How do you choose the right smartphone? What if you get a great smartphone, but the network it is on is flaky, unreliable, and constantly drops calls? What if you choose an awesome wireless provider, but can't get the smartphone you really want? The following process will help you find the right combination of wireless provider and smartphone that works best for you.
Let me begin by saying that I abhor device exclusivity. I understand that there are technical differences between the GSM and CDMA networks, and that compatibility is dictated to some degree by those limitations. But, I don't believe users should have to switch wireless providers to get the smartphone they want, or that some customers should be prohibited from choosing specific smartphones based on the strength or weakness of a given provider in their area.
In a perfect world, you would be able to independently determine which wireless provider works best for your needs, and then choose which smartphone you want without being limited to the smartphones offered by the provider you chose. But, for now--at least in the United States--that is not the way it works.
Given that device exclusivity does exist for most smartphones, what is the best approach for choosing a wireless provider and a smartphone that can perform the various functions you need it to without making you want to smash it on the pavement? I believe if you follow these steps--in order--you will have a more satisfying experience all around.
By signal strength, I mean signal strength for you. One of the things that gets quickly lost in the zealous debate over which provider is "best" is that they all have dead zones and gaps in coverage. Just because Verizon has the strongest signal or fastest network performance for your cousin in Topeka doesn't mean that it will be the best network for you in Albuquerque.
You should also consider the entire range you might use the smartphone in. Obviously, you want to have strong network coverage at your home, and at your place of work--the combination of the two probably make up the majority of your waking hours. But, also consider where else you might go frequently and make sure your provider of choice has got you covered. The bottom line is that without an adequate network and decent signal strength your smartphone is a glorified MP3 player, so this is really the most important part of the decision.
For the world travelers among us, the question of network availability and signal strength has to be applied on a more global level. If you also travel overseas frequently, a GSM-based provider like AT&T or T-Mobile might make more sense because GSM is a more universally accepted wireless standard than CDMA. If there is a specific region or country that you visit frequently, make sure your choice of wireless provider and smartphone will still be functional there.