flash drive space that a device will accept limited by the device itself (e.g., hardware/software limitations) or is it limited by the amount of flash card storage that is currently available in the market (referring back to the Tilt2, the device will accept a 64GB card when it becomes available)? -- John, via e-mail

HTC TouchPro2
HTC TouchPro2 Verizon Wireless

As far as I know, the expandable memory limit is indeed limited by the device itself. So even if a 64 or 128GB card becomes available, you will not be able to use those cards in the phone. Perhaps the firmware of the phone might be upgraded to handle the new cards, but I'm not sure if that is possible.

Nicole, I'm a 56-year-old with big hands and bad eyes, so a lot of this smartphone technology is wasted on me. My office wants me to get a HTC Touch Pro2 (bigger screen and keyboard), but I'd prefer to use my Verizon cell phone as a Wi-Fi device to access my company's Web site and my e-mail account through the Web through my laptop. What would you recommend for me? -- Paul, via e-mail

Many phones with a Verizon data plan can be used as a modem for your laptop, though it won't be via Wi-Fi. You use either a USB cable or Bluetooth to "tether" the phone to your laptop so that it can connect to the Internet via the phone's cellular network. For Verizon, you have to make sure your phone supports Mobile Broadband Connect, which costs anywhere from $15 to $50 a month depending on what plan you already have. Also note that there is a 5GB data cap with $0.05/MB after that.

I would recommend choosing a phone with EV-DO Rev. A for faster speeds when surfing. The HTC Touch Pro 2 is a good choice, as is the HTC Imagio if you don't want a keyboard. You can even opt for the Samsung Rogue if you don't want a smartphone.

I recently purchased the Samsung Omnia from my carrier Verizon. Although I will virtually never use the mobile broadband I'm forced to pay $30/month for the service. I used it a couple times to try it. I can't justify the $360/year, so I will be returning the Omnia. I feel like I've been extorted having to pay in order to have a cutting-edge device. I like the camera, windows, media player, wifi, etc. Do you know if I purchase an unlocked smartphone (Omnia 2 or Omnia HD) whether or not Verizon has a policy regarding activation for voice service only and what the policy is? Can't believe the only option is going outside my service provider for the device. So much for customer service! I already feel stabbed in the back and robbed of $30. Thanks! -- Jo, via e-mail

It seems that activating a smartphone without a data plan is a hot topic, if the response to my previous column is any indication. I will note that it's a touch harder to get an unlocked phone on a CDMA network like Verizon's (though I hear it is possible), and you will have to opt for the Omnia 2 instead of the Omnia HD since the Omnia HD is GSM-only for now.

Although I have not verified this personally, I've read e-mails and comments from readers who say that if you buy the phone from a third-party retailer, like from Best Buy or eBay, you can bypass the service provider pressure of having to buy a data plan. So what you can try to do, is to buy a Verizon phone via one of these channels, and then call Verizon up to activate just a voice plan on the phone. The cost of the phone will likely be more expensive, and I can't guarantee that you won't get charged any data fees (sometimes the phone's data connection is switched on automatically). Again, you may be taking a risk by doing this, but if you're willing to do so, go ahead and let us know how it works out.