Phones

The Next Smartphone I'm Buying

I should really get the iPhone 4. At least, that's what many readers are saying, after I asked on this blog last week which smartphone should replace my lint-clogged, sidewalk-scratched BlackBerry Bold 9000.

Among the 9894 people who voted in a week-long poll in that story, 44 percent chose Apple's storied (or notorious) handset.

That also means 56 percent voted against the iPhone. The runner-up, with support from 29 percent of survey takers, was the Motorola Droid X, which lost its early lead after the poll's first few days.

In third place, with love from 12 percent of poll-takers, came the first 4G phone, the HTC EVO. Only 5 percent of readers picked the Samsung Captivate, and less than 4 percent said to stick with RIM and upgrade to the BlackBerry Torch 9800.

(The poll, by the way, was Flash-based and therefore inaccessible to iPhone users. Were the iPhone fans voting from their computers, or from a non-Apple mobile device, or using a jailbreaking workaround?)

Beyond the Grace Period

I'm not just shopping for a gadget, but also signing on for a two-year relationship with a wireless carrier. I can get the iPhone 4, the BlackBerry Torch, or the Samsung Captivate through AT&T. For the Droid X, I'd have to pick up with Verizon. Only Sprint carries the HTC EVO.

How will these companies treat my commitment? A new contract comes with steep discounts for the phone, which you can try or quit within 30 days. After that, though, a wireless carrier can be like a neglectful boyfriend who wines and dines you for the first few dates until you've locked in to the relationship, expecting great things to continue.

After the first month, you're put on the back burner, your pleas for support put on hold or ignored. No matter what abuse you put up with, it can be hard to escape. If you try to call the thing off, he'll vow to make you pay dearly for leaving.

In the end, the decision to pick a phone comes down to what the relationship with its carrier will cost me.

AT&T

My two-year AT&T contract has expired, so I'm free to select any wireless suitor without the outrageous $325 cancellation penalty. But, AT&T carries three of the phones I'm considering. I pay that company $59 per month for a 900-minute voice plan, $50 for unlimited data, and $5 for insurance in case of loss or theft. That's $114, not counting $12 in taxes, plus any overage fees, each month. To renew my service for two years, an AT&T representative over the phone offered the following for a handset:

  • iPhone 4: $199 for the 16GB edition (regularly $599) or $299 for the 32GB model (regularly $699)
  • BlackBerry Torch 9800: $199 (regularly $499)
  • Samsung Captivate: $223 (regularly $499)
  • AT&T monthly service: $114 ($59 calling + $50 unlimited data + $5 insurance)
  • Cancellation fee: Up to $325

Verizon

Only Verizon carries the sold-out Motorola Droid X, which could ship to me by the end of this month. A rep at a San Francisco store said the $569 cell phone drops to $199 with two years of service, but it costs $70 more if I only sign up for a year. Calling plans cost the same as AT&T's, but bundled with Verizon's unlimited data plan, I'd pay $89 monthly for 900 calling minutes and unlimited data plus $8 for insurance--$17 less than with AT&T.

  • Motorola Droid X: $199 (regular $569)
  • Monthly Verizon service: $97 ($89 calling and unlimited data + $8 insurance)
  • Cancellation fee: Up to $350

Sprint

Sprint's HTC EVO is sold out online. Nobody knows for sure when it will be available. I called a Sprint store in San Francisco and learned that whenever that day comes, I could get the $449 handset at a $149 discount with a two-year contract. After a $100 mail-in rebate, the EVO would ultimately cost $200. If I cancelled after the 30-day grace period, Sprint demands a $200 penalty. No HTC EVO for me. That said, the Sprint monthly plans sound decent: $69 or $79 per month (for the 4G EVO only) for unlimited data with 450 talking minutes. It's $99 for unlimited U.S. calling plus all-you-can-eat data.

  • HTC EVO 4G: $149 (regularly $449)
  • Monthly Sprint service: $106 ($99 + $7 insurance)
  • Cancellation fee: Up to $200

The Verdict

If I signed up for a phone today and bothered with a mail-in rebate, the HTC EVO 4G is the cheapest option--$50 less than several other handsets. However, I can't wait around for it. The next best prices are for several $199 phones from either AT&T or Verizon.

More than 10 years with AT&T leaves me feeling less than loyal, given the spotty 3G service I've suffered (even if tests show it has improved). But, if I stick with them and RIM, I can get the BlackBerry Torch 9800. I like its palpable keyboard. After checking out a Torch, though, its wimpy processor and small, dull screen feel ho-hum. The Samsung Captivate is available with AT&T and through other carriers under different model flavors, which is confusing and fails to capture my imagination. Then, of course, there's the iPhone 4 through AT&T.

Dear readers, the largest group of you told me to learn to love the iPhone 4, but texting is such a big part of my day. My supersize thumbs are hitching a ride with the Droid X and Verizon. For butterfingers, the Swype tool for Android makes sloppy touchscreen typing faster than tapping on an iPhone. The iPhone may have a more beautiful-looking form, but I'm shopping for function first.The Droid X hasn't been marred by "antennagate", and I've had enough of dropped calls. In addition, I'm curious to see what kinds of apps will emerge for the Android OS, now that Google has made it easier for newbie developers to build them.

Verizon's monthly service plan costs $17 less than what I currently pay AT&T, which would save me $204 over the next year. That covers the discounted price of the Droid X, so I'm practically getting a new cell phone for free. I just hope I don't regret this choice once the 30-day trial expires, because Verizon's $350 cancellation fee hurts.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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