Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Decisions, Decisions!

This February, my 2-year contract with Sprint will expire. I've been looking forward to this for a while. I originally signed up with Sprint because my previous company was paying the monthly bill; now that they're gone, I've been handling it myself. It isn't backbreaking or anything, but still, I've been looking forward to grabbing a new plan that fits me better. For the past 18 months or so, I've pretty much taken it for granted that I'd switch to Verizon when this day comes.

Now that the moment of reckoning is drawing closer, though, I'm finding the decision more complicated than I'd thought. This post is an opportunity for me to get all my thoughts down, as well as to gently solicit input from my intelligent and attractive readers.

Here, as I see it, is my situation.

  • A BREW-enabled phone would be nice. I'd enjoy playing with and showing off my company's applications, plus having a non-work phone that I can do personal development for.
  • Good local coverage. Almost all of my calls are made from my apartment, but occasionally I'll use my phone at work or on the go.
  • Good national coverage. I rely extensively on my phone when I'm traveling, and use it far more often than I do when I'm at home.
  • A 408 area code. I'm still dragging around the 913, well after I've left the Kansas City area. It's a status thing, but one I'd like to have.
  • Cheap plan. When you multiply any voice plan by 12, you're left with a hefty annual fee. I'd like to keep that as small as possible.
  • Data access. Although I very rarely use them, I do appreciate the ability to access the mobile web, Google Maps, Google Mail, and other applications on my phone.

  • I very rarely use my "anytime" minutes. I currently have the lowest Sprint plan, at 300 minutes, which I have never exceeded. I average less than 100 minutes a month.
  • Very occasionally, I will download a game (two in the two years I've had the phone). It's nice to have to kill time, but I very rarely play them.
  • I don't have a landline phone at home. I am overjoyed as this keeps me from needing to deal with my hated archnemesis, SBC/ATT, but this also means good home coverage is very important.
  • I don't use my phone for email, just the very occasional text message.
  • I'm not interested in using a phone for music. That's what my new ipod nano is for.
  • I'm not all that attracted to the PDA/Smartphone segment. Well, as a technology I think they're cool, but I don't see myself using those features much at all.

Now, let's break this down, carrier by carrier.
First up is Verizon, who I've been assuming for a while I'd use.
  • Top customer satisfaction in latest Consumer Reports survey.
  • The major BREW carrier in the US.
  • Excellent coverage at work.
  • My company will pay for the phone (handset only) if I switch.
So far, so good. Why am I hesitating?
  • Cheapest individual plan is $40/month, for 450 minutes. That feels like a waste, since it's 150 more minutes than my current plan and 350 more minutes than I need. Also, this plan includes free weekends but not free nights.
  • Data usage counts against voice minutes. That means that if I spend 30 minutes playing around online, that's 30 minutes off my monthly total. This may cancel out the first negative, but I don't want to risk going over since VZW is less forgiving about overages than, say, Sprint.
  • VZW really locks down their phones. It's impossible to get third-party apps like the Google things on there... anytime there's something cool to do, VZW wants to make sure you pay them. This extends to difficulty in finding good peripherals.

Once I started digging, I began to think about looking elsewhere. Verizon makes an awful lot of sense given my current job, but if I ever switched jobs, I knew I'd dislike them. So, in contrast to VZW, what's the most open network that's out there? It'd be a tossup between T-Mobile and Cingular. Let's consider T-Mobile.
  • High customer satisfaction in latest CR survey.
  • Open, GSM-based architecture.
  • Basic plan is $30 a month for 300 minutes. (Free nights and weekends.)
  • Just about $5 a month for unlimited data access.
  • According to their excellent coverage map, there's almost no coverage at my apartment. They get big points for honesty, but this is a deal-breaker for me.
  • The EDGE, their data network, is legendarily awful.
  • They've locked users out of Google Maps, one of my favorite phone apps.

So it came to pass that, much to my surprise, I was looking at Sprint again. There's plenty that has annoyed me about them, but assuming I could pick my plan from scratch, the only real complaint I have with them is bad coverage at work. Even there, I can make calls outside just fine, and have a landline inside, so while annoying it isn't a dealbreaker.
  • Good coverage at home.
  • They offer a 200-minute plan for $30/month. (Free nights and weekends.)
  • Unlimited data for $15/month.
  • Sprint locks down their network but not their phones; free access to J2ME applications.
  • They'll give me a $150 credit towards a new phone if I stick with them.
  • Poor reception at work.
  • Poor customer satisfaction ratings in latest CR survey.
  • Not sure if it'll be inconvenient to change my number and downgrade my plan when extending my contract.

For completeness's sake, let's consider Cingular.
  • Decent coverage at home and work, according to their coverage map.
  • Possibly the most open network of any major carrier.
  • Cheapest plan is $40/month for 450 minutes. Nights and weekends aren't unlimited, but DO include 5000 minutes, way more than I could use if I tried.
  • Cingular charges for data by the kilobyte, arguably the dumbest pricing structure on the planet.

Most other carriers (Alltell, MetroPCS, etc.) are regional in nature and either not available out here or would be too limiting when I travel.

So, that's that. I'd better hurry up and post this before Steve Jobs announces the Apple cell phone and throws the universe into chaos.

UPDATE 1/9/07: Like any good geek, I'm salivating after Steve Jobs' presentation at the expo this morning. There's a lot to say, but I'm sure all of it is being said better by people other than me, so I'll focus on the point relevant to this post. The iPhone is an amazingly attractive piece of hardware and one I'd love to have. That being said, it doesn't really enter into the analysis above. (1) I can't justify dropping $500 on a phone that I hardly ever use. (2) The monthly charge thing is what I'm focusing on, and the data plan for that thing isn't going to be cheap. (3) I just don't think I'm going to use the cool features on it all that much. (4) It won't come out until this summer, and I need to make a decision in the next month or so. (5) It's a Cingular exclusive, and I'm ambivalent towards them as a carrier. (Far from the worst, but not sure if I want to be locked in with them because of an expensive phone.)

Also, it turns out that my company is no longer paying for Verizon phones, which is a shame, albeit an understandable one. So that knocks Verizon down a little bit more.

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