Pondering switching cell phone carriers

Up until 10 months ago, I’ve never owned a personal cell phone. I did have a phone, but it was a company phone which I used for both business and personal use. I started with a LG candy bar phone back in 2000 on Sprint, migrated to a popular Nokia phone, then a few Motorola phones, then over to my first smartphone, the Motorola Q running Windows Mobile 5 OS. At that point, my employer switched from Sprint to Verizon, and I finally got an iPhone 4 to use for about 6 months before I left that job for new one. My current position with my new employer doesn’t provide a cell phone, so I needed to venture out in cell phone land and make some decisions on which phone and carrier I should choose for my first personal cell phone purchase.

Since my wife had been using Sprint for the last 10 years or so, it made sense for me to just add a 2nd line to her account and get a shared minutes family plan, especially since Sprint offers offers unlimited data on smartphones. So I made my first cell phone purchase to be a Palm Pixi WebOS phone (mainly because I had planned to do some WebOS app development on the side). That worked out great, and I loved the cool animated windows popping up, and swiping them off the screen when done. I stuck with the Pixi for almost 2 years, and when Palm started to falter as a company I decided to switch to an Android smartphone (again, so I can do some Android app development) and I chose the best at the time which was the Nexus S 4G.

The Nexus S is a good phone, being speedy with a great screen. The big problem I have is the terrible RF radio in that device. The cell reception is really bad, as the number of bars for signal strength varies wildly at most locations in the Seattle area. I can go from no bars to 3 bars just driving a few hundred feet. I rarely get all 5 bars, but mostly get 1 or no bars. At my new employer location in Everett, WA I get 1 or 2 bars at the most, while my co-workers who are on AT&T get 4 to 5 bars easily inside the office building. So what’s the deal? Is it my phone, or Sprint’s cell coverage?

I also noticed this while on travel in Phoenix, and my GPS receiver seems to be really slow to reacting to my position when driving. I’ve missed turns on my navigation software because of the slow directions. So in all, it seems my Samsung Nexus S has a poor radio and GPS receiver for my use. Thus, I’ve been looking at switching carriers.

Sprint has the best priced plans in my opinion, especially for me having a 2nd line on my wife’s account costing me $19.99 + $10 (smartphone fee) + $8 (insurance) = $37.99. I don’t want to go with Verizon, since they seem to be the highest priced carrier. I like AT&T, because they always have the best phones available the earliest, you can switch between phones by simply inserting your SIM card, and with their GSM technology you can use the voice and data simultaneously. Also, AT&T has the HSPA+ network in my area for fast data speeds, and they are in the middle of upgrading their system for LTE service. If I switched to them, I could get the new HTC EVO One X (LTE ready) for $199 and probably go with their 450 minutes (rollover) plan for $39.99 + $30 (3 GB data) + $9.99 (insurance). With my 25% employer discount it would cost me around $69.99/month to go with that service. So that’s about $32/month more than what I’m paying now with Sprint.

My dilemma is that AT&T is known for having a poor network system. But as you can imagine, things change over time and it really depends on your location. A bad cell carrier in Florida doesn’t mean it is equally bad in Chicago or Seattle. I’ve got some anecdotal evidence from fellow co-workers that shows AT&T service at my work site is good, while Sprint is bad (at least with my Nexus S 4G). But, I’ve read on numerous forum postings that the Nexus S 4G is known to have a poor radio. So what to do?

My plan now, is to charge up and take with me my old Palm Pixi phone (on Sprint). Although I don’t have service for it, it does still connect to the Sprint network (for emergency calls) and I can test the signal strength using its radio. If it shows equally poor signal strength, then I can probably conclude Sprint’s service in the area of my work office truly sucks. I could then get a AT&T account and test out the HTC One X for 30 days and decide if that phone and cell strength at my work site is better than Sprint’s. If so, then I’ll have to decide on whether to keep the AT&T service and cancel my Sprint 2nd line (and pay the termination fees), or just hope Sprint will upgrade their network soon at my work location over time. Another option, is for me to just tough it out for the next several months and see if Sprint’s new LTE system will help improve signal strength at my work site location.

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