There are now some pretty good smartphones available and I am in a very unique position to give my thoughts on them. I currently have phone and data plans on four different U.S. carriers and a smartphone to go along with each of those. Color me crazy and you’re correct. Because I have all of these phones I frequently get asked one question: Which phone do I like the best? That is such a difficult question to answer as the carrier plays a huge role in the usefulness of a smartphone. Let me give you my thoughts on each phone and carrier, and then share how I rate the phone/carrier combination.
Bear in mind that my judgment on each phone and carrier is going to be greatly influenced by the network performance in my local area. I have traveled with each of the phones — with the exception of the one with Sprint — and will include my travel experience in the rankings, so keep that in mind when you take in my ratings.
It’s also important to realize that I use my phones primarily for data and much less for voice calls. I will give my impressions of voice call quality for each phone; after all, a phone should do a good job making calls, right? Just remember that data is far more important to me than voice and you’ll get the most out of this comparison.
I currently have the flagship smartphone for three of the U. S. carriers and until last week I had the fourth one, too. I have the iPhone 3G (s aapl) running iPhone 3.0 on AT&T (s t), not the iPhone 3G S that has hit just the past week. I have the Palm (s palm) Pre on Sprint (s s), Android G1 (s goog) on T-Mobile and the BlackBerry Storm (s rimm) on Verizon (s vzn).
- BlackBerry Storm- Verizon
- T-Mobile G1- T-Mobile
- Palm Pre- Sprint
- iPhone 3G- AT&T
I have unlimited data plans on all four phones along with my voice minutes of various durations. I use the data extensively and always get unlimited (or the closest they offer) on any phone I buy.
One thing all of these phones have in common is the large touchscreen and good web browser. This is the single biggest factor that led to my picking up each phone and it is vital to me. I understand that these carriers have other phones that some will feel are better than the model I have but these are the best web phones on each carrier, in my opinion, and why they’re in my pocket. Not all of them at once, of course.
If I were to compare the four phones without considering the carrier I would rate them in this order: iPhone 3G, Palm Pre, T-Mobile G1, BlackBerry Storm. I base this on ease of use, fullness of the applications available, browsing experience and overall user experience. I can state that it was very close between the iPhone 3G and the Palm Pre, so those two could easily flip in order over time. The Pre is so new that there’s a lack of application support at this point, which puts it just behind the iPhone, but that could change. Of course, the iPhone 3G S would likely come in much farther ahead of the Pre if I had one, due to its speed and video recording.
The G1 came in just ahead of the Storm in my ranking solely because of how well the G1 interacts with the Google cloud. I use Google extensively and the G1 works well with it natively and nudges out the Storm. The G1 web browser is much better than the Storm’s, too, which rounds out why it’s ahead of the Storm.
All four of these phones have decent call quality and I have no quarrels with any of them. The Storm has consistently performed better on phone calls than the rest, followed by the Pre, G1 and the iPhone 3G. I think that the carrier network plays a big role in voice call quality so that’s why I don’t put much stock in this ranking.
Before I get into ranking the four carriers I should make it clear how long I have been on each of them. I have been with Verizon for years. I first was using their 1xRTT data network prior to the launch of EV-DO. I have grown with them from the Rev. 0 to the current Rev. A EV-DO, so I have the most experience with their network. I have been with AT&T for a little over a year, T-Mobile for less than a year and Sprint for only two weeks. Keep that in mind when you take in my ranking for each network. I will rank each network for voice and data separately and then give an overall ranking for combined quality.
I would rank the carriers for voice calls in this order: Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T. This reflects how good the phone calls work and how frequently (or infrequently) I experience call drops or signal problems. Verizon is easily the best of the four for me and T-Mobile has been pretty good, too. I have not experienced a single problem call with Sprint so they slightly nudge past T-Mobile in this category. AT&T is easily the worst network as I have experienced frequent problems making calls in my home area as well as while traveling. I have experienced multiple episodes of being totally unable to make or receive calls with AT&T due to no signal.
The ranking for the carriers based on data network performance is the same as the voice ranking. I base this on the ability to get a decent 3G signal and consequent bandwidth in different locations. I have used Verizon’s 3G network all over the country with very few problems and only rarely dropping from EV-DO to 1xRTT. Verizon’s slower network is good enough to use even when EV-DO is not available. Sprint’s EV-DO network has been solid in my home area and I have so far failed to get a good signal. T-Mobile’s 3G network is pretty good in my home area but has been spotty when traveling. AT&T’s 3G network is spotty at best; I have watched the signal strength fluctuate while sitting in one location. This has happened many times and I’ve also found it so poor at times that I can’t make phone calls and get text messages, much less get on the data network.
Phone/ Carrier Combined Rankings
This is the money category, as it takes into account how good I find each phone to be along with how well the network performs with said phone. This is the “user experience” ranking I would give for each of the four combos. Here is my ranking for each, which thus ends up answering my “If I only had one, which would it be?” question:
- Palm Pre/Sprint
- BlackBerry Storm/Verizon
- T-Mobile G1
- iPhone 3G/AT&T
This ranking is much different than the earlier ones as it is largely influenced by carrier performance. I ranked these as I would if I could only have one on the list. Sprint has been a solid carrier for me although I’ve only been with them that short period. The BlackBerry Storm makes it to the second position solely on the basis of the solid Verizon network. The iPhone is easily in last place and that is solely based on how poor a network AT&T has been for me. It doesn’t matter how good a given phone is if I can’t use it due to the network not performing.
This is just my own opinion based on my experience of using these phones and networks. I am also biased by how I work with my phones, which is largely for data usage. Your mileage may vary. One thing I will state with absolute certainty: If Verizon would get a top smartphone like the Pre or the iPhone, they would be far and away No. 1 on my list.